Coghlan named NL's top rookie
Infielder-turned-outfielder stepped in and sparked Marlins
It's been more than eight years since that fateful summer of 2001, when Chris Coghlan's father was killed just days before the Marlins infielder-turned-outfielder's 16th birthday.
On Monday afternoon, when he was named the winner of the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award for the National League, Coghlan couldn't help but think of his dad, Tim Coghlan, and how he must be beaming with pride about his son right now.
"I know my dad is watching from heaven with a smile on his face," Coghlan said. "It makes me smile outside and inside, because he was the one who instilled the work ethic in me and taught me the game."
A lot of tears were shed when Coghlan suddenly lost his father in a fatal car accident. But there were plenty of smiles to go around on this day.
This was the day Coghlan's astonishing adjustments to a new fielding position and spot in the lineup received its due diligence, the day everything he's been taught about baseball throughout his entire young life -- lessons from coaches, teammates and, of course, his dad -- came to fruition.
With Monday's announcement by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Coghlan -- the Marlins' prized prospect from Tarpon Springs, Fla. -- joined American League winner Andrew Bailey of the Athletics, other Marlins honorees in Dontrelle Willis (2003) and Hanley Ramirez ('06), and former ROY winners like Ryan Howard, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki.
Time will tell whether this award vaults him onto a career path as successful as those of Howard, Jeter, Pujols and Suzuki. But Coghlan isn't one to get ahead of himself.
He didn't do it when trying to adjust to left field after a lifetime of playing second and third base, or when he moved to the leadoff spot for the first time in his professional career this season, or even when on the phone with reporters in a conference call on Monday.
"For right now, I can tell you what it means, and that's an honor," Coghlan said.
"To be in that same sentence for the same award, it's an honor, and I feel very blessed to be in this position and the platform I've been put on."
Coghlan's platform is pretty high right now.
The 24-year-old, called up from Triple-A New Orleans on May 8, beat out a talented slate of promising first-year players that seemingly didn't have a favorite going in.
But in the end, Coghlan and the second-place J.A. Happ finished well above the pack.
Coghlan received 17 first-place votes along with six for second and two for third to give him 105 points. The Phillies' left-hander, meanwhile, scored 94 points after receiving 10 first-place votes. Then, falling pretty far back were Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (two first-place votes each) and Brewers infielder Casey McGehee (one first-place vote).
"We're very proud of him, no doubt," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said in a phone interview. "We thought he was the Rookie of the Year for quite some time, and it was cemented today."
Coghlan, a lefty contact hitter, posted back-to-back 47-hit months -- becoming the first NL player with 94 hits in a two-month span since Dave Parker in 1978 -- finished sixth in the NL in batting average (.321) and led Senior Circuit rookies in runs (84), hits (162), total bases (232), doubles (31) and on-base percentage (.390).
His batting average was the highest ever by a Marlins rookie -- easily topping the .292 clips of Ramirez and Jeff Conine -- and he is just the eighth Major League rookie in the past 50 years to hit .321 or better.
"He had a great year and deserved the award," Marlins infielder Gaby Sanchez said via text message. "The numbers are just half of what he did. He played great outfield, especially for never playing the position."
In the second half of the season, Coghlan helped keep the low-payroll Marlins in contention with a Major League-leading 113 hits -- 11 more than Jeter -- and added a .372 batting average -- 14 points higher than eventual American League batting champion Joe Mauer.
His hits total in the second half matched Juan Pierre in '04 for the franchise record and was the most in the Majors since 1965.
And through it all, his focus was on one thing: winning.
"At no point when I was playing was my goal to win Rookie of the Year," said Coghlan, the first rookie since Kirby Puckett in 1984 to have 150-plus hits while playing in 130 games or fewer.
"It's an individual accomplishment, and what you're trying to accomplish during the course of the year is winning games. And, so, that wasn't my focus at the time. At the end of the year, I knew that I put myself in a good position to win."
The Marlins were set at the leadoff spot when they had Ramirez hit there the previous three years. But this season, Florida wanted to put its shortstop in a premium run-producing spot in the lineup, and the No. 1 position initially suffered.
That is, until Coghlan took over at that spot on a full-time basis on May 30 and finished leading the NL in batting average (.336) and on-base percentage (.397) as a table-setter.
"You never expect rookies to have those types of years," Marlins vice president of player development and scouting Jim Fleming said in a phone interview. "There's a learning process. We expected him to be a really good hitter, and it just happened a little faster than, I think, you would anticipate."
Coghlan was stopped from playing his natural position of second base because of two-time All-Star Dan Uggla. But that can change next year. The Marlins are reportedly interested in dealing the high-priced Uggla this offseason, and that can open up a return to the infield for Coghlan.
"Hopefully we can retain Danny, but you never know," Coghlan said.
"If there is a change, I think that's something I would like to be looked at or in consideration to move back [to second base]."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.