How Marlins’ Jon Berti is playing at ‘another level’ and making a case to keep regular playing time

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Jon Berti is quick to notice the extra attention he’s receiving from opposing pitchers when he’s on base. They’re throwing over to first base more often, trying to pick him off or at least keep him at bay and limit his chances of getting into scoring position.

Berti views it as a sign of respect. The opposition is understanding the threat what kind of threat he can be — or, rather, what kind of threat he has become.

But it’s also a sign of his success that has come with this extended opportunity for regular playing time. With both Brian Anderson and Joey Wendle on the injured list, Berti has gone from utility player to the Miami Marlins’ everyday third baseman in June.

The results have been rewarding — and he’s giving himself a case for more regular playing time once Miami’s roster is back to full strength.

Through games played Saturday, Berti leads Major League Baseball with 21 stolen bases, with 17 of those swipes coming in 22 games so far in June.

To put it another way, Berti has more stolen bases this calendar month alone than all but two other players — the Baltimore Orioles’ Jorge Mateo and the Seattle Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez, with 19 apiece — have all season.

How has Berti done it?

“It’s kind of like hitting,” Berti said. “You get into a good rhythm with it, you pick your spots and then you just be aggressive.”

Miami Marlins base runner Jon Berti (5) doubles during the third inning of an MLB game against the Colorado Rockies at loanDepot park in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida, on Thursday, June 23, 2022.
Miami Marlins base runner Jon Berti (5) doubles during the third inning of an MLB game against the Colorado Rockies at loanDepot park in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida, on Thursday, June 23, 2022.

But as first base coach Keith Johnson notes, it’s being selectively aggressive. Berti almost always has a green light to steal bases, understandable considering he has successfully stolen on 56 of 67 career attempts, but the Marlins don’t want him to steal bases just to steal bases. If and when the situation presents itself, he’s in the clear to run.

“It’s something that’s always been a part of his game,” Johnson said, “but I think he’s just taking it to another level now. There’s another level of detail to what he’s doing.”

It’s the latest progression of the 32-year-old Berti’s big-league career after a long road to get to this point. He was an 18th-round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011 out of Bowling Green State and spent eighth seasons in the minors before getting called up for four games by Toronto at the end of the 2018 season.

The Marlins signed Berti to a minor-league deal with the Marlins ahead of the 2019 season. He was called up on April 20 after impressing during spring training. He’s been on the big-league roster ever since.

At 5-10 and 190 pounds, Berti doesn’t flash with size or power. Instead, he has utilized his strengths — his versatility to play six positions on defense (second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield spots), his speed and his ability to hit for average — to carve out his role with the Marlins.

And, as he has shown this month, he can be an everyday player if needed.

Berti is hitting .292 this season with 14 RBI, seven doubles, two triples, two home runs and 26 runs scored to go along with his MLB-leading 21 stolen bases.

He has started in 22 of Miami’s 24 games in June, with 18 starts at third base and two apiece at second base and shortstop. He has safely reached base in all 22 of those games with eight multi-hit outings while posting a .318 batting average, including a .429 batting average on balls in play (which excludes strikeouts and home runs from the equation).

“You know how much work he’s put in,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “You know what he’s been through. You’re happy for him. ... You’re seeing him at his best. You’re like, ‘Hey, this guy is really good.’”

And that will leave Mattingly with an interesting decision to make in the not-so-distant future. Both Anderson and Wendle are on rehab assignments with Triple A Jacksonville. When the two return, how will that impact Berti’s playing time?

There’s not much debate about what needs to be done in Mattingly’s mind.

“With what he’s doing,” Mattingly said, “you have to find ways to get him in there more. You can’t come back to when everybody comes back, all of a sudden Bert’s not playing. He’s been too good.”

It just becomes a matter of figuring who plays where and when.

While Berti has primarily played the infield this year, he could possibly get occasional starts in center field when Wendle or Anderson is at third base and both second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr and shortstop Miguel Rojas are in the lineup. Wendle and Anderson are versatile, too. Wendle can play second base and shortstop in addition to third base. Anderson can play both corner outfield spots to spell Jorge Soler and Avisail Garcia.

Wherever and whenever he plays, Berti will be prepared. It’s how he has been able to succeed this month after being a spot starter to begin the season and, for that matter, the majority of his Marlins career to this point.

“The more I’m out there,” Berti said, “the more comfortable I get, the more I’m able to take advantage of opportunities.”