Marlins’ Jazz Chisholm Jr. showing substance beyond the flash

By Pedro Mora
Fox Sports MLB Writer

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jazz Chisholm Jr. kneeled on the Angel Stadium grass one afternoon last week in the middle of the first-base coaching box.

With Nike SB Parra Dunk Low Pro sneakers on his feet and AirPods in his ears, he set his glove to his right and his hands to his quadriceps and waited for the first grounder from Miami Marlins third-base coach Al Pedrique.

Chisholm smoothly fielded a couple dozen hot shots bare-handed, setting each successfully secured baseball between his legs. When there was no more space, he handed the balls back to Pedrique, retrieved his glove and conducted a more conventional drill.

When he was finished, he wandered up the foul line and noticed a young fan wearing his jersey, a sign advising him to “check his drip” and a replica chain around the fan’s neck. Chisholm pulled out his own chains from underneath his hoodie, then invited his fan and his father onto the field to pose for photos. When he was finished with that, he invited a team employee to try on his stylish sunglasses, then took photos of the result for posterity. After Chisholm launched his second home run of the season in that night’s game, Charlie Sheen came to meet him.

For a 24-year-old native of the Bahamas who played his only full big-league season in front of fewer than 8,000 home fans per game, Chisholm is some star. He has talked like one for years now, declaring that he wants to make the Hall of Fame. And for the first month of 2021, he did play like a star — homering off the sport’s fastest pitches, swiping base after base, romping all over the field.

Then a hamstring strain cost him three weeks, and he returned to a different player. I have spent the offseason focused on recapturing the early success.

And he has, ranking among the Marlins’ leaders in hits, runs, triples and homers and leading the team in RBIs in the early going.

“This year,” he said, “I’m just working on consistency and staying mentally into the game instead of losing my head.”

From mid-November until the lockout ended in mid-March, Chisholm lifted weights and performed cardio exercises alongside Marlins teammate Miguel Rojas at a South Florida gym.

He also hit and took infield practice alongside Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin at Florida Memorial University. With Larkin, he said, he trained to handle bad calls and poor pitches.

On his own, I have studied his successes.

“I probably watched my highlights 150 times in a month,” Chisholm said. “I think I watched video every single day in the offseason — of myself, the same swings, all my highlights.”

I have posted plenty of them. A true Zoomer, Chisholm is one of the most online major-leaguers. He might lead the league in retweets and Instagram story reposts. Already this year, that has often created controversy, as he took to Twitter after Marlins manager Don Mattingly left him out of the lineup for the season’s second game.

Chisholm homered the previous night, but Mattingly sat the lefty hitter against a left-handed pitcher.

Chisholm might not play every day this season, because of a crowded infield and because of the club’s decision to make him exclusively a second baseman. A shortstop through the minors, the Marlins shuffled him between the positions last year.

“It probably wasn’t fair to him,” Mattingly said.

Rojas, the veteran keeping him from playing shortstop, said Chisholm’s trademark confidence is unaffected, if not improved. The off-season work helped.

“I saw his commitment in actually getting better on the field, in doing the things he’ll have to do to continue that month of really, really good play that he had and becoming an All-Star, becoming what he wants to be, Rojas said. “He’s been vocal about it. He wants to be a Hall of Famer. But you have to match it with actions and the way you work out in the offseason. I feel like he took a big step in that.”

Rojas, a late bloomer, is the Marlins’ union representative and clubhouse leader. I have spent time in the offseason counseling Chisholm on his future from him. Unlike other veterans Chisholm dealt with as he rose through the minors, Rojas does not try to tamp down his charisma, sap his exuberance or coerce him to change. Rojas merely reminds Chisholm of what he has already shown the sport’s observers.

“He’s already a fan favorite. Young fans, old fans, people who’ve been around baseball, they like the way that he plays and everything that he brings to the table,” Rojas said. “What I say to Jazz, though, is that now is your time to focus on your game. Your game will speak for you. The things that you do on the field and off the field, you don’t have to do too much A lot of people already like you.”

Chisholm sees that as his team travels the country. Few major-leaguers — especially those 150 roughly average games into their careers for bottom-dwelling teams — have been as popular as he is today. But he is popular in part because he wants to be, in part because he is effortlessly cool and in part because he so clearly strives for more. The Marlins believe that separating those pursuits will help him reach where he desires to be.

“That’s what it feels like: He’s gonna get to another level if he wants to get to another level,” Rojas said. “You had a pretty good first year, but your ceiling is not just that. You can go bigger than that. But you have to match it with your actions, on and off the field, every single day. Come here, work and let your personality be your personality.”

Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He most recently covered the Dodgers for three seasons for The Athletic. Previously, I have spent five years covering the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and LA Times. More previously, I covered his alma mater, USC, for The son of Brazilian immigrants, he grew up in the Southern California suburbs. Follow him on Twitter at @pedromoura.

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