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Austin Nola Tries To Catch On In Utility Role



Austin Nola (Photo by John Williamson) Austin Nola (Photo by John Williamson)

MIAMI—Triple-A shortstop Austin Nola wants to make the majors so badly that this past August he asked an open-ended question to his hitting coach, Paul Phillips:

"How can I add value to my game?”

Nola, who also plays third base and second base, got an answer he wasn’t expecting.

Phillips, who played parts of seven seasons in the majors as a catcher, introduced Nola to a face mask, shin guards, a chest protector and a catcher’s mitt.

Then, in the Arizona Fall League, Nola got in some games as a catcher.

"It started out as an emergency thing, having that in my back pocket,” said Nola, whose younger brother Aaron pitches for the Phillies. "But I made big strides in the Fall League, working with Paul. I enjoyed learning about the game.”

That type of attitude is typical of Austin Nola. Brett West, the Marlins’ assistant farm director, said Nola is "by far the best player as far as makeup I’ve had a chance to work with.”

That and his versatility are two reasons why Nola, 25, made a major league 40-man roster for the first time in his career in November.

Being able to cover so many positions could help him make the Marlins’ 25-man roster at some point.

Phillips said Nola, a 6-foot, 195-pound righthanded hitter, doesn’t have any tool that jumps out at scouts. A fifth-round pick in 2012 out of Louisiana State, Nola has never hit more than six homers, never stolen more than eight bases and never hit higher than .280 in the pros.

Phillips, who is now the Marlins’ minor league catching coordinator, said Nola’s managers in New Orleans and in the Arizona Fall League both gushed about having him on their roster.

"Austin gets excited when he learns something new,” Phillips said. "It’s refreshing to work with a kid like that. It will make coaches feel good to know there are still players who want to learn the game and ask questions to help make them better.

"If I had nine Nolas I could win a lot of games. Well, if I had eight Nolas—his brother (Aaron) could be the ninth.”

FISH BITES

The Marlins claimed lefthander Elvis Araujo, 25, off waivers. He was 4-2, 4.35 in 72 relief outings for the Phillies the past two years.

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In addition to Nola, the Marlins added three other first-timers to the 40-man roster: righthanders Luis Castillo and Drew Steckenrider and infielder J.T. Riddle.

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