JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — When two young female fans spotted Chris Coghlan trotting by during a Florida Marlins workout, their squeals of delight startled hitting coach Jim Presley, who turned to the girls with a grin.
"Hey, Chris Coghlan ain't that good-looking, OK?" he said.
Actually, the Marlins' lineup looks a lot better with Coghlan at the top.
He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2009, winning the award despite spending the first month of the season in the minors and then joining a team chronically under the national radar. But his season was too good to overlook: He hit .321 to lead all major league rookies, and also led in runs, hits, total bases, on-base percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Now fans squeal when he goes by. A little girl asked him to sign his name on her face (he declined). He was surprised to encounter an autograph seeker — again, female — even in the Louisville airport.
Attending a banquet to receive his rookie of the year award, he wore a tuxedo for only the second time — the first was his high school prom. He joined a Marlins group on a winter tour of Iraq and Kuwait and was a hit with the troops.
At age 24, he's still adjusting to the notoriety.
"It's humbling," he said. "But it's not like I'm some celebrity who can't go out of the house."
Another year like 2009 would cement Coghlan's star status. Only seven major-league rookies in the past 50 years had a higher average. His average led all NL leadoff hitters. And he improved as the season progressed, batting .388 after July 31.
"It's hard to be successful in the big leagues, let alone right off the bat," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "You have to be mentally strong, and he showed he could do it."
A left-handed hitter, Coghlan thrived despite batting leadoff for the first time while learning a new position. He played second base in the minors, but the Marlins were set there with Dan Uggla, so they moved Coghlan to left field.
Coghlan's willingness to make the changes is what most impressed manager Fredi Gonzalez about the rookie.
"Playing left field — he had never done it before. Leading off — he had never done that before. And he did it well," Gonzalez said. "He took those challenges and ran with them, where a lot of guys might have balked at playing left field or used leading off as an excuse. He just said 'OK' and was real good."
Actually, Coghlan seemed overmatched the first two weeks. Recalled from Triple-A New Orleans in early May, he started 6 for 42 (.143). His average was up to .245 by the All-Star break, and he hit .372 the rest of the way. His 113 hits after the break tied for the most in the NL in the past 45 years.
As for defense, he was so solid in left field that after a month Gonzalez stopped sending in a late-inning replacement. He finished with five errors.
For Coghlan, his achievements sunk in only when the season ended.
"After the last game of the year, flying home, it was the first time I took a deep breath and said, 'Wow, did that just happen?'" he said.
"Last year was awesome," Coghlan said. "It's a very prestigious honor to be in the same sentence as the guys who have won the award before me. But what's exciting for me this year is what we have ahead, and moving on and trying to improve."
Beginning his first spring training as a left fielder, Coghlan wants to spend a lot of time on his defense. He stole 34 bases one year in Double-A and wants to improve on last year's total of eight.
What won't change is his approach at the plate.
"I'm confident with what I do," he said. "I'm not going to try to adjust to the pitchers. I'm not looking for any particular pitch. I'm just trying to stay simple and hit the ball up the middle. Through that, I have confidence I'll be able to continue to build on my success."