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Marlins Draft Preview

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MIAMI -- Pitching, defense and speed may be the blueprint the Marlins used to build this year's team, but the organization's draft strategy is more general.

With the 16th overall pick, the Marlins are leaning toward taking the best available player. If he happens to pitch, catch or play middle infield, even better.

"Pitching and catching are always needs," said Jim Fleming, the Marlins vice president of player development and scouting. "Whether or not you get them, we'll see."

In his second season spearheading the Marlins draft, Fleming says the team is zeroing in on certain positions. Ideally, they would like some more left-handed pitching, and a power hitter is a premium, if one is out there. Signability also is a factor. Whoever they pick, they want to sign. Last season, their first round pick, left-handed hitting outfielder Jeremy Hermida, signed and he is now in low Class-A Greensboro.

2003 First-Year Player Draft

"One of our goals is to get some bats," Fleming said. "You always can use guys with a high ceiling."

Like every team, the Marlins are dealing with drafting high school or college ready players. Fleming is open to both.

"College guys, generally thinking, are considered faster to the big leagues," Fleming said. "High school guys are more projectable and have higher ceilings."

In theory, college players should advance quicker. But that's not always the case. Cubs pitching sensation Mark Prior is an exception for achieving swift success out of college.

By comparison, Marlins minor leaguer Justin Wayne was signed as a fifth round pick by the Expos in 2000. While Wayne pitched for the Marlins last September, and made two starts this season, he is back in Triple-A Albuquerque for more seasoning.

With so much risk involved in the draft, Fleming follows a basic philosophy: "You can never have enough pitching. And you keep drafting it."

Organizational needs: Adding left-handed pitching and hitting is a priority. Like at the Major League level, the Marlins minor league affiliates are scare of lefties. As well as pitching and catching, a middle infielder -- preferably one who can hit -- is high on the wish list.

Finding more power is also important. But if one is not around, landing a complete hitter is the next alternative.

Top choice: With a middle-round pick, the Marlins are narrowing down their list by scratching off five or six players that won't be around, and a half dozen who may be. Ian Stewart, a third baseman from La Quinta High School in California is a possibility. Left-handed pitcher Andrew Miller of Buchholz High School in Florida may be around. Third baseman Eric Duncan from Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey is a rising prospect with power. Right-handed pitcher Craig Whitaker from Lufkin High School in Texas is throwing 98 mph.

Class of 2002: The Marlins feel they drafted a gem when Hermida was there with the 11th pick. The left-handed hitting outfielder from Marietta, Ga., is in the low Class-A Greensboro, where he is struggling a bit but the team expected that because he is taking a big step up. Second round pick Robert Andino, a shortstop from Miami, also is in Greensboro. While his batting average is down, his fielding has been impressive. Third-rounder Trevor Hutchinson is performing nicely at Class-A Jupiter, winning six of his first seven decisions with a 2.79 ERA. A mild disappointment is eighth-rounder, right-handed pitcher Ryan Warpinski, who has shoulder tendinitis. Warpinski is in Greensboro.

Best of the best: The best draft pick the Marlins ever made remains their first choice in franchise history. In 1992, catcher Charles Johnson was taken in the first round out of the University of Miami. Johnson was a four-time Gold Glove winner with the Marlins and he was a key player on the 1997 World Series championship team. Mark Kotsay, the team's first round selection in 1996, gave the Marlins a few good seasons before being traded to the Padres. The Marlins are hopeful that right-handed pitcher Josh Beckett, picked first in 1999, will develop into an All-Star. Beckett's Major League career has been beset by injuries.

The Year to Remember: It may be too early to tell, but the 2000 draft may go down as the Marlins best ever. The first two picks were first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and Jason Stokes. Gonzalez is in Triple-A Albuquerque, where the left-handed hitter is regarded as a strong prospect at the plate. Stokes, meanwhile, has outstanding power and is a rising star in Class-A Jupiter. The third round choice was left-handed pitcher Robert Henkel. Outfielders James Kovourias and Will Smith, infielder Patrick Magness and catcher Josh Willingham are producing in the minors. Willingham was a 17th round choice and converted infielder.

Prospect shipped off: In order to get a quality player, organizations often have to give. Henkel, a third rounder in 2000, was traded in the offseason to the Tigers for left-hander Mark Redman. Henkel has a huge upside, but the Marlins got back a starter who threw more than 200 innings in Detroit last year.

First rounder chart:

Jeremy Hermida, OF (2002): Fresh out of high school, Hermida is at low Class-A Greensboro, where he was hitting .256 with seven doubles, two triples, two home runs and 17 RBIs in his first 45 games.

Garrett Berger, RHP (2001): Berger is working in extended Spring Training in Jupiter as he continues his comeback from right elbow surgery.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B (2000): The first overall pick, Gonzalez hit 17 homers and drove in 96 runs last season in Double-A Portland. Recovering from a right wrist injury, Gonzalez is now at Triple-A Albuquerque where he had 17 RBIs in his first 35 games.

Josh Beckett, RHP (1999): Selected second overall, Beckett made a swift rise to the big leagues. But his first two seasons have been marred by injuries. Last year he spent three stints on the disabled list with blister problems. Beckett sprained his right elbow in May and was placed on the disabled list.

Chip Ambres, OF (1998): The Marlins top choice in 1998 is playing for Double-A Carolina where he was off to a tough start at the plate, hitting .221 through 42 games. He added six home runs and 21 RBIs.
 

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