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2002 class making its mark

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MIAMI -- When evaluating baseball drafts, it is generally believed you can't measure a class until four years later.

If that's the case, a strong argument can be made that the Class of 2002 as the best overall draft in Marlins' history.


The notables are right fielder Jeremy Hermida (first round), shortstop Robert Andino (second round), right-hander Trevor Hutchinson (third round), right-hander Josh Johnson (fourth round), left-hander Scott Olsen (sixth round) and center fielder Eric Reed (ninth round). Another choice, right-hander Travis Chick (14th round), was traded in 2004 to San Diego for starting pitcher Ismail Valdez, who gave Florida a productive second half.


Hermida, Johnson and Olsen are the primary standouts. All three are considered potential All-Stars down the line. Andino has already seen big-league time and is likely to make it either with the Marlins or somewhere else. Because Hanley Ramirez is around, though, Andino is blocked at shortstop.


Hutchinson was once regarded as the top pitching prospect of the class, but a shoulder injury set him back. Now he is pitching again, working his way up to Double-A Carolina as a starter. He may project as a reliever down the line.


Reed, now at Triple-A Albuquerque, was the Marlins' Opening Day starter in center field this season.


Olsen and Johnson are already anchors in the rotation, and Hermida is the everyday right fielder, with a tremendous upside.


"It was tough to project the future back then, but we all came up through the stages together," Hermida said. "I came up with Ollie and Johnson, and it was pretty cool watching those guys progress in the Minor Leagues.


"Now you can look back and realize those guys always had something pretty special, and they were able to fine-tune some things."


The 2002 draft was the first by the current Marlins management. Jeffrey Loria purchased the club before that season and the draft was handled by Jim Fleming, the vice president of player development and scouting.


If they had not signed professional contracts, Hermida had a scholarship to Clemson. Johnson would have gone to Oklahoma, and Olsen was ready to attend Western Michigan.


In 2002, Hermida and Jeff Francoeur were high school rivals in the Atlanta area. Both had scholarships to Clemson, but opted for pro offers. Francoeur is now a rising star with the Braves.


"That Clemson team would have been scary," Olsen said. "Imagine Hermida and Francoeur using aluminum bats, as hard as they hit the ball. And this would have been their senior year."


"That's a pretty productive class," Johnson said. "We were on the same team all the way up. We were playing with each other every year."


Olsen remembers his first day in the Gulf Coast League. He was then an 18-year-old who weighed 195 pounds and stood 6-foot-4. That's when he first met Johnson.


"It's good, because everybody came up together," Olsen said. "We came up together, played in the Gulf Coast together, [Class A] Jamestown together, [Class A] Greensboro, [Class A] Jupiter and Carolina together. It's fun, because you can be around guys for five or six years."


As solid as the 2002 draft was, the Marlins may have struck more gold in 2005, when they had three first-round picks and five of the first 44 overall choices.


All five selections were pitchers: right-hander Chris Volstad, left-hander Aaron Thompson, right-hander Jacob Marceaux, right-hander Ryan Tucker and left-hander Sean West.


First-pitch competition: As a way to get the starting pitcher focused on pounding the strike zone, pitching coach Rick Kranitz came up with a friendly competition aimed at throwing strikes.


Since the All-Star break, an extra emphasis is being placed on first-pitch strikes.


Dontrelle Willis, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco, Olsen and Johnson are taking part in a friendly wager. All their first-pitch strikes are being recorded. And the pitcher over a four-start period who has the highest percentage of first-pitch strikes is the winner.


According to Kranitz, 60-65 percent is considered very good.


"We're preaching getting ahead, and I want these guys to know how important it is," Kranitz said.

Trade deadline excitement: As the July 31 trade deadline approaches, the Marlins are not expected to make any major moves.


It's pretty well known across the league that Willis isn't going to be moved. The team considers the D-Train the leader of the squad, and chances are very good he will not be going anywhere next year either. Of course, if an offer is made that is too attractive to pass up, they will consider it.


But because Willis is a front-line starter who isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2009 season, the team has no urgency to make a deal.


Regarding the non-waiver July 31 deadline, manager Joe Girardi considers it one of the most exciting days of the season.


"The reason I like it is because I think it's very exciting for baseball," Girardi said. "There's a lot of speculation, a lot of hope in different cities in who you are going to get. And [there is] hope for the future if you trade away a pretty good player and are you going to get good kids in return.


"I think it's a great time of year. I love watching the ticker to see what's going to happen. For me, it's one of the great times of the year in baseball."


Moehler's assignment: Brian Moehler will throw a rehab assignment on Monday in a Gulf Coast League game at Port St. Lucie.


Moehler, on the disabled list since July 2 with a right foot sprain, is slated to throw 75 pitches. If all goes well, he will start in the doubleheader on July 30 at Philadelphia. Sanchez is in line to pitch the other game against the Phillies in the twin bill.


Coming up: Off on Monday, the Marlins go on the road for a three-game series with the Braves beginning Tuesday at Turner Field. Sanchez (3-0, 3.41) gets the nod while Atlanta is going with right-hander Jason Shiell (0-1, 9.00).





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