Organization of the Year: St. Louis Cardinals
ST. LOUIS—Late in each season, Gary LaRocque takes a tour of the minors and talks about the month that matters most. It may be August when the Cardinals’ senior adviser [...]
Top Ten Prospects: Florida Marlins
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Mike Berardino
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2005.
Background: As a high school senior, Hermida went from a decent prospect seemingly destined for Clemson to a possible top-three selection. Baseball America rated him the top pure hitter on the prep level and the fourth-best position player overall in the 2002 draft, and the Marlins were extremely pleased when he was still available for them with the No. 11 pick. The Marlins chose him over high school lefthander Scott Kazmir, then gave Hermida a $2.0125 million signing bonus. His father groomed his hitting ability, converting him from a righthanded hitter to a lefty at age 4, having him practice with wood bats starting when he was 13 and hiring former big leaguer Terry Harper as a private instructor. Though Hermida missed nearly five weeks early in 2004 with a pulled right hamstring, he still managed to set career highs in batting average, slugging percentage and homers. He ranks No. 1 on this list for the second straight year, the first Marlin to accomplish that feat since Josh Beckett (2001-02).
Strengths: Hermida has a polished hitting approach. He has a smooth, quick stroke, advanced plate discipline for his age, a strong work ethic and good makeup. He's comfortable working deep in counts and projects to have power to all fields. For now, he's mainly content to line singles and doubles to the opposite field. Hermida has drawn comparisons to a slew of all-stars. Some scouts called him the best high school hitter since Eric Chavez, others likened him to Paul O'Neill and Andy Van Slyke, and Hermida saw himself more along the lines of Shawn Green. The Marlins would be happy if he resembles any of those hitters and believe he will. He has slightly above-average speed and even better instincts on the bases. He has 38 steals in 43 tries over the last two seasons and projects to swipe 20 bases a year in the majors. He has average arm strength.
Weaknesses: He has come a long way defensively, but Hermida still needs to improve his jumps, routes and the accuracy of his throws in right field. It would help if he showed as much interest in his defense as his hitting. He projects as at least a 25-homer threat in the big leagues, but he has some adjustments to make first. He'll have to add lift to his swing, learn to pull inside pitches for power and put some more bulk on his frame. Durability is a minor concern, as injuries have bothered Hermida in each of his first three seasons. He dealt with an ankle problem in 2002 and a heel injury in 2003.
The Future: After a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League, where he was one of the youngest players, Hermida should start 2005 at Double-A Carolina. If he shows he can handle that level, he could reach the majors by the end of the year. The Marlins have Juan Encarnacion under contract at $4.4 million through 2005, but they hope Hermida will be ready to take over as their everyday right fielder in 2006.
Background: Olsen was relatively unknown and had mechanical problems in high school, so the Marlins were able to take him in the sixth-round and sign him for $160,000. Jeff Schwarz, his pitching coach in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, smoothed him out in his pro debut, and now he's one of the game's top lefty prospects.
Strengths: Olsen continues to increase his velocity, as he now pitches at 91-93 mph and tops out at 96. His fastball has late life and he has tightened his slider to give it more depth. He's learning to use his slider as an out pitch. He's confident and aggressive, with a bit of a mean streak.
Weaknesses: Olsen has a tendency to leave his fastball up in the zone and he needs to use his changeup much more than he's willing to now. His slight frame could use another 15-20 pounds of muscle. He needs to add maturity and learn to control his emotions better on the mound.
The Future: For the second straight year, Olsen finished strong. He went 3-0, 0.78 in his final six starts at high Class A Jupiter, showing he's ready for Double-A. He could land in the majors as soon as he shows he's ready.
Background: Signed for $85,000 out of Venezuela by former Marlins scout Miguel Garcia, Bazardo might have the best overall arm in the system. Part of a talented pitching staff at Jupiter in 2004, Bazardo distinguished himself in that company. The Marlins designated him one of four untouchables in their system at the July trade deadline.
Strengths: Bazardo's long limbs allow him to deliver a 92-94 mph fastball that has touched 98 as late as the eighth inning. He has good action on his sinker, and also throws a plus changeup and a developing slider. He junked his curveball early in the year to concentrate on his slider. He's aggressive, going right at hitters, and gets lots of quick outs. He has excellent makeup.
Weaknesses: Bazardo tired late in the season and was pitching closer to 90 mph, but the Marlins aren't concerned about that. His mechanics still go out of whack from time to time, and he sometimes tries to manipulate his changeup instead of letting it work naturally. He doesn't miss as many bats as he should with his stuff.
The Future: The Marlins will be careful not to rush Bazardo, but he isn't that far away from the majors. He'll open 2005 in Double-A.
Background: Stokes would have gone early in the first round as the top high school power hitter in the 2000 draft, but his commitment to the University of Texas dropped him to the first pick in the second round. After signing for $2.027 million, he eventually surpassed 2000's No. 1 overall pick, Adrian Gonzalez, in Florida's plans. That led to Gonzalez' inclusion in a 2003 trade for Ugueth Urbina.
Strengths: Stokes' greatest tool remains his powerful bat. He shows prodigious power to all fields. He runs well for a big man and has decent hands.
Weaknesses: His high strikeout totals have inspired some doubts, and Stokes never shortens his long swing, not even with two strikes. He has poor lateral movement, which means he'll never be more than average at best as a first baseman. His left wrist required a bone graft in 2002 and flared up again last season. He may require another operation.
The Future: With incumbent first baseman Jeff Conine's contract up after 2005, Stokes is positioned to succeed him. However, he'll have to show he can stay healthy for a full season. He could return to Double-A to start 2005.
Background: With Jason Stokes and Miguel Cabrera blocking him at the corner-infield spots, Willingham tried catching in instructional league in 2002. He has made enough strides to handle a surprising jump from Double-A to the majors last July. He led the minor leagues in on-base percentage.
Strengths: Willingham has made himself into perhaps the best pure hitter in the system. He has a short swing, power to all fields and a willingness to work counts and take walks. The tools-first Marlins don't have enough of those players. He's instinctive and has great work ethic. He has solid-average arm strength and works hard at calling a game.
Weaknesses: Because he didn't try catching until he was 23, Willingham might run out of time to make the full transition. He could wind up like Craig Wilson, bouncing from first to the outfield and slugging all the way. Staying healthy has been a concern as persistent knee problems undercut his 2003 season and have knocked his speed to below average.
The Future: With Paul Lo Duca eligible for free agency after 2005, Willingham could be a low-cost replacement if he continues to develop defensively. In the interim, he could make the big club in a utility role.
Background: Reed led the Cape Cod League in hitting in 2001 but fell in the 2002 draft after a poor junior season. Despite a wiry frame, he's a former high school powerlifting champion who squatted 450 pounds at Texas A&M. He missed the last three months in 2004 after breaking his wrist in a bar fight.
Strengths: Reed has top-of-the-line speed, regularly timed at 3.8 seconds to first base. Often compared to Marlins center fielder Juan Pierre, he may be faster and a better defender. He's a tremendous bunter with some gap power. His arm is average.
Weaknesses: Reed still strikes out too much for his skill set. He must do a better job of sticking to his strike zone and not expanding with two strikes. Taking more pitches would help as well. He's in great shape and has just 3 percent body fat, but he still needs to add bulk to his upper body.
The Future: To scrape off some rust, Reed played in the Arizona Fall League after the season. He figures to return to Double-A, where he'll continue to prepare himself as Pierre's eventual replacement. Pierre could receive a huge bump through arbitration after 2005, which could add some urgency to Reed's development.
Background: The son of a nuclear physicist, Tankersley gets his sporting genes from his paternal grandfather, Earl Tankersley, who pitched briefly in the minors. He taught his grandson the importance of pitching inside at an early age. The lessons paid off, as Tankersley received a $1.3 million bonus at the 27th pick in the 2004 draft.
Strengths: Tankersley's best pitch is a plus slider. His fastball usually ranges from 90-93 mph. He shows a bulldog mentality and throws from a low three-quarters arm slot, which makes him particularly tough on lefties. He throws strikes and has great versatility after starting and relieving at Alabama.
Weaknesses: Tankersley doesn't have an overpowering fastball and his velocity sometimes dips into the high 80s. Refining his changeup would make his heater more effective. His emotions sometimes get the best of him, and he much watch his weight as his body still carries some baby fat.
The Future: With his college background and maturity level, both physical and mental, Tankersley should move quickly through the system. Though he could get to the majors quicker as a reliever, the Marlins will leave him in the rotation at low Class A Greensboro so he can develop fully.
Background: Vargas was a two-way player during a circuitous college career that saw him spend a year each at Louisiana State, Cypress (Calif.) JC and Long Beach State. The Marlins considered taking him in the first round in 2004, but opted for Taylor Tankersley before grabbing Vargas in the second. He's the nephew of former major league infielder Randy Velarde.
Strengths: Vargas has good arm strength, working at 91-94 mph with his fastball. His tight slider is a putaway pitch against lefties. His changeup has good downward action at times and could become a plus pitch. He has a strong mound presence, working quickly and going right after hitters. He has sound mechanics and command.
Weaknesses: Some scouts wonder if Vargas may wind up as a reliever because he has just one plus pitch against righthanders. Though he has a good physique, there's some concern about potential weight gain in his lower half. He tired near the end of the year after a late promotion to low Class A, but that's typical for first-year players.
The Future: Vargas should stay with Tankersley, beginning 2005 back at Greensboro. If he continues to show the progress he made in his pro debut, he'll reach high Class A by season's end.
Background: After signing for $750,000, Andino hit just .188 in his full-season debut. He got off to another slow start in 2004, batting .141 through early May before he suddenly began producing at the plate. He hit .313 the rest of the way.
Strengths: Andino has tremendous range, a plus arm and a little flair at shortstop. His defense is easily his biggest asset and will get him to the big leagues. He does have plus bat speed, and he shored up some of the holes in his swing. He learned to stay back on offspeed pitches and trusted his hands more. He's figuring out how to put his good speed to use on the bases.
Weaknesses: Andino will have to prove his offensive resurgence was no fluke. He needs to get stronger after fading at the end of 2004. He takes plays off occasionally and sometimes flips throws to first base.
The Future: While Josh Wilson has a head start in the race to eventually replace Alex Gonzalez, Andino could catch and pass Wilson by the time the change is made. Gonzalez's contract expires after 2005, which could bring opportunity sooner than expected for Andino. He figures to begin the season back in high Class A.
Background: The younger brother of former Cardinals pitcher and current Bears quarterback Chad Hutchinson, Trevor has far better command this his sibling. Drafted as a college senior in 2002, he held out for 8 1/2 months before signing for $375,000.
Strengths: When he's on, Hutchinson throws a heavy sinker at 89-91 mph. His slider and changeup are solid-average pitches. He has outstanding makeup and a good feel for pitching, changing speeds and eye levels on unsuspecting hitters. He's a strike-thrower who produces lots of groundballs.
Weaknesses: A minor elbow problem dropped Hutchinson's velocity into the mid-80s for a while and sidelined him for six weeks at midseason. An MRI failed to turn up anything definitive, and the condition was written off as arm fatigue. A trip to the Arizona Fall League was aborted after two starts when he had muscle spasms in his throwing shoulder. Another MRI proved negative. Though he's 22-12 in the minors, Hutchinson has been pretty hittable.
The Future: Hutchinson projects as no better than a fourth starter and could emerge initially as a workhorse setup man. He figures to return to Double-A for a third straight year, but could reach Florida by midseason.