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1999 Top 10


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Florida Marlins Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams

By Mike Berardino

1. A.J. Burnett, RHP
Age: 23  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-5  Wt: 204
Drafted: HS--North Little Rock, Ark., 1995 (8th round)  Signed by: Larry Chase (Mets)

Top Prospects of the 90s

1993 Nigel Wilson, of
1994 Charles Johnson, c
1995 Charles Johnson, c
1996 Edgar Renteria, ss
1997 Felix Heredia, lhp
1998 Mark Kotsay, of
1999 A.J. Burnett, rhp

Background: After rocketing to the top of the Marlins organization with his breakout 1998 season, Burnett struggled mightily to live up to the hype. He made a strong push for a spot in the big league rotation out of spring training, nearly jumping from Class A to the majors. Sent back to Double-A Portland, Burnett fell into a rut early and kept digging a deeper hole. By late July he was exiled to the bullpen for three appearances, where he seemed to clear his head. Then, lightning struck. On a whim the Marlins promoted him for a mid-August spot start at Dodger Stadium. The kid with the silver nipple rings, tattoos and Marilyn Manson predilection thrived in the spotlight, allowing just one run over 523 innings. Burnett, who joined the organization in the February 1998 trade that sent lefthander Al Leiter to the Mets, returned to the minors for one more start before rejoining the Marlins rotation for the rest of the year.

Strengths: Even when he was getting hit at Portland, Burnett’s stuff was exemplary. His fastball tops out at 95 mph with excellent movement, but it’s his spike curve that makes him downright nasty. The break on the pitch is so hard and so violent that umpires–even big league umpires–frequently missed it. His changeup was much improved. If it’s possible, Burnett’s makeup is even better than his stuff. He is willing to pitch inside. He is unafraid.

Weaknesses: Impatience was Burnett’s biggest enemy this season. Having come so close to making the roster out of spring training, he had little tolerance for his (or his fielders’) mistakes at Portland. His 16 wild pitches illustrated his tendency to overthrow, and nearly 19 percent of his runs allowed were unearned. He struggled often with his command. Burnett became frustrated in the minors, but seemed more at home against better competition.

The Future: Based on his late-season audition and undeniable arsenal, Burnett enters the spring penciled into the big league rotation. He figures to ease into the role as the fourth starter, but it won’t be long before he climbs toward the top of that list too.

1999 Club        W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Portland (AA)    6 12  5.52  26  23   0   0  121 132  71 121
Florida          4  2  3.48   7   7   0   0   41  37  25  33

2. Josh Beckett, RHP
Age: 19  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 200
Drafted: HS--Spring, Texas, 1999 (1st round)  Signed by: Bob Laurie

Background: Beckett was drafted No. 2 overall in June, becoming the first high school righthander since Bill Gullickson (1979) taken that high. He signed a four-year, $7 million major league contract just days before he was to head to Blinn (Texas) Junior College.

Strengths: Beckett is the same age as many college sophomores. He has a prototypical power pitcher’s build and has been clocked as high as 97 mph, though he topped out at 94 during instructional league. He has a devastating 12-to-6 curveball that breaks hard and late. Though extremely confident, Beckett is coachable and willing to learn.

Weaknesses: Beckett is inexperienced and needs to work on finishing his pitches. His changeup is still developing, but the arm speed and command are there already.

The Future: He will begin 2000 at either low Class A Kane County or at high Class A Brevard County. All indications point to a rapid pass through the Marlins system.

1999 Club    W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
         Did not pitch–Signed 2000 contract

3. Wes Anderson, RHP
Age: 20  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 175
Drafted: HS--Pine Bluff, Ark., 1997 (14th round)  Signed by: David Chadd

Background: The Marlins stole Anderson in the 1997 draft as other teams backed off, thinking he was headed to college at Arkansas. He signed late and made just 11 Rookie-level Gulf Coast League starts in ’97.

Strengths: Anderson has the best fastball in the system. He pitches at 92-93 mph and has topped out at 97 with late life. He has a plus slider and an average to above-average changeup. His lanky frame and fluid delivery have drawn comparisons to John Smoltz. Anderson is so smooth, at times looks to be pitching in slow motion.

Weaknesses: A minor bout with shoulder tendinitis caused Anderson to miss several starts, but he came back to finish the year with two dominant showings. His intelligence can be a detriment at times as he overanalyzes situations and tends to try to be too perfect.

The Future: Anderson will start 2000 at Brevard County but could move up to Double-A by midseason if he continues to make hitters look silly.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Kane County (A)   9  5  3.21  23  23   2   0  137 111  51 134

4. Brad Penny, RHP
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 200
Drafted: HS--Broken Arrow, Okla., 1996 (5th round)  Signed by: Chris Knabenshue (Diamondbacks)

Background: Penny was acquired from the Diamondbacks along with Vladimir Nunez in the midseason Matt Mantei trade. Penny was the Diamondbacks’ top prospect last winter and stood out at the Futures Game and the Pan American Games in the summer of ’99.

Strengths: Penny is a classic No. 1 power pitcher. His fastball tops out at 96 mph, and he can spot it to both sides of the plate well enough to eschew his curveball and changeup for long stretches.

Weaknesses: Penny was slowed early in 1999 by shoulder tendinitis and was reluctant late in the year to throw his secondary pitches. His changeup needs more separation from his fastball, and his curveball tends to flatten out.

The Future: After a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, Penny will go to spring training with a chance to make the Marlins rotation. More likely he will head to Triple-A for more seasoning.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
El Paso (AA)      2  7  4.80  17  17   0   0   90 109  25 100
Portland (AA)     1  0  3.90   6   6   0   0   32  28  14  35

5. Julio Ramirez, OF
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 5-11  Wt: 170
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996  Signed by: Jesus Alou

Background: Signed at 16 as a catcher with average speed, Ramirez has morphed into something altogether different over the last six years. He has progressed slowly and steadily through the Marlins system.

Strengths: Ramirez has the speed and arm to become a perennial Gold Glove candidate in center field. He has above-average power and continues to develop his baserunning skills. He has been timed at 3.69 seconds from home to first, remarkable for a righthanded hitter. He projects as a No. 3 hitter with 30-30 potential.

Weaknesses: He still chases too many pitches out of the strike zone, a habit that has harmed his attempts at becoming a leadoff hitter. Good breaking balls still give him trouble and he has struggled to keep his legs integrated into his swing. His willingness to accept input has improved.

The Future: Having received his first big league taste during a September callup, Ramirez will head back to Triple-A Calgary knowing a permanent promotion is around the corner.

1999 Club         AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Portland (AA)    .261  568  87 148  30  10  13   64  39 150  64
Florida          .143   21   3   3   1   0   0    2   1   6   0

6. Chip Ambres, OF
Age: 20  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 190
Drafted: HS--Beaumont, Texas, 1998 (1st round)  Signed by: Bob Laurie

Background: Lingering concerns over knee and hamstring injuries, as well as a football scholarship to play quarterback for Texas A&M, caused Ambres to slip out of the top 10 picks in the 1998 draft. He went 27th and took a $1.5 million bonus to play baseball exclusively. It took him until the winter to get fully healed.

Strengths: Ambres has outstanding speed and has worked hard to improve his basestealing skills. Intelligent and a natural leader, he rarely chases bad pitches. He projects as either a leadoff or No. 3 hitter in the big leagues. He has gap power and the willingness to hit balls the opposite way.

Weaknesses: His arm is accurate but just average, which will probably force him to left field. He still needs to improve his defensive routes and get stronger physically.

The Future: Having torn up the lower levels in his debut season, Ambres will start 2000 at Kane County. His tools, attitude and aptitude augur a rapid rise through the system.

1999 Club         AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
GCL Marlins (R)  .353  139  29  49  13   3   1   15  25  19  22
Utica (A)        .267  105  24  28   3   6   5   15  21  25  11

7. Pablo Ozuna, SS
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 160
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996  Signed by: Roberto Diaz (Cardinals)

Background: Ozuna set the Midwest League on its ear in 1998, batting .357 with 62 stolen bases. He then came over from the Cardinals as part of the Edgar Renteria deal last winter. The son of a fisherman, he developed his wiry strength while working the docks as a boy.

Strengths: Ozuna has plus speed and range and the hand-eye coordination to put the bat on almost everything he swings at. He handles inside pitches well and has gap power. He is open to instruction and plays the game with obvious joy.

Weaknesses: His average arm caused the Marlins to convert him from shortstop to second base during instructional league. His basestealing numbers dropped as he faced more developed catchers in Double-A. He must learn to take more pitches.

The Future: Ozuna will return to Double-A to start the 2000 season as he works to master his new position. Big league incumbent Luis Castillo is just 24 and coming off a breakthrough season, so Ozuna’s track has slowed somewhat.

1999 Club         AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Portland (AA)    .281  502  62 141  25   7   7   46  13  50  31

8. Jason Grilli, RHP
Age: 23  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 185
Drafted: Seton Hall, 1997 (1st round)  Signed by: Alan Marr (Giants)

Background: Taken out of Seton Hall with the fourth overall pick in 1997, Grilli received a $1.875 million signing bonus from the Giants after a summer-long holdout. He quickly established himself as their top prospect but was traded east last July along with fellow minor league righthander Nate Bump in the Livan Hernandez deal. His father Steve is a former big league righthander and now scouts for the Cardinals.

Strengths: Grilli’s fastball tops out at 94 mph and shows late life and good sink. He has the makings of a plus curve and an average change.

Weaknesses: The inexperienced Grilli has trouble at times keeping his delivery smooth, and his command in turn suffers. He still needs to learn how to subtract velocity to achieve his aims.

The Future: Grilli made a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League after struggling all year in the Pacific Coast League. Most likely he’ll return to Triple-A until he masters that level.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Fresno (AAA)      7  5  5.54  19  19   1   0  101 124  39  76
Calgary (AAA)     1  5  7.68   8   8   0   0   41  56  23  27

9. Gary Knotts, RHP
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 200
Drafted: Northwest Alabama CC, 1995 (11th round)  Signed by: Bill Singer

Background: Knotts was signed in 1996 as a draft-and-follow. He has filled out considerably, adding at least 35 pounds. He spent time at two levels in ’99, then showed further progress in the California Fall League.

Strengths: Knotts has come a long way the last two seasons, particularly in terms of command and poise. His strong pitcher’s body and durability make him a future workhorse. His fastball tops out at 94 mph and his two-seamer has a heavy sink that produces reams of groundballs. He refuses to give in.

Weaknesses: He has a power curve but tends to overthrow it. His changeup is just average and he struggles to maintain arm speed with it. He is extremely self-critical and could use a little swagger on the mound.

The Future: Knotts projects as a No. 3 or 4 starter who will gobble up innings. He will return to Double-A to start 2000, then could get a big league shot by season’s end.

1999 Club          W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Brevard County (A) 9  6  4.60  16  16   3   0   94 101  29  65
Portland (AA)      6  3  3.75  12  12   1   0   82  79  33  63

10. Terry Byron, RHP
Age: 20  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 200
Drafted: Indian River (Fla.) JC, 1999 (2nd round)  Signed by: Louie Eljaua

Background: A native of the Virgin Islands, Byron attended a U.S. junior college to enhance his draft status. The Louisiana State signee slipped to the 53rd overall pick and signed for just $350,000, the lowest figure in the second round.

Strengths: Byron’s fastball touches 94 with good movement, but it’s his devastating changeup that puts him on this list. His arm speed and deception are perfect, and the change tumbles out with fastball spin at 78 mph. Byron claims the change is self-taught, the circle grip stolen from a Baseball America photo of Pedro Martinez.

Weaknesses: He has a short, stocky build but compensates with a long, loose arm that is atypical for someone his size. His curve is below average and he tends to overthrow.

The Future: Byron figures to start 2000 at Kane County. He projects as a solid No. 4 starter. If he continues to struggle with his curve, a move to the bullpen is possible down the line, particularly with the Marlins’ remarkable starting depth.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Utica (A)         3  0  1.24   6   6   1   0   29  17   7  31

Rest of the Best:

11. Miguel Cabrera, ss
12. Ramon Castro, c
13. Armando Almanza, lhp
14. Hector Almonte, rhp
15. Nate Robertson, lhp

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