Florida Marlins Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Mike Berardino
1. Josh Beckett, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS--Spring, Texas, 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Bob Laurie.
Background: Beckett was taken No. 2 overall in 1999, the first high school righthander taken that high since Bill Gullickson 20 years earlier. After a summer-long holdout he received a four-year, $7 million big league contract just days before he was to begin classes at Blinn (Texas) Junior College, wisecracking his way through a press conference at the Astrodome. Beckett made two appearances at his first big league spring training, blowing away the Royals before getting rocked by the more experienced Braves. He returned to minor league camp to begin his professional climb at Class A Kane County, where he was named the Midwest Leagues No. 1 prospect.
Strengths: Beckett has a prototypical power pitchers build and has been clocked as high as 97 mph, though he generally pitches at 93-94 mph. He has a devastating 12-to-6 curveball that breaks hard and late. The combination has drawn comparisons to a young Bert Blyleven. Though confident and bordering on cocky, Beckett is generally coachable and willing to learn. His changeup is developing, but the arm speed and command are there already.
Weaknesses: Two starts into his pro career, Beckett was shut down for seven weeks with shoulder tendinitis. The condition flared again in August, and the Marlins again proved cautious with their huge investment. Beckett attended instructional league but wasnt allowed to throw. He still needs to mature physically and improve his upper-body conditioning. Suddenly, there are doubts about his durability and deep-seated fears about the long-term health of his prized shoulder. He needs to work on finishing his pitches, and a little more emotional maturity wouldnt hurt either.
The Future: Beckett had hoped to make it to Double-A by the end of last season. Now theres a good chance he wont get there until 2002. Hell get another crack at big league spring training, but this time the emphasis should be on staying healthy and fine-tuning his repertoire rather than trying to impress the brass. His contract calls for him to be in the big leagues for good by 2004, so theres time for development. Some believe the first health scare of his young career could work to his advantage. If he ever took his gift for granted before, he probably wont now.
2. Wes Anderson, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HSPine Bluff, Ark., 1997 (14th round). Signed by: David Chadd.
Background: Anderson was stolen in the 14th round in 1997 as teams thought he was headed to the University of Arkansas. He ranked No. 3 on this list a year ago after ranking sixth following his 1998 debut.
Strengths: Even with Josh Beckett in hand, some still believe Anderson has the best fastball in the system. He pitches at 92-93 mph but has topped out at 97. He has a plus slider and an average changeup, though the slider came and went last year. His lanky frame and fluid delivery have drawn comparisons to John Smoltz. When hes on, Anderson can absolutely dominate opposing hitters and make it look easy. Hes considered a future No. 1 or 2 starter.
Weaknesses: For the second straight season Andersons shoulder wore down late, causing him to miss starts. Some felt he kept quiet and tried to pitch through pain to prove hes not soft, but he was told thats the wrong approach. Anderson is a classic worrier and honestly doesnt seem to grasp his talent. He could use a little of Becketts swagger.
The Future: Anderson should start the year at Double-A Portland, where he must prove he can stay healthy and pitch with more bravado. The stuff is there. Its the rest of the package that needs work.
3. Miguel Cabrera, ss
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Signed: , Venezuela, 1999. Signed by: Louie Eljaua, Miguel Garcia.
Background: Cabrera signed for a Venezuelan-record $1.9 million. A false rumor that he contracted elephantiasis was spread in Venezuela by a jilted scout, though the truth is slowly making its way through the country. Making his pro debut at 17, Cabrera stood out as the best position prospect on a stacked Rookie-level Gulf Coast League club.
Strengths: For his age, Cabrera has an advanced approach at the plate. He has a great eye and a compact swing to go with plus power. He could contend for batting crowns and home run titles. In the field he has a solid, accurate arm and a quick release. His hands are soft and more than sufficient to play shortstop.
Weaknesses: Cabreras speed is below-average, he has a stocky build and his legs tend to be a bit heavy. Those attributes, plus his long frame, have prompted speculation about a move to third base. He still had baby fat after signing but has worked hard to turn it into muscle.
The Future: After getting a taste of short-season Utica late in the 2000 season, Cabrera could start out as high as the Midwest League. If all goes well he should challenge for a big league job by 2003.
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1b
Age: 18. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HSBonita, Calif., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: David Finley.
Background: A late bloomer on the San Diego scene, Gonzalez rocketed to the top of the 2000 draft. His older brother Edgar was a 30th-round pick and signed with the Devil Rays. Their father David was a top first baseman in Mexican semipro leagues into his early 40s.
Strengths: Gonzalez has a smooth stroke and easy actions around the bag. His hitting has drawn comparisons to Rafael Palmeiro, while his glove evokes Mark Grace. He has tremendous makeup and a willingness to take instruction. His hand-eye coordination makes him tough to strike out and a treat to watch in the field.
Weaknesses: Gonzalez has gap power but some wonder if his wiry frame will ever produce 20-plus homers in the majors. He gets jammed sometimes with inside pitches and has a tendency to get too closed with his stride. He has an elaborate leg kick, but so far Marlins instructors have been reluctant to quiet down his lower half.
The Future: In an organization full of first basemen, Gonzalez has the most polished all-around game. He already has moved Jason Stokes to left field. Gonzalez should start 2001 in the Midwest League.
5. Abraham Nunez, of
Age: 21. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 186. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Junior Noboa (Diamondbacks).
Background: Nunez moved to Florida as the player to be named in the Matt Mantei trade. The Diamondbacks contested his inclusion, but after a three-month controversy the commissioners office let it stand.
Strengths: Youll find all five tools in this package. Nunez has plus power from both sides of the plate. He has the arm to play either center or right field. He showed admirable patience and work ethic after an injury to the back of his throwing shoulder kept him out of the field most of the year. Nunez sustained a tear when he failed to warm up properly before playing catch with friends at home. He also had to deal with a brain aneurysm that struck his father at midseason. His father survived, and Nunez came back and finished the season strong.
Weaknesses: His speed is the weakest of his tools, average at best, but Nunez uses it well. He tends to jump at pitches, forcing him to spend time seeing thousands of curveballs from a pitching machine.
The Future: Nunez figures to return for a second go-round at Double-A. His shoulder was healthy for instructional league, though he missed six weeks in winter ball when he broke his left hand sliding.
6. Claudio Vargas, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1995. Signed by: Pablo Lantigua.
Background: Signed at 16 out of the Dominican, Vargas has made slow but steady progress. His star took off in late 1999, when he came back from shoulder tendinitis to throw 96 mph in a playoff game for Kane County. That earned him an invitation to big league camp last spring, and he has been climbing ever since.
Strengths: Vargas pitches at 92-93 mph and has touched 97 with his lively fastball. He has a smooth delivery and a live, loose arm to go with a solid pitchers frame. He has a good feel for both his curveball and changeup. He has a bulldog mentality on the mound and isnt afraid to pitch inside.
Weaknesses: His curve tends to get slurvy as he struggles with his arm slot. Vargas probably will have to make it a full-fledged slider at some point, but the Marlins discourage younger pitchers from throwing sliders or splitters. His fastball command escapes him now and again, and hell leave pitches up and over the middle of the plate.
The Future: Vargas should be in the next wave of young Marlins starters to reach the majors. He should get his first taste of Triple-A in 2001, and a big league callup is possible in September.
7. Blaine Neal, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSHaddon Heights, N.J., 1996 (4th round). Signed by: Will George.
Background: Neal languished with elbow problems through his first two pro seasons, working just 52 innings before the Marlins opted to give him a last chance as a first baseman. Despite his large frame and smooth stroke, he flopped at the plate as well. Surgery to remove bone spurs and other debris in his throwing elbow at the end of the 1998 season led to his re-emergence as a pitching prospect.
Strengths: Neal comes at hitters with a fastball that has touched 97 mph and stays at 95-96 with late movement. Before surgery he topped out at 92 mph. Despite his bulk he has a smooth and easy delivery. His stone-faced mound demeanor is a plus for a future closer as well.
Weaknesses: Despite having five pro seasons under his belt, he remains relatively inexperienced. Grooming him as a reliever has given him less time to work out the rough spots. His curveball and changeup still need improvement. He tends to be too mechanical with the curve, dropping his arm and getting under the pitch.
The Future: After tasting more success in the Arizona Fall League, Neal should reach Triple-A this year. Neal soon could become the heir apparent to big league closer Antonio Alfonseca.
8. Jason Stokes, of/1b
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 233. Drafted: HSCoppell, Texas, 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Bob Laurie.
Background: Stokes set a Texas high school record with 23 homers last spring and was considered the top high school power hitter in the draft. He dropped only because of signability concerns and was ready to attend Texas until the Marlins forked over $2.027 million in late August. He signed too late to make his pro debut.
Strengths: Stokes has raw, brute strength and generates upper-deck clout with a relatively compact swing. He put on a batting-practice show on the eve of his signing. He showed no scare during instructional league, where a pulled hamstring slowed him down but he whetted the organizations appetite. Stokes has poise and confidence, especially at the plate, where his strike-zone recognition is advanced.
Weaknesses: His defense at first base was below-average, and with Gonzalez at first, Stokes has moved to left field. His feet are quick enough and hes a good enough athlete to at least make that transition stick for a few years, but hell never be a plus outfielder.
The Future: A late bloomer in high school, Stokes has a first-rate makeup and work ethic. The Marlins fully expect him to develop into one of their premier position players, starting in the Gulf Coast League.
9. Pablo Ozuna, 2b
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Roberto Diaz (Cardinals).
Background: When the Marlins acquired Ozuna in December 1998, he was the key player in the trade that sent Edgar Renteria to the Cardinals. He hit at least .323 in his first three professional seasons and had just wrecked the Midwest League. His star has dimmed somewhat in the two seasons since, but not by much.
Strengths: Speed is his primary tool. Close behind is tremendous hand-eye coordination that enables him to make contact on pitches anywhere near the plate. Though slight, hes wiry strong and has some gap power. He has a solid makeup and takes instruction well.
Weaknesses: An erratic arm prompted a move from shortstop to second. Ozunas defense has been shaky as he makes the transition. Hes learning to harness his speed. Lapses in concentration and overaggressiveness cause him to run into outs. He remains a free swinger.
The Future: Doubts are beginning to build about Ozuna. He looked overmatched in a big league audition. Now that Luis Castillo has put his vast tools to use, Florida may look to move Ozuna yet again, perhaps to center field. He should get his first crack at Triple-A in 2001.
10. Nate Rolison, 1b
Age: 24. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 240. Drafted: HSHattiesburg, Miss., 1995 (2nd round). Signed by: Bill Singer.
Background: Rolison has developed slowly, failing to hit .300 or more than 17 home runs in any of his first five professional seasons. He averaged 144 strikeouts in his first four full years, finally graduating to Triple-A Calgary in 2000 and enjoying a breakout season as Marlins minor league player of the year.
Strengths: A hulking figure, Rolison has possessed some of the best power in the organization for years. He finally figured out how to turn on pitches on the inner half and drive them. Hes one of the few Marlins prospects willing to take a walk. His strike-zone recognition is very good.
Weaknesses: At times he can be too passive with pitches on the outer half, but Rolison did a much better job of driving those balls to left and left-center last season. Hes a below-average runner and defender, though he has improved his footwork around the bag.
The Future: A freak injury during batting practice wiped out Rolisons planned tour of duty in the Puerto Rican League and likely wrecked whatever chance he had to make the Marlins this spring. He had surgery to repair the hamate bone in his right hand.
Rest of the Best:
11. Chip Ambres, of
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