Florida Marlins Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Mike Berardino
1. Josh Beckett, rhp
Age: 21. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Bats: R. Throws: R. Drafted: HSSpring, Texas, 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Bob Laurie.
Strengths: Beckett has a prototypical power pitchers build and a true No. 1 starters repertoire and makeup. His four-seam fastball can touch 97 mph, but hed rather pitch at 93-94 and get easy outs with his sinker. He has a dazzling 12-to-6 curveball and a plus changeup with excellent arm speed and deception. Becketts delivery is smooth, making the ball get on top of hitters in a hurry. He has a maturity beyond his years, easily trading barbs with older players, writers and club officials and always looking people in the eye. Hes good, knows hes good and would never think of shrinking from his apparent destiny.
Weaknesses: Beckett can be stubborn and too hard on himself. Hes still learning to channel his emotions. He needs to get better at holding runners but wont sacrifice too much of his stuff toward that aim. Beckett is athletic but just an adequate fielder. He continues to mature physically and improve his conditioning.
The Future: Barring a health setback, Beckett will open 2002 in the Marlins rotation. Club officials were ecstatic with his poise and performance during the callup. It wont be long before he fulfills the promise scouts have long predicted for him. In fact, that could happen in 2002.
2. Miguel Cabrera, ss
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Signed: Venezuela, 1999. Signed by: Louie Eljaua, Miguel Garcia.
Background: Signed for a Venezuelan-record $1.9 million, Cabrera grew up with a diamond just beyond his back yard, and his instincts show as much. Last July in Seattle, he became the youngest player in the short history of the Futures Game.
Strengths: Cabrera plays with an all-around smoothness that makes him stand out, even on a Class A Kane County club that also included 2000 No. 1 overall pick Adrian Gonzalez. Cabrera does everything with apparent ease, including driving the ball with authority into both gaps and producing runs in RBI situations. He has a good idea of the strike zone for such a young player. He has plus range and arm strength. Cabrera shed baby fat and became much lighter on his feet with a well-defined physique.
Weaknesses: Despite the increased quickness, Cabreras speed is below-average due to his thick legs. He hasnt shown much home run power, but that should come. He missed time in 2001 with a lower back problem, the only thing that could slow what figures to be a rapid rise.
The Future: Cabrera could make the jump to Double-A to start 2002, and hell continue to play shortstop primarily. An eventual move to third base no longer is considered essential.
3. Denny Bautista, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000. Signed by: Pablo Lantigua, Louie Eljaua.
Background: Bautistas family is close with the Martinez family in the Dominican Republic, which means Pedro and Ramon have provided guidance to a player they consider their nephew. Largely on Pedros advice, Bautista signed with the Marlins for about $350,000 after an agreement with the Braves fell through in light of Atlantas Wilson Betemit transgression.
Strengths: Bautista has added 10-15 pounds of muscle to his tall, wiry frame and his velocity has climbed from the mid-80s to 94-96 mph. He pitches at 90-92 and shows a plus curve that comes in over the top, and an improving changeup. Hes in tremendous condition and in offseason workouts actually outpaces Pedro Martinez, who taught him how to throw all three pitches.
Weaknesses: Bautista still tends to overthrow at times and has a bad habit of spinning off toward first base on his delivery, a la Pedro. He still needs to add maturity and consistency with his mechanics.
The Future: Considering Bautistas youth and inexperience, he likely will begin 2002 at Class A Brevard County. The Marlins will be extra cautious with Bautista, a special talent.
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1b
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HSBonita, Calif., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: David Finley.
Background: A classic late bloomer, Gonzalez was considered a signability choice atop the 2000 draft. He agreed before the draft to a $3 million bonus and wasted little time validating the pick or the money. His older brother Edgar is a third baseman in the Devil Rays system. Their father David was a top first baseman in the Mexican semipro leagues into his early 40s.
Strengths: Gonzalez isnt intimidated by any pitcher or situation. Intelligent and confident, he publicly set a goal of hitting .420 in 2001 but was far from a disappointment. He knows his swing and the strike zone better than anyone else in the system and makes quick adjustments. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of pitchers, which should serve him well down the road. He has soft hands, decent range and saves plenty of errors with his glove.
Weaknesses: Gonzalez has gap power but doesnt project as more than a 20-homer threat. He has a tendency to drift with his hips, allowing pitchers to jam him with hard stuff inside. He wore down under the grind of his first full pro season, and his speed is well below-average.
The Future: Gonzalez could jump to Double-A with a good spring. His makeup and willingness to take instruction portend a rapid rise.
5. Allen Baxter, rhp
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HSSandston, Va., 2001 (3rd round). Signed by: Ty Brown.
Background: Baxter emerged from a pack of high school righthanders the Marlins were considering in the early rounds of the 2001 draft. He signed quickly for $450,000, then wasted little time establishing himself.
Strengths: Baxter pitches at 90-91 mph and has hit 95, a couple of ticks higher than his peak before signing. Marlins officials say he has Kevin Brown-style movement on both his two- and four-seam fastballs, explosive weapons hes still learning to harness. His curve is a plus pitch, and his changeup and command are advanced for a first-year pro. Baxters makeup is solid, he accepts instruction well and hes quietly intimidating on the mound. He has a prototypical pitchers frame.
Weaknesses: None that are obvious other than a lack of professional experience. He has junked a slider at the Marlins request and still can improve his changeup.
The Future: Baxter got a taste of short-season ball and figures to open the year in extended spring training, but his rapid progress could entice the Marlins to send him to Kane County.
6. Abraham Nunez, of
Age: 22. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 186. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Junior Noboa (Diamondbacks).
Background: Nunez came to the Marlins in December 1999 as the player to be named in the Matt Mantei deal. The Diamondbacks contested his inclusion in the deal, but the commissioners office let the deal stand. His presence was one of the reasons the Marlins dealt 1996 first-rounder Mark Kotsay to the Padres just before Opening Day 2001.
Strengths: Nunez is a five-tool player with plus power from both sides of the plate. His throwing shoulder was back to full strength after a nagging injury limited him mostly to DH in 2000. He has the arm and range to play either center or right field. He has consistently shown the ability to draw walks.
Weaknesses: Nunez still strikes out too much and overswings most of the time. He has a hard time staying back on pitches, and his swing tends to get too long. His speed is just average. He sometimes makes strange decisions that cause scouts to doubt his instincts.
The Future: Considering the Marlins conservative philosophy in promotions, Nunez figures to return to Portland for another crack at Double-A pitching. Much of his game still requires assembly, but once the pieces start to click into place, he could make the majors in a hurry.
7. Claudio Vargas, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1995. Signed by: Pablo Lantigua.
Background: Vargas has made slow but steady progress since signing. His star really took off in late 1999 when he came back from a bout of shoulder tendinitis to throw 96 mph in a playoff game for Kane County. That earned him an invitation to big league camp.
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 spent much of the year working on a three-quarters arm slot and showed a better, late-breaking curveball toward the end of the season. He has a bulldog mentality on the mound and loves to pitch up and in. He has outstanding makeup and never scares, even when things go wrong.
Weaknesses: Vargas tends to leave pitches up, as shown by his 25 home runs allowed. His changeup still needs work. He also must work on maintaining a consistent arm slot and finishing his pitches.
The Future: While other Marlins righthanders have struggled to stay healthy, Vargas has shown the durability of a future middle-of-the-rotation starter. He should get his first taste of Triple-A in 2002, with a big league callup possible in September.
8. Blaine Neal, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSHaddon Heights, N.J., 1996 (4th round). Signed by: Will George.
Background: Neal was hampered by mysterious elbow problems his first two pro seasons. The Marlins tried him at first base, and he flopped there as well. Nearly released after the 1998 season, he had arthroscopic surgery to remove several large bone spurs and shave down part of a bone to relieve pressure on a nerve. That led to his re-emergence as a pitcher.
Strengths: Neal comes right at hitters with a fastball that has touched 98 mph and sits at 93-95 mph with late movement. He has a short, quick curveball and a strong pitchers frame with wide back muscles reminiscent of Goose Gossage. He has a smooth, easy delivery and a ferocious competitive streak. His unflappable demeanor hints at success as a future big league closer.
Weaknesses: Neals fastball can get too straight, and some wonder if he has anything nasty enough to close games. He sometimes doesnt use his lower half, elevating his pitches and giving hitters a clear look.
The Future: Neal struggled during his first September callup, but with the Marlins facing a possible payroll cut, hell be given every opportunity to make the back end of the bullpen in spring training.
9. Josh Wilson, 2b/ss
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 165. Drafted: HSMount Lebanon, Pa., 1999 (3rd round). Signed by: Ty Brown.
Background: Son of the head baseball coach at Duquesne, Wilson developed quickly thanks to his lineage as well as his time with the U.S. junior national team. His instincts are advanced as a result.
Strengths: Wilson has shown marked improvement each year at the plate. He has shortened his swing considerably, allowing him not only to handle inside pitches but also to drive them into the gaps. He has a strong arm and improved his range after dropping some weight. He has quick feet, good agility and has shown the ability to play either middle-infield position as well as third base. His makeup is first-rate, and he carries himself with the confidence of a future big leaguer.
Weaknesses: Though he has good gap power, Wilson may never hit many home runs, likely ruling out a permanent move to third. His speed is just average, and he needs to get stronger.
The Future: Wilson figures to start the year at Brevard County, where he again could team with shortstop Miguel Cabrera. If Cabrera is bumped up to Double-A, Wilson could move back to shortstop full-time. His versatility only increases his value.
10. Rob Henkel, lhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 210. Drafted: UCLA, 2000 (3rd round). Signed by: Steve Minor.
Background: Henkel turned down $700,000 from the Mets, who took him in the 20th round of the 1999 draft. After signing for $650,000 in September 2000, the former UCLA star spent nearly a year fighting a balky shoulder that caused his velocity to drop to the low 80s.
Strengths: Henkel worked hard to strengthen his shoulder and saw his velocity climb back up to 89-92 mph. He got six weeks in low Class A, then a brief taste of the Arizona Fall League, where he showed a much-improved changeup to go with his signature pitch, a devastating knuckle-curve with late, quick break. Already a survivor of Tommy John surgery, Henkel showed uncommon hunger and a willingness to attack his rehab with vigor.
Weaknesses: Henkel tends to overanalyze his performance, though that may be a byproduct of his frustration with the long recovery time. He needs innings after missing the past two summers.
The Future: Henkel will open 2002 in Class A, but his maturity, intelligence, lefthandedness and college time could allow him to move fast.
Rest of the Best:
11. Jason Stokes, of
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