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Questions With Kline: Jim Fleming
by Chris Kline
JUPITER, Fla.--Marlins vice president of player development and scouting Jim Fleming has a rich history of signing players dating back to when he was the scouting director of the Expos.
From 1998 to 2001, Fleming drafted big leaguers including Brad Wilkerson (first round, 1998), Grady Sizemore (third, 2000), Cliff Lee (fourth, 2000), Jason Bay (22nd, 2000); as well as current Nationals No. 6 prospect lefthander Mike Hinckley.
Fleming left the Expos after the 2001 season and was a key part of the Marlins' drafts ever since, drafts that already have produced big leaguers such as Jeremy Hermida (first, 2002), Jason Vargas (second, 2004); Josh Johnson (fourth, 2002); Robert Andino (second, 2002) and Scott Olsen (sixth, 2002.
So with that impressive track record in mind, BA sat down with Fleming yesterday morning to get his take on a myriad of topics and players as the Marlins move forward with their second rebuilding process heading into this season.
Baseball America: With all the moves in the offseason, how much has camp changed this year in terms of gauging what you already have versus what you need to continue to develop?
Jim Fleming: I think we're a development-focused organization anyway, so the only major change is we're a lot deeper. We're having to try to evaluate a lot of new people in camp--most of them are in big league camp, which really helps because it's an extra three weeks of seeing them. And then just fitting them into our system--where they're going to go, where they belong and what we need to do. We're trying to go slow with the new guys in the system and not throw too many new things at them. And as we go along, if we feel there are some things we want to change or adjust, then we can do that.
BA: The sheer depth in the system is pretty unreal. But critics are already hammering the club heading into this season. And this is the second time the rebuilding process has followed a fire sale within the organization. What is your response to those critics? Can you point to history and say it's only a matter of time until the Marlins contend again?
JF: I think there are some similarities because we've been working real hard over the last three years to add to our system and kind of beef it back up. Because that championship team in 2003--all those guys that came through had left and the system wasn't as potent as it had been, so we started hammering away to build the system up again. Then we had the big draft last year (five of the first 44 overall picks) when we got a lot of people. I think you combine all those things and it makes the system just about as strong as you could ever hope for.
Trying to sell it is more for the public--not for players. Players are about their own opportunities. And what they see is a lot of talent and a lot of opportunities for themselves--that's what every good player is looking for. I don't think we really have to sell them much, other than that they know they can get there pretty fast. I think if you're a player in the Marlins organization, you're seeing opportunity and you're seeing a development organization that is good for a young player.
Now from a public standpoint, I think it's probably a little more palatable this time because we've done it before and six years later there's a championship. And so I think it's a little easier to get on board to watch the young guys grow. And that's what they need to do--we've got a lot of talented young players. They'll certainly have some bumps in the road, but it should be fun to watch.
BA: Joe Borowski and Brian Moehler are the only two pitchers on the 40-man roster who were born in the 1970s. What do these guys bring to the table to help round out some of that inexperience?
JF: They bring experience and they bring professionalism. Joe is new to the organization, but Brian was with us last year, and one of the reasons we wanted to bring him back is obviously he's a good player, but he's also the consummate professional. He works very hard, he's come back from a major surgery and rehabilitated the right way. And he's in there every day working at his craft. That's what you want young players to see. You want them to see guys who've been in the big leagues for a while and still have the passion for it and still go about it the right way.
And Joe's the same way. He was a closer a couple years ago and is now trying to re-establish himself and is very committed to doing that. I think it's good for young guys to see the older guys still working very hard so they understand it's work for the long haul. It's a continual process. It's not that now you've arrived, so you can sit back and enjoy it. It doesn't work that way and those two guys are perfect examples for the younger guys to follow.
BA: The organization took a few gambles in the Rule 5 draft last December as well. Aside from Dan Uggla, who's having a brilliant spring, what are the chances of a guy like Mike Megrew actually sticking?
JF: What we saw there is a very talented guy that we liked as an amateur. And because (the Dodgers) are right up the road, we saw a lot of him in spring training. We saw him before the injury and he was very good. And so, yeah, that's a risky one--there's no question about it because he's young and he's coming back from an injury. You're rolling the dice a little bit, but we're in a situation where we can roll the dice a little bit. We can have a roster spot for a guy who's green. So it's about where he is with the injury and at this point it's a little too early to say whether he'll stick or not.
BA: Obviously we have to ask about Jeff Allison leaving camp early again this year . . .
JF: No comment.
BA: OK . . . moving on, another intriguing arm you got back in the deals this winter is Yusmeiro Petit. He's another guy--like all those other guys--who's had a track record of success in the minor leagues. What are your impressions of him?
JF: He's a little different, because it's all about putting four pitches where he wants and when he wants. His first couple outings were just OK, but that's pretty common for command and control pitchers this early in camp. You have to go to the mound a while. You can tell he's a real smart pitcher who understands what it takes to get hitters out. He's a lot different than the other guys we got in trades because they're all power pitchers--with maybe (Ricky) Nolasco being a combination of the two.
It's one of those things where as a scout you could kind of say his stuff's not flashy, and it isn't flashy. But when he starts painting those corners it becomes a lot better. Every pitch you like and every pitch has quality, so when you look at a guy like that it's a combination of all the things he brings to the table.
BA: Do you ever send any top guys to (Triple-A) Albuquerque? It seems like there are a ton of impact guys--Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Hermida, Jason Vargas to name a few--who all come straight from Zebulon to Miami. Is the Pacific Coast League an environment you'd sometimes rather avoid?
JF: It kind of looks like that because we've had so many guys jump from Double-A, but I think that's just been the circumstances. Albuquerque has been pretty much all six-year free agents. We have not had prospect pitching there because all our prospects were at the lower levels of the system. This year, the prospects that don't make this club will go to Albuquerque because now we do have upper level prospects.
I think it's a combination of just logistics. When a six-year free agent didn't meet the requirements for the big leagues, we went and got the Double-A guy. Because they did well, some of them are going to Triple-A. Do we want to avoid Albuquerque? It's a little tough on a young guy, and so we don't want to get them there too early--that's for sure. We'll make sure that they've accomplished Double-A and then we'll take them there. But we won't avoid Albuquerque. It's a good experience, because if they can learn to pitch there, then pitching in Miami is that much easier.
That whole PCL is a very offensive league and we try to explain to them that it's about pitching well, not so much the numbers. But some guys don't get that. So you have to make sure they're ready to go there. It's just like this year, (Josh) Johnson or (Scott) Olsen, they're ready to go to Triple-A because they've accomplished it, and they've pitched in the big leagues. It's not as big a deal to them now as it would have been if you tried to move them last year when they were just arriving into Double-A.
BA: Last question, what did you get back for Josh Beckett in Hanley Ramirez? Will he be the starter when camp breaks or is Robert Andino showing you anything?
JF: It's a two-man race between Robert and Hanley and it's fun to watch because they both can really play. And absolutely there's impact with Hanley. A lot of times when guys go through a system fast, the lack of numbers scare some people. He hasn't put up huge numbers like a guy like Cabrera. That doesn't mean anything to me. If you look at the tools, Hanley Ramirez's tools say 'big impact.' And Robert as a shortstop has exceptional defensive tools. He probably doesn't have the offensive ceiling that Hanley has, but both should be very good big leaguers. It's a heck of a race and probably will be until the last day of camp.