Questions With Kline: Jim Fleming

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.

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

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?

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.

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

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.

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?

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

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.

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?

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.

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?

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?

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.

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

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?

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.