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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: 22  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: Drafted by the Mets out of tiny Central Arkansas Christian High, Burnett was brought along slowly in that organization. He was kept him in short-season and rookie leagues for three years as he grew into his body. A broken ankle also slowed his progress. Desperate for a front-line starter last February, they reluctantly included Burnett in the Al Leiter deal, then watched in shock as Burnett put together one of the great pitching seasons in recent memory. At the time of the trade, Burnett had three screws in his broken pitching hand. He suffered the injury in a bizarre offseason accident, using his bare hand to protect himself from an overthrow. Burnett missed the first seven weeks of the season, then made up for lost time with an incredible display of power pitching. He led the minors with 14.1 strikeouts per nine innings, ranked second in batting average allowed (.179) and was third in ERA. He had 11 games with double-digit strikeouts. Tempting as it was, the Marlins decided not to promote him and let Burnett build confidence over a full Midwest League season.

Strengths: Burnett's fastball alone was enough to eat up Class A hitters. It runs in the mid-90s with good movement and has touched 97 mph. He has three average to above-average pitches, including a sharp-breaking curve and an improving changeup that project him as a rotation-topping starter. A fierce competitor, Burnett is not afraid to make a mistake, loves to challenge hitters and won't back down. He already knows how to work the inside of the plate for strikes. He has an ideal pitcher's frame, lean muscles and a loose, powerful delivery that can be very deceptive. His makeup is excellent as he shows a willingness to make adjustments and correct mistakes on his own.

Weaknesses: Like all young pitchers, Burnett still must work on his command. He can be inconsistent with his changeup and his curveball, thrown with a raised forefinger like a knuckle-curve, tends to flatten out and get slurvy. He can leave pitches up in the zone. Strikeouts usually come naturally for Burnett, but he still has a tendency to try to muscle up and throw even harder at times.

The Future: Burnett spent the winter in Melbourne, Fla., working out at the Marlins' minor league complex. He will start the 1999 season at Double-A Portland, but if he continues his recent career arc a taste of the big leagues is not unrealistic sometime in 2000.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
Kane County (A) 10 4 1.97 20 20 0 0 119 74 45 186

2. Alex Gonzalez, SS
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 170
Signed: Venezuela, 1994  Signed by: Levy Ochoa

Background: Gonzalez is the latest in a long line of Venezuelan shortstops. Less flashy than Omar Vizquel but with more pop than Ozzie Guillen, Gonzalez will get his first shot at the big leagues this season. He was named top prospect in the International League last year despite ranking as the IL's youngest position player.

Strengths: Professional maturity. Gonzalez has played winter ball in his home country since he was 17. His defense is Gold Glove-caliber. He has plus feet, hands, range, instincts and release, though he lacks a cannon arm. He has good gap power and knows how to make adjustments between at-bats.

Weaknesses: Like his namesake with the Blue Jays, Gonzalez can become enamored of his power and get himself out by overswinging. His speed is average and contributes to a conservative baserunning style.

The Future: The Marlins wouldn't have dealt Edgar Renteria to the Cardinals unless they felt Gonzalez was ready. He was enjoying a strong winter season and could make Marlins fans forget their World Series hero in due time.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Charlotte (AAA) .277 422 71 117 20 10 10 51 28 80 4
Florida .151 86 11 13 2 0 3 7 9 30 0

3. Braden Looper, RHP
Age: 24  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 210
Drafted: Wichita State, 1996 (1st round)  Signed by: Cardinals

Background: Looper starred at Wichita State, where he made all but five of 70 career appearances in relief. The third overall pick of the Cardinals in 1996, Looper received a $1.675 million bonus, then the second-largest amount even given a drafted player. Along with shortstop Pablo Ozuna, he was the key to December's Edgar Renteria deal.

Strengths: Looper has been closing since college. He has tremendous makeup and is a fierce competitor. He goes right after hitters with his triple-digit fastball and never backs down. Tall and solidly built, he is the prototypical closer.

Weaknesses: Looper still needs to come up with a reliable second pitch. He has experimented with the slider, changeup and even a splitter at times. The slider is out in front for now. His command of the fastball could improve as well.

The Future: Looper will go to spring training as the Marlins' likely setup man for closer Matt Mantei. Once Looper settles in and gets his feet under him in the majors, he figures to claim the closer role.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
Memphis (AAA) 2 3 3.10 40 0 0 20 41 43 13 43
St. Louis 0 1 5.40 4 0 0 0 3 5 1 4

4. Wes Anderson, RHP
Age: 19  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 175
Drafted: HS--Pine Bluff, Ark., 1997 (14th round)  Signed by: David Chadd

Background: Anderson slipped all the way to the 14th round of the 1997 draft because of signability questions. The Marlins gave him a six-figure bonus on the eve of his enrollment at the University of Arkansas, and Anderson did not make his professional debut until last season. Some in the Marlins organization compare him to a young Kevin Brown.

Strengths: Anderson features a fastball that has touched 97 mph, an average to above-average slider and a still-developing changeup. Like Burnett, he is a fierce competitor with a live, loose arm and a free and easy delivery. Anderson's two-seamer has good sink and boring action. His ball seems to explode on hitters.

Weaknesses: Simply the inconsistency that comes with inexperience. His changeup needs work and he still needs to add strength to his lanky frame.

The Future: Anderson will likely begin his second pro season in the Midwest League. If he dominates there the way fellow Arkansas high school product Burnett did in 1997, he might not be far behind him in the race to the big league rotation.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
GCL Marlins (R) 5 2 1.39 11 11 1 0 65 44 18 66

5. Julio Ramirez, OF
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 5-11  Wt: 170
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996  Signed by: Jesus Alou

Background: Signed shortly before his 17th birthday, Ramirez was the rare Dominican who was already toned and muscled upon reporting to the Marlins. He has made a slow but steady climb through the organization and has drawn comparisions to Juan Encarnacion and Vladimir Guerrero. His 71 stolen bases ranked third in the minors last year.

Strengths: Ramirez is a five-tool talent, but his speed stands out. He has been timed at 3.69 from home to first, despite hitting righthanded. On defense, Ramirez gets outstanding jumps, patrols both gaps and has a plus arm. He's very aggressive on the bases and shows good basestealing instincts. He has 30-homer power but has still developed his bunting to the point where he's a threat to reach that way as well.

Weaknesses: His swing tends to get a little long and strikeouts remain a concern. He still needs to add maturity and consistency, and better plate judgment is a must if a leadoff role is to be in his future.

The Future: Ramirez will begin 1999 at Double-A Portland. His big league arrival could come late in the 2000 season. The Marlins will continue to take things slowly with him.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Brevard County (A) .279 559 90 156 20 12 13 58 45 147 71

6. Pablo Ozuna, SS
Age: 20  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 160
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996  Signed by: Cardinals

Background: The Marlins braintrust fell in love with Ozuna, a .351 hitter in three years in the Cardinals organization, during an August scouting swing to assess their Kane County affiliate. Four months later, the Marlins acquired him in the trade for Renteria.

Strengths: Ozuna has a live body with good actions for a middle infielder. He has above-average speed and quick feet with above-average range and an accurate though average arm. He plays with great energy, and has good plate judgment and gap power. He rarely strikes out and led the minors with 192 hits. He has excellent basestealing instincts and projects as a leadoff-type hitter.

Weaknesses: Ozuna compensates for his average arm with positioning and a quick release. Many of his 45 errors last year were due to lapses in concentration. He could draw more walks and improve his bunting. Ozuna has below-average power; at 160 pounds, he needs to fill out and add strength.

The Future: Ozuna will be part of what figures to be a special team at Double-A Portland in 1999. He should arrive in the majors by late 2000, at which point the Marlins will have another excruciating decision to make.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Brevard County (A) .357 538 122 192 27 10 9 62 29 56 62

7. Chip Ambres, OF
Age: 19  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 190
Drafted: HS--Beaumont, Texas, 1998 (1st round)  Signed by: Bob Laurie

Background: One of the top prep quarterbacks in Texas, Ambres signed with Texas A&M out of high school. The Aggies had talked about changing their offense to suit his talents. Signability concerns and a lingering hamstring injury caused him to slip in the draft last June. The Marlins eventually signed Ambres to a $1.5 million deal.

Strengths: Ambres has above-average speed when healthy and is extremely polished for a high school hitter. Some Marlins officials compare him with a young Mark Kotsay in terms of his astute hitting approach. He is strong defensively and has excellent plate judgment. Ambres has great makeup and is eager to learn.

Weaknesses: Ambres must be considered injury prone, with the hamstring and a strained left knee (from football) in his past. His arm is considered only average. His power could come as he fills out more, but for now he's purely a gap hitter.

The Future: Ambres still has not seen live professional pitching, though he did stand out during instructional league drills. He will open 1999 in the extended spring program and likely spend some time in the Gulf Coast League.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did not play — Signed 1999 contract

8. Preston Wilson, OF
Age: 24  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 193
Drafted: HS--Bamberg, S.C., 1992 (1st round)  Signed by: Craig Kornfeld (Mets)

Background: Wilson, the stepson of former Mets standout Mookie Wilson, has seen his progress slowed by a series of minor injuries and problems hitting the breaking ball. He got his first taste of the big leagues in 1998, and was acquired in the May 15 Mike Piazza trade.

Strengths: Wilson is a five-tool talent. His defense has improved markedly, particularly his ability to go back on balls. An exciting talent, Wilson plays with visible enthusiasm. He has light-tower power, though he has averaged just 18 homers per season in the minors. He has power to all fields and above-average speed.

Weaknesses: Despite his speed, Wilson has never been much of a basestealer. He is injury prone, and he strikes out entirely too often, showing a particular weakness for high fastballs and breaking balls in the dirt.

The Future: Wilson will get every opportunity this season to serve as the Marlins' fourth outfielder behind a trio of lefty-swinging starters. Should his power truly emerge, Wilson could force the Marlins to make room with yet another trade.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Norfolk (AAA) .247 73 9 18 5 1 1 9 2 22 1
Charlotte (AAA) .278 356 71 99 25 3 25 77 34 121 14
Mets .300 20 3 6 2 0 0 2 2 8 1
Florida .065 31 4 2 0 0 1 1 4 13 0

9. Geoff Goetz, LHP
Age: 19  B-T: L-L  Ht: 5-11  Wt: 163
Drafted: HS--Tampa, 1997 (1st round)  Signed by: Joe DelliCarri (Mets)

Background: Goetz, signed by the Mets to a $1.7 million bonus in 1997, was the key to the May 15 deal that sent Mike Piazza to New York, but he could not be identified as the unnamed third player until early July because of the rule that prohibits teams from trading picks until one year after they sign.

Strengths: Goetz doesn't have the blazing fastball of some other Marlins prospects, but he's more polished than most 19-year-old lefties. He has a live, loose arm and his fastball tops out at 92 mph with decent movement. His out pitch is a nasty overhand power curvethat he throws with a knucklecurve grip. He's gritty and won't back down from hitters.

Weaknesses: His fastball won't bowl you over and his changeup is still developing. Goetz also has a tendency to pitch up in the zone too much, and he gets hit when he does.

The Future: Goetz is likely to open 1999 back in the Midwest League, where he struggled last year after being acquired by the Marlins. He projects as a No. 2 or 3 starter.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
Capital City (A) 5 4 3.96 15 15 0 0 77 68 37 68
Kane County (A) 1 4 4.64 9 9 0 0 43 44 24 36

10. Nelson Lara, RHP
Age: 20  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 185
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1994  Signed by: Carlos de la Cruz

Background: Lara has gradually grown into his lanky frame and harnessed his immense gifts. He rose to No. 6 on this list a year ago, but struggled to make the adjustment to the Florida State League. He was demoted to Kane County at midseason and was shut down for a few weeks with shoulder soreness in late July.

Strengths: Lara has the best fastball in the system, a 95-96 mph medicine ball that has touched triple digits on several occasions. He has tremendous confidence which can border on arrogance, helpful qualities for a future closer. When he commands his slider, it can be 92 mph and devastating.

Weakness: Command is the problem. He could not control his fastball or his slider last year. He also resisted the organization's efforts to get him to work more on his secondary pitches, which include a rudimentary changeup. He became enamored with his fastball and radar-gun readings. He can be headstrong and difficult to manage.

The Future: If things ever click for Lara, he could rocket to the big leagues. He will start this season at Brevard County.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
Kane County (A) 2 2 6.14 10 4 0 0 29 29 23 21
Brevard County (A) 2 5 9.42 19 4 0 0 29 27 33 32

Rest of the Best:

11. Kelley Washington, ss
12. Joe Fontenot, rhp
13. Ramon Castro, c
14. Hector Henriquez, lhp
15. David Callahan, 1b

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