2004 Florida Marlins Organizational Report

In 2003 the Florida Marlins were not only World Series Champions but they also received the award for Organization of the Year by major league baseball writers. For the World Championship run the Marlins not only called up their top hitting and pitching prospects but also traded several of their top prospects for veterans needed for the championship drive. Find out where the Marlins organization stands for the 2004 season and what criteria the front office uses in selecting their prospects.

2004 Florida Marlins Organizational Report

Heading into the 2003 season the Florida Marlins were considered to have one of the most talent rich farm systems in the majors. This was proven to be absolutely correct as Florida's farm talent was a critical element to the Marlins playoff run and World Series Championship. The Marlins top hitting prospect going into 2003, 20 year old 3B Miguel Cabrera who started the season at Double A affiliate Carolina, was called up in late June to replace struggling LF Todd Hollandsworth. He immediately made his presence known by hitting a mammoth game winning HR in the 11th inning against the Tampa Bay D-Rays in his first major league game. Over the course of the season Cabrera showed exactly why he was considered one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball and has drawn the lofty comparison of being another Albert Pujols by hitting for a .268 AVG. 12 HRs and 62 RBI in only 314 Abs. In the playoffs, the pressure of post-season play against three of the most storied franchises in baseball showed little effect on the young prodigy as he continued his strong play by hitting .265 with 4 HRs and 12 RBI in 68 ABs. The sky is the limit for this unbelievable talent.

However, Cabrera was not the only mid-season call-up that had an immeasurable impact on the Marlins Championship run. Their top pitching prospect Dontrelle Willis was called up out of Double A Carolina in mid-May in a moment of desperation when their staff ace AJ Burnett went down with a season ending elbow injury, RHP Josh Beckett went on the DL with a sprained elbow, and LHP Mark Redman was on the DL with a broken thumb. Willis came in and took the league by storm and captured the hearts of the Marlin faithful with his quirky style and youthful enthusiasm, not to mention some dominant pitching performances. The Marlins rode the D-Train through that rough period and came out a playoff contender on the strength of Willis' 11-2 record in his first 17 major league games. Dontrelle appeared to get tired as the season wore on which was attributed to over-use. However, he did pitch very well in the World Series against the Yankees throwing 3.2 scoreless innings in middle relief. The future is bright for Willis as he is considered one of the hardest workers on the team and has a strong hunger to succeed.

The Marlins farm system was used by the front office not only to bring in young players to fill in needs but also as a tool to trade for veterans with the talent and experience necessary for a championship run. The Marlins traded two of their top young pitching prospects, highly regarded RHP Denny Bautista and RHP Don Levinski, to Baltimore for LF Jeff Conine who was needed when 3B Mike Lowell went down with a broken hand. They also traded the overall #1 pick in the 2000 draft 1B Adrian Gonzalez and an athletic and highly regarded OF prospect Will Smith for closer Ugueth Urbina. While giving away such talented prospects was a high price to pay the end result of winning the 2003 World Series made it well worth it.

Heading into 2004 the Marlins minor league organization is without a doubt considerably thinner at the top than where it was as compared to a year ago. What is impressive however is that despite bringing up their top hitting and pitching prospects and trading away two pitching prospects (Bautista and Levinski) who on many teams would be considered the team's top pitching prospect and a hitting prospect (Gonzalez) who is now considered the top hitting prospect for the Texas Rangers, the Marlins are still considered by most experts to be in the top half in all of baseball for overall strength of organizational prospects. This is a direct testament to the Marlins front office and scouting team led by GM Larry Beinfest, VP of Player Personnel Dan Jennings, Director of Scouting Stan Meek, and Director of International Relations Fred Ferreira. Their knowledge and hard work not only led to the 2003 World Series Championship but also to being named the 2003 Organization of the Year by major league baseball writers.

Organizational Philosophy
Being that the Marlins are considered a small to medium market team the front office is faced with many difficult decisions that are answered strictly on the basis of their financial aspects. The front office, when selecting their players for development, must minimize their risk while maximizing their potential value. Currently, the most popular and controversial approach towards small market franchise building is the Oakland A's model which was analyzed in Michael Lewis' book "Moneyball."

While on the surface it appears that the Marlins should adhere to this popular model they clearly have not. The "moneyball" approach to selecting prospects believes that teams can minimize their risk by drafting college players almost exclusively as opposed to high school players. The reason for this is that they believe that high school statistics are not an accurate way to project player potential and that the longer a player has been playing against better competition the more stats teams have which makes it easier to predict future performance. The "moneyball" approach puts primary emphasis on on-base percentage and power while de-emphasizing speed and the ability to simply put the ball in play.

The Marlins organization has clearly not taken this approach. The Marlins have had tremendous amount of success developing high school talent especially when it comes to pitchers. In fact, each of the Marlins projected starters for 2004 (Beckett, Penny, Burnett, Willis, and Pavano) were drafted directly out of high school. The Marlins also used their first round selection in 2003 on a high school pitcher, Jeff Allison, who was considered one of the top 3 talents in the draft but slid down to the Marlins at the 16th pick due to signability concerns and the fact that many teams that follow the "moneyball" approach will not select high school pitchers regardless of their talent. Since 1999 the Marlins have selected a high school player with their first overall choice and have in each draft selected more high school players over college players by a substantial difference. The Marlins also believe in producing runs through making things happen through the utilization of speed. Their players are taught to put the ball in play and make something happen rather than waiting idly for the 3-run homer.

Pitching is the number 1 priority of the Florida Marlins. This statement is echoed throughout the organization. The Marlins scouting team spends the majority of their time and efforts scouting and developing young arms. The Marlins organization is loaded with very talented but very inexperienced young pitching prospects. The scouting department has become famous in baseball circles for being able to find talented pitching prospects in the most obscure places of high school baseball. They have also been able to use their organizational academy in Venezuela to develop some of the best young arms in the minors. The academy has also been the source of some incredible young hitting talent, namely Miguel Cabrera. One of the organizations top priorities for the next year is further develop their scouting and to create another academy in the Dominican Republic, long known as a hotbed for young talent.

The Marlins next two organizational priorities after pitching are defense, particularly in the positions up the middle, and speed. The Marlins have several young and highly regarded prospects at the SS, 2B and CF positions.

When it comes to scouting hitting prospects the Marlins generally do not overly concern themselves with pure power numbers. They prefer to look for players with solid swing fundamentals and good strike zone judgment. The organization feels that these attributes are the hardest to develop if they can be developed at all. Power is easily developed both naturally through the maturation process and through strength and conditioning. Solid swing fundamentals and knowledge of the strike zone are usually either in a player or not.

2004 Organizational Outlook
While the Marlins may not have any immediate difference maker type prospects available for call-up in 2004 it does not mean that they do not have players who can be called up to be plugged in role type situations. Due to the actions taken by the front office in 2003 there are no "can't miss" immediate prospects. However, the Marlins do have an abundance of highly regarded players who are considered anywhere from 1-3 years off their estimated time of arrival. Most scouts agree that the Marlins farm system holds quite a few potential cant miss prospects. Unfortunately their age and inexperience bring too many variables at this point to warrant the label of future all-star. But if these young players continue on the path that they are currently on, the Marlins will once again be in a position like they were in 2003, where the farm system can be relied upon to bring in players that can not only contribute but be necessary components to a championship team.

Over the next 50 days, we here at Marlins Insider (soon to be fishpitch.com) will profile the top 50 prospects in the Marlins organization. We will profile one prospect daily starting with #50 and working our way down to #1 so that you can learn what young talents are the future of the Florida Marlins, what their strengths are, what they still need to work on to make the majors, what are their estimated time of arrivals, and what type of player they project to be. We hope you find it, like we hope you'll find all of our content, both informative and entertaining. The staff at the Marlins Insider will always strive to bring you the best and most comprehensive content you can find on the web concerning the Florida Marlins Organization.

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