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The Marlins’ Draft History: 1998-2003

The second era of Marlins baseball begins with the terrible fire sale of 1998, when the team was gutted by then-owner Wayne Huizenga and left to rot for a few years of pathetic baseball, and ends with the triumphant return of the Fish to the World Series, when they beat the New York Yankees in six games in what is now essentially a forgotten series. Among the player who were drafted, the Marlins found three players who contributed significantly to the team in later years.

Player Draft WAR as Marlin
Kevin Olsen 1998 0.1
Josh Beckett 1999 9.6
Josh Wilson 1999 -0.2
Nate Robertson 1999 -0.7
Randy Messenger 1999 -0.5
Josh Willingham 2000 6.3
Chris Resop 2001 -0.2
Jeremy Hermida 2002 3.5
Robert Andino 2002 -0.7
Josh Johnson 2002 9.9
Scott Olsen 2002 0.9
Eric Reed 2002 -1.2
Ross Wolf 2002 -0.7
Logan Kensing 2003 -1.5
Total 24.6

The Marlins were certain to have a gem in this crop of drafts given the catastrophic 1998 season. That year gave the team the second pick in the 1999 draft, and the consensus was that there were two no-doubters in that draft: outfielder Josh Hamilton and pitcher Josh Beckett. The Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays ended up with Hamilton, giving the Fish the fireballing righty from Texas. Despite his age (Beckett had come out of high school), he was advanced fairly quickly through the minors, making his first big league appearance at age 21 in 2001. From then until 2005, Beckett and the Marlins were on a whirlwind ride of top-notch play and injury problems. Beckett failed to make more than 30 starts in any season for the team, coming the closest in 2005 with 29 starts. Blisters hampered his time on the field, limiting him to only 609 innings in parts of five seasons, an average of just 121 2/3 IP a year.

When he was on the field, however, he was electric, boasting a mid-90′s fastball and devastating curve. FanGraphs has Beckett worth 12.6 WAR in his time with the Fish, while Rally has him at 9.6 WAR. Beckett’s best campaign, surprisingly, was not his 2005 season, but rather his 2003 season for the World Series team. That year he struck out 25.4% of batters faced and allowed just nine home runs in 142 innings, leading to a 3.4 WAR season.

Of course, that 2003 season also contained his coming-out party, the postseason series, particular the ones against the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees. During that postseason run, 29.5% of batters faced, walked 6.9% of those batters unintentionally, and allowed three homers (all in the Cubs series). He pitched three games in that series, one on two days rest out of the bullpen after Mark Redman had been pushed out of Game 7. He blanked the Cubs in his Game 5 start that saved the series. Finally, he won the World Series MVP for his two starts against the Yankees, one of which being the clincher in Game 6. For that, I will never forget Josh Beckett.

Of course, in 2002 the Marlins drafted another Josh that has quickly become one of the best young pitchers in the game. Josh Johnson had his own coming-out party last season, when he went 15-5 with a 3.23 ERA, 3.06 FIP, and 5.3 rWAR (5.5 fWAR) in 209 IP. This year, he’s on a roll again, with a 2.43 ERA, 2.77 FIP, and 1.8 rWAR (1.8 fWAR) using similar tools that Beckett once flashed. Johnson too has a blazing fastball, but he works with a slider and change rather than a curve and change. In just three full seasons with the Fish, he has already surpassed Beckett’s totals, and his 5.3 WAR pitching season is the second best pitching year in Marlins history (trailing Dontrelle Willis’ 2005). With Johnson recently signed to a long-term deal, the Marlins now have an ace on board that they can count on for the foreseeable future.

If there was one player that could be categorized as a disappointment in this draft era, it would undoubtedly be Jeremy Hermida. Hyped coming out of high school as one of the better pure hitters in the draft class, Hermida never developed into the player he was supposed to become. In the minors, he was good, but never great. This translated to almost all of his major league time, save for one magical second half i n 2007. Outside of the 2007 season during which he posted 2.8 WAR, Hermida never got above 1 WAR for any season with the Marlins. Both the advanced defensive metrics and the eyeball test agree that he was a consistently below average (and at times well below average) defender in the corner outfield. The bat, which was supposed to be his calling card, never became much more than league average (career wOBA of .334). Despite solid patience, he never developed power and struck out too much to keep a decent batting average. Though his frame appeared athletic, Hermida never looked athletic when playing baseball. He may go down as one of the biggest busts in Marlins history, if only because the hype behind him coming in was so big.

A couple of other thoughts from this draft class:

- Josh Willingham was a pleasant surprise for the Marlins. At 17th round pick out of the University of North Alabama (as a shortstop, strangely enough), Willingham attempted to play catcher and recover value but had too many back issues and defensive problems to continue behind the plate. Nevertheless, he became a solid offensive player thanks to great plate discipline and good power. At 6.3 WAR in his three full seasons as a Marlin, he ranks third on this list of players from this draft era.

- Jeff Allison was a former first round draft pick for the Marlins in 2003, but has yet to show his face in the majors. Allison had been going strong to start his career, but missed all of 2004 with an injury and left baseball after 2005 for two years. Allison returned to the Marlins in 2008 and, while his skills have certainly deteriorated since his draft year, he is being serviceable in the minors.

- No discussion of this draft era would complete without mentioning the team’s 2000 first round selection, current  San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez had suffered some injuries and lost some luster from his prospecthood since his draft, and the team decided to gamble and trade him to the Texas Rangers in 2003 for closer Ugeth Urbina. Of course, years later Gonzalez emerged as a star with the Padres, and all Marlins fans were left to wonder what a lineup with Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez would look like now. But would we have won the World Series without the 2+ WAR Urbina gave us in his limited innings? Who knows.

- Does anyone remember Chip Ambres, our 1998 first round pick?

Topics: Jeff Allison, Jeremy Hermida, Josh Beckett, Josh Johnson, Josh Willingham, Miami Marlins

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