The Marlins’ Draft History: pre-1997


Did you know that Baseball-Reference now has Rally’s WAR (rWAR) integrated everywhere on the site? Amazingly, that also includes its draft tool, something I have already used in the past for its convenience. With those things integrated, I figured it would a cool idea to take a look into the history of the Marlins in terms of the draft. I may return to the topic of the expansion draft later on, but right now I’d like to focus on the annual MLB draft.

The Marlins first began drafting in 1992, a year before their inception. I like to think of the franchise in terms of eras, and the first logical era of the Marlins’ brief history is the era from the inaugural 1993 season to 1997, the year the team won its first World Series. In that time, the team had six drafts, with mixed results.

Drafts 1992-1997

PlayerDraftWAR as Marlin
Charles Johnson199211.1
Andy Larkin1992-4.4
Marc Valdes1993-1.4
Todd Dunwoody1993-0.1
John Roskos1993-0.3
Dave Berg19932.3
Billy McMillon1993-1.0
Josh Booty1994-0.1
Ryan Jackson1994-0.8
Nate Olison1995-0.3
Michael Tejera1995-0.1
Hanzel Izquierdo1995-0.1
Gary Knotts1995-0.1
Gabe Gonzalez19950.0
Mark Kotsay19966.1
Blaine Neal1996-0.2
Brent Billingsley1996-0.6
Chris Aguila1996-1.0

There is one meaningful name in that list among a bevy of otherwise forgettable players. The best player by a good margin among those listed here was Charles Johnson, the first draft pick in Marlins history. Johnson, better known as “CJ,” racked up 11 wins in parts of seven seasons with the club, spanning two separate stints with the team. Actually, Johnson probably only played three full seasons with the Fish. Two of his seasons (1996 and 2002) were shortened by injury, and two other seasons (1995 and 1998) were shortened by transactions (late season call-up and trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively). All told, Johnson had a WAR/600 PA rate as a Marlin of 3.0 WAR, solidly above average.

Of course, CJ’s primary contribution came from his defensive prowess. He was drafted with a good defensive reputation and he did not disappoint; as a Marlin, he caught just under 44% of baserunners trying to steal, and Rally’s defensive metrics have him at an astonishing 53 runs above average in that time. His best season as a Marlin came in the 1997 World Series year, when he hit .250/.347/.454 (.347 wOBA) and put up an amazing 19 runs above average on defense as a catcher. This culminated in a 4.4 WAR season, the best by any draft pick from this era.

The only other major player selected from these drafts that had more than one WAR was Mark Kotsay, the former outfielder who manned center and right field during the brutal years following The Fire Sale. Kotsay was never anything special with the bat, but defense was his calling card as well. In 1998, he was a surprising bright spot for the team, putting up a 3.4 WAR season despite being below average offensively. Rally had him at +25 runs on defense playing center and right field, primarily due to his plus-range in both positions. He also tallied four runs with his arm, having made 20 assists that year. In total, Kotsay was worth 49 runs above average in three seasons with the team, more than offsetting his below average offense.

As far as disappointments, I was not aware enough of about baseball back then to notice the hype on our prospects, but my guess is that the first choice of disappointing draft picks would be Josh Booty, who never got off the ground despite his tools. Any of you Maniacs remember any other draft disappointments from this era?

A couple of other quick notes:

– Did you know we drafted Randy Winn? Winn was taken in the third round of the 1995 draft and hung around for two seasons in the minors before being taken by the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays in their expansion draft. Winn would go on to provide almost 27 WAR during his career.

– Did you know we also drafted Ross Gload? Gload was taken in 13th round of the 1997 draft, out of the University of South Florida. He never broke in with the Marlins, but of course he returned years later to provide pinch-hitting magic, for which he is now being paid $1M or so a year.

– Do your remember Dave Berg? I barely did too. Berg spent four seasons with the Fish, racked up 1.2- and 1.5-WAR seasons his first two years, then fell off the map and went to play for the Toronto Blue Jays. Surprisingly, this perfectly forgettable player had the third-most Marlins WAR from this era.