NEW YORK -- With the Marlins set to pick 23rd overall in the first round of the MLB Draft Monday night, we got a chance Saturday to catch up with Jim Fleming, the Marlins Director of Player Operations.
Fleming, who is shacked up back home in South Florida receiving last minute word from scouts all over the country, obviously didn't unveil who the Marlins are planning on taking with their first pick -- the latest the team has chosen since 2004. But he talked strategy.
The Marlins, who have always considered pitching a top priority, have gone with high school players in round one in four of the past five years. Considering the fact that the organization feels this draft has more high school depth than college, don't be surprised if they go with a prep star once again.
The buzz from Baseball America is the Marlins are looking at two high school pitchers from Southern California -- Aaron Sanchez, a 6-3 right-hander who is likened to Orel Hershiser, and 6-1, 160-pound right-hander Peter Tago, who has an electric 93-mile per hour plus fastball. The college players the Marlins are considering according to the magazine, Michigan outfielder Ryan LaMarre (hit .419 with 40 RBI in 36 games) and Arkansas pitcher/outfielder Brett Eibner, a right-hander who has a mid 90s fastball and who hit .343 with 14 homers and 47 RBI.
Here is what Fleming talked about with us during a 10-minute teleconference in the media room here at Citi Field.
On the depth of the draft: "I think this is a little bit more undefined first round than it has been, which means the quality could go up. You may pick somebody at 23 we might pick if we were 10 picks up. That’s a good thing. The problem with picking at 23 in an undefined year is that a lot of different things can happen. So, you just need to be ready.
On the areas the Marlins hope to address: "We’re always looking for the best player, but we’re always looking for pitching too. In every draft you’d like to get pitching because it’s so important. As I’ve always told you guys, we don’t try to force the draft to give us what we want. What we try to do is take the strength of the draft. I think there is some pitching all the way throughout this draft if our board stretches good or decent. We should be able to get some pitching where we want it. We’ve taken so much pitching it would be good to get some position players too. It’s just going to be the luck of the board. If it hits one of those, there’s a little bit of everything in this draft. We’re going to answer some needs. Hopefully, we’ll get the best player it will match some of the needs we have.
On the number of guys they are considering with the top pick: "We’ve had a lot of more guys in play. It’s harder on the scouting staff because when you’re picking 23, we have to disperse and see all the guys were going to consider at 23. I try to see as many as I can. So it’s a little harder. When your picking higher you can narrow it down and get a focus on maybe 10 guys. But we’ve had to focus on a broader range, and because it is undefined we’ve had to go and look at a lot of players and eliminate a lot players that are not going to fit for us there. We probably scouted the top of the draft a little more than you would hope to have to do to. I’ve only been out there 2 months and the other guys know the boards real well. We’ve had to widen the range. They probably know the whole board better than we have in a long time.
On last year's first round pick Chad James, who is 1-3 with a 5.67 ERA in Single A Greensboro: "He’s doing great. His numbers – I don’t think are great – but he’s throwing with a lot of velocity first off, which is good. Generally these kids, their stuff goes down. His stuff is really good. 90 to 95 and his curveball is hard. The issue is we sent him to Greensboro without any game experience. He’s handled it very well. But because of that, he’s had some ups and downs. He’s never been hit a whole lot. But he has some nights where he’s wild in the zone, some walks. And then he elevates his fastball and he has seven punchouts and a three-run home run. He’s given up three or four, his pitch goes a little quick. But the two things were extremely happy with is his stuff is really good, stuff that plays especially to the left side. And two, he’s a tough kid and he likes it and not letting this stuff bother him. He goes back out there and we’re not having a lot of ups and downs emotionally, which you should get with a young kid. He’s been great. So, we’re real pleased with him."
On catching depth in the draft and organization: "There’s actually a lot of catchers, not a lot of guys you would say are slam dunk catchers. But there are some guys to pick from. A lot of guys at the lower level of the draft. If we’re going to take a catcher, we’re going to take one on the high end. We have good catchers in the system. Skipworth, who is making a lot of progress. And we have three guys at the top level in Ace Davis, Hatcher, who can really catch. We’re hoping their offense picks up. At this point we don’t need catching depth. If we’re going to add a catcher we want it to be one to be complete with a bat and defense. Our catching in our system as far as defensive ability is really, really good."
On going after college players who won't take long to make the jump to the big leagues: "I’m sure people look at that, but I’m not sure that’s ever been a goal of ours. We look at the draft now and we see somebody who could get there within a year, we identify the player and put him into the mix. We don’t go out there looking for a guy like that. You get burned that way. For all the guys in the league, you can look at guys from college who are fairly polished that are pushed to the big leagues and look like they’re going to perform and they go backwards. You cannot make players, prospects or draft sit your plan. You’ve got to plan around who they are and how they’re going to get there. Because when they get there, you want them to play and you don’t want them to go back. You sure don’t want to spend a lot of money and push a guy too fast. You can lose a guy totally that way. If we find a guy that is a fast mover – Vargas and Tankersley – and they got in our system and all of a sudden they were in the big leagues."