By Mike Berardino
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
2. Jason Stokes, 1b
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 220. Drafted: HS—Coppell, Texas, 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Bob Laurie.
Background: Considered the top high school power hitter in the 2000 draft, Stokes dropped to the second round because of signability concerns and nearly attended the University of Texas before signing for $2.027 million. He challenged for the low Class A Midwest League triple crown in 2002 despite a painful cyst on his left wrist. He underwent wrist surgery, including a bone graft, near the end of 2002, but the complicated procedure kept him from letting go at the plate until two months into the 2003 season.
Strengths: Light-tower power remains Stokes' greatest tool. He already has cranked some mammoth shots in his brief pro career. He has shown good plate judgment in the past, though he regressed in that area this year. He has decent hands at first base.
Weaknesses: Wrist surgery, combined with the huge parks of the high Class A Florida State League, may have caused Stokes to alter his approach and chase more pitches. He doesn't run well, though he's not bad for his size. He remains an average defender at best, though he has picked up a half-step around the bag through strict conditioning.
The Future: Stokes had passed Adrian Gonzalez in the Marlins' plans before they sent Gonzalez to Texas in the Ugueth Urbina trade. Stokes should begin 2004 in Carolina, where the ball travels better and his natural power should be rewarded more often. He could be ready to challenge for a big league job sometime in 2005.
3. Jeff Allison, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Peabody, Mass., 2003 (1st round). Signed by: Steve Payne.
Background: BA's 2003 High School Player of the Year, Allison went 9-0, 0.00 with 142 strikeouts in 64 innings, allowing just 13 hits, nine walks and one unearned run. He was a top-10 prospect for the 2003 draft but fell because of perceived bonus demands. The Marlins took him 16th and signed him for $1.85 million.
Strengths: Often compared to World Series MVP Josh Beckett for his stuff, mound demeanor and cocky attitude, Allison could enjoy a similarly rapid pass through the minors. Allison had the best fastball (92-97 mph with life) and curveball (80-86 with sharp downward break) in the 2003 draft. He also has a tight slider. He throws from a high three-quarters arm slot, which aids his plus natural movement.
Weaknesses: Allison has broad shoulders but his upper body needs work. A minor bout with shoulder tendinitis limited his pro debut to three starts, so durability could be a concern. He rarely threw his changeup in high school, mainly because no one could hit his first two pitches.
The Future: Allison should start 2004 in low Class A, with a taste of high Class A likely on the agenda. If he proves as special as everybody thinks he is, he might not need much more than the 200 minor league innings Beckett experienced.
4. Scott Olsen, lhp
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HS—Crystal Lake, Ill., 2002 (6th round). Signed by: Scot Engler.
Background: Scot Engler was the Marlins' 2002 scout of the year, and Olsen had a little something to do with that. Virtually unknown in high school, Olsen signed for $160,000 as a tall, projectable lefty with a loose arm and an easy delivery. He threw across his body and fell off toward third base, but Rookie-level Gulf Coast League pitching coach Jeff Schwarz got him pointed in the right direction.
Strengths: In 2003 Olsen pitched at 90-92 mph and topped out at 94, about 3 mph higher than he did in his first pro season. He's aggressive, competitive and receptive to teaching. He has a bit of a mean streak, too, glaring at opposing hitters from the mound. His slider went from average early in the year to a plus pitch by the second half after he shelved his curveball. His command also took over after the break.
Weaknesses: Olsen has a slight frame that could stand to add another 15-20 pounds of muscle. He needs to add maturity and improve his changeup, but those changes should come with time.
The Future: After turning it up in the second half, Olsen should start the year in high Class A. A midyear promotion to Double-A would surprise no one in the system.
5. Yorman Bazardo, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170. Signed: Venezuela, 2000. Signed by: Miguel Garcia.
Background: Signed for $85,000 out of Venezuela by former Marlins scout Miguel Garcia, Bazardo has shown an exciting arm. The new Marlins regime stuck him in the bullpen for his first season in the United States, then moved him to the rotation in 2003 when he came out of extended spring training. He opened the season with 17 scoreless innings and finished it with 17 more.
Strengths: Tall and long-limbed, Bazardo pitches at 92-94 mph and has touched 97. His stuff holds up, as he threw 95, 97, 94 to finish his second straight shutout in his final start of the year. He has a plus changeup, and he's athletic and projectable. He has a sunny disposition and solid makeup.
Weaknesses: Bazardo's power curveball still needs work. He's still prone to overthrowing at times. He needs to be more aggressive rather than sitting back and waiting until he is in trouble to get locked in. His mechanics can still betray him at times, as he has a tendency to drift toward first base.
The Future: Bazardo will open 2004 in the Florida State League, where the pitcher-friendly atmosphere should only help his growing confidence. The Marlins will be careful not to rush him, considering his potential and lack of experience.
6. Josh Willingham, c/1b
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200. Drafted: North Alabama, 2000 (17th round). Signed by: Larry Keller.
Background: Blocked at both corner infield spots by hotter prospects, Willingham agreed to try catching during instructional league after the 2002 season. In just three weeks, he showed enough potential behind the plate to rocket up the organizational charts. He tore up high Class A to earn a June promotion to Double-A, but a knee injury interrupted his surge. Arthroscopic surgery caused him to miss seven weeks and soft-pedal the catching conversion for the rest of the regular season.
Strengths: Willingham has a short swing, power to all fields and has shown a willingness to work counts and take walks, a skill that remains in short supply in the tools-first Marlins system. Key situations only seem to sharpen his focus. He has good arm strength and has shown an aptitude for game-calling. Makeup is a definite plus as he's a genuine throwback.
Weaknesses: With just 40 regular-season games behind the plate, Willingham still has much to learn about the most demanding of positions. He threw out just 20 percent of basestealers. His speed was average before the knee surgery, but is now a shade below average.
The Future: Having gained valuable experience behind the plate in the Arizona Fall League, Willingham should start 2004 back in Double-A. Depending on what happens with Pudge Rodriguez' free agency, Willingham could be a season from getting a shot at the major league job or looking for another position.
7. Eric Reed, of
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 170. Drafted: Texas A&M, 2002 (9th round). Signed by: Dennis Cardoza.
Background: Reed led the Cape Cod League in hitting in 2001 but fell in the 2002 draft after a poor junior season at Texas A&M. Despite a wiry frame, he's a former high school powerlifting champion who squatted 450 pounds in college. A fitness nut with 3 percent body fat, he can bench-press 270 pounds and once power-cleaned 320. He signed for $85,000 and has wasted little time showing the Marlins they got a steal.
Strengths: Reed is close to an 80 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, with tremendous speed to first and in center field. He's an excellent bunter, even with two strikes. A huge Ichiro Suzuki admirer, he understands his limitations and doesn't bother trying to lift balls in search of his first professional homer. Widely considered the best defender in the system, he shows remarkable range and jumps. He also has an average to slightly better arm.
Weaknesses: Naturally aggressive, Reed still is working on taking more pitches and getting comfortable in deep counts. His pitch recognition still needs work, and he's still learning how to turn on inside pitches rather than trying to slap everything the other way. He also needs to get better leads and hone his basestealing skills. He could use some more bulk in his upper body.
The Future: The organization's 2003 player of the year, Reed figures to move up to Double-A in 2004. There's no need to rush Reed, but his arrival could synchronize nicely with the end of Juan Pierre's contract after 2005.
8. Jai Miller, of
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Selma, Ala., 2003 (4th round). Signed by: Dave Dangler.
Background: The first three-sport all-state athlete in Alabama prep history, Miller was headed to Stanford as a wide receiver and point guard. Despite his rumored $1 million asking price, the Marlins signed Miller on the night of the draft for $250,000, in large part because area scout Dave Dangler had established a strong relationship with Miller's father. Miller's mother and grandmother were killed in a car crash, but he overcame that tragedy and impressed Marlins officials with his intelligence and positive outlook.
Strengths: Many believe Miller already has the quickest bat in the organization. He projects as a five-tool talent who reminds some of former Marlins center fielder Preston Wilson. His makeup and work ethic are both plusses. A 70 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, Miller has been timed at 4.05 seconds to first base from the right side.
Weaknesses: Miller is extremely raw in every way. He must work on refining his approach at the plate and learn to lay off pitches out of the zone. He needs to use his legs more. Defensively, he is fine going back on balls and chasing them to either side but he needs to get better at coming in. He has a strong arm but has to improve his technique.
The Future: He'll open his first full season in low Class A. Mindful that Torii Hunter took two years to escape Rookie ball, the Marlins will take things slowly with Miller. Once his experience starts to catch up with his raw talent, he could take off.
9. Trevor Hutchinson, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220. Drafted: California, 2002 (3rd round). Signed by: John Hughes.
Background: Hutchinson is the younger brother of Chad Hutchinson, the former Cardinals pitching prospect and current Dallas Cowboys quarterback. Drafted as a college senior, Trevor held out for 8 1/2 months before signing for $375,000 just before the start of 2003 spring training. An allergic reaction to a bee sting landed him in the hospital for about a week in July, but he came back to earn MVP honors in the Double-A Southern League playoffs, starting and winning the clinching game.
Strengths: Advanced physically and mentally, Hutchinson throws a heavy sinker at 88-92 mph. He complements that with a slider and changeup, both solid-average pitches. He has a good feel for pitching, changing speeds and quadrants and outthinking young hitters more often than not. He's a strike thrower who lets hitters get themselves out.
Weaknesses: Hutchinson's stuff isn't overwhelming, and his age means there isn't much room for improvement. He projects as no better than a fifth starter on a quality staff and could wind up as a workhorse setup man.
The Future: Coming off a whirlwind debut in which he finished up in the Arizona Fall League, Hutchinson figures to return to Double-A in 2004. He could get a look in the big leagues depending on need and his continued progress, but more likely will challenge for a full-time spot in 2005.
10. Lincoln Holdzkom, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 240. Drafted: Arizona Western CC, 2001 (7th round). Signed by: David Finley.
Background: Kicked off his Arizona Western CC team for insubordination, Holdzkom spent his first 2 1/2 pro seasons showing flashes of obstinacy. The turning point came in late June, when he and Greensboro manager Steve Phillips had a heated shouting match. Phillips challenged Holdzkom to start living up to his vast talent, which he soon began doing.
Strengths: Holdzkom is physically imposing and can intimidate batters with his mere hulking appearance on the mound. He pitches in the mid-90s and has touched 97 mph with his fastball, which he complements with a hard-breaking curve.
Weaknesses: While Holdzkom appears to have closer stuff, some in the system wonder whether he has the makeup to be anything more than a setup man. Command problems have been a much bigger issue when he's been asked to close out wins as opposed to pitching the seventh or eighth innings. He can be slow to the plate and needs to improve his pickoff move. He has shown little progress with a changeup.
The Future: A late substitution for fellow hardhead Randall Messenger in the Arizona Fall League, Holdzkom is expected to be added to the 40-man roster for the first time. His career finally on the fast track, he could begin 2004 in Double-A with a good spring.