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.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, team president David Samson and general manager Larry Beinfest considered 2002 a practice run of sorts after taking over franchise operations just days before the start of spring training.
They promised 2003 would be different in every way. On the field. At the gate. In the community.
Then they went out and won the World Series, much to the shock and dismay of their former constituency in Montreal. Consider Marlins management officially rehabilitated after a season when plenty of things went wrong but all the big things went right.
Thereís even talk of a new baseball-only, 38,000-seat ballpark with a retractable roof and a $325 million price tag in downtown Miami. Miami-Dade County has pledged $73 million toward the project already, and thereís more stadium momentum than at any time in the past 21/2 years.
With their front-office team in place for the start of 2002-03 offseason planning, the Marlins worked out a three-way deal with the Rockies and Braves that ranked among the most creative ever assembled. Mike Hampton wound up in Atlanta, Charles Johnson and Preston Wilson wound up in Colorado and Florida was left with Juan Pierre, Tim Spooneybarger and $23.5 million worth of Hamptonís remaining obligation.
With their savings, the Marlins were able to add 10-time all-star Pudge Rodriguez as a free agent and deal for underachieving lefty Mark Redman. After the season started, Florida added Ugeuth Urbina and Chad Fox to its bullpen and Jeff Conine to its lineup. The Redman, Urbina and Conine deals cost the Marlins system eight quality prospects, including Adrian Gonzalez, the No. 1 overall pick in 2000, and six other players who once had ranked among the organizationís Top 10 Prospects.
The two biggest additions, however, came from Double-A Carolina, where lefthander Dontrelle Willis (14 wins) and third baseman-outfielder Miguel Cabrera (62 RBIs in 87 games) began the year. A day after Willis arrived in the majors, manager Jeff Torborg and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg were fired after a 16-22 start. Under 72-year-old replacement Jack McKeon, the Marlins posted the majorsí best record from May 23 on and became the second team in history to win the World Series after firing their manager during the season.
In the end, the Marlinsí $54 million official payroll ranked 21st in the majors. They were able to win 91 games, posting just the second winning mark in club history. They also made up a $110 million payroll difference to defeat the well-heeled Yankees in six stirring games for the championship, their second in seven seasons. Florida still ranked 28th in home attendance, but its average of 16,290 was a 62 percent improvement over 2002.
Despite the loss of Willis, Cabrera and all three players used in the Urbina deal, Double-A Carolina rolled to the Southern League title under first-year manager Tracy Woodson. Triple-A Albuquerque and high Class A Jupiter also reached the playoffs as the Marlins system went a combined 345-342 for its second winning record in the last six seasons.
Top Prospect: Jeremy Hermida, OF
Age: 20 Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 200 Bats: L Throws: R
Background: Former Marlins scouting director Jim Fleming (now the team's assistant general manager) hardly could believe his good fortune when Hermida was still available with the 11th pick in the 2002 draft. Rated the best pure high school hitter and the fourth-best position player overall, Hermida was projected as high as the second pick. The Marlins chose him over prep lefty Scott Kazmir, then gave Hermida a $2,012,500 bonus. A natural righthanded hitter, Hermida was converted to the left side at age 4 by his father. He began practicing with a wood bat at 13 and received tutelage from former Braves outfielder Terry Harper. A slow start at low Class A Greensboro was attributed in part of poor weather than limited his extra work.
Strengths: Some scouts called Hermida the best high school hitter since Eric Chavez. Others saw a young Andy Van Slyke or Paul O'Neill. Hermida himself identified more with Shawn Green. Whichever comparison you prefer, there's no denying his polished hitting approach and advanced maturity. He has a smooth, quick stroke, top-notch plate discipline, a strong work ethic and first-rate makeup. He's comfortable working deep in counts and has no trouble taking pitches on the outer half to the gap in left-center. Hermida is durable, as he played through a minor ankle problem in 2002 and a minor heel injury in 2003. Though just an average runner, he has excellent instincts on the bases. He was thrown out just twice in 30 steal attempts last season, both on the back end of double steals. His arm is much improved to where it's now average.
Weaknesses: Though he has come a long way defensively, Hermida is far better coming in on balls than going back. He needs to improve his upper-body strength to keep from wearing down over the course of the season. He hasn't shown much power so far but the Marlins believe that will increase as he adds lift to his swing and bulk to his tall, lean, broad-shouldered frame. Some see him as a 25-plus homer man in the majors. He still has trouble at times with pitches on his hands.
The Future: Hermida should start 2004 at high Class A Jupiter, but a midyear promotion to Double-A Carolina isn't out of the question. He could arrive in the majors by the end of 2005 if he continues on this career path. By then incumbent right fielder Juan Encarnacion figures to be long gone.