Off Day Prospect Talk - Josh Willingham

Today is an off day, so that means it's time to talk about minor leaguers. Just bear with me for a minute as I try to set up today's piece...

Now, I may be getting ahead of myself here, but the time Luis Castillo took off over the weekend really has me concerned. Castillo has had hip injuries over the course of his career. Hopefully what he's going through right now is nothing to be concerned about, but it could be.  An injury to Castillo - even if he's able to play through it - could be devastating to this team.

While often underappreciated, Castillo brings a lot to the Marlins lineup: he brings speed, forms half of arguably the game's best (current) double play combination, and seems to get on base whenever Juan Pierre doesn't. Without Castillo - or even just without the threat of his speed - in the lineup, the Marlins are a very different ballclub.

Sure, if Luis is out for any amount of time, there are patches that can be applied. Damion Easley filled in admirably for Castillo over the weekend, and has played well all year when filling in for Lowell, Gonzalez, or Castillo as need be. Still, he's no Castillo. Whether you like or hate the speed game, Castillo brings it and Easley doesn't. Much of the Marlins lineup was constructed around the speed Castillo brings. Without him, that's lost.

But the real concern at that point - if Castillo is unavailable and Easley becomes a regular (and yes, I know this is where I'm getting ahead of myself) - is that there's no flexibility on the bench. Other than Easley, the Marlins current bench is made up of pinch-hitter extraordinaire Lenny Harris, outfielders Jeff Conine and Chris Aguila, and catcher Matt Treanor.  

Harris is truly a role player. He's a switch hitter. So far this year he's played three defensive innings. Cumulatively last year - between third base, left field, and right field - he logged 68 innings in the field (less than eight full games).

Conine can play the outfield corners and at first base. Aguila will provide speed off the bench and fill-in innings anywhere in the outfield. Treanor, of course, is an absolute necessity, as you have to have a backup catcher.  

Sure, you could put Aguila or Conine into the outfield and push Cabrera back to the infield, but that just puts Miguel under more stress/change defensively - which if it costs any of his offense, probably isn't worthwhile.

After Easley though, there isn't another bench guy who is very versatile. So if Easley is pressed into a regular role, Jack McKeon is left without many flexible options on his bench.

And this is how we get into the prospects.

Former uber-prospect Josh Willingham could be just what the doctor ordered for the Marlins in terms of flexibility off the bench. While most folks think of Willingham as a catcher, he was only converted to that position a few years ago. He can catch, but he can also play a number of other positions. Willingham can fill in at first base and third base, and has even been doing some work in the outfield. That sounds a lot like the role that Damion Easley is filling with the big club right now. Willingham can do the same - he just wouldn't bring as much major league experience to the table.

Willingham has gotten off to a solid start at AAA Albuquerque this year. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him make his way to the majors at some point this season and to contribute in a significant way. Now, Willingham won't have anything like the impact that Dontrelle Willis or Miguel Cabrera had in 2003. But he could be called up to fill a lesser role that's equally important in sending the Fish to the postseason. And yes, I'll count this towards the Ichthyomancy standings if it happens. Feel free to make any predictions of your own about the impact of prospects, trades, etc this year. Whatever comes to be counts in your favor.

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