This Day In Marlins History: Reviewing the 2002 Draft

Jeremy Hermida may have been the highlight of the 2002 draft for the Marlins, but it was Josh Johnson who became the class's top player. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)

In Fish Stripes' continued attempt to remind people of the past of the Florida Marlins along with the present and future of the Miami Marlins, we bring you a new feature published three or so times a week entitled This Day In Marlins History! The concept itself is very simple: whenever we publish this, we find an interesting fact or tidbit related to the Florida / Miami Marlins and write a little bit about that event.

On this day, June 4, 2002, the then-Florida Marlins participated in the First-Player Draft and got what they thought was a steal. Later on, they realized the steal was actually another pick.

In 2002, one of the top hitters of the draft fell into the Marlins' laps at the 11th pick, as Jeremy Hermida was available at that selection despite being considered the best pure hitter in the draft and one of the best position players available that year. On this date in Marlins history, the Fish made Hermida their first-round selection, paying him a bonus of $2 million and change to help fuel a future iteration of the franchise. Hermida was fresh out of high school but was highly lauded at the time. Here is what Mike Berardino of Baseball America said about Hermida in a 2004 prospect profile.

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 was, by all accounts, a top-notch talent for the Marlins' bright future. He went on to top the Marlins' Baseball America prospect lists from the one before the 2004 season to the one before 2006. In that 2006 list, Hermida ranked as the fourth-best prospect in baseball. Before the 2006 season, here is what Minor League Ball's John Sickels had to say about him.

Hermida is a left-handed hitter, and a right-handed thrower. He stands 6-4, 200 pounds. His tools are average or better in all categories. His speed is slightly above average, but he has good instincts and showed a knack for stealing bases in the minor leagues. His arm is average but reasonably accurate. Hermida's defense can be a tad erratic; he doesn't always read balls well, but he has improved in that regard as he has gained experience. Some scouts have questioned his concentration on defense, but others say this problem is overblown. Originally rather thin and lanky, Hermida has gotten stronger physically with maturity. His best attribute is plate discipline: his command of the zone is excellent. At times, he is simply content to hit for contact, but he can drive the ball when he tries. He has some vulnerability to inside pitches, but hits the ball very well middle-in or outside. He reads breaking balls and changeups well and does not strike out excessively.

The description pointed towards him being at worst a solid major-league contributor and at best a star. If he developed power, he would become one of the best hitters in baseball.

Of course, we all know what happened after that. His first major league PA was a home run, but injuries limited Hermida's rookie year in 2006. In 2007, he hit .296/.369/.501 (.372 wOBA) en route to a 2.5-win season for the Fish. With expectations high, it all went downhill from there for Hermida. His defense, always considered sub par, hurt him even more because he simply was not hitting. What was once considered a great hit tool only bought Hermida a mediocre .253/.335/.400 slash line (.325 wOBA) in 2008 and 2009, and his below average defense and baserunning buried his chances of staying with the Marlins as he headed into arbitration. He was traded the following year to the Boston Red Sox, and two seasons later he was on the brink of heading to Japan before landing with the San Diego Padres.

Of course, there was a silver lining in another steal by the Marlins in that 2002 draft. In the fourth round, the Fish drafted high school righty Josh Johnson out of Oklahoma. In a Prospect Retro piece, here is what John Sickels said he thought of Johnson at the time.

Tall and projectable at 6-7, 215, he was erratic in high school, throwing 90-92 MPH at his best, but sometimes working in just the 85-87 range. He also needed to improve his breaking ball and changeup. Considered a first-round talent six months before the draft, his stock dropped due to an erratic spring and a University of Oklahoma scholarship.

Johnson never impressed in the minors but kept moving up the ladder, culminating in a good Double-A season and a decent ranking in the Marlins' system. After that Double-A season, Johnson peaked at third in the Marlins' system and 80th in all of baseball, but he still lagged behind fellow 2002 draftee Scott Olsen.

Of course, Johnson went on to become the best Marlins pitcher of the 2006 era and is the only player on that 2006 top ten list left on the Marlins, with the remaining players save for Josh Willingham going on to be career backups of fading into obscurity. The Marlins struck it rich with Johnson, who developed from throwing in the low 90's into the mid 90's after Tommy John surgery in 2007 and as a result became one of the best pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately, John Sickels did point out one problem that has become an issue with Johnson in his career.

My main concern for Johnson going forward is the possibility that the shoulder problems he had in the minors may recur. If he avoids injury and gets proper support from teammates, Johnson has the ability to be a Cy Young contender in the coming years along with Ubaldo Jimenez.

It was quite a prophetic statement, as just two seasons later Johnson lost most of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury and has never completely recovered from it. His velocity is back down to the lowest it has been since 2007, at 92.8 mph. When Johnson threw at this velocity in the minors, he was considered to be not overly effective, and so far this season his effectiveness has gone down compared to his dominant Cy Young-candidate seasons in 2009 and 2010. The Marlins got a steal in this draft in Johnson, but the question remains whether he can be effective until the end of his contract in 2013.

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