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Miami Marlins prospects: Top pick retrospective

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Today we take a look at the Marlins' history with their top pick, and what value that top pick provided. We'll examine such factors as high school or college background, the front office at the time of the selection, and career WAR; eventually teasing out a Marlins draft philosophy over a period of nearly 20 years. Hopefully.

1999's top selection by the Fish: Josh Beckett
1999's top selection by the Fish: Josh Beckett
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Your first round draft pick, in any sport, is important.  In baseball in particular, few things are as important than consistently drafting strong classes; and strong draft classes start with the first round selection.  Reading this excellent article from the team at Beyond the Box Score got me thinking about the draft, and led me to investigate how the Marlins have fared over the years in terms of the success of their first round selection; or in some cases selections (2005!).  As you will see below, there were some definite slam dunks (see Beckett, Josh), as well as some first round picks who did not quite pan out, a la the Jeffrey Allison's of the world.

Some quick programming notes.  I considered the time frame from 1996 until 2011 for my investigation.  I chose this for a couple reasons, the first being it gave me a round number of 20 players to work with over 16 drafts.  Secondly, I stopped at the 2011 draft in order to keep my career value number (WAR) based on actual baseball played at the Major League level.  The jury is still far from out on prospects selected in the 2012, 2013, or 2014 drafts.  Finally, I considered a "first round pick" to be any player chosen in either the traditional first round or the supplemental first round.

Before diving in, it is important to ground ourselves in the facts about making it to the major leagues; and how difficult it is even for first round selections.  Between 1987 and 2008, a comparable sample size to our focus years of 1996 through 2011, 906 players were drafted combined across the first round and supplemental first round.  67% of these players eventually saw time in the major leagues, while just 31% of the group stayed in the major leagues for three years or longer.  In short, it is really hard to become a major league baseball player, even with the advantage of being a team's top selection.

All of that being said, I give you the first round selections of the Marlins from 1996-2011:

Year

Name

H.S. / College

Position

General Manager

1996

Mark Kotsay

College

Outfield

Dave Dombrowski

1997

Aaron Akin

College

RHP

Dave Dombrowski

1998

Chip Ambres

College

Outfield

Dave Dombrowski

1999

Josh Beckett

H.S.

RHP

Dave Dombrowski

2000

Adrian Gonzalez

H.S.

First Base

Dave Dombrowski

2002

Jeremy Hermida

College

Outfield

Larry Beinfest

2003

Jeffrey Allison

H.S.

RHP

Larry Beinfest

2004

Taylor Tankersley

College

LHP

Larry Beinfest

2005

Chris Volstad

H.S.

RHP

Larry Beinfest

2005

Aaron Thompson

H.S.

LHP

Larry Beinfest

2005

Jacob Marceaux

College

RHP

Larry Beinfest

2005

Ryan Tucker

H.S.

RHP

Larry Beinfest

2005

Sean West

H.S.

LHP

Larry Beinfest

2006

Brett Sinkbeil

College

RHP

Larry Beinfest

2006

Chris Coghlan

College

Third Base

Larry Beinfest

2007

Matt Dominguez

H.S.

Third Base

Larry Beinfest

2008

Kyle Skipworth

H.S.

Catcher

Michael Hill

2009

Chad James

H.S.

LHP

Michael Hill

2010

Christian Yelich

H.S.

First Base

Michael Hill

2011

Jose Fernandez

H.S.

RHP

Michael Hill

As far as drafting college players versus high school players goes, the Marlins have not shown a strong tendency towards drafting either category.  They took eight college players and 12 high school players.  Interestingly though, of the 12 high school players chosen in the first round during the time frame, eight were pitchers.  Comparatively, four of the eight college players drafted were pitchers.  First of all, this shows a general inclination of the Fish towards drafting pitchers with their first round selections.  But this also represents a trend of taking high school pitchers in favor of drafting college level pitchers.  Often, high school pitchers possess more upside, and thus project to become front line starters more often than college players.  Indeed Miami has shown a tendency to take higher risks with their first round selections as opposed to opting for the safer pick.

As far as the general manager position is concerned, there is not much to see here on the surface.  Dombrowski and Beinfest both leaned towards drafting high school pitchers and college position players.  Michael Hill drafted exclusively from the high school ranks from 2008-2011.  When examining the careers of the first round selections, however, fans of the Marlins may be tempted to give Detroit a call regarding their GM.

Here is the same group of players, this time accompanied by their number of seasons in major league baseball and the total amount of WAR they produced during their careers.

Year

Name

Position

MLB Seasons

Career WAR

1996

Mark Kotsay

Outfield

17

21.4

1997

Aaron Akin

RHP

0

--------

1998

Chip Ambres

Outfield

3

0

1999

Josh Beckett

RHP

14

35.3

2000

Adrian Gonzalez

First Base

11

38.2*

2002

Jeremy Hermida

Outfield

8

2.7

2003

Jeffrey Allison

RHP

0

-------

2004

Taylor Tankersley

LHP

4

0.6

2005

Chris Volstad

RHP

6

2.8

2005

Aaron Thompson

LHP

2

0.1*

2005

Jacob Marceaux

RHP

0

-------

2005

Ryan Tucker

RHP

2

-1.2

2005

Sean West

LHP

2

0.2

2006

Brett Sinkbeil

RHP

1

-0.2

2006

Chris Coghlan

Third Base

6

-0.8*

2007

Matt Dominguez

Third Base

4

0.9*

2008

Kyle Skipworth

Catcher

1

0*

2009

Chad James

LHP

0

-------

2010

Christian Yelich

First Base

2

4.9*

2011

Jose Fernandez

RHP

2

7.4*

*denotes active major league player

Quick thoughts:

-Drafting Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez in back to back years is some fine work by Dombrowski and the Marlins.  Even though Gonzalez would never suit up for the Fish, that's back to back years of drafting All Star caliber players in the first round.  That just does not happen that often.

-How in the world did Larry Beinfest stay around as long as he did?  Oh yes, because the Marlins won the World Series in 2003.  That will tend to buy you some leeway, because Beinfest certainly wasn't kept around because he was an elite talent evaluator.  Those are some dreadful first round drafts from 2002-2007, just look at the career WAR values of the players taken.

-Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez have made a big impact in a short amount of time.  Michael Hill certainly needs to be credited with drafting two players who seem poised to produce at a high level for many years to come.

Overall, the past 20 first round selections have been a case of peaks and valleys for Miami.  Drafting Beckett and Gonzalez was followed by 13 selections who never made any significant contributions for the big league club; or any big league club for that matter.  That is quite a valley.  Recently, though, Yelich and Fernandez have shown promise with the Marlins.  Beckett is the clear choice for best first round pick in the history of the Marlins.  He only spent five years with the club, but performed at such a high level, not to mention the World Series he helped bring to Miami.

Although we didn't examine the 2012, 2013, or 2014 drafts because they were too recent, the prospects taken bear mentioning.  2012 first rounder Andrew Heaney was flipped as part of the Dan Haren/Dee Gordon trade, and now looks likely to start the season as a member of the rotation for the Angels.  Colin Moran was taken in the first round of the 2013 draft and traded this past summer as part of the deal that brought Jarred Cosart to the Marlins.  Moran is in spring training with the Astros but will more than likely open 2015 in the minor leagues.  Heaney and Moran each have high upside, and it is a credit to the Marlins for drafting them.  That the Angels and Astros hold them in such high regard, as evidenced by their willingness to trade more proven talent in order to acquire them demonstrates, paints Miami's talent evaluation team in a good light.  2014 top picks Tyler Kolek and Blake Anderson are both high ceiling prospects who will need time in the farm system before they are ready to produce at the big league level.

The Marlins draft philosophy is hard to identify.  They are not a team that leans heavily towards drafting college players, nor are they bent on taking high school players.  The Marlin's first round trends seem to follow those of baseball in general: taking more pitchers than position players in the first round, and the majority of those pitchers are out of high school.  The results of the past 16 drafts have been a roller coaster.  Back to back drafts of All-Star players is followed by a long stretch of drafts that yielded very little first round talent; only to again hit a peak after drafting players like Yelich and Fernandez in back to back drafts.  Fans of the Fish hope such a peak of first round talent lasts for the foreseeable future.