To give their fans a sustainable, high-quality product, the Marlins must kick ass in the MLB amateur draft. It’s that simple. With the 2018 draft beginning on Monday, we take this opportunity to review the biggest successes ever selected and signed under previous team ownership.
There aren’t many of them, to be honest. This list only accounts for players who agreed to terms with the Marlins. Notables like Cliff Lee (1997) and Charlie Blackmon (2004) chose at the time to continue their education over turning pro, later starring in the majors after being drafted by other franchises.
The Fish make their top pick this year at No. 13 overall, and you’ll notice that several of the stars featured below were already off the board at that point. But that wasn’t true in the majority of these cases.
The order of the rankings attempts to account for overall MLB production, the players’ peak season(s) and projected impact that active guys will have in future seasons.
Stats for active players updated entering May 29
Honorable mention: José Fernández
Drafted in first round (No. 14 overall) from Braulio Alonso High School, 2011
It’s difficult to place Fernández on the list.
There were limitless possibilities for somebody who dominated at such an early age and showed no signs of slowing in his final performances. On the other hand, reaching that potential would depend on the durability of his surgically repaired right elbow (2014 Tommy John surgery).
Fernández produced 14.9 fWAR in the equivalent of two-and-half full major league seasons, and had a lot of fun doing it.
10. Josh Willingham
Drafted in 17th round (No. 491 overall) from University of North Alabama, 2000
Career fWAR: 18.9
Marlins fWAR: 6.4
Josh Willingham overachieved more than any other member of this top 10. College players selected outside the top couple hundred picks seldom appear in the majors, much less spend a decade at the highest level.
Drafted as a shortstop(!), Willingham had consistent success as a power-hitting left fielder. He always tried to pull the ball. When pitchers didn’t give him the opportunity to do so, he’d wind up walking or striking out.
Willingham posted a 117 wRC+ or better in all five of his qualified seasons. He’s among the best sluggers of his generation to have never made an All-Star team.
9. Mark Kotsay
Drafted in first round (No. 9 overall) from California State University, Fullerton, 1996
Career fWAR: 20.5
Marlins fWAR: 6.7
Mark Kotsay fell short of All-Star standards, too, but got a significant head start on Willingham thanks to his first-round pedigree. The Marlins expedited him to the big leagues in July 1997 with less than 100 games of professional experience.
After spending most of his Florida days in right field, Kotsay proved to be a solid defensive center fielder as well with San Diego and Oakland.
He possessed great contact skills—in each of his 17 MLB seasons, Kotsay struck out less often than the league average.
8. Randy Winn
Drafted in third round (No. 65 overall) from Santa Clara University, 1995
Career fWAR: 28.1
Marlins fWAR: 0.0
You probably didn’t realize that Randy Winn was selected and signed by the Fish. He moved upstate two years later when the Devil Rays added him in the 1997 expansion draft.
Winn provided impressive versatility for his teams, racking up 378 career starts in left field, 476 in right and 636 in center. In every campaign from 2002-2008, he combined double-digit home runs with double-digit steals.
The Southern California native played alongside some spectacular teammates (Barry Bonds, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Wade Boggs, just to name a few), but never competed in the postseason.
7. J.T. Realmuto
Drafted in third round (No. 104 overall) from Carl Albert High School, 2010
Career fWAR: 11.0
Marlins fWAR: 11.0
Considering the unique challenges of the catcher position, J.T. Realmuto’s 2018 pace puts him in special company. Arguably the most valuable backstop in the majors, he’s at least the most well-rounded. Nobody else hits and defends and runs quite like Realmuto.
The Marlins found great value with the 104th pick that year. Realmuto developed into the most impactful player in his entire draft round.
For the time being, lack of track record hurts his standing on this list. Realmuto has only three previous seasons as a regular starting catcher.
6. Charles Johnson
Drafted in first round (No. 28 overall) from University of Miami, 1992
Career fWAR: 25.7
Marlins fWAR: 13.9
That’s right, 1992. Makes sense when you think about it for a moment: the Marlins participated in an amateur draft the year before their first major league competition to stock the farm system.
South Florida’s own Charles Johnson rose through the minor league ranks quickly, debuting in teal less than two years removed from turning pro. CJ four-peated as the NL Gold Glove winner from 1995-1998 and provided approximately league average offensive production over the course of his career. He also started all 16 postseason games during the 1997 World Series run (batting .264/.371/.434).
Johnson didn’t age well, unfortunately. He made his ultimate All-Star appearance the month of his 30th birthday and played his final MLB game less than three years later.
5. Josh Johnson
Drafted in fourth round (No. 113 overall) from Jenks High School, 2002
Career fWAR: 21.2
Marlins fWAR: 20.8
Josh Johnson’s peak was so incredible, which makes the injuries that derailed him all the more devastating.
Inning for inning, the huge right-hander was arguably the most effective National League pitcher in 2010. And as Cut4’s Chris Landers points out, he somehow found a higher gear the following season:
Johnson’s start to 2011 is one of the most underrated stretches of pitching in baseball history: nine games, 60 1/3 innings, 56 K’s and a microscopic 1.64 ERA. And if that isn’t enough, consider that he took a no-hitter into at least the fifth inning in four out of his first five starts.
Johnson was a freak who learned to throw strikes consistently without allowing quality contact (only 59 HR in 916.2 IP with Marlins).
But that golden arm simply couldn’t hold up. He formally retired in January 2017 after setbacks in his Tommy John surgery rehab.
4. Christian Yelich
Drafted in first round (No. 23 overall) from Westlake High School, 2010
Career fWAR: 19.3
Marlins fWAR: 17.9
In recent years, we spent a lot of time thinking aloud about what Christian Yelich could become if he stopped pounding the ball into the ground. The 2018 season—his first one away from the Marlins—might provide some answers. According to Statcast, Yelich is barreling more pitches than ever and increasing his average launch angle to a career-high 6.3 degrees.
Like Realmuto, he’s been underrated by the general public due to some combination of market size, modest power and the mediocrity of his teammates. Working to his advantage, Yelich plays a position that lends itself to more longevity than catcher does.
In hindsight, the lean hitter may seem like a no-brainer first-round pick, yet seven of the players taken ahead of him haven’t even appeared in the big leagues.
3. Josh Beckett
Drafted in first round (No. 2 overall) from Spring High School, 1999
Career fWAR: 35.6
Marlins fWAR: 13.8
No regrets from the Fish about Josh Beckett, a great-but-not-special starting pitcher who stepped up when it mattered most (2003 World Series MVP). The blockbuster trade sending him to Boston brought back a package including Hanley Ramírez.
Like several others mentioned above, Beckett’s body broke down too soon. He didn’t compete beyond his age-34 campaign due to complications from thoracic outlet syndrome.
2. Adrián González
Drafted in first round (No. 1 overall) from Eastlake High School, 2000
Career fWAR: 36.8
Marlins fWAR: 0.0
Adrián González has justified his place atop the 2000 draft. In a class without any truly transcendent players, he developed into a remarkably durable and productive first baseman. González ranks among the all-time top 200 for career home runs, runs batted in and total bases.
Too bad Miami never got to enjoy him. It was the Aroldis Chapman/Gleyber Torres trade for an earlier generation, with the Marlins relinquishing long-term assets to complete the 2003 roster. And it worked: Ugueth Urbina improved a shaky bullpen down the stretch en route to a championship.
Meanwhile, González has a sizable role with the Mets in his 15th MLB season.
1. Giancarlo Stanton
Drafted in second round (No. 76 overall) from Notre Dame High School, 2007
Career fWAR: 35.7
Marlins fWAR: 34.4
The superstar formally known as Mike Stanton is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, accomplishing more by his mid-20s than Willingham, Kotsay and Winn did in their entire careers. And that isn’t including his NL MVP performance at age 27.
The Marlins have famously struggled to retain homegrown players, and it was not meant to be with Stanton, either. He required a historically bad contract—full no-trade clause included—to forego free agency. But the franchise lacks suitable revenue streams to pay an individual $25 million per year and surround him with an adequate supporting cast, culminating in the trade to the Yankees.
High school draft prospects are more volatile than college players. For example, the kids selected immediately before (Denny Almonte, Mariners) and after (Scott Moviel, Mets) Stanton failed to crack the majors.
That being said, the Marlins will need several of their own to pan out in the coming years if they expect to contend.