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Postby ensanimal » Fri Jun 04, 2004 5:11 pm


MIAMI -- Winning the World Series championship came at a price.
To assemble the 2003 title squad, Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest parted with some of the organization's top minor league talent.

While the tradeoff produced the ultimate grand prize, the franchise's second championship in seven years, it gutted a great deal of depth from the farm system.

Replenishing talent in the minors, especially pitching, is a primary goal for the Marlins heading into the June 7 First-Year Player Draft.

"We still have a pretty good minor league system," said Jim Fleming, the Marlins' vice president of player development and scouting. "We could use some depth in the system. With the movement we've had, it's hard to stay as deep as we were. And we pushed our young kids along fast."

Locating talent is a bit more challenging this season because the Marlins are picking lower than they have in recent years. The defending champions have the 27th overall selection, widening the scope of players to scout.

"We have to be flexible," Fleming said. "We're going to always take the best guy."

Locating top-flight pitching remains the goal. It's even more of a need now because of three pivotal trades made a year ago and one significant personal problem impacting the franchise now.

Shrewd trades in 2003 landed the Marlins pitchers Mark Redman, Ugueth Urbina and outfielder Jeff Conine.

In all three deals, top minor league pitching talent was exchanged.

The Marlins acquired Redman, who is now with the A's, from the Tigers for Gary Knotts, Nate Robertson and Rob Henkel.

To get Urbina, now with the Tigers, the Marlins dealt pitcher Ryan Snare, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (the first overall pick in 2000) and outfielder Will Smith to Texas.

Conine was obtained from the Orioles for pitchers Denny Bautista and Donald Levinski.

Even though they traded away some quality arms, the Marlins felt they had a prized prospect in their system in 2000 first-round pick Jeff Allison.

Past five No. 1 picks
Year Player
2003 Jeff Allison, RHP
2002 Jeremy Hermida, OF
2001 None
2000 Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
1999 Josh Beckett, RHP

But because of an undisclosed personal problem, the 19-year-old Allison's professional future is in jeopardy. In early May, Allison left minor league camp without permission less than a month after he reported late.

The Marlins placed Allison, the 16th pick overall, on the restricted list, meaning he is inactive and not being paid. It's unclear if or when he will return.

This year is the Marlins' lowest first-round slot since they also picked 27th in 1998, following their first World Series title. In 2001, they didn't have a first-round choice.

For a number of the Marlins' front office personnel, who came over from Montreal when Jeffrey Loria bought the team two years ago, choosing 27th is the deepest in the first round they've picked since 1993.

That year Fleming was with the Expos and the team took catcher Michael Barrett 28th in the first round.

Because of where the Marlins are drafting, the scouting process and even the focus has shifted from a year or two ago.

When the organization was in the middle of the pack, they could zero in on 10 to 15 players who might become available. But at 27th, they aren't looking at players they know will not be around.

"We're trying to get multiple looks at guys, but now we've spread everybody out," Fleming said.

Stan Meek, the director of scouting, is logging more frequent flier miles than in the past. So is Fleming. And Dan Jennings, the vice president of player personnel, has scouted more college and high school talent than he has in recent years.

For each potential pick, the team is getting three to five different evaluation reports.

Another shift is the Marlins are no longer in the "rebuilding stage." Winning the World Series and contending again for the playoffs has reset priorities.

"Our focus is a little bit different," Fleming said. "We're competing for titles at the big league level now. That's more important."

The "win now" approach is factoring into whether to draft a player out of high school or college.

The Marlins have never hesitated drafting high school players, as evident by the selection of Allison last year, Jeremy Hermida (11th overall in 2002) and World Series MVP Josh Beckett (second overall in 1999).

But with a leaner crop of minor league pitchers ready to reach the big leagues, extra consideration could go toward a college player.

Fleming says some quality college arms should be available in the early rounds.

"If there are college vs. high school similarities, you might go with the college player," Fleming said.

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