Because Benitez and Pavano were Type A free agents, the Marlins also are receiving supplemental sandwich picks (Nos. 34 and 44). Additionally, the heavily-stocked draft includes yet another supplemental choice, No. 81 from Minnesota because of the free agent departure of catcher Mike Redmond.
With so many high picks, the Marlins have a tremendous opportunity to stockpile a Minor League system that was stripped a bit in recent years due to some big trades.
"It is a unique opportunity when you have three first-round picks," general manager Larry Beinfest said. "It's a good situation to try to build some depth and bring in some very good talent into the organization. We're excited about it."
The abundance of picks presents some challenges for the scouting department to cover as many players as possible. To get as many reports and opinions as possible, a couple of top front-office evaluators were asked to scout more college and high schools players than they have in the past.
The draft is coordinated by Jim Fleming, the vice president of player development and scouting, and scouting director Stan Meek. The services of vice president of player personnel Dan Jennings, and Orrin Freeman, special assistant to the GM and pro scout, also are being used heavily.
While the team has more picks than in the past, the organization's basic philosophy remains the same.
The Marlins are looking for the best players available, whether from the college or high school ranks. A premium, as always, is placed on pitching, especially a top left-hander. The organization also looks for quality catchers and middle infielders.
"This is a solid draft all the way through," Fleming said. "Maybe it's not as solid at the top pitching [as 2004], but it's a good, solid draft."
A year ago, the Marlins used their first two picks on left-handed college pitchers: Taylor Tankersley from Alabama and Jason Vargas from Long Beach State.
In 2002 and '03, however, the club went for high school players in the first round. Outfielder Jeremy Hermida, the top-rated prospect in the organization, is a rising star in Double-A. And 2003 first-rounder, pitcher Jeff Allison, is currently pitching in low Class A Greensboro after being on the restricted list in 2004 because of personal reasons. Allison, who is overcoming well-documented addiction problems, was activated by Greensboro in early May.
Signing all the top picks presents another challenge, but one the team seems committed to making. A year ago, the average signing bonus for first-round picks was slighly more than $1.8 million.
"When you have an opportunity like this, you'd like to sign them all," Fleming said.
A year ago, the Marlins signed their first 16 picks, and 18 of their top 20.
"You obviously have to look at everything, and we are looking at everything, including the budget," Beinfest said. "But really, what we're focused on right now are the best players available, then drafting them appropriately. Then we'll worry about the business end. Our goal is to sign the best players available in the slots in which we pick."
The Marlins' Minor League system remains solid, but it lost some depth when prospects were dealt in 2003 for pitchers Mark Redman and Ugueth Urbina and outfielder/first baseman Jeff Conine.
Also in 2003, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera went from being the organization's top prospects to major contributors in the Marlins' World Series title run.
"We did make some moves with some prospects during '03," Beinfest said. "Young players can either help us in the big leagues, or they can be used to bring in other talent as needed. We did have some players at the upper levels who were moved. But our good young players now are starting to graduate [upwards]. Our Double-A team, we think, is a talented group. Maybe it thinned out a little bit at the upper levels. We are going to continually restock and we have a nice opportunity to do so."
LAST THREE TOP PICKS
2004, 1st round (27th overall), LHP Taylor Tankersley, University of Alabama: Bothered by left shoulder tendinitis since Spring Training, Tankersley is projected to see game action at low Class A Greensboro in June. Being groomed as a starter, Tankersley was 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in six games with short-season Jamestown in 2004. He struck out 32 and walked eight in 26 2/3 innings.
2003, 1st round (16th overall), RHP Jeff Allison, Veterans Memorial High in Peabody, Mass.: Battling through personal troubles, Allison missed the 2004 season as he dealt with addiction problems. Was removed from the restricted list, where he wasn't getting paid, in early May, the hard-throwing right-hander is part of the rotation in low Class A Greensboro.
2002, 1st round (11th overall), OF Jeremy Hermida, Wheeler H.S. Marietta, Ga.: Rated the top prospect in the organization, Hermida may be a year away from breaking into a starting outfield spot for the Marlins. A left-handed batter who throws right-handed, Hermida is off to a solid start with Double-A Carolina, where he is hitting for average, power and showing speed. Was in Marlins Spring Training, and is adjusting to hitting higher-level pitching.