Barry Jackson

Marlins positioned to land top hitter in draft. Sizing up the candidates.

Jeter: “When you compete, you’re competing to win”

"When you compete, you're competing to win", said Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter during a press conference at Marlins Park the day before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training
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"When you compete, you're competing to win", said Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter during a press conference at Marlins Park the day before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training

A case could always be made to select the best player, regardless of position, in a draft. But for the Marlins, there will be a compelling case to draft for need when Miami picks fourth in Monday’s first round of MLB’s amateur draft.

And the good news is that “best available” and “need” should intersect perfectly for the Marlins in this draft, which is heavily tilted toward offense at the top.

The Marlins have at least a dozen legitimate starting pitching prospects who easily could be in big-league rotations within the next three seasons. Conversely, they have a paucity of high-performing bats in their system.

So there’s a glaring need to address offense Monday, and a handful of appealing candidates have emerged.

Exploring the college options at No. 4, with the thinking that Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman will be gone before the Marlins pick:

Cal-Berkeley first baseman Andrew Vaughn:

It’s a toss-up whether he will be available at No. 4, but if he is, he would be highly tempting. He hit .402 last season, and this season is batting .387 with 15 homers and 49 RBI with 58 walks and 32 strikeouts in 50 games.

Marlins CEO Derek Jeter and top executives scouted him in person on Friday in Seattle, as South Florida-based MLB reporter Craig Mish noted.

“He’s the best pure bat in the class with a quiet approach and clean right-handed swing that produces hard contact and above-average power, along with probably the best plate discipline in the class,” prospect analyst Keith Law said on ESPN.com. “He’s also a 5-foot-10, right-handed-hitting first baseman, which gives some teams pause because that’s a bad profile historically and because players like him have, in truth, no actual floor.”

Cal manager Mike Neu, UM’s closer on its 1999 national championship team, discussed the height issue with Baseball America recently and said: “There’s not too many undersized right-handed anything [in professional baseball. Vaughn is] definitely a little bit different from that standpoint. The comps for him are not a lot, but there’s not a lot of comps for what he can do with the bat and the type of power he has....

“He’s so good. Having a guy that doesn’t strike out, he can get a hit when he needs it. He’s obviously got the power. He’s a special kid that can really hit at this level.”

Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday:

Jeter and top executives Michael Hill and Gary Denbo — plus special advisor Jorge Posada — checked him out at the SEC Tournament last weekend, and he promptly went 5 for 5, with three singles and two doubles, and showed a knack to hit the ball to all fields.

“I had no idea until after the game, until someone told me,” Bleday told The Tennessean of Jeter being there. “Obviously, that’s pretty cool.”

The SEC Player of the Year, Bleday is batting .346 with a nation-leading 25 homers and 64 RBI in 55 games and projects as a corner outfielder.

Law’s take, on ESPN.com: “He’s a right fielder with the arm and power to profile as a regular there all the way to the majors, but teams will have to accept the unorthodox swing as part of the risk.”

Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin told The Tennessean: “Mentally, he’s a 35-year-old man. For a lot of kids, the quicker they can get to maturity, the quicker they are going to see positive results. We may have helped him, but his parents have everything to do with (Bleday’s maturity). That’s a young man who has a lot of balance in his life.”

And keep this in mind: Marlins scouting director DJ Svihlik coached at Vanderbilt in 2017 and has a great feel for Bleday, who was a freshman for the Commodores that season.

Arizona State outfield Hunter Bishop:

No. 4 might be a tad too high, but the left-handed-hitting Bishop did hit .347 with 22 homers and 61 RBI this season.

“Bishop didn’t produce at all in his first two years with the Sun Devils but exploded out of the gate this year, briefly leading the country in home runs and still sitting in the top five with 22, showing a better eye and much harder and more consistent contact to go from being a Day 1 afterthought to a likely top-10 pick,” Law said. “He’s a center fielder now who will end up in left, and he hasn’t been as productive in Pac-12 play, doing much more damage against non-conference competition.”

Among potential high school options:

Texas based shortstop Bobby Witt Jr..

Witt — son of the former Texas Rangers and Marlins pitcher — is batting .519 with 14 home runs, 15 doubles, eight triples and 49 RBI. He has a .579 on-base percentage and also has 22 walks and 17 stolen bases.

Law’s take: “A true shortstop with potentially plus defense, a huge arm, good instincts and a history of hitting.”

He might not be available at 4.

Seattle prep outfielder Corbin Carroll:

He hit .540 with nine home runs and 26 runs batted in this past season, with 22 walk and 11 steals. He won a gold medal in May with the USA Baseball Under-18 National Team at the Pan-American Championships in Panama. He’s a high-character kid, having volunteered in the Seattle area at a food bank and homeless shelter, and he has donated his time as a youth baseball coach.

Some view his height (5-10) as a negative, but Law said: “Carroll gets raves for his athleticism, speed, feel to hit, and range in center field, and he has the hand strength and swing to get to above-average power down the road, with his arm the only tool that doesn’t project to more than average.”

Georgia shortstop C.J. Abrams:

He hit .431 with three home runs, 42 runs scored and 27 RBI this season, and Baseball America rates him the No. 2 prep prospect, behind Witt.

Law says he has “ridiculous speed” and “projects to hit for average but not power.” He’s great making contact and could become an effective leadoff hitter. But a college hitter could provide a more immediate payoff.

He’s another high-character young man, having volunteered locally on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, CURE Childhood Cancer and as a youth baseball camp counselor.

Oviedo outfielder Riley Greene: Could the Marlins use their first pick on a Florida prep outfielder for the second year in a row after selecting Tampa-area outfielder Connor Scott last year at No. 13?

Greene (6-2, 190 pounds) hit .422 with eight home runs and 27 RBI this season for Hagerty High. Baseball America rates him the No. 3 prep prospect in this class and says he’s the “best pure hitter” among high school players in this class.

Law said: “He’s a future left fielder who needs to work on his reads on fly balls, so the hope is that his hit and power tools both end up above-average to plus, leaving him as at least a regular in a corner.”

For perspective, MLB.com’s mock draft has Baltimore taking Oregon State’s Rutschman first overall, Kansas City selecting Witt Jr. second overall, the White Sox drafting Abrams third and the Marlins landing Vaughn at No. 4, with Greene and Bleday coming off the board next.

Baseball America’s Jim Callis has Miami taking Bleday fourth, adding: “Bleday, Vaughn and Florida high school outfielder Riley Greene could go 4-5-6 in just about any conceivable order. Miami’s high-level executives may prefer a premium athlete like Abrams, but he may not get to No. 4. Vaughn is the reigning Golden Spikes Award winner and the best all-around hitter in the Draft, though Bleday and Greene aren’t far behind and offer more defensive value.”

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