Marlins follow formula, get good mix in Draft
Club goes mostly with collegians after first-round prep pitcher
MIAMI -- In the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Marlins followed a formula that they have used for years.
"We got a blend of the high school, junior college and four-year guys as we typically do," said Stan Meek, the club's director of scouting. "We get the high school guys up top and then some of the college guys further down."
And that's exactly what Florida did when it took right-hander Jose Fernandez of Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa with the 14th overall pick.
Fernandez, who spent a year in jail in Cuba trying to defect, is an advanced high school pitcher mainly because of the adversity he has faced.
"He's had some adversity in his life, and I think because of it, he handles adversity on the mound real well," Meek said. "I saw him on the mound three times this spring, and he pitches with an advanced approach for a high school kid."
The 18-year-old senior already has four pitches -- a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup.
"He pitches like some of the Latin kids you see. He can give you different angles to his breaking ball," Meek said. "You get two and three pitches between that. He's got a real good feel for his secondary stuff."
After Fernandez, six of Florida's next nine selections -- and 39 of the 50 -- were players with college experience, including second-round pick, Adam Conley.
Conley, a left-hander from Washington State, projects to be a starter during the early part of his professional baseball career, but could make the switch to the bullpen.
This season, he led the Cougars with six wins and struck out 83 batters while compiling a 3.50 ERA. As a sophomore, he saved 12 games.
Meek sees the southpaw, who throws from a lower arm slot, making it tough for left-handed hitters at any level. Conley's fastball reaches 96 mph when he comes out of the bullpen, and 90-93 mph during starts. He also has a slider and straight changeup.
"We'll start him when he gets out and going and look at it as we go forward, but if he ends up at the bullpen sometime down the way, it wouldn't surprise me," Meek said.
As for fast-rising draftees, Meek believes two southpaws -- Conley, as well as Charlie Howell -- have the ability to quickly reach the Major Leagues.
A member of the Louisville Slugger Collegiate Baseball All-America third team, Howell earned Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year honors after going 10-5 with a 2.79 ERA for Wichita State. The Marlins selected him in the sixth round.
"Both of those guys are really good strike throwers and they come from good programs," Meek said. "They know how to pitch and they've been around."
Daniel Oliver, son of former big leaguer Joe Oliver, was taken in the eighth round, and he has the advantage of growing up in a Major League clubhouse, something Meek has seen throughout the years.
"They don't seem intimidated at all by the big league scene," Meek said. "I think that the guys with abilities, what really stops them is the nervousness of the big leagues. When we see those sons of big leaguers, they seem to maximize their abilities."
Jacob Esch, who was listed as a second baseman when he was drafted in the 12th round, will become a starting pitcher.
Esch was Georgia Tech's second baseman and pitched just five innings this season, but Florida's staff liked what it saw. According to Meek, Esch has a good delivery and a "fresh" arm from not pitching much.
"I think he's excited about it, and I think he wants to do it," Meek said. "From the limited look we got, we were really impressed with the way his body works on the mound. I think he has a chance to be really good."
The breakdown of the Marlins' 50 picks went as follows: one first baseman, three second basemen, three third basemen, four outfielders, five shortstops, seven left-handers and 22 right-handers.
"I thought we mixed it," Meek said. "I think we got a good blend of athletes and arms throughout the draft. I feel real good about it."
Christina De Nicola is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.