2004 Marlins Infield Preview: First Base

Payroll constraints left the Marlins front office with a difficult decision regarding the first base position for the 2004 season. Find out why the Marlins Insider feels that General Manager Larry Beinfest made the best of a bad situation and again will prove why he is one of the best in Major League Baseball.

2003 Recap:
In 2003 the Marlins got steady if not occasionally spectacular play from 1B Derrek Lee. Lee was among the National League leaders in offensive production from a first baseman. Lee hit .271 with 31 homeruns and 92 RBIs. He also won a well deserved Gold Glove award for his defensive play at 1B. Lee, was a solid contributor to the Marlins World Series Championship, however, he was an extremely streaky hitter who would go weeks of amazing production mixed with weeks of absolutely nothing. He also had the lowest batting average on the team with runners in scoring position. Although no team wants to lose a valuable starter off a championship team, the Marlins could not justify giving Lee almost 7 million dollars considering the team's payroll constraints. So Derrek was traded to the Chicago Cubs for 1B Hee Seop Choi and a pitching prospect.
2004 Outlook
Heading into the 2004 season, first base is arguably one of the team's biggest question marks. The Marlins have high expectations for Choi, who was once considered one of the top hitting prospects in all of baseball. But he had a disappointing and injury filled rookie season in 2003. As an insurance policy against Choi not producing in 2004, the Marlins signed veteran power hitter Wil Cordero. Look for the Marlins to use the two players in a platoon role in 2004, with Cordero playing primarily against lefties and Choi playing primarily against righties. Having Cordero on the roster will in the long run help in the development of Choi. Reason is that Choi will not feel the constant day in-day out pressure to produce and will be able to take days off when he falls into a slump.
While it will be impossible for the Marlins to replace Lee's glove in the field, look for the platoon combination of Choi and Cordero to come close to equaling Lee's offensive production of 2003.

Player Analysis and 2004 Projections:

Hee Seop Choi
DOB: March 16, 1979
Birth Place:Chun-Nam, South Korea
Height: 6'5 Weight: 235
Bats: Left Throws: Left

Batting:
Hee Seop Choi is a big man (6'5, 235) but is not considered a power hitter. Reason is that his swing is leveraged for more line drive power and lacks the lift necessary to hit many homeruns. So while Choi does not project to a 30 homerun hitter, he is considered by many scouts to be a double hitting machine due to his above average gap power.
Hee Seop is considered to have an above average batting eye, makes good contact and has above average plate discipline. He did have a high strike-out rate in 2003 but that was probably the result of inexperience against major league pitching and should improve with time. Scouts project that Choi will hit in the .300 range with around 20-25 homers. Other scouts think that he could hit even more homers if he tinkers with his swing a little.
On the downside, Choi has shown consistently through his development that he has a hard time with left-handed pitching. He also can get tied up with hard inside fastballs. On the plus-side, he hits righties very well and has the intelligence, discipline and desire to learn.
Base Running and Speed:
Hee Seop has below-to-average speed for his size, and unlike Lee, he is not considered anything close to a base-stealing threat.
Defense:
Defensively, the Marlins are going to take a noticeable decline in fielding with the loss of 2003 Gold Glove winner Derrek Lee. Lee made every difficult play look routine. Lee had the full confidence of the rest of the infield that gave them the freedom to try even the most difficult of plays because they knew that if their throw happened to be errant that Lee would more than likely still make the play.
While Choi should not be considered a poor fielder, he is right now average at best. He has a solid but unspectacular throwing arm, solid technique, and is confident in the routine plays. He has the ability to eventually become an above-average fielder but it will come with time and experience.
Overall:
The Marlins made a very wise move in obtaining Hee Seop Choi. In the short term, there will be a decline in production when Choi is manning the position. But Choi is without question a more talented and polished player at the plate at this point in his career than Lee was at the same point. Choi is only 24 years old and in time he projects to be a player that will be offensively more consistent and defensively adequate enough to make Marlins fans appreciate the move the front office made.
In 2003, Choi was playing very well until a fielding collision with pitcher Kerry Wood in which he sustained a concussion, and was not the same afterwards. Hee Seop finished the season with a .213 average in 202 ABs, with 8 homeruns and 28 RBI. Expect a tremendous improvement across the board this season. Marlins General Manager Larry Beinfest has high expectations for Hee Seop Choi. Upon acquiring him in the off-season, Beinfest said, "He's not proven yet, but we think he is going to be an outstanding player." "We think he is going to be an above-average first baseman."

2004 Projection:

Year

Team

AVG

AB

R

HR

RBI

2B

3B

SB

BB

SO

2004

Florida

.260

425

60

16

65

32

2

3

58

95



Wil Cordero
Vital Stats:
DOB: October 3, 1971
Birth Place: Mayaguez, Puerto Rico
Height: 6'2 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Batting:
Cordero has spent his 13 year career being known as a free-swinging hitter with good power. Over the years he has improved his discipline at the plate. But he is still known to swing at bad pitches every now and again. Too often he tries to pull the ball which leads to pitchers being able to get him out by working him with breaking balls on the outside. Cordero is at his best when he focuses on keeping his shoulder in and driving the ball up the middle. Cordero can be relied on to produce when called upon. He is a savvy veteran who accepts the role of platoon player and thrives in it. Expect another solid season in part time duty. Since Choi is weak against left-handed pitching expect the Marlins to platoon their two first baseman depending on pitching matchups.
Base Running and Speed:
Wil has below average speed, and is not a threat on the base paths. Also, he is not always the smartest runner and can waver between lapses of over-aggressiveness and laziness on the base paths.
Defense:
Cordero came up through the Montreal Expos organization as a SS so he is quite comfortable in the field. As his body matured and his foot speed diminished he was converted to a 3B and then eventually to an OF and 1B. Cordero has a very strong throwing arm which allows him to play both corner OF positions. This versatility will allow the Marlins to move Cordero around the field so that slumping or injured players can rest without the team missing a beat. The Marlins will use Cordero primarily at 1B and LF with an occasional appearance in RF.
Overall:
Cordero at one point in his career was considered a clubhouse nuisance. Not that he didn't get along with his fellow teammates, but rather that his famous temper would occasionally cause problems between him and the manager. As he has gotten older and more mature he has become a calmer person and is considered an asset to the clubhouse. Cordero will produce when called upon and for the value of his contract, he will be a valuable contributor in the 2004 season.

2004 Projection

Year

Team

AVG

AB

R

HR

RBI

2B

3B

SB

BB

SO

2004

Florida

.283

405

55

14

58

23

0

2

43

80



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