Florida Marlins Minor League Camp Report: Double A

Is Jason Stokes Finding His Way To The Majors?

Part two of the Florida Marlins four part series provides you with an in depth report on the Florida Marlins Double A affiliate's exhibition season which went from March 1st through April 4th.

Double A Overview
This year's Double A Marlins affiliate is certainly not going to hurt for offense. The most highly regarded offensive prospects that the Marlins have are going to be starting the season suiting up for the Carolina Mudcats in 2004. While their pitching may not be quite as strong, there are several young players that carry a lot of potential.

We will first examine some of the most highly regarded offensive prospects and give you a full report on how they performed this exhibition season. We will then move on to the pitchers that caught our eye for both the good and the bad.

Most Impressive Hitter
CF Eric Reed

Reed, who was the Marlins Organizational Player of the Year in 2003 was not only the most impressive offensive player regardless of level in the prospect camp, but he was also the most impressive defensive player.

On the surface, Reed does not appear to be the most impressive player physically. He is a shade under six feet tall and not an ounce over 175. But what Reed lacks in size he more than makes up for in pure instincts, work ethic, and style of play.

In the batters box, Reed is a prototypical lead-off hitter, he has a great plate discipline, makes consistent contact, is an above-average bunter, and can run extremely fast. He is also deceptively strong and this spring he showed a little bit more pop in his bat than he has shown in the past.

Defensively, Reed just seems to have that natural instinct that can't be taught. He breaks on the ball extremely well, positions himself perfectly, has great footwork, and repeatedly showed the knack to make the spectacular play by making several circus type diving catches. During the spring games, there were several games where there was very high winds. Reed appeared to be the only player not affected by this as he made every play every time. The only weakness he might have is that his throwing arm is merely average.

Finally, what was most impressive about Eric Reed was his work ethic. Reed was the first player out of the locker room every day and the last to head in for lunch, often taking either extra batting practice, or most of the time working on his bunting for an extra half hour.

This kid seems to know that the Marlins are a cost conscious franchise and that incumbent CF Juan Pierre's contract is up after next year.

Notable Offensive Players

Josh Willingham
Josh seems to be recovered enough from a serious knee injury to contribute offensively as he showed both the plate discipline and power that make the Marlins front office brass drool. In my opinion, Josh Willingham has the most ready major league body and his bat is also already of major league caliber. Willingham began the spring season with the big team and made 7 game appearances and made 7 pinch hit at bats. In those 7 at bats, Willingham got four hits, one of them a double as well as scoring 2 runs and driving in 3.

Next to Eric Reed, Willingham was easily the Marlins second most impressive overall prospect at the plate. The only concern that stands out about Willingham is that he did not take the field to play defense at any point during the spring exhibition season, playing only in a designated hitter role (pitchers do not hit in the farm clubs spring exhibition games).

It is possible that Willingham is not fully recovered from his knee injury in order to take his projected position as catcher. Whatever the case may be, the Marlins had better find a place in the field where Willingham can play because his bat is too good to waste.

1B Jason Stokes
In some circles, Jason Stokes is considered the best Marlins hitting prospect. His 2002 season with the Kane County Cougars solidified his status as one of the best power prospects in all of baseball. His 2003 season, while not as statistically prolific as his 2002 season, was still very impressive. Especially considering that he was playing with a sore right wrist after recovering from off-season surgery. What was alarming though was Stokes' poor performance in the Arizona Fall League.

During the spring exhibition season, Stokes pretty much showed the exactly the same strengths and weakness' that have some scouts labeling him as can't miss and others calling him a for sure bust.

On the positive side, Stokes showed his tremendous power by hitting homeruns, often more than one, in the majority of exhibition games played. On the negative side, Stokes still shows poor strike zone judgment, plate discipline, and an alarming inability to hit quality breaking pitches. Another point to consider is that while Stokes did hit a high number of homeruns, they often came off of the second or third pitcher of the game and hardly ever against the starter. (Prospect exhibition games generally have 3 pitchers going 3 innings a piece) Also, it too often seemed that with Stokes at the plate it was either a homerun or a strikeout.

In a final note, while Stokes is a monster of a man at 6'4, 225 lbs. His body type doesn't strike me as that of a major league player. He appears to have very little muscle development and even appears to have a little bit of a gut. Now, I don't know if this a testament to a possible poor work ethic, or if his old wrist injury prevents him from working out. Whatever the case may be, in my opinion, needs to better develop his body.

RF Jim Kavourias
Kavourias was Stokes' teammate with the Jupiter Hammerheads and had very similar statistics in 2003. Interestingly enough, their skill set is also very similar. Kavourias also showed tremendous power but also had severe problems with breaking pitches and overall plate discipline.

The only apparent difference between the two is that Kavourias is very imposing physically.

Most Impressive Pitcher
RHP Logan Kensing
Kensing, a 2003 2nd round draftee, had a very poor first season but he seemed to iron out a lot of his problems and was very impressive during the spring season.

Kensing throws a quality fastball that reaches 93 mph. But what's most impressive about all of his pitches is the movement he has on his pitches. His fastball tails in hard on right handed hitters and his sinker and slider both have very impressive action when he has them working. When Logan is on, he keeps the ball down and gives hitters fits. The only problem that he has right now is that he can fall into lapses of poor control. This can be expected however as Kensing was converted to a pitcher in his last season in college and 2003 was actually his first full season at the position. But the stuff is definitely there.

Notable Pitchers

RHP Victor Prieto
Prieto's performances during the exhibition games were very impressive but slightly out of character in the sense that he is known to have big time fastball that reaches as high as 95 mph but for some reason he never topped 89 on the gun.

Now, there may be two explanations for this. One, he could have been throwing with a sore arm or some other nagging injury as some liked to make rumors of. However, I believe that Victor was working on his weakness' during the spring games and those are; developing better breaking pitches, and working on his control.

Whatever it is, it appeared to work cause his control was tremendously improved and he seems to have become comfortable throwing a curveball. If he can continue to show improvement with his control he very well could develop into something special as he already has a plus fastball and sinker.

LHP David Marchbanks
Marchbanks is another 2003 draftee who made a rapid rise through the organization last year by finishing his season all the way up to Double A. David is an extremely polished pitcher, which one will naturally assume since he is a college experienced prospect who went through the roughs and rigors of SEC competition during his days at the University of South Carolina.

Some scouts have said his stuff isn't overpowering but what I saw led me to believe quite differently. He routinely threw his fastball in the low 90's along with having a good sinker and quality change up.

Known for having very good control in college as well as his first year as a professional, there were a couple of outings where his control was off and he was routinely high in the zone. With his track record this should be considered nothing more than an isolated problem.

Another impressive aspect of this prospect is his physical development which isn't a surprise considering his age and time spent in college. But Marchbanks nevertheless has a very impressive lower body physic which further the possibility that he might one day could be a major league starter, rather than just a middle man.

LHP Todd Moser
Moser is finally 100% healthy and could be ready to take the next step up even though he is 27 years old. Moser is very polished in his approach and has confidence in all of his pitches. His fastball is nothing special but he really knows how to keep hitters off balance with his quality curveball and very good change-up. Moser also spent some time pitching in Triple A games where he was equally as effective.

RHP Phil Akens
The tall righty looked particularly strong this spring with improved command over all his pitches. He seemed to spend extra time working on developing his curve to go with his quality fastball. He is not really considered a top prospect but he is well worth keeping an eye on.

RHP Trevor Hutchinson
Didn't pitch too much in the prospect games as he spent a lot of time working with the big club. He is still a year away but right now he is probably considered the most likely starter prospect to break with the club.

RHP Lincoln Holdzkom
Holdzkom is another guy who didn't pitch much in the prospect camp. Actually, he didn't pitch at all because of concerns about arm soreness, although it isn't considered anything serious. Holdzkom is a very big man and has a world of ability but has had a hard time putting it all together. He also spent a lot of time working out with the big club. Maybe this was a method by the front office to motivate him or give him better coaching. 2004 is considered an important year in this prospects development cause the Marlins are showing a tremendous amount of interest in him.

RHP Ronald Belizario
Belizario can flat out throw the ball. His fastball could be the best in the system reaching the high 90s. If he is going to become a top rate prospect he needs to continue to work on his control and his confidence in his secondary pitches. He should also work on his physical conditioning. This doesn't mean he is fat and out of shape, he is actually too slight of frame.

Later this week we will give you our review of where many feel the real talent of the Marlins organization lies. In the high and low single A levels where there are many 18 and 19 year old prospects that were either foreign signees or recent draftees that show high amount of natural physical ability but must continue to refine their baseball skill. However, most scouts and front office people believe that the crop of young players the Marlins have in their lower levels will develop into a group that will take them back to the top of the list of the most highly regarded farm systems in baseball.

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