Who represented the number 6 best for the #Marlins? Winner joins the All-Fish Team!
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) December 8, 2016
Occurring at the very end of the baseball Winter Meetings after all the hum and haw of the convention has already come and gone, the Rule 5 draft was often overlooked as merely a going through of motions necessary to satisfy the collective bargaining agreement. For the Marlins, t team which always looked for the thrifty option in years past, this seemed like the perfect place for them to go seeking a diamond in the rough. And in 2005, they found one. In that year’s draft, they selected the man who would go on to become one of the best players in franchise history and the man who makes our All-Fish Team as the best wearer of the number six, Dan Uggla.
Before being selected in the aforementioned ’05 Rule 5 draft, Uggla was initially drafted by the Diamondbacks in 2001 out of the University of Memphis where, in that same season, his junior year, he hit a ridiculous .379/.498/.790 and put his name near the top of most Conference USA leaderboards. That season in the tenth most games played and among the eighth most at bats conference wide, Uggla was second in doubles (28), homers (18), walks (42) and batting average. He lead C-USA in OBP, slugging and OPS. Naturally, he made the All-Coference Team and barely lost Player of the Year honors to Jake Gautreau. His collegiate exports had some scouts posting his draft stock as high as the eighth round.
Uggla fell a bit further than that but was still taken at a respectable position, the 11th round, by the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, unlike his fairly easy adjustment to life at the college level, things were a bit tougher for Uggla as he attempted to acclimate to proffesional ball. In his first two years as a big leaguer, Uggla hit just .241/.318/.355 with a 137/64 K/BB all below the AA level.
Uggla’s coming of age season finally came a bit late as in 2003, as one of single A advanced’s more elderly players (23), he hit .290/.355/.504. His 23 homers were second in his league, his 100 RBIs ranked fourth, and his .859 OPS was amongst the top 20. Despite the impressive season, the D-Backs still sent Uggla back to A+ to begin 2004. Finally, after a .336/.422/.600 start there that season, Uggla cracked AA as a 24-year-old. Making the toughest jump there is to make in the minors proved to be just as hard for Uggla. He hit just .258/.301/.353 with a 55/15 K/BB in his first 83 games there and though for a moment it looked as though he could place himself back on a timely track to the majors, Uggla, now 25 headed in to his second season in AA, was again in do-or-die territory.
That was when Uggla flipped his switch. After refining his craft by putting in some hard work hours in his first appearance in the Arizona Fall League where he hit .304/.390/.598 with it’s fourth most homers (7), 14th best SLG and 18th best OPS (.988) in 29 games while battling against the likes of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew, Uggla returned to AA, this time even more an elder of the average player in his league. He spent that season slashing .297/.378/.502 slash line, the SLG of which ranked 12th, by way of the Southern League’s third most homers (21) and fourth most doubles (33). His 87 RBI were good for second most in the league. After that season, Uggla peaked the interest of the Marlins, a team which traditionally allowed its top prospects to skip AAA and come straight to the majors. For both Uggla, whose prospect status was in its expiry year and the Fish who were in need of a second baseman after the trade of mainstay Luis Castillo, putting Uggla in teal and black looked rto be mutually advantageous. As he was not a member of the D-Backs’ 40-man roster in 2005, and therefore eligible for the virtually overlooked (until now) Rule 5 draft, that offseason, the sneaky Marlins swiped him as part of the major league portion of the draft and made that a reality.
On paper, beginning his major league career in a brand new place for the first time in his career, it would appear Uggla had some adversity to overcome. He responded to the situation by having an All-Star worthy and Rookie of the Year worthy inaugural campaign. For the 2006 Marlins, Uggla hit .282/.339/.480 with an SLG that ranked ninth among rookies by way of 27 homers, second on the rookie list only to Prince Fielder. Backed by solid defense including the seventh best UZR amongst 2Bs (5.3), the fourth best double play runs saved (1.6), and sixth best Def rating (7.6) Uggla posted a 4.2 WAR, second best among rookies and only trumped by his teammate Hanley Ramirez, the same guy (along with Ryan Zimmerman) that edged him out for the Rookie of the Year award. After nearly falling off the map just a few seasons earlier, here Uggla was in the majors going to All-Star showcases and earning six votes for best first year player. Indeed his tenacious attitude and tremendous work ethic as well as some good fortune thrown his way by a team in need were to thank. In any event, Uggla had finally come full circle. And he had the Marlins’ front office looking like geniuses. Accordingly, with just one year under his belt, he had already endeared himself to the Miami faithful as a fan favorite.
Over the course of the next four years, Uggla furthered that endearment by becoming one of the best power hitters and most valuable players in the entire franchise’s history as well as one of the best offensive second basemen in the game. From 2007-2010, Uggla hit .259/.352/.490. That slugging percentage, made possible by 127 homers, most by a 2B over that span, and 144 doubles, fourth most, ranked second among men who regularly manned the number four position. His 13.9 WAR during that four year time period made Uggla the eighth most valuable 2B in the game. In each of those four seasons, Uggla hit at least 30 homers and at least 27 doubles and drove in at least 88 runs. In what would prove to be his swan song season with the Marlins in 2010, Uggla finally beat out his arch nemesis and most frequent NL competition, Chase Utley for the Silver Slugger by way of a career best .287/.369/.508 slash line and 105 RBIs. His 33 homers that year were his most in a single season as a Marlin.
Uggla went on to hit a career high 36 homers for the Braves and make another All-Star Game in 2012 but he never again posted an OPS over .800. Thus he will best be remembered for his days in Miami where he started in obscurity and became one of baseball’s top home run threats. He appears on Marlins’ career leaderboards in many major categories including WAR (6th, 15.6), slugging percentage (7th, .488), OPS (7th, .837), games played (8th, 776), runs scored (3rd, 499), hits (8th, 771), total bases (7th, 1,427) and doubles (6th, 170). With 154 long balls, he is the second best home run hitter in franchise history. He has also accounted for the fourth most extra base hits, 336, in Marlins’ lore. His 49 doubles in 2007 stand as the second most in a regular season by a Marlin and his aforementioned 33 homers in 2010 remain tied for sixth most in a single campaign by a Fish.
Though you wouldn’t guess it if you were looking at him stride to the plate for the first time, the 5’11”, 210 pounder was a threat to go yard every time he stepped to the plate. He became that version of himself by procuring a never-say-die attitude during his late years in the minors and working for everything he would become. A very easy guy to root for and a great baseball story, Dan Uggla makes our All-Fish Team as the best wearer of the number six.
Be sure to cast your vote on Twitter and join me here in the coming week where I will reveal who you decide was the best donner of the number seven and who becomes the next memeber of the All-Fish Team!