Who was the best #Marlins number 7? Winner joins the All-Fish Team!
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) December 29, 2016
When you’re only a member of a franchise for one full season, it’s tough to warrant being named one of it’s best players of all time. That is unless you accomplish what Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez did in 2003. That season, Pudge called some of the biggest games and made some of the team’s biggest plays, making him an integral part of the leadership that brought the Marlins back atop the mountain and gave them their second World Series title in six years and thereby making him the greatest Marlin to ever wear the number seven.
Rodriguez got his start in baseball as a child in Puerto Rico as a little league pitcher. However, he was too good at it. So good that his father received complaints from other parents in the league that his arm was scaring other children and making them not want to go to games on days they knew Rodriguez was throwing. As a means of mercy, Rodriguez’s dad moved him to catcher. Little did he know later in life his presence behind the plate would strike similar fear in potential base stealers.
At age 16, Rodriguez was noticed by scout Luis Rosa, the same scout that discovered the likes of Sandy and Roberto Alomar and Pudge’s little league rival, Juan Gonzalez. Even in his teenage years, Rosa said he saw things in Pudge he had rarely seen in many others, including his ability to captain his team both tangibly and intangibly.
“Pudge was hard-nosed, even then,” Rosa has said. “He showed leadership at 16 that I’d seen in few kids. He knew where he was going.”
After signing with the Texas Rangers in 1988, Rodriguez made his minor league debut as a 17-year-old. In two full seasons and a small part of a third in MiLB, he hit .265/.296/.370 with 125 RBI on 68 XBH. Even though the numbers were decent enough for a teenager adjusting to life in both the United States and in the professional baseball ranks, a major league call-up after just 969 ABs, only 50 of which came in the upper minors and none of which came in AAA seemed a bit premature. However, upon making his MLB debut in June of 1991 at age 19, nine and a half years younger than the average big leaguer and the second youngest player in baseball, second only to Todd Van Poppel by 12 days, Pudge debunked that belief by hitting .264/.276/.354 in his first 80 MLB games. He also threw out 36 of 70 or 49% of potential base stealers making him the best behind-the-plate gun slinger in the league. At season’s end, Rodriguez placed fourth in Rookie of the Year voting.
Pudge spent the next ten years with the Rangers placing the building blocks of a legacy that has a lot of people today calling him one of the best catchers of all time. From 1992-2002, Rodriguez slashed .307/.345/.496 with a BA and SLG that ranked second among all of baseball’s backstops. Over that same span, he gunned down 424 of 842, or an even 50% of potential base swipers which blew away the rest of the competition in baseball (among qualifiers with 1,000+ innings played). Accordingly, in that 1,391 game span, Rodriguez posted a 499.2 RAR and a 48.9 WAR, making him the 15th most valuable player in the league and the second most valuable catcher. Those marks were made possible by a 89.4 Off rating (calculated, in short, by adding park adjusted RAA with weighted stolen base and double play runs RAA and ultimate baserunning rating and determines how good a player’s all-around offensive game (as opposed to only what he does with the bat or, in other words, his weighted OBP or runs created) is compared to a replacement level player), which ranked fifth among backstops as well as a ridiculous 209.7 Def rating (or positional adjusted runs above average) a mark that was 71.5 runs better than his next closest competitor. In each of those ten seasons, Rodriguez was selected as an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner. In six of them, he won the Silver Slugger award. His best single season over the course of his first 11 seasons (and arguably the best season of his career) came in 1999. That year, Rodriguez hit .332/.356/.558 with the seventh best AL BA and its 9th best SLG. His 35 homers were the 11th most in the AL and set a new league record for long balls by a catcher, his 113 RBI ranked 14th, and his 116 runs scored ranked seventh. Never really known as much of a base stealer, Pudge somewhat surprisingly swiped 25 bags, making him the first catcher in the then 98 year history of the American League to steal at least 20 bags and hit at least 20 homers in a single season. All of this spelled out a 20.9 Off rating, 22nd in his league and second among all catchers. Behind the plate, Pudge was his usual spectacular self that year, once again leading baseball in caught stealing percentage this time with a 55% (41/75). His 28.2 Def rating not only once again led all catchers by a wide margin, he was actually the seventh best defensive player in all of baseball. Altogether, by way of a 71.4 RAR and a 6.8 WAR, Rodriguez was the eighth most valuable position player baseball and the fourth most valuable position player in the AL. In a very close race with Pedro Martinez, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez and others, Pudge won the AL MVP Award. At just 27, with his career not even half over, Rodriguez had people, including opposing managers, calling him one of, if not the single greatest catcher of all time and advising Cooperstown to get a jump-start on the carving of his Hall Of Fame plaque.
“He might be the best catcher I’ve ever seen,” Blue Jays skipper Jim Fregosi said. “He could retire right now and go into the Hall of Fame. Johnny Bench had more power, but Bench never had this guy’s quickness.”
Even though he suffered a season ending injury on a freak play at the beginning of the second half of the 2000 season, Pudge still managed to hit .322/.357/.579 with the seventh best BA and SLG in baseball in his final three years with Texas. His 50% CS% and 37.5 Def rating over that span put him in very familiar territory as the best backstop in the AL. He went to two more All-Star games and won two more Gold Gloves. He should have won another Silver Slugger in 2002 when he was again the best offensive AL catcher but was somehow beaten out by Jorge Posada who hit .268/.370/.468 to his .314/.353/.542.
Following the 2002 season, after 11 professional seasons, Pudge waved goodbye to the Texas Rangers, leaving a legacy in his wake that will forever have him labeled one of the best players in their franchise history. In those 11 years, Pudge was a 49.2 WAR player, the seventh best all-around player in the AL and the best all-around player in Rangers history, a title that Pudge still holds today. He is also still the best defensive WAR player in Rangers history and appears on many of the franchise’s career leaderboards including BA (.304, 7th), SLG (.488, 9th), OPS (.828, 10th), runs scored (866, 4th), hits (1,747, 2nd), doubles (352, 2nd), triples (28, 5th), homers (217, 4th), RBIs (842, 4th) and runs created (900, 4th).
In 2003, Rodriguez brought that legacy to Miami. As one of the signings that got the season-long spending spree started that year and saw the Marlins’ payroll go from $40 million a year previous to $63 million (only to go back to $42 million on Opening Day 2004) the Marlins inked Pudge to a one year, $10 million deal, one of the higher single season price tags in team history, especially at the time. Rodriguez wound up being worth every penny. Along with contributing a .297 batting average, a mark which was fifth among NL catchers 16 homers (3rd among NL catchers) and 85 RBIs (2nd) to the lineup, Pudge served as the veteran anchor to a rotation with the average age of 25. He mentored and led that child-like rotation to a regular season 58% quality start percentage (94 QS in 162 games), tied for fourth best in baseball and an average game score of 53, third best in the game. Pudge himself didn’t make the All-Star Game that year (even though he was hit .300/.375/.515 to backup selection Paul Lo Duca’s .307/.374/.438) the work he did with rookie Dontrelle Willis got D-Train into an NL All-Star uniform.
In the 2003 playoffs, Rodriguez was not-so-arguably the Marlins’ best player in every round. In the division series, he slashed .353/.450/.588 and provided some of the most crucial clutch hits. In game three, Pudge staked the Fish to an early 2-0 lead with the first postseason homer of his career. Ten innings later in the bottom of the 11th, he strode to the plate with the Marlins’ win expectancy down to 27%, an out away from going down 2-1 in the five game series. With the bases loaded, Rodriguez singled down the right field line, scoring Alex Gonzalez from third and the speedy Juan Pierre from second, giving the Marlins a huge 4-3 win.
The very next game, Rodriguez would once again be involved in the game deciding play, this time on the other side of the ball. After the Marlins took a 5-1 lead early, the Giants clawed back with a four run 6th inning and going into the 9th, trailed by just two runs, 7-5. After a leadoff double, JT Snow plated the Giants’ sixth run with an RBI single. Closer Ugeth Urbina battled back to strike out Pedro Feliz and get Benito Santiago on a popout but then hit Rod Durham with a pitch putting the tying run in scoring position for Jeffrey Hammonds. On the first pitch of the at bat, Hammonds struck a slow sinking fly ball into left field that fell just in front of a hard charging Jeff Conine. At that point, as Snow neared third with third base coach Gene Glynn waving him home against the arm of a 37-year-old, it looked as though the Giants were going to return the favor that Rodriguez presented them with two nights earlier. However, somehow, Conine, who had made the full-time switch to the infield four years earlier and was playing in just his 75th game in the outfield over a 662 game span, somehow came up with a perfect one-hop throw to the outside of the baseline just outside of the right handed batter’s box to a waiting Rodriguez. Pudge adjusted slightly and and braced for a huge railroad hit by Snow that sent his catcher’s mask flying high in the air and his body flying across the plate into the grass behind the plate. The ball though stayed put snug in Rodriguez’s glove and the Marlins remained in the race for their second World Series title in six years. It is a play that has become synonymous with the Marlins’ title run that year and the play that Marlins fans automatically reminisce to when they hear the name Ivan Rodriguez.
But Pudge wasn’t done there. In the next round, the seven game NL Championship Series against the Cubs, he hit .321/.424/.607 with two homers and 10 RBI on his way to becoming the NLCS MVP. The first of Rodriguez’s homers of that series came in the third inning of game one, a three run bomb that helped erase a Cubs’ 4-0 lead that they built in the bottom of the 1st and sparked a Marlins’ 9-8 11 inning win. After hitting a second homer in game five, Rodriguez was a key contributor to the Marlins’ miraculous game seven come-from-behind win. After falling behind 5-3 in the third inning, the Fish led off the 5th inning with two walks, a flyout sandwiched in between. With one out, Rodriguez took the first Kerry Wood pitch he saw to deep left field, scoring pinch runner Brian Banks, drawing Florida to within two and moving Luis Castillo to third. Two batters later after a fourth Marlins’ run scored on a Miguel Cabrera fielder’s choice groundout and moved him to third, Pudge scored the tying run on a Derek Lee line drive single. Successfully jump-started by Rodriguez, the Marlins would go on to complete the rally by scoring three more unanswered runs and eventually winning 9-6 to move on to their second World Series in 2,190 days.
Again though, Rodriguez wasn’t done providing huge moments for the Marlins that year. In the World Series, he hit .273/.292/.364 and caught a pitching staff that held the New York Yankees, a team which scored the fourth most runs in baseball by way of its fourth most homers and third best OPS, to 3.21 runs per game. His game calling and the same leadership skills his scout, Rosa noticed in him as a teenager helped produce series MVP Josh Beckett who held down a 1.10 ERA in two starts and 16.1 IP. All in all in those playoffs, Rodriguez hit .313/.389/.522. After them, his Marlins tenure would come to an end but in just 155 games, Rodriguez accomplishments were enough to establish him as arguably the greatest Marlins catcher in franchise history. Among catchers who played at least 100 games, his .297 BA in ’03 was a Marlins’ single-season record as were his .474 slugging percentage, 36 doubles, 85 RBI and 10 stolen bases. His 16 homers are the third most ever in a single Marlins backstop’s season. Value wise, Pudge’s 4.4 WAR is another of his Marlins’ single season catcher records. It also ranks as the fourth best single campaign in franchise history among all position players.
Following his short but sweet Marlins’ career, Pudge moved on to a third city where he would for the third time, become a franchise MVP. For the 2004-2007 Detroit Tigers, he hit .298/.326/.453 with 114 doubles, 14 triples, 57 homers and 268 RBI. He was an All-Star selection in each of those years, won Gold Gloves in three, and a Silver Slugger in one. Defensively, he contributed a 41% CS% while leading the league in that stat in both 2005 and 2006, and a 49.5 Def rating, third among all of baseball’s catchers over that span. After a .295/.338/.417 start to 2008, Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees. His Detroit legacy is firmly cemented by way of a .298 BA, a .449 SLG, 62 homers, 300 RBI and 30 SB, marks that rank third, fourth, fifth, sixth and first in the 116 year history of Tigers catchers. WAR wise, Rodriguez is the fifth best catcher in Detroit franchise history, behind the likes of Freehan, Parrish and Tettleton, each of which have a Hall Of Fame case.
After moving from New York to Houston then back to Texas and finally to Washington in the twilight of his career, Pudge retired in 2011. In his 21 year career, Rodriguez hit .296/.334/.464. He owns the all-time MLB record for games played at catcher 2,427 and accordingly, ABs by a catcher at 10,270. His 572 doubles are also most all-time among backstops. With 311, his homer total ranks seventh most all-time among those to man the #2 position and his 1,332 RBI rank fifth. Pudge is the third most valuable catcher in baseball history (68.4 WAR) trailing only Johnny Bench and Gary Carter. He is one of just five players in all of baseball lore to hit at least .290 with 2,500+ hits, 550 doubles, 300 HR and 1,300 RBI. The others are some guys named Ruth, Aaron, Brett and Bonds.
With some of baseball’s best accolades at the catcher position over a storied 21 year career, Pudge could make the National Baseball Hall Of Fame on his first nomination this coming week. However, he placed himself in the Marlins’ Hall Of Fame long ago by having one of the best seasons in franchise history behind the plate. Even though his time with the Fish was short, fans remain grateful for the time they got with Pudge and what he gave them in leading the franchise to a title. It is for those reasons that Ivan Rodriguez makes the All-Fish Team as the best all-time wearer of the number seven.
Cast your votes on Twitter (@marlinsminors) and check back next week when I will reveal whom you selected as the Marlins’ greatest donner of the number eight.
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!
Cast your vote for best #Marlins to ever wear the number 4 and get them on the All-Fish Team!
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) November 29, 2016
The bench. A place that, although being extremely important to the overall success of a team, loses all limelight to those in the starting lineup, pitching rotation and even bullpen. However, every once in a while, a utility player comes along and forces people to notice him. This was the case with the guy who has been voted as the Marlins’ best wearer of the number four, Alfredo Amezaga.
Born on January 16, 1978 in Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, Alfredo Amezaga immigrated to South Florida in his high school years with nothing but a tourist visa and a pile of pesos in his hand, money his parents had been since he was toddler with the intention to send Alfredo to the United States to learn English when he was of age. Upon landing in America as a freshman in high school, life wasn’t much easier. His days consisted of waking up in a small room he shared with four other teenagers, going to school, then spending most of the rest of his days working at a car wash just to be able to eat one meal a day. The only solace Amezaga found was on the baseball field and despite having to quickly adjust to a tough life on his own, he was able to get to work on making his dream of becoming a professional ballplayer a reality by attending every practice, playing every game and putting in all the necessary work for the Miami High Stingarees.
All of that work paid off in his senior year when he was recognized by the Colorado Rockies late in the draft and recruited by St. Petersburg college with the help of a student visa. The school was modest, one of the smallest in the area and to this day remains so without any resident students and four small campuses each of which offer a handful of specialized degrees but to Amezaga, it might as well have been Florida State. And they had a baseball program. Amezaga spent the next two seasons in that program and turned his 36th round draft stock from high school into a 13th round draft stock in his sophomore year of college. In the 1999 draft, he was selected by the Angels one spot ahead of Albert Pujols. At that moment, Amezaga was ready to fulfill his destiny.
After a decorated .279/.352/.376, 149 SB start to his big league career in Anaheim’s system which included a .322/.402/.420 All-Star worthy effort in his first pro season, a 73 stolen base effort in A+ in 2000, and a .312/.370/.425 effort in his first 70 games in AA in 2001 which earned him Texas League All-Star honors at both mid and postseason, a Futures Game invite the Angels’ MiLB Defensive Player of the Year award, Amezaga signed his first big league contract in 2002. Upon doing so, he repaid his family’s investment — multiple times over — by sending nearly $4 million back to his parents in Mexico.
Honoring his parents with nearly half of his yearly earnings that season was the first time Amezaga showed that he remembered his roots, the very meager accommodations he cut his teeth in and the sacrifice his family made in favor of his baseball career but it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Amezaga went on to pay tribute those former circumstances and that endowment during every single game of his career, whether he got on the field or not.
After spending parts of three seasons with the Angels and a short single season stint in Colorado, in a a spout of poetic justice, Amezaga returned to where his baseball dreams were fulfilled, to Miami. There, he endeared himself to Marlins fans not only with good play off the bench as the franchise’s best portrait of a Superman-like utility player but also as one of it’s easiest to like people by way of his antics while in the dugout, namely those with his partner in crime, Miguel Cabrera.
In 2006, Amezaga got his Marlins’ tenure started by posting a .260/.332/.332 line in 334 ABs. He stole 20 bags, an MLB career high and second on the team to Hanley Ramirez. In the field, Amezaga spent most of his time in center field, platooning with Reggie Abercrombie but he also flashed his versatility by playing at six additional positions. In his first full season’s worth of Major League games, the scrappy 28-year-old contributed 11.9 runs and a full win above replacement level.
The following year, Amezaga did an even better job of showing his all-around resourcefulness. In 133 games and a career high 448 ABs, he hit .263/.324/.358. On most days, he was the Marlins’ starter in center field but his adaptiveness to virtually any position allowed manager Fredi Gonzalez to move him all around the field late in contests in order to get advantageous offensive weapons into the game. Again that season, Amezaga fielded a total of seven different defensive spots and nearly all of them very well. At his usual home in center field, Amezaga saved 14 defensive runs, tied for fourth best among qualified center fielders (min. 600 innings played). By way of ranking third in both arm runs above average (+6) and range runs above average (11), Amezaga posted a ridiculous 15.8 UZR, making him the third best defensive CF in baseball, second best in the NL. The speedster who got amazing reads off the bat, allowing him to cover every bit of the infamous Bermuda Triangle at Sun Life Stadium appeared on NL leaderboards in a number of range dependant stat categories, including first in range factor per nine innings (3.02) and fourth in total zone runs (7). In addition, Amezaga contributed a positive DRS at two other positions, second base and shortstop. All in all that year, Amezaga was 20.5 runs above replacement level which ranked him as the 21st best all around CF in baseball and 9th best in the NL among those with at least 200 PAs. His 2.3 WAR made him the fourth best full time player on that Marlins team ahead of the likes of Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham and Dontrelle Willis. The mark also placed him amongst the top 10 most valuable center fielders in the National League.
Amezaga’s last full season with the Fish came in 2008. Again, he was of positive value to the club, posting a 1.2 WAR. It came by way of a very Amezaga-like .264/.312/.367 slash line and, although he took a bit of a step back, still above average defense as he posted saved 9 defensive runs which ranked fourth in the NL and posted a 3.5 UZR which ranked 12th. Though he was slightly better a year previous at more positions played, all of Amezaga’s still plenty solid defensive work lead to a 1.7 dWAR, making him the 10th best fielder in the NL.
In 2009, Amezaga appeared in 27 games for the Marlins. He got off to another good start defensively before an injury caused him to miss the remainder of the season. That offseason, the Marlins released him. After time in Colorado and Los Angeles, he was brought back to Miami in 2011 for a swan song 20 games. Those few handful of games appropriately played in the area where Amezaga was nationally noticed and where played his best pro ball closed the book on both his baseball career and his Marlins career that isn’t storied in the same way as guys we have previously added to the All-Fish team but storied in its own right nonetheless. From the time he joined Florida in 2006 to the time he played the final game of his final full season, Amezaga was one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. Over that span, his 23 defensive runs saved ranked fourth, his UZR of 25.3 ranked third and his Def rating of 28.1 ranked fourth. Statistically, he was the best center fielder in the game behind Andruw Jones, Carlos Beltran and Grady Sizemore. He also saved 12 runs at other positions over that same three year span, which arguably makes him the best all-around defender in Marlins history.
Amezaga wasn’t a flashy player. He isn’t a guy who will get many Hall of Fame votes and he isn’t a guy fans outside of Florida will ever speak of. But within the fanbase, Amezaga successfully built a reputation as being a guy willing to do whatever was necessary to help the team whether it be being up on the top railing of the dugout, finding a way on base by any means necessary or simply sacrificing himself for the greater good at the plate or performing Gold Glove worthy defense in the field while all the while smiling, appreciating what baseball had given him. Even to this day at age 40, Amezaga still can’t get stay away from his one true love as he continues to play in the Mexican leagues. For those reasons, Amezaga adorned himself as a fan favorite and for those reasons, he makes our All-Fish Team as the greatest all time wearer of the number four.
Be sure to cast your votes on Twitter this week (@marlinsminors) and check back here next week to find out who will join our All-Fish Team as the greatest wearer of the number six.
Here are your choices for best #Marlins to ever wear #3. Winner joins the All-Fish team!
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) November 17, 2016
October 26, 1997. Game seven of the World Series. Tie game. 11th inning. Bases loaded, two outs. A 20-year-old Edgar Renteria steps to the plate against Charles Nagy. Four years earlier, it appeared that his lifelong dream was realized as he was signed at the age of 16 out of high school in Colombia now here he was at the age of 20 in his second season in professional ball with baseball history within his grasp in a situation that every ball player wants to find himself in yet and many never do, even after storied Hall of Fame type careers. Somehow still, Renteria was able to put his fear, excitement, nerves, and about a million other feelings aside and deliver. He drove an 0-1 slider back up the middle, scoring Craig Counsell from third and winning the Marlins their first ever world championship and writing their name along with his own into baseball record books forever. The AB which was Edgar’s 1,048th of 1,565 in a Marlins’ uniform painted a perfect picture of the kind of player he was: a scrappy hitter who could be counted on to get on base by any means necessary in order to both start innings or extend them. On top of the image of Renteria streaking down the first base line with tears streaming down his face being ingrained in every Marlins’ fan’s memory forever, it is for that reason, for being one of the best catalytic bats the team has ever seen that Edgar makes the All-Fish team as the best all-time wearer of the number three.
Edgar Renteria was born on August 7, 1976 in Barranquilla, Colombia. He played high school ball at Instituto Los Alpes High School in Barranquilla. Not long after his graduating year in 1992, Edgar was signed at the age of 15 by the Marlins. He was the first of just three Barranquilla residents (the others being former Marlin Donovan Solano and his brother Jhonatan) to have ever made American professional baseball, aptly earning him the moniker The Barranquilla Baby. With what he would go on to accomplish in a storied 15-year MLB career, he did that nickname more than justice and did his homeland proud, so much so that his name is now attached to the region’s brand new $45 billion ballpark which is set to be completed next month, named Estadio de Beisbol Edgar Renteria (Ballpark of Edgar Renteria). If you ask any child in the region whom their all-time hero is, you will be greeted with the name Edgar Renteria before you can even finish the question. Barranquilla little leaguers revere him above all others as their all-time hero and pull on their cleats for practice hoping to one day follow in his footsteps.
Upon his arrival in America, Edgar was sent to the Gulf Coast League Marlins to begin a very short but very impressive minor league career. There, he hit .288/.329/.350. The .288 BA was second best on that year’s GCL Marlins and 34th in the league. His 47 hits in 175 ABs ranked 27th in the league. Again, he was by far the league’s youngest player, only turning 16 a month before the season ended.
The shift to full season ball proved to be a bit difficult for Edgar at first as he hit just a collective .229/.288/.264 through his first 244 games between 1993 and 1994 but that didn’t stop the Marlins from giving him the call to AA Portland to start the 1995 season. Renteria rewarded that confidence by having his best season as a pro at the highest level he’s ever played at and once again against much older competition. That season, the 18-year-old, playing in a league against guys who averaged the age of 24, hit .289/.329/.388. He smashed a career high 29 XBH including seven homers and seven triples. He also turned many of his singles into at least doubles by swiping 30 bags, a total which ranked fourth in the Eastern League and just behind the likes of Nomar Garciaparra. He also appeared on top 20 leaderboards in triples (6th), RBI (13th with 68) and BA (20th) as he helped the Portland Sea Dogs to a league title by way of an average of over five runs a game. This was the first glimpse Marlins fans got of just how great of a catalyst Edgar could be as he also contributed eight sacrifice hits, sixth most in the Eastern League and eight sacrifice flies, third most.
After getting another call up, his fourth in four years and officially making him a frequent flyer through the minors, Edgar got off to a similar start as his year previous as he hit .280/.326/.386 with eight doubles, two homers, 16 RBI and 10 SB in his first 35 games in AAA. On pace for career highs in all of those categories, the Marlins gave him his major league call after Kurt Abbott went down with an injury. Despite being just 19, Major League Baseball’s youngest player and still to this day the youngest Marlin ever, Edgar spent the next 106 games becoming one of the very best shortstops in baseball. In 431 rookie year ABs, Renteria slashed .309/.358/.399. Amongst shortstops with at least 400 plate appearances, those marks ranked third, just behind Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, seventh just behind Omar Vizquel and Barry Larkin and 10th. Despite playing in less games than any of the competition that topped him, his countable stats were equally as impressive as his hit count of 133 placed 13th amongst all shortstops, his stolen base count of 16 tanked sixth and his walk total of 33 ranked 17th. His exports barely kept his hands off the Rookie of the Year trophy. He placed second to Dodgers’ outfielder Todd Hollandsworth.
However, a season later, Renteria would get his mitts on an even more prestigious prize: the World Series trophy. The honor came after a regular season in which Edgar hit .277/.327/.340 as a 20-year-old atop the Marlins’ lineup. With 45 walks in 691 PAs, his BB% of 6.5 ranked ninth amongst MLB shortstops. Despite seeing the most ABs amongst baseball’s #6 players, he managed to hold down a 15.6 K%, good for eighth lowest amongst them. Accordingly, his 0.42 BB/K was 11th best amongst shortstops. The impetus Renteria also scored 90 runs that year, tied for most amongst NL shortstops. He also stole 32 bags, tied for second most in the NL with Shawon Dunston. All of this preceded his aforementioned heroic World Series moment. However, dramatically amazing as it was, the series clinching hit wasn’t Renteria’s only positive moment of that championship series. For the seven game span, he hit .290/.353/.355 with two doubles, three RBI and a 3/5 K/BB and he not so arguably deserved the World Series MVP Award over Livan Hernandez, who, despite a great performance in game five, gave up eight earned runs on 15 hits in 13.2 innings.
Renteria played in his final season with the Marlins in 1998, a year in which he was the only Marlins’ All-Star by way of a .302/.366/.358 slash line at the break. He went on to hit .282 that year, which was, at the point in his career, a career high and which ranked eighth amongst MLB shortstops. In that same regard, his .347 OBP ranked seventh and his 41 steals, another career high, ranked second again only to A-Rod of the American League Mariners. His 13.4 K% was 10th lowest amongst shortstops and his 8.3 BB% was seventh highest leading to a 0.62 BB/K that was sixth best amongst shortstops. Upon being traded to the Cardinals that offseason, his Marlins’ career came to an end but it didn’t come without a legacy left behind. That legacy is made up not only by way of arguably the best World Series performance in team history but also by way of the team’s seventh most career stolen bases (89), its ninth best career BA (.288), its seventh best AB per strikeout ratio (6.2) and its sixth most sacrifice hits (30). His final Marlins slash line reads .288/.342/.357 with 89 steals and 114 RBI.
Edgar went on to similarly great things as a member of the Cardinals hitting .290/.347/.420, marks which ranked sixth, eighth and 13th for an MLB shortstop and again putting him in the conversation for the best #6 man in the league for the span of 1999-2004 and awarded him three All-Star Game invites and two appearances in MVP voting (including 15th in his career best .330/.394/.480 season in 2003). However, perhaps his greatest personal accomplishment occurred in 2010 as a member of Giants when he righted the wrong of missing out on the World Series MVP award in 1997. That year, Renteria hit game winning homers in two separate games and was honored with the award.
A season later, Renteria’s baseball career came to an end. The first people he announced it to were his countrymen in Colombia. And as revered as he is there, he is equally as revered by Marlins fans. Being the ones who discovered him from humble beginnings in his tiny native city and bringing him to the professional ranks as merely a teenager only to watch him blossom in to a World Series hero and one of the baseball’s best top of the order incendiaries, Renteria could become the first player ever to enter the Hall of Fame, which he is eligible for this year, donning a Marlins’ cap.
Participate in the poll on Twitter this coming week and be sure to read next week where your votes will reveal the greatest Marlin to ever wear the number four.
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) October 26, 2016
Watching a guy become the hero of your team not only during the regular season but also during the postseason, leading the squad to a World Series title like Josh Beckett did in 2003, you hope he stays in your city and in your favorite uniform for his entire career. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for the Marlins who, after both times they went all the way, decided to quickly part with most of their assets, including Beckett. Just a year and a half after he was hoisted into the air after a dramatic game seven victory over the Yankees and less than a year after he paraded around Miami with the World Series MVP trophy in his grasp, the Marlins dealt him to Boston along with another Marlins’ hero, Mike Lowell in one of the 2005 offseason’s most blockbuster trades. Although it wasn’t the first time, Jeffrey Loria had left a sour taste in Marlins’ fans’ mouths despite just recently giving them their second title in six years.
Little did Marlins fans know at the time though that the center return piece for the Fish, a lanky, young, baby-faced kid named Hanley Ramirez, would be soon remedy that taste and make the pill a lot easier to swallow.
Before he was an early Christmas gift to the Marlins in November 2005, Hanley Ramirez was a Christmas baby. Born on December 23, 1983 in Samana, Dominican Republic, Hanley came to the United States as an international signee by the Red Sox at the age of 19 in 2002.
In his first year as a pro, Hanley made an instant impact. In 45 games with the GCL Red Sox that season, Hanley hit .341, ranking him fourth in the league. His 20 total XBHs were second to only Joey Votto and paved the way for a .555 SLG which also ranked second in the GCL. With an OBP over .400 (.402), he OPSed .957, third in the league. Before moving on to short season single A Lowell late that year, he was named a Rookie League All-Star.
Upon arriving in Lowell, Massachusetts just a few hours away from his presumed future Major League home, Hanley hit .371/.400/.536 in 22 games, showing the Red Sox enough to begin his full season career in 2003. Ramirez rewarded his club’s confidence by slashing .275/.327./.403 in 111 games with the Augusta Greenjackets of the Sally League. Among full time starters, his .275 BA ranked second on his team and among the top 50 in the league. His .403 SLG also ranked 47th in the Sally. Most impressively, Hanley swiped 36 bags, a total which ranked fifth in the league and scored the league’s 14th most runs (69).
Another jump in level greeted Hanley in 2004 when he moved on to the single A advanced Florida State League as a member of the now defunct Sarasota Red Sox. In 62 games and 239 ABs in the pitcher-friendly FSL, Hanley hit .310/.364/.389. Again, the now 21-year-old found himself as one of another league’s best for-average hitters as his BA ranked 9th in the FSL. His OBP was also amongst the top 30 (29th) and his 12 steals in less games than most of his competition ranked inside the top 20.
“What a young talent. He makes the game look so easy,” Jose Marzan, manager of the FSL’s Fort Myers Miracle said at the time.
Hanley backed up that assertion in the middle of the 2004 season and, despite making the toughest jump there is to make in MiLB, greeted AA by slashing .310/.360/.512 with five homers in his first 129 ABs as a Portland Sea Dog. Between 62 games in A+ and 32 in AA along with another six back in the GCL, Hanley hit an overall .314/.369/.436 with six homers and 25 steals. Those exports earned him top-10 prospect accolades as he ranked 10th in all of baseball, per Baseball America heading into 2005.
Despite posting a career low full season slash line in ’05, Hanley still hit a very respectable .271/.335/.385 with a BA that ranked 34th in the Eastern League, stole another 26 bags, 10th most in the league and scored 66 runs, 18th most league wide, enough to earn him another All-Star nod, the second of his career. At season’s end, the Red Sox awarded Hanley with a September call-up. He got into two games and got two at bats, striking out in both. Little did Red Sox fans know at the time that may be the only look they ever got of Hanley but in the 2005 offseason, that became a very distinct reality. On November 25, 2005, Ramirez was traded to the Marlins along with Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia in return for Beckett, Lowell and Guillermo Mota.
Upon his arrival in Miami, Ramirez quickly began paving the way for what would become one of the best rookie campaigns to date by hitting .311/.354/.568 in spring training and beating out Robert Andino to become the Marlins’ Opening Day shortstop. From there, he validated his top-10 prospect status by becoming the best rookie in the league by way of a .292/.353/.480 slash line. Among the records he broke or tied included the Miami rookie record for highest BA, most lead-off homers ever by s Fish (7), and, most impressively the first and only Marlin ever still to this day to reach double digits in homers (17), triples (11) and steals (51), the last two of which also ranked seventh and fifth in all of baseball. He joined the likes of four Hall of Famers, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Lou Brock and Craig Biggio as just the fifth player since 1900 to crack at least 45 doubles and swipe at least 50 bags. Equally as impressive, Hanley put himself in a class of his own becoming the only NL player ever to steal 50+ bags and score 110+ runs. In addition to triples and steals, he appeared in the top 10 in all of baseball in doubles with 46, a total which ranked second among Marlins’ rookies and was just six fewer than the all-time baseball rookie record. Accordingly, the best offensive rookie season in a Marlins’ uniform earned him the NL Rookie of the Year as he topped Ryan Zimmerman and his double play partner Dan Uggla.
Including a .332/.386/.562 season in 2007 in which he avoided the sophomore slump by tying for third in BA, placed ninth in SLG and placing second in total hits and third in total bases in the entirety of Major League Baseball, Hanley spent the next five seasons as the all-around best offensive shortstop in baseball. Hitting .309/.386/.512, his slash line figures ranked first, first and a very slight second (Troy Tulowitzki slugged .001 higher than him). He also hit the second most homers (117) and stole the third most bases (165). He was the most valuable player to play the number six position over the span, posting a cumulative 24.9 WAR.
Despite his Marlins’ tenure beginning to come to a sour end in 2011 as he failed to develop much of a rapport with with managers Edwin Gonzalez and Jack McKeon helped along by some very lackluster play (who could forget the benching of Hanley as McKeon’s first major move as manager that year which resulted in just a 92 game season, the least he’d ever played in in a full season in his career), before finally being driven out of town by the signing of Jose Reyes after an equally disastrous experiment as a third baseman in 2012, Hanley’s Marlins’ legacy had already long since been cemented. Along with the aforementioned best rookie campaign in club history, Hanley still to this day owns single season team records in extra base hits (83 in 2007), runs (125 in 2007) and total bases (359 in 2007). He also owns the second best career batting average as a Marlin at .308, the third best team career slugging percentage at .527 and the third most team stolen bases at 137.
Present day, Hanley is a bit of a different player as his limited defensive ability has seen him made the conversion to first base, a conversion that has come with a lot of added mass. That said, the hits have still kept coming for Ramirez who just hit 30 homers and drove in 100+ runs for the second time in his career this past season. Despite doing it out of a Marlins uniform, many Fish fans still rejoiced at the sight of Hanley’s success as they recall where his Hall Of Fame career in the making began and gained its momentum. Despite coming to the Fish under hard to stomach circumstances and leaving during a similarly gloomy situation, Hanley Ramirez goes down in history as one of the greatest Fish of all time and as the best Marlin to ever don the deuce.
Join me in the coming week on Twitter to vote then join me here to see whom you chose as on the best Marlin to ever wear the number three.
To hold us over the course of the long MLB offseason, I will be featuring a series of articles in a once-a-week segment labeled the All-Fish Team. Before writing these pieces, I will poll my Twitter audience (if you don’t already follow me, follow @marlinsminors to participate) asking whom they think was the best player to wear a specefic jersey number. The winner’s career as a Marlin and before and/or after will then be detailed in the feature length post.
Earlier this week, I held our first poll, querying whom you think was the greatest Marlin to wear #1. The winner, in resounding fashion, was Luis Castillo.
To get us started, I submit for your vote the poll for greatest @Marlins to wear number 1.
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) October 5, 2016
After being glossed over during the draft Castillo was signed non-drafted free agent at the age of 16. Despite plus speed, scouts doubted the soft hitting Castillo’s ability to contribute on the plus level from the bat at the major league level. Castillo responded to skeptics beginning in his very first season in 1994 by hitting .264/.371/.301 for the GCL Marlins while walking more than he struck out (37/36 BB/K, the former of which ranked third in his league). Putting on display an attribute that was never a product up for discussion, his plus plus speed, Castillo stole 31 bases, third most in the Gulf Coast League. Those 31 steals came on 43 tries, giving Luis a 72% success rate and setting the tone for an amazing career on the bases.
In 1995, Castillo made the move to low A where, with Kane County, he hit .326/.419/.362. The adjustments made by Castillo in his second year as a pro were unmistakable. In 142 more plate appearances, he more than doubled his hit total from his true rookie season, going 111 for 340. The walks still came at a fantastic rate of 16% and his speed was still plenty abundant as he stole 41 bags (a total which ranked fourth in the Midwest League) in 60 tries (68% success rate). His BA (.327) and OBP (.419) both ranked 5th in the Midwest League.
In his third year in the professional ranks in ’96, Castillo saw his most extensive time on the field, playing in 109 games and seeing 495 ABs. He responded by posting a .317/.411/.393 line at the highest level he had ever played at. That year with the Portland Sea Dogs, his .317 BA ranked 8th, his .411 OBP ranked 6th and the speed kept coming as he stole a league high 28 bags. He also walked 66 times, eighth most in the Eastern League. Those exports earned his initial major league call-up as he reached the Marlins that August. In 41 games with the Fish, he hit .262/.320/.305 with 46 Ks to just 14 walks. With that cup of coffee, the 20-year-old, who had only struck out 2 times more than he walked in 495 AA plate appearances in the minors that year and had been boasting a 163/153 K/BB in his career to this point, already seemed to be destined for great things.
Those great things came the next season where in 1997, the 21-year-old made it back to to the majors with the Fish out of camp. He enjoyed a great month of April, a month in which he reached safely in 21 of 23 games which included him hitting safely in seven of his first eight MLB games to open the season (a 12-37 run) and beginning to May as he hit an overall .289/.357/.325 and stole 11 bags out of the top of the Marlins’ lineup and and looked to be on his way to fulfiling his potential. However, on May 6th, he was placed on the DL with a troublesome bruised left heel. He missed nearly the rest of the month of May, not returning until the 23rd. From there, Castillo struggled to get things going again. He hit just .200/.272/.227 and stole just five bags from that point until July 27th. On June 28th, the Marlins optioned Castillo back to AAA which left him off that season’s World Series roster. He lived out the rest of the year getting his legs back under him by hitting .354/.425/.392 with the Charlotte Knights.
After selling off that entire World Series winning team in the first of two infamous post-series winning Marlins firesales in 1998, Florida was very cautious with the health of one of their best young assets, leaving him in AAA for the majority of the year even after he reached safely in 32 straight games from May 24th to July 3rd and hit an overall .287/.403/.326. Amongst batters with at least 300 ABs, that OBP ranked 12th in the International League. He also racked up 41 steals, second most in the IL. Castillo finally returned to the Marlins as a cup of coffee recipient in August. In 153 ABs, he hit .203/.307/.268.
In 1999, a 23-year-old Castillo made his second Opening Day roster. This time, he stuck around for good. Over the course of the next six seasons, he turned himself into a fan favorite, one of the best second basemen in baseball and one of its fastest base burglars. From ’99 to 2004, Castillo had the best OBP of all major leaguers to regularly man the number four position. Additionally, his .302 BA ranked fourth in MLB. On the basepaths, Luis blew the rest of his competition away. Over this six year span, he stole an average of 39 bases for a total of 235. Tony Womack, who stole 213 bases was second on the stolen base leaderboard. Defensively, his +16 DRS ranked fourth, his +13 UZR and +19.5 Def rating both third. He saved 4.4 runs on double plays, a metric which ranked second in baseball.
For the 2003 World Series winning Marlins, Castillo was a key contributor. Playing in 152 of 162 games, he led the team in BA (.314, a mark which also made him the fourth best hitting 2B in MLB) as did his .381 OBP out of the leadoff spot. His .397 SLG was a career high. As well as being selected to his second All-Star team that season, Castillo won the NL Gold Glove at second base by saving nine runs, saving two runs on double plays and by posting an +11.5 UZR and a +12.7 Def rating. His exports as a whole earned him a small share (2%) of first place MVP votes.
After another All-Star (.301/.362/.359 and a career high 108 OPS+) and Gold Glove winning (+7 DRS, +2 DPR, +10.4 UZR, +12.1 Def) season in 2005, Castillo’s Marlins career came to an end. His career sort of fizzled out thereafter as he posted a .285/.362/.341 slash line and stole just 89 bases over that four year span. Defensively, Castillo’s game took a huge hit away from Miami as he never again posted a positive DRS and instead posted numbers as ugly as a -13. His best season UZR wise over that span was a meager +2.8 and his best Def. rating in a season was a +3.8.
Despite all of this though, Castillo’s legacy was cemented because of what he did in teal and black. He ended his career after the 2010 season at age 35 with a career .290 BA, which ranked 43rd all time among second basemen, and a .368 OBP which ranks 32nd in that same regard. In the stolen base category, Castillo is the 17th best second baseman all time with 370.
When it comes to Marlins career franchise records, Castillo is present in nearly every major leaderboard. To this day, he ranks as the franchise’s third best WAR player at a +22.3, it’s fourth best defensive WAR player at +3.6, its sixth best career hitter by batting average (.293, by way of a franchise most 1273 hits) and its fifth best by OBP (.370). All of those career records came as he played in the most franchise games (1128), saw its most ABs (4347) and made its most plate appearances (4966). He also owns the record for most total runs scored by a Marlin (675), the record for triples (42), the record for walks (533), and of course stolen bases (281). His reputation as a catalyst is cemented by the fact that he was on base a franchise most 1,814 times as a Fish and has the club record for most sacrifice hits (65). When it came to patience, Castillo was one of the best hitters the Marlins have ever seen. He went nearly seven ABs in between strikeouts in his Miami career, a mark which ranks fourth best in franchise history. The accolades keep coming for Castillo as a Marlins’ defender. His +23.4 UZR is a franchise best, His +23 DRS is second second best in team history as is his +31.7 Def. rating as well as his 6.4 DPR.
With one of the best all-around skill sets of any second baseman in the league during his tenure as a Marlin, Castillo makes our list as the unanimous favorite for best Marlin to ever don the number 1.
Cast your votes on Twitter and join me here in the coming week where I will add the best wearer of the number 2 to our all-time franchise team.