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Marlins reel in some quality picks
06/07/2004  8:19 PM ET
MIAMI -- When Long Beach State played at the University of Miami recently, several of the Marlins' top personnel evaluators were on hand, but not to scout pitching sensation Jared Weaver.

With the 27th overall pick, the Marlins knew Weaver would be long gone by the time they were up in Monday's First-Year Player Draft. Still, they traveled to Coral Gables with a purpose.

The team showed why Monday when they selected Long Beach State left-hander Jason Vargas in the second round, No. 68 overall. Following that up in the fifth round, the Marlins went with Vargas' college teammate, catcher Bradley Davis.

In a change of pace from recent years, the Marlins went heavy on college players on the first day of the draft; fifteen of the 18 players selected Monday attend college. Overall, they took six pitchers, four outfielders, three third basemen, three shortstops and two catchers.

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Slim on left-handed arms, the Marlins selected a pair of lefties with their first two picks. In round one, they made Taylor Tankersley from the University of Alabama their top pick. They followed that pick by going after Vargas, the less heralded starter from Long Beach State.

"We liked Vargas all along," Marlins vice president of player development and scouting Jim Fleming said. "Both these left-handed pitchers were rated highly for us. [Vargas] is another good college left-handed pitcher who has a good mix of pitches. He's another guy who is very competitive. They are out of good programs and you see versatility. "Vargas is starting now. But he's also a guy who can pitch out of the bullpen. We get some versatility and he's left-handed, which we really have a hole in our system, and we were fortunate that these guys were available."

Assuming there is little hassle signing either of the top two picks, the Marlins anticipate starting both pitchers off at Short Class A Jamestown in the New York-Penn League.

"We'll probably start them at Jamestown, even though they could start a little further," Fleming said. "Vargas is still playing. We'll have to see where that goes. A lot of that is dictated by how fast they sign, but generally we'll at least let them get their feet wet in Jamestown, and see where it takes them from there."

Tankersley possesses an 89-93 mph fastball and is projected as a pitcher who could move quickly through the system.

Operating under a philosophy of taking the best available athlete, the Marlins also weighed their ability to sign their picks. As one of the lower-revenue generating teams in the league, they can't afford to make mistakes.

"Our scouts worked very hard to kind of go through that with guys," director of scouting Stan Meek said. "You get a feel for the area these guys would sign in, and we kind of worked off that area. We really can't afford to take guys we can't sign. But there are times in any draft you will take risks. We felt real solid that all these guys we will sign."

The Marlins used their third and fourth picks on speedy high-school outfielders, Gregory Burns (Walnut H.S. in West Covina, Calif.) and Jamar Walton (Greensville County H.S. in Virginia).

"We think these guys are very athletic," Meek said. "Burns, a left-handed hitting outfielder from California, he's a big-time runner. We think he stays in center. He's a premium athlete. Right behind him we take another guy we think is a very good athlete out of Virginia."

As a senior, Walton made All-State in three sports: football, basketball and baseball.

At 6-foot-4 and 195-pounds, Walton has some power potential. The Marlins felt compelled to take him with the 128th overall pick because they had indications he was on the radar of other teams in the round.

Although Burns and Walton provide some left-handed bats, another thin area in the organization, Fleming said they foremost met the criteria of being the best players on the board.

"We got two kids that we really like," Fleming said. "Both of them run very well. Burns is a flier in center field. Walton runs very well, but he is more of a power-type hitting guy. Burns is more of a slashing type of bat. They are little different players, but they are both, big physical athletes, which we like.

"They are big-ceiling guys. We like to do that and we were happy that they were available."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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