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06/09/09 11:40 PM EST

Marlins call on Oklahoma ties with lefty

Pitcher James falls to Florida with 18th pick in Draft

MIAMI -- About eight years ago, Oklahoma native Chad James visited Miami for the first time. Not for a vacation, but for baseball.

The 18-year-old now finds himself on the brink of playing professional ball in the Marlins organization.

"I've been [to Miami] for a baseball game. Never went for a vacation," James said. "I've been to one Marlins game, when I was real young. I think I was about 10. My brother was playing Minor League ball there."

With the 18th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday the Marlins selected James, a left-handed pitcher out of Yukon High School.

In the second round, the Marlins stayed the course with pitching, taking right-hander Bryan Berglund out of Royal High School in Simi Valley, Calif.

And Florida's final pick of the day -- in the third round and the 97th overall choice -- was outfielder Marquis Cooper, a speedster out of Edison High School in Fresno, Calif. A two-sport athlete, Cooper played high school football, but said he is committed to baseball.

"We did what we normally do, we took athletes with ceiling," said Jim Fleming, the Marlins' vice president of player development and scouting. "With Chad James, he's a left-hander who we really like, obviously.

"He's physical. He's big. He's another projection left-hander."

Being from Oklahoma certainly helped James' visibility with the Marlins, an organization with deep ties to the state. Fleming, and director of scouting Stan Meek, each live in Oklahoma.

"We had our eye on Chad from the very beginning," Meek said. "He is a young, projectable lefty who has the makings of a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter."

At 6-foot-4 and 201 pounds, the 18-year-old possesses a 93-94 mph fastball. He refers to his changeup as his "out pitch," and he mixes in a curveball.

Baseball also runs deep in James' family. His brother, Justin, was a fifth-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2003. A right-handed pitcher, Justin was in Double-A in the Reds system last year, and he is currently pitching in Independent League Ball.

As a senior at Yukon, James went 8-2 with a 1.28 ERA (nine earned runs in 63 1/3 innings). He tossed three shutouts in 10 starts, striking out 100 while walking 33.

The Marlins have a history of promoting young pitchers fast, and James has high aspirations.

"My goal is definitely to make it in 2 1/2 to three years," James said. "That's my goal and I have all the confidence. I believe that can happen."

Having a brother with professional baseball experience has given Chad an insight into the sport.

"Me and my brother are real close," James said. "We've had talks about baseball, the Minor Leagues and what to expect. How to be successful. I've always looked up to him. He's helped me out a whole bunch."

In the past, the Marlins have had success picking pitchers from Oklahoma. With their fourth-round pick in 2002, they selected Josh Johnson, their current ace. In 2006, with the 19th overall pick, Florida went with Tulsa native Brett Sinkbeil, a right-hander who is now at Triple-A New Orleans.

James has the distinction of coming out of the same high school as singer Garth Brooks.

"I think his parents still live here," James said.

Known for stockpiling as many arms as possible, the Marlins returned to taking a pitcher with their first overall pick for the first time in three years.

The past two years they went with position players -- third baseman Matt Dominguez (2007) and catcher Kyle Skipworth (2008).

From 2003-06, the Marlins selected pitchers with their top picks. In 2005, all five of Florida's first-round choices were pitchers, including Chris Volstad and Sean West, who are both currently in the rotation.

As a fallback plan, James has signed a letter of intent with Oklahoma State. According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, all players must be signed by Aug. 17, or they can make themselves eligible for the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Teams who don't sign their players will be awarded compensatory picks.

"That's definitely what I want to do, getting my career started early so I can make it to the top earlier," James said when asked if he intended to sign with the Marlins.

James is regarded as a power pitcher, and he's drawn comparisons to Boston's Jon Lester.

Since Jeffrey Loria assumed ownership in 2002, the Marlins have had 12 total first-round picks -- counting compensatory. Of that total, nine have been pitchers, and three of those hurlers have been left-handed.

The Class of 2005 featured first-round left-handers Aaron Thompson, now at Double-A Jacksonville, and West, who recently was added to Florida's rotation.

In 2004, lefty Taylor Tankersley went in Round 1.

To prepare himself for the next level, Chad and his brother spent this past year with a personal trainer. His weight has gone from 180 pounds before his senior season to what he says is 201 pounds now.

"I had more stamina this year," said James, who notes that he is getting closer to 6-foot-5 in height.

As interest built heading into the Draft, James was showcased at several different places. He worked out for the Mariners at Safeco Field, among other venues.

Adding Berglund and Cooper rounded out a day where the Marlins went exclusively with high school talent.

"I think it's kind of typical of what we like, which are athletes," Fleming said. "Best player available, and trying to take out of the Draft what its strengths were.

"There was high school pitching at the top. We felt it was very good, and we got two of them. Cooper was a guy who kind of popped up a little bit late. Not everybody saw and not everybody was on him. A very athletic guy. Can really run. So we were very pleased with all of the guys."

Round 1, Chad James, LHP, Yukon (Okla.) High School
Pitching is always at a premium for the Marlins, and once again they drafted it first. The 18-year-old James draws comparisons to Jon Lester. He's 6-foot-4, and has had his fastball clocked in the 93-94 mph range. A good athlete, he hit in the middle of the order on his high school team. Has been working on his changeup. As a senior, James was 8-2 with a 1.23 ERA. In 63 1/3 innings, he allowed just nine runs, striking out 100 and walking 33.

Round 2, Bryan Berglund, RHP, Royal (Calif.) High School
Staying the course with pitching, Berglund is another prep product who stands 6-foot-4. Because of his size, he has a projectable frame. His fastball has been clocked at 94 mph. What the Marlins like is how polished he is for his age. Went 5-2 with a 1.58 ERA and two saves in 11 appearances. Also played outfield when he didn't pitch. He added two home runs and 25 RBIs at the plate.

Round 3, Marquis Cooper, OF, Edison (Calif.) High School
At 5-foot-9, 170-pounds, Cooper was the 97th overall pick, and Florida's first position player in the Draft. From Huntington, Calif., Cooper played football in high school. With excellent speed, he is a center fielder who will be a candidate to lead off. He is more of a speed than power threat.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.