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06/08/10 12:26 AM EST

Marlins stick with 'best player' plan

Calif. prep 1B/OF Yelich is drafted despite need for pitching

PHILADELPHIA -- Until Monday night, Christian Yelich's favorite big league club was the New York Yankees.

Draft Central

Born and raised in California, the 18-year-old from Westlake High School in Westlake Village took to the Yankees after seeing them play as a child. Yelich's favorite player is Derek Jeter, because of the way he respects and plays the game.

Yelich's rooting interest all changed a bit on Monday, after the Marlins selected him with the 23rd overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

A 6-foot-4, 190-pounder, Yelich is a left-handed hitter with a swing that's been compared to former big leaguer Mark Grace. Although he's played a lot of first base, the Marlins project him to be an outfielder. A right-handed thrower, he has speed, and as his body fills out, so should his power potential.

"I was always a Yankees fan. I grew up watching them," Yelich said about an hour after he was taken in the Draft being televised on MLB Network and MLB.com. "As of now, I am a Florida Marlins fan.

"I was born and raised in California. The first game I ever went to was a Dodgers-Yankees or the Angels-Yankees game, and I fell in love with the Yankees."

Having him seriously on their radar last summer, the Marlins became enamored with Yelich's swing.

"We really love the bat. He's 6-foot-4. A Left-handed hitter. He can run," said Jim Fleming, the Marlins vice president of player development and scouting. "There are tons of things to like about this guy. He's our kind of guy. He's a performer. He's always performed. There is just a lot of things to like here."

In his senior season he batted .450 with nine home runs and 28 stolen bases.

"We're going to utilize the speed," Fleming said. "We'll put him in the outfield. He can play first. He's a very good first baseman. He can play third also."

Arm strength is a mild concern, partly due to his throwing motion. Fleming said the team will work on correcting that, and that his defense in the outfield shouldn't be a problem.

For years the Marlins have been a predominantly right-handed hitting club. Bringing in Yelich adds another lefty to the system. At Triple-A New Orleans, Logan Morrison is a left-handed hitting first baseman who is getting closer to being big league ready.

In 2008, the Marlins took left-swinging catcher Kyle Skipworth.

Yelich is also another California-bred standout the Marlins have drafted in either the first or second round in recent years.

In fact, the Marlins have used their first-round choices in three of the past four years on California players. In 2007, third baseman Matt Dominguez was chosen out of Chatsworth H.S. in the Los Angeles area. Skipworth is from Riverside.

Florida's biggest Draft prize in recent years, however, projects to be outfielder Mike Stanton, the 20-year-old sensation from Sherman Oaks, Calif. A second-round pick in 2007, Stanton will make his big league debut on Tuesday at Philadelphia.

"The No. 1 producer of players is California," said Fleming. "We don't emphasize California more than any place else, but there are more players that come out of there than anywhere else.

"I don't think it's a coincidence. I think it's a fact of how the industry goes. We're going to where the players are. There have been a lot of players out there in the last few years. We scout them all. All the areas. You line them up, and there are always a lot of California guys on the board."

After posting 87 wins in 2009, the Marlins found themselves with the 23rd overall pick. It's the lowest first-round choice the organization has had since picking Taylor Tankersley at No. 27 in 2004.

History has shown some highly productive players have been taken at No. 23, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Phil Hughes, Jeff Francoeur and Jason Kendall.

Regardless of their slot, the Marlins hold true to one basic philosophy: Take the best available player.

That proved true with taking Yelich. The organization has a need for pitching, but they felt the left-handed bat was too good to pass up so high in the Draft.

"We never really look at organizational needs. We look at best player," Fleming said days before the Draft. "The organizational needs would affect us more when we're making the final decisions, and you have a couple of guys who are kind of equal.

"Then, you may go with an organizational need. When you line them up, you just go with the best player, and then you look at the other factors -- signability, organizational needs and risk. Some guys are high ceiling, high reward, but more risk. Then there are guys with low risk, or how quickly can they get to the big leagues? You look at all those factors."

By rule, all clubs are faced with an Aug. 16 deadline to sign their picks. Normally, the day is Aug. 15, but that fell on a Sunday. So if the Marlins are unable to sign Yelich, they would receive the No. 23 pick in 2011 as compensation.

Yelich, however, says his preference is to be a Marlin. But as a fallback, he has a scholarship to attend the University of Miami.

The Marlins have never really had a problem signing their first-round picks, and getting a deal done with Yelich probably won't be an issue.

"It's definitely been a dream of mine ever since I was 4 years old," Yelich said of playing in the big leagues. "Today, it's partially realized. It's still a long process. I have to deal with the contract right now, but I definitely want to be a professional baseball player."

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