Neil Walker heads up today’s group of four Marlins.
This offseason, we’re recapping all 630 players to appear for the Marlins through their first 28 seasons of major league play.
Players are first sorted into brackets defined by plate transactions. That is — batters faced and/or plate appearances. We’re currently somewhere in the middle of the 250-to-799 bracket. Once sorted into their appropriate bracket, the players are ranked by ascending brWAR divided by BF/PA. Each of today’s four players graded out above replacement level while with the team.
186. Reid Cornelius
Thomasville, Alabama native Reid Cornelius is a six-foot right-handed pitcher. In 1988, the Montreal Expos took him in the 11th round out of his hometown high school. At the start of the 1989 season, Baseball America considered him the Expos’ number five prospect.
In 1991, Cornelius ranked fifth in the Florida State League with 6.5 hits allowed per nine innings, going 8-3 with a 2.39 ERA in 17 starts for the High-A West Palm Beach Expos. In 1995, he made his major league debut for the Expos, and allowed eight runs in nine innings over eight trips out of the bullpen. He struck out four but allowed five walks and 11 hits. On June 8 of that season, Montreal traded Cornelius to the New York Mets for David Segui.
After joining the Mets, Cornelius joined their starting rotation for 10 turns, going 3-7 with a 5.15 ERA and striking out 35 in 57 2⁄3 innings. Prior to the start of the 1996 campaign, the Mets flipped him to the Cleveland Indians with Ryan Thompson for Mark Clark.
Cornelius didn’t get back to the majors while playing for Cleveland. Granted free agency following 1996, the Florida Marlins signed him for the 1997 season. Split between the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs and the Triple-A Charlotte Knights for the entire year, Cornelius went a collected 17-5 in 28 rotation starts, with a 1.381 WHIP.
Cornelius was once more granted free agency following the season, and he joined the Arizona Diamondbacks. Halfway through 1998, they traded him back to the Marlins for Walt White.
Again a part of the Marlins system, Cornelius still didn’t get back to the majors, and was signed through free agency by the Anaheim Angels following the season. Released before the start of the 1999 season, the Marlins signed him for a third time. It proved the charm for Cornelius’ major league hopes.
Cornelius appeared in five games for the Marlins in 1999, starting twice. He struck out a dozen in 19 1⁄3 innings, going 1-0 with a 3.26 ERA and holding down an encouraging 1.086 WHIP in a short sample. He threw strikes on 66 percent of his pitches, and was most impressive on September 21. He held the Expos scoreless over a six-inning start, whiffing six and walking one to earn the 4-0 victory.
The majority of Cornelius’ major league experience came in the 2000 season for the Marlins. He joined the rotation for 22 turns in total, and posted a 4-10 record with a 4.82 ERA. He walked 50 and struck out 50 in 125 innings, giving up 19 home runs and 135 hits in total. Cornelius surrendered a .282/.351/.456 slashline, as his strike rate dropped to 59 percent.
Cornelius did not appear in the majors after the 2000 season, but soon after went into the coaching ranks. From 2010 through 2016, he served as the Marlins bullpen coach, and is currently the pitching coach for the High-A Jupiter Hammerheads. See the embedded video above for what he has to say about Sixto Sanchez.
185. Jorge Fabregas
For the second day in a row, we’re featuring a catcher named Jorge in the countdown. Jorge Fabregas is a six-foot-three left-handed batting right-handed throwing catcher from Miami. In 1988, the Cleveland Indians drafted him in the 11th round out of Christopher Columbus High School. Instead of signing, Fabregas joined the Hurricanes at the University of Miami. In 1991, his “gamble” paid off with a first round selection by the California Angels, 34th off the board.
Fabregas started his professional career with the Angels ranked as their number four prospect, per Baseball America in 1992. In 1993, he was named to the Texas League All Star team after hitting .289/.338/.411 with six homers and 56 RBI in 113 contests for the Midland Angels.
Two short years later, Fabregas was playing at the major league level with California. Through the first five seasons of his major league career, he also played for the Chicago White Sox, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the New York Mets. In 397 combined games between the four clubs, he slashed .256/.296/.318 with a dozen home runs and 135 RBI. After the 1998 season, the Mets traded Fabregas to the Marlins for Oscar Henriquez.
Fabregas played in 82 games for the Marlins in 1999, hitting .206/.289/.309 with 10 doubles, two triples, three homers and 21 RBI. He drew 26 walks and struck out 27 times, scoring 20 runs. In 595 defensive innings behind the plate, Fabregas proved nine runs better than the National League average, which translates to a full 1.0 dWAR. He made five errors for a .989 fielding percentage while nabbing 45 percent of base stealers. That’s 16 percent better than the N.L. average.
Although nominally the starter behind the plate, Fabregas split the catching duties with Mike Redmond (read about him in Chapter 134, coming up on February 28). His biggest positive game impact came in a pinch-hitting appearance on July 23. With the score tied at four in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and runners on second and third, Fabregas hit a walkoff RBI-single, scoring Mark Kotsay for a 5-4 win against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Despite his barely passable offense, Fabregas offered the Marlins world-class defense at backstop. Despite that, they released him on August 26. He finished the season with the disgusting Atlanta Braves.
Fabregas would go on to also play for the Kansas City Royals, the Angels again, and the Milwaukee Brewers, last appearing in the majors in 2002 at the age of 32.
184. Bobby Witt
Starting pitcher Bobby Witt is a six-foot-two native of Arlington, Virginia. A right-hander, he went to the Cincinnati Reds in the seventh round in 1982. After three years of college with the University of Oklahoma, Witt was taken by the Texas Rangers in the first round, with the third overall choice.
Witt started the 1986 campaign as the Rangers top overall prospect, according to Baseball America. He opened the season in the Rangers rotation, and took 31 turns through the season. although he proved a solid and dependable starter every fifth day, his control left a lot to be desired. He struck out 174 in 157 2⁄3 innings, but also led the American League with 143 walks and 22 wild pitches. He would go on to lead the A.L. in one of those two categories for each of the next three seasons as well.
Still with the Rangers in 1990, Witt put together his finest MLB season, going by brWAR. In 33 appearances, 22 of them starts, he went 17-10 with a 3.36 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 222 innings, career best marks in each of those categories aside from losses. Traded to the Oakland Athletics in mid-1992, Witt had compiled a 91-96 record with a 4.56 lifetime ERA through his first nine seasons ending in 1994. The A’s granted his free agency after that campaign.
On April 9, 1995, the Marlins signed Witt and slotted him as their number three starter in the Opening Day rotation. He took 19 turns in the order through the first four months of the season, going 2-7 with a 3.90 ERA and 95 whiffs in 110 2⁄3 frames. He got 62 percent of his offerings over the plate, and held the opposition to a .251/.328/.383 line. On July 20, just a bit before his imminent trade, he struck out 12 Dodgers while allowing only two unearned runs in seven innings of an eventual 4-2 loss to Los Angeles.
On August 8, the Marlins traded Witt back to the Rangers for players to be named later, eventually Scott Podsednik and Wilson Heredia. Witt spent another four seasons in Texas, before joining the St. Louis Cardinals, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Cleveland Indians, and the Arizona Diamondbacks for one season each. After 16 major league seasons, he retired with a 142-157 lifetime record, with a 4.83 ERA and 1955 strikeouts.
Witt also has the honor of his son being drafted even higher than he was. In 2019, the Anaheim Angels took shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. with the second overall pick.
183. Neil Walker
Neil Walker is a six-foot-two switch-hitting right-handed infielder from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Pirates made him their first pick of the draft in 2004, 11th off the board. This led to the adoption of his then-moniker, “Hometown.”
Walker played seven seasons with the Bucs, hitting 93 homers with 418 RBI, along with a .272/.338/.431 slash line in 836 games. In 2014, he was the National League Silver Slugger Award winner at second base. He followed his time in Pittsburgh with 186 games for the New York Mets, 38 for the Milwaukee Brewers, and 113 for the New York Yankees.
Walker signed with the Marlins prior to the 2019 campaign for a one-year, $2 million deal, a steal for the production they got out of him. In 115 contests for the Marlins, he slashed .261/.344/.395 with 19 doubles, a triple, and eight home runs with 38 RBI. He drew 42 walks, stole three bases in three attempts, struck out 77 times, and scored 37 runs.
Walker totaled multiple hits on 21 occasions through the 2019 season, including four three-hit games. On August 1, he hit a two-run single in the bottom of the ninth to tie the Minnesota Twins at four, in an eventual 12-inning 5-4 victory.
Defensively with the Marlins, Walker put down a .996 fielding percentage in 531 2⁄3 innings at first base. In 168 2⁄3 innings at the hot corner he totaled one error.
Miami didn’t pursue Walker for an encore performance, and he eventually signed on with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 18 games he went nine-for-39 at the dish before getting released in mid-September.
Check back tomorrow for Chapter 83, where we feature the last Marlins pitcher to throw a no-hitter.