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.