Aside from the fact the Willingham was not a pitcher, his journey to, with, and from the Marlins has strange similarities to the subject of my last post, Scott Olsen.
Again I draw you back to this post: Marlins comparisons 2006-2012
Josh Willingham was drafted in 2000 by the Marlins, 2 years before Olsen, and debuted with them in 2004. However, Willingham did not become an official rookie until 2006, when he met the playing time credentials. In ’06, the Marlins had a very young team, as established in the post mentioned above. Willingham was part of the rookie class that produced Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez. He was on the Rookie of the Year watch list with those guys that year, finishing the race in a three-way tie with Anibal Sanchez and, you guessed it, Scott Olsen.
Willingham played shortstop in college, and had some catching experience when he was drafted by the Marlins, but Florida utilized him as an outfielder where he hit .277 in his rookie year to go along with 26 home runs. In 2007, he solidified himself as the everyday left fielder for the Fish.
As the Marlins began to emerge as a potential contender in 2008, Willingham looked to have a solid future with the team. I attended a Marlins @ Nationals game on September 24, 2008, and Florida’s starting lineup that night was a nice reminiscence of the 2006 team, yet featured players of the Marlins future. Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham, and Josh Johnson all started that night. If you have been following along, and read the post I linked to at the beginning, you would know that all four of those players finished in the top 9 of the 2006 National League Rookie of the Year voting, and three in the top four. Mike Jacobs was a key part of that 2006 squad, and played in that game as well, but did not start.
Since the Fish weren’t in the playoff race, Gaby “who’s he?” Sanchez started at first base that night. Before I was completely absorbed by Miami baseball, I had no clue who Sanchez was and was enlightened on that September evening when Gaby went 3-5 with 2 solid doubles. If you’re a baseball fan, you know who Gaby Sanchez is right now, he even has his own tag on this blog, right over there on the right. Along with Sanchez, the Nationals’ lead-off hitter that night is now a Miami Marlin-Emilio Bonifacio.
From the lineups that night, Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson were offered long term contracts with the Marlins, while Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham, Mike Jacobs, Cameron Maybin, and several others were traded. Emilio Bonifacio was traded to the Fish, so with Sanchez FOUR of those players will be 2012 Miami Marlins starters (I’m only guessing Bonifacio will start).
But as for those who were traded, Willingham and, you know it, *Olsen* were shipped off soon after the 2008 season’s finale to the Nationals for Bonifacio. But what happened to Josh after that?
For the 2009 and 2010 seasons he was very much a household name for a Nationals fan. He became solidified in their starting lineup in May 2009, and that summer etched his name in the history books. On a July night in Milwaukee, Willingham became just the 13th player in MLB history to hit two grand slams in the same game. He ended the ’09 campaign with an average of .260 and 24 home runs.
In May of 2010, Willingham angered me by hitting eighth inning go-ahead home runs on back-to-back days against the Marlins at Nationals Park. I was there for the first afternoon game, and viewed the second on on TV. Unlike Olsen, Willingham had great success with the Nationals.
In December of 2010 he was traded to the Oakland Athletics for pitcher Henry Rodriguez. He continued his success last season by hitting 29 home runs in 136 games. Although his average dropped to .246, he looks to still have a great career in the major leagues, a career that started with Scott Olsen, in 2006, with the Marlins.