Marlins 2022 Minor League Spring Training Report
It’s an ominous set of four words involving any perspective. Especially when he’s a Top 100 prospect. Double especially when he’s a Top 100 prospect who has already drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez but didn’t pitch at all in games the previous season due to an operation on the same right shoulder which is now causing him problems.
In most camps, this would cause panic. And in the Marlins’ camp, as it would be anywhere, it’s of course worrying to have a promising young star sidelined. But it’s also a reason to look to the organization’s considerable pitching depth.
“I think it’s a signature of what’s been built here,” said Miami Field Coordinator Patrick Osborn. “It will be a first pitching organization. We show this. We don’t just say it. We have a lot of high-end starter pitchers that the industry is familiar with. What makes it a desirable spot within the industry is, hey, you look at the Marlins and they roll 10 in terms of average to above average starting throw. We are lucky. It’s not every day that you see an organization built this way.
There are special draft picks, like 2020 third overall pick Max Meyer and 2020 second-rounder Dax Fulton, who remain the top 10 prospects in the system. There are international signings like Edward Cabrera and Eury Perez, whose combined bonuses for $300,000 but are now both comfortably among the top 100 prospects. There are player development success stories, like Jake Eder’s rise from the 2020 fourth round to 10th place on MLB Pipeline’s LHP Top 10 Prospects, despite his Tommy John surgery. There are experienced types in the Major League with Nick Neidert, Braxton Garrett and Cody Poteet.
Can depth alone help the Marlins overcome the prolonged loss of a once potential ace? Not entirely. But it’s through that depth that a prospect like Perez, who hadn’t seen the minors at all until 2021 and finished with a 1.96 ERA in 20 A-ball starts, can rise and lure. ‘Warning. Building depth through player acquisition and internal development adds lottery tickets. The deeper the better the chance one of them will reach.
It’s something the Major League side have certainly taken to heart. If the season started today, Jesús Luzardo would likely be the only member of Miami’s rotation who hasn’t spent much time in the Marlins’ minor league system. Even club ace Sandy Alcántara, who was acquired from the Cardinals in the December 2017 trade for Marcell Ozuna, was still a prospect when he first joined the organization.
The Fish plan to show their confidence in their minor league starting pitching corps by riding them hard from the get-go. After about 30 pitchers reported to the first Minor League practices in January, some are already building up to 75 pitches in their spring progressions and could be ready to pitch in about five innings on Opening Day April 8. .
The idea is to let starters lighten the load on the bullpen early and carry Miami affiliates on the first pitch. In other words, that a force is a force, even if it does not involve Sánchez.
“I think we’re really well positioned to get these guys out the door,” minor league operations manager Hector Crespo said. “The ones we started in January of this year, the way they’ve continued and how they’re progressing right now, it’s really encouraging. I think it’s about to be a big year for many of these guys.
Camp star: Kahlil Watson
A ton of eyes were going to be on the 16th overall pick of 2021 heading into his first spring. The North Carolina shortstop displayed five above-average tools in high school, including a 65th-grade speed, and while he felt like he fell to Miami midway through the first round, he still managed a bonus over $4,540,790 – a club record for a prep player.
The left-handed slugger backed that investment in his first spring training.
Watson has shown insanely fast batting in his first looks at Jupiter and hasn’t let the hum of professional life stop him from putting on consistent shows in all facets of the game so far. Miami’s top prospect looks set to open up to Single-A Jupiter, where it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him already top of the league, based on how his tools have translated to his peers of the Marlins so far.
“I think he’s one of the finest 18-year-old attacking players I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Crespo said. “His feeling in the box. His competitive ABs. It recognizes the spin. He kicks the ball. He’s a really brilliant young hitter, and he stood out. Obviously we have young prospects now, but he’s still kind of the crème de la crème there at the top, so I’m really excited to see where he is.
“I could watch him hit all day,” Osborn said.
Something to Prove: JJ Bleday
Is Bleday’s prospect stash over after a tough 2021 regular season? Not by far. Is it different today than it was a year ago? And certainly.
The 2019 fourth overall pick, who led the NCAA Division I with 27 home runs in his final spring at Vanderbilt, lost what would have been his first full season in 2020 and was traded to Double-A Pensacola during all last year. The numbers were tough – a .212/.323/.373 line with 12 homers and a 97 wRC+ in 110 games.
The 24-year-old outfielder said he felt pressured early on to be more of a home hitter and needed to find an approach that allowed him to stay inside the fastballs again. That, combined with increased strength following a change in his training regimen, helped Bleday start again in the Arizona Fall League, where he was co-hitter of the year after produced a line of .316/.435/.600 with five homers in 24 plays.
Now on the Major League side of Spring Training as an off-list guest, the former Commodore has the opportunity to prove he has learned from 2021 and moved past its struggles. There is always the potential to be an above average left side hitter with good defensive skills anywhere in the outfield.
“Swing adjustments, mental adjustments, getting into a place that was comfortable and where he was confident in what he was doing,” Osborn said, “that was the first step to knowing how this kid was going to take off.”
Hope we’ll talk about in 2023: Jose Salas
The Marlins could have shortstop blocking at Single-A Jupiter this summer in the best possible way. Joining Watson at this level could well be another 18-year-old at Salas, who has made 27 appearances for the Hammerheads in 2021.
Signed for $2.8 million in July 2019, the switch hitter earns the edgy recognition tag with his swing both ways and has the quick feet to match. He’s already added strength and could be a mid-time power hitter, notable for a shortstop. As is the case with Watson and fellow teenage infielder Ian Lewis, the Marlins are giving Salas looks at second and third base in case all three need to share the dirt at Jupiter. Offensively at least, the potential is there for Salas to break out in his potential first 100-game Minor League season.
“There are baseball instincts in terms of the mental part of the game,” Osborn said. “There is a natural force. It’s a short, fast swing where he doesn’t have to try to artificially generate power due to natural strength. Defensively, all the action is there – the ability to throw from different arm locations, really good game clock. For an 18-year-old kid, he’s really advanced in all areas.