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My Top 30 Marlins prospects

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All of the top talent in the Marlins farm system, ranked.

RHP Eury Pérez getting ready to throw a pitch Photo courtesy of Beloit Snappers

Fresh off completing the 2021 Minor League Baseball season, here is my updated ranking of top Marlins prospects.

This Top 30 reflects my own preferences and not the Fish Stripes staff as a whole.

Most outlets are married to MLB’s archaic definition of prospect eligibility which uses at-bats/innings pitched/non-September days on the major league active roster.

My criteria is slightly different. I graduate players from prospect status once they have taken a career total of 200 MLB plate appearances or have faced 200 MLB batters. Also, players can graduate if active for at least half a major league season (81 team games).

This Top 30 is divided into six tiers, plus a seventh tier of just-misses. Prospects within the same tier are largely interchangeable, which means when considering their ceiling, floor, injury risk, position, room for development, ability to adjust and intangibles, I expect them to have similar career value. As of October 11, the gaps between Tiers II and III and Tiers IV and V are particularly significant.

Local and national experts help shape my evaluations of these up-and-coming players. I encourage you to check out their own Marlins prospect lists:

Next to each player’s name, I put the level of competition where they finished the 2021 season in parentheses. Those with an asterisk (*) are on the Marlins 40-man roster or will be once reinstated from the 60-day injured list.

Recent graduates: OF Jesús Sánchez (previously ranked 6th), OF Bryan De La Cruz (previously ranked 13th)


2021 Stats for Ranked Position Players

2021 Stats for Ranked Position Players
* indicates left-handed batter, # indicates switch-hitter
FanGraphs

2021 Stats for Ranked Pitchers

2021 Stats for Ranked Pitchers FanGraphs

Tier I

1) RHP Sixto Sánchez* (AAA) | previously ranked 2nd

2) RHP Edward Cabrera* (MLB) | previously ranked 1st

3) RHP Max Meyer (AAA) | previously ranked 3rd

Taking all factors into account, the difference between Sánchez and Cabrera is miniscule (hence why they’re in the same tier). But their statistical production in their first taste of major league competition serves as a convenient tiebreaker.

The quality of Sixto’s stuff distracts from his special pitchability. No other prospect-eligible player in this organization is a safer bet to get outs at the highest level when healthy. In July, he underwent surgery for a tear in his right shoulder, and so far, the Marlins have not disclosed any issues during his rehab process. I would reconsider his No. 1 ranking in the event of a setback.

Cabrera mixes four pitches, the nastiest of them being his slider. His low-90s changeup was a polarizing pitch as he came up through the minor league ranks, with some evaluators lauding it and others criticizing its firmness. The very, very early MLB returns are worrisome: no individual secondary pitch performed worse this season in terms of weighted on-base average (among pitches thrown at least 100 times).

A 2021 Futures Game selection, Meyer was consistently great throughout this season. He posted negligible platoon splits and generated an ideal combination of ground balls and swinging strikes. He possesses a nasty slider and he knows it—it was not unusual to see his usage of that weapon exceed 50% in his starts. His workload was surprisingly large for a first-year professional pitcher. Under the right circumstances, he could find himself spending the majority of 2022 in the Marlins starting rotation.


Tier II

4) SS Kahlil Watson (Rk FCL) | previously ranked 4th

5) RHP Eury Pérez (A+) | previously ranked 5th (career ceiling: Adam Wainwright)

Watson lived up to the hype in a teeny tiny sample of games in the complex league. His first regular season as a pro came to an abrupt end on September 1. The top draft pick has loud offensive tools. Listed at a diminutive 5-foot-9, 178 pounds entering the draft, his updated measurements as of 2021 fall development camp were 5-foot-11/189 pounds, according to the Marlins. He’ll presumably spend most of his age-19 campaign with full-season Jupiter.

You’d be hard-pressed to find another pitcher in affiliated ball whose stock soared as much as Pérez’s in 2021. Despite his inexperience, the Dominican right-hander struck out 35.4% of his opponents while working exclusively in a starting role. You’d assume that the projectable, 6-foot-8 teenager is raw and volatile...and you’d be wrong. Pérez would become the youngest major league pitcher in Marlins history if recalled before the end of the 2023 season.


Tier III

6) SS José Salas (A) | previously ranked 6th

7) OF JJ Bleday (AA; AFL) | previously ranked 7th

8) OF Peyton Burdick (AAA) | previously ranked 9th (career ceiling: Josh Willingham)

9) 1B Lewin Díaz* (MLB) | previously ranked 8th (career ceiling: Tino Martinez)

10) LHP Jake Eder (AA) | previously ranked 10th

11) OF Kameron Misner (AA; AFL) | previously ranked 12th

The Marlins’ most expensive signing of the 2019-20 international free agent class split his summer between rookie ball (163 wRC+) and the Jupiter Hammerheads (85 wRC+). Salas’ very first batted ball after the promotion was estimated by Statcast to have an exit velocity of 109.7 miles per hour—for context, major league veterans like Miguel Rojas and Brian Anderson didn’t reach that mark at any point in their 2021 games. Despite bulking up approximately 30 pounds since his signing, Salas continues to be an above-average runner. Will that still be the case once he fills out completely? Like Watson and Pérez, every opposing player that Salas faced this season was older than him.

José Salas physical maturation, 2019 to 2021

Bleday spent much of his first full MiLB season straddling the Mendoza Line. It was a year of constant tinkering for the former Vanderbilt star. He never truly caught fire at the plate for more than a few games at a time. When his timing was right, he wasn’t able to get his barrel to the ball, and vice versa. It will be fascinating to see what adjustments Bleday made during the month of downtime between his final Pensacola game and his Arizona Fall League debut.

Burdick plays with a terrific motor and has maxed out his frame. Totaling more defensive innings in center field than the corners in 2021 was a pleasant surprise and presumably factored into the decision to name him Marlins Minor League Player of the Year.

Peyton Burdick homers to left-center field Fish Stripes original GIF

The Wright State alum seems to tap into most of his game power by sitting on specific pitches when ahead in the count. Will that approach still be effective for him in the majors, where pitchers are less predictable? Barring injury, Burdick is poised to get called up before any other of Miami’s 2019 draftees.

Lewin Díaz is perhaps the best defensive first baseman that the Marlins have ever had (unequivocally the best since Derrek Lee). We already have a sample of more than 100 of his batted balls, and he has stayed true to his minor league tendencies by impacting the ball at an extremely steep launch angle. On the bright side, he’ll mash 25-plus home runs over a full-length season, even with LoanDepot Park’s challenging conditions. But if the other names in this Baseball Savant query are any indication, his swing path is not conducive to a high batting average. Lewin may benefit from more selectivity. So far, he’s been getting himself out early in counts by trying to do damage against undesirable pitches.

Left-handed batters had only six hits against Eder all season. His breaking ball might be less imposing than Meyer’s, but it isn’t far off.

Fish Stripes original GIF

Eder underwent Tommy John surgery on September 1. That is obviously disruptive to his career—he won’t appear in another minor league game until 2023. But unless he suffers some kind of setback during rehab, I don’t think it affects his prospect stock too much. Fellow ranked prospects Dax Fulton, Jordan Holloway and Braxton Garrett are also TJ survivors.

Misner rebounded from a shaky start to 2021 by stringing together an on-base streak between Beloit and Pensacola that spanned more than one-quarter of the MiLB schedule (31 games). He is also the most efficient high-volume base-stealer in the Marlins org and a valuable fielder at all three outfield positions.

The 23-year-old is a line drive machine. He’s been the beneficiary of a bloated batting average on balls in play, but I believe that should be partially sustainable at higher levels.


Tier IV

12) LHP Dax Fulton (A+) | previously ranked 11th

13) C Joe Mack (Rk FCL) | previously ranked 14th

14) RHP Kyle Nicolas (AA) | previously ranked 15th

15) OF Víctor Mesa Jr. (A) | previously ranked 18th

Fulton limited his opposition to one run or less in half of his starts. However, the Marlins were also careful in managing the tall lefty’s workload. He dealt with a strict five-inning/80-pitch limit each time he took the mound.

Even though his overall results in the complex league were underwhelming, Mack’s massive walk rate suggests a thorough understanding of the strike zone.

The organization’s MiLB strikeout leader, Nicolas worked a ton of deep counts and allowed a ton of fly balls. He initially dominated upon being promoted to Double-A, but came back down to Earth. Hitters really struggle to catch up to his heater. Changeup needs further development.

Only five home runs for Víctor Jr. with Jupiter, but he projects to comfortably crack double digits in future seasons once he fills out physically and moves to a more hitter-friendly environment. What you like to see is an uptick in production over the course of a player’s first taste of full-season ball—Mesa hit poorly in May (.636 OPS) and June (.622), but took off from there (.707 in July, .803 in August and .878 in September).


Tier V

16) RHP Jordan Holloway* (AAA) | previously ranked 16th

17) RHP Zach McCambley (AA) | previously ranked 17th

18) SS José Devers* (MLB) | previously ranked 19th

19) SS Yiddi Cappe (Rk DSL) | previously ranked 20th

Holloway has a knack for suppressing hard contact in the air. He’ll be trustworthy as a high-leverage reliever even if inconsistency eventually removes him from the rotation mix. The arrow is pointing pretty strongly toward a bullpen future given his Triple-A mediocrity (4.88 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 21.6 K% in 31.1 IP).

McCambley is best known for his filthy curveball, but he can get the job done with fastball command as well. His vulnerability to the long ball is a red flag.

Poor Devers cannot stay healthy. His 2021 campaign officially came to an end following surgery to repair a posterior labrum tear in his right shoulder. Still just 21 years old, though. He has enough going for himself as a hitter and fielder to compensate for non-existent power.

Cappe’s production tailed off following a hot start, then partially rebounded. He has the classic “projectable frame.” The Dominican Summer League stolen base success rate was 70.1%, but his was only 52.9% (9-for-17).


Tier VI

20) OF Connor Scott (A+) | previously ranked 22nd

21) RHP Nick Neidert* (AAA) | previously ranked 23rd

22) SS Nasim Nuñez (A) | previously ranked 24th

23) C Nick Fortes* (MLB) | previously ranked 26th

24) OF Griffin Conine (AA) | previously ranked 21st

25) LHP Braxton Garrett* (AAA) | previously ranked 25th

26) LHP Antonio Velez (AA) | previously unranked

27) 2B/SS Ian Lewis (Rk FCL) | previously ranked 30th

28) RHP Evan Fitterer (A; AFL) | previously ranked 28th

29) 1B Troy Johnston (A+; AFL) | previously ranked 29th

30) 2B Cody Morissette (A) | previously unranked

The former top draft pick Scott has gradually added more pop to his game. He’s made the same steady progression in strikeout rate during his career. On the other hand, the excitement about him as an overall prospect used to be buoyed by the strong likelihood of him sticking in center field. Scott played in CF almost exclusively from 2018-2019, but made only 21 of 95 starts there for the Beloit Snappers.

I was excited about Neidert entering this year. His poor control (12 HBP in 104.1 IP at AAA/MLB) and propensity for fly balls were perplexing given his track record. This ranking is banking on him to make adjustments.

Are Nuñez’s on-base skills legit—career .347 OBP while being young for each level—or is he just exploiting raw pitchers who cannot hit a tiny target? He has drawn 70 walks in 103 minor league games. Nuñez could rise quickly on my list in 2022 if his unique profile translates to High-A, because his shortstop defense on its own gives him at least one way to contribute at any level. Something to keep in mind: Nuñez played his final game of the season on July 28 and remain sidelined due to injury during October’s development camp.

Fortes made the most of his September cup of coffee in Miami, elevating the ball and hitting it hard (172 wRC+). Combine that with his strong plate discipline, adequate speed and advanced game calling, you have the makings of a useful major leaguer.

Nobody else in this farm system has as much all-fields game power as Conine. Mr. Marlin’s son led MiLB in home runs for much of 2021 and seemingly had a stranglehold on Marlins Minor League Player of the Year honors. However, he is susceptible to brutal slumps due to contact issues—he picked up eight hat tricks over his final 13 games with Pensacola (33 strikeouts in those 53 plate appearances) to fumble away that award. Conine is destined to repeat Double-A in 2022. He’s far more likely to be Peter O’Brien than Joey Gallo...but that upside is so tantalizing.

To be fair to Garrett, he has had a disjointed developmental journey. The Tommy John surgery survivor was thrust into major league spot starts with negligible upper minors experience. He finished the final quarter of 2021 with a steady Triple-A starting rotation spot, but wasn’t permitted to work deep into games on a roster that had numerous veterans who needed innings, too. The southpaw’s fastball must improve to resemble what he showed earlier in his career.

Velez got his first real shot in the Snappers rotation on June 16. From that point onward, he was simply one of the most dominant pitchers in the minors, holding opponents to a .212 on-base percentage over a span of 78 23 innings. He operates with expert command, particularly to the arm side. The Miami native suffered the indignity of going undrafted in 2020 solely because of the pandemic. If not for that, he’d be getting more respect.

Lewis got increasingly aggressive at the plate and on the basepaths as 2021 progressed, and he flourished as a result. The Marlins say he has grown two inches—from 5’10” to 6’—since turning pro. A teenage switch-hitter like José Salas, the Bahamian infielder has had limited exposure to lefties thus far.

Fitterer completed his regular season on an encouraging note by finally making it through five innings in an official game. His career groundball rate is extraordinarily high at 66.4%. He utilizes five distinct pitches: four-seam fastball, cutter, changeup, slider and curveball. The four-seamer maxes out at 95 miles per hour and the curve consistently registers a spin rate in the 2,700-3,000 RPM range (that’s top of the scale in this post-sticky stuff world). According to MLB Pipeline, a back injury was to blame for some of the right-hander’s absence during the summer. The Arizona Fall League will allow him to make up for some of that missed time. Fitterer is among the youngest prospects participating in the event.

Outside of one bad road trip in late July, Johnston has had a phenomenal year (and it’s not over yet as he embarks on fall league competition). The Gonzaga University alum makes frequent use of the opposite field and absolutely rakes with teammates on base. Really the only knock on his hitting is the lack of power production in left-on-left matchups. Johnston’s path to the majors is hazy in an organization that is well-stocked in first base/corner outfield types, but that’s a good problem to have for a former 17th-round draft pick.

After posting a career .337/.400/.507 slash line with Boston College, Morissette made a lousy first impression in the Fish farm system—no way to sugarcoat that. There projects to be a crowded infield at Low-A in 2022, so they’ll be counting on him to hit the ground running next April and merit a bump up to Beloit in short order. He didn’t play any shortstop during his NCAA career, but had two games there with the Hammerheads to at least get his feet wet.


In anticipation of possible offseason trades, here are the next men up (Tier VII):