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Marlins hitting prospects who deserve a closer look

Revisiting last season’s minor league production using Baseball Prospectus’ deserved runs created plus stat.

2021 Marlins draft pick Tanner Allen wears sunglasses during a Jupiter Hammerheads game @tannerallen/Instagram

Regular Fish Stripes readers will notice that I often cite weighted runs created plus (wRC+), a FanGraphs statistic, to condense a player’s batting production into a single number. A 100 wRC+ represents the average for that player’s league while anything above that is better than average and anything below that is worse than average. I believe the process behind calculating it is sound and still plan to use it frequently moving forward.

However, for more than three years now, Baseball Prospectus has offered a similarly insightful stat for public consumption: deserved runs created plus (DRC+). It aims to be even more predictive than wRC+ by accounting for plate discipline—strikeout and walk rates—and pumping the brakes on outlier performances. Here is an introduction to DRC+.

My inspiration for this article is José Salas. Like many industry experts, the BP staff thinks the Marlins infielder is on the verge of becoming a top-100 overall prospect in baseball. What’s with all the hype surrounding a bat-first prospect who posted a 85 wRC+ for the Jupiter Hammerheads last season? Well, his DRC+ was 99, right on par with the rest of the Low-A Southeast league (despite Salas being a lot younger than his opponents).

Are there are any other notable Marlins minor leaguers who had Salas-like discrepancies between their wRC+ and DRC+ in 2021? I’m glad you asked! There sure are.

Listed below, you’ll find every full-season farmhand—played with Low-A Jupiter, High-A Beloit, Double-A Pensacola or Triple-A Jacksonville—with at least a 15-point difference between those two stats. I set the minimum at 100 plate appearances per MiLB level to qualify. I bolded and italicized the individual cases that I’m most interested in.

Much better DRC+ than wRC+ in 2021

The Marlins focused almost entirely on position players in constructing their 2021 MLB Draft class, and the early returns were somewhat discouraging. After thriving against top-tier college opponents, Morissette (second-round pick) and Allen (fourth-rounder) slugged under .300 for Jupiter. Even so, DRC+ sees upside in them, perhaps because they both had swinging strike rates of just 10%.

According to wRC+, Banfield was one of the very worst hitters in the High-A Central among those who played more than a half-season there (min. 250 PA). Although the hopes of him developing into a major league starting catcher are hanging by a thread, there seems to be better stuff happening under the hood. Keep in mind that 2021 was his first taste of High-A and that the offensive standard for backstops is lower than any other position.

DRC+ loves dudes like Nuñez who walk nearly as much as they strike out. It’s a José Devers-esque hitting profile that is not currently in vogue at the MLB level, but enough discipline can compensate for his utter lack of game power.

Much worse DRC+ than wRC+ in 2021

Another 2021 draftee, Hostetler hit the ground hitting as a pro, producing so well with the Hammerheads that he got promoted to Beloit before season’s end. He was remarkably consistent at the plate from game to game and generated standout exit velocities. Understandably, though, DRC+ is dubious of the .457 batting average on balls in play that buoyed his Jupiter numbers (second-highest of any Low-A Southeast hitter with 100-plus plate appearances, per FanGraphs).

It’s pretty straightforward with Conine: his current swing-and-miss issues are a red flag. He is working to remedy that, as explained to Aram Leighton on The Call Up podcast. The Marlins’ decision to leave the prolific slugger unprotected for the Rule 5 draft suggests that the team itself values the components of DRC+ more than they do wRC+ (at least in his case).

Think about Johnston as being on the opposite end of the spectrum as Banfield. He has already outperformed his draft position and his 2021 campaign was unequivocally good, but perhaps closer to his peers than what we saw on the surface. Being a first baseman who can merely fake it at the corner outfield spots, he’ll need to carry a heavy offensive burden to stick as a regular in The Show.

The most generous interpretation of Encarnación’s age-23 season is that injuries and high quality of competition took him out of his rhythm. The clock is ticking as he enters his second season on the Marlins 40-man roster, leaving the front office with an interesting decision to make between assigning him to Double-A or Triple-A for 2022.