The Pensacola Blue Wahoos begin their 2022 season tonight. In their second year as a Miami Marlins minor league affiliate, they have a lot of new faces on their roster, including the No. 1 prospect in the Marlins system.
On Tuesday, the Blue Wahoos held their Media Day virtually over Zoom. Daniel Rodriguez and I (Kevin Barral) attended on behalf of Fish Stripes and spoke to some of the players and coaches about their expectations for the season.
RHP Zach McCambley
2021 Combined Stats: 3-10, 4.36 ERA, 20 G, 97.0 IP, 120 SO, 1.23 WHIP
One of the first questions asked to Zach McCambley was how his changeup was coming along. Our contributor and good friend Alex Carver from Fish On The Farm had been monitoring his development of that pitch a couple weeks prior during spring training in Jupiter.
“That’s been a primary focus for the last pretty much a year now,” McCambley says. “Last year kind of we just introduced that through the season.”
McCambley went on to talk about how he feels the need to throw the changeup more often now that he is at the Double-A level.
Next, our own Daniel Rodriguez asked the following question.
Daniel: “This pitching rotation is one of the best easily in AA. What have you seen from the other guys including Eury that maybe you saw here compared to last year?”
McCambley: “Obviously we have pitching all up and down this organization. Eury being such a young kid and being able to block out everything and just play the game. He’s so innocent, and I don’t think he quite knows how good he is yet. There’s a subtle confidence about him that he has that he’s just kind of out there just throwing against older competition, and I’m super excited to watch him this weekend.
“We got Bryan Hoeing coming up from High-A last year. We got Dylan Bice. We got a bunch of guys, man. We got (George) Soriano, we got myself, but it’s exciting, man. It’s really excited. We got (Will) Stewart here as well.
“The competition is what we all feed off of—the better that we are, the better that we want to be. Eury throws Friday, I want to do better Saturday. I throw Saturday, Brian wants to better Sunday. So it’s kind of just like the friendly competition that we have between all of us and I think he brings out the best in everyone. So I’m super excited to get going with everybody.”
RHP Eury Pérez
The 4th-ranked Marlins prospect according to MLB Pipeline—but top ranked by most other outlets—Eury Pérez sat with us and the team’s translator during Media Day.
In 2021, the Dominican right-hander started in Low-A Jupiter and made it to High-A Beloit. Pérez will begin 2022 in Pensacola and was named the starter for Opening Day on Friday against Biloxi.
Throughout Media Day, almost everyone who we had the chance to talk to mentioned Eury in some way, telling us how high they are on him. You saw McCambley’s quote about him above.
From new pitching coach Dave Eiland: “Well Eury is the total package. He’s the guy that runs it up the upper 90’s, he’s got a curveball, changeup and a slider that we just introduced to him probably about a month ago.”
From manager Kevin Randel: “I think everybody likes just his body of work at such a young age. Obviously, the potential you see him as a number one ace in the big leagues. He’s obviously still quite away from that. He’s got big league stuff—we saw 100 in camp, very good control, has got four pitches all with pretty good command. He may struggle here in AA, don’t know, but down the road, this guy’s gonna figure out and he’s gonna be pretty good.”
I had the chance to ask Eury who his favorite players were growing up or someone he modeled his game after. He immediately responded with Pedro Martínez and the late Yordano Ventura.
Eury also told me that he hopes to once again take the Marlins Minor League Pitcher of the Year crown in 2022 after winning the award last season.
1B Troy Johnston
Troy Johnston was one of the high risers in the Marlins system in 2021. He’s making the jump from High-A to AA and he had a lot to say about his first taste of the Grapefruit League and the upcoming season.
Kevin: “Hey Troy, I wanted to ask you, you had your first taste of spring training in the Grapefruit League. How was that? And how was it facing the major leaguers? What differences did you notice from where you were playing last season from the majors? Thank you.”
Troy: “So what I saw the biggest difference was, one, the pitching and a lot of the guys had more than three pitches. I think for strikes, a lot of them of course had a lot of movement. There’s not as many straight fastballs anymore, like as we’ve done sinkers, cutters, a little bit more ride at the top zone kind of thing. That was the biggest difference that I saw just with the actual stuff the pitchers had. And on the defensive side with the major leaguers, they just make every single play—not just giving away hits anymore, like they make every single play and make it a little bit harder for you to get on base and ultimately for other teams to win games. But I think that was the biggest difference.
“Making the jump from High-A then to the Fall League then to the big leagues. I think that was like a good little step because of course in the Fall League, a lot of that competition was very similar to what you see in the big leagues.”
Johnston Spring Training Stats 2022: 7 G, 1 BB, .000 BA, .167 OBP, .000 SLG, .167 OPS
I also wanted to share Troy’s response to an Alex Carver question about which of the big league players he took advice from or picked the brains of during camp:
“I know I was talking to JJ Bleday and I was talking to (Peyton) Burdick quite a bit, trained with those guys. But the big leaguers I talked to, actually went golfing with (Nick) Fortes one time and so he was kind of the guy that I stuck to during camp and kind of talked through on that kind of stance. I really didn’t have a lot of time because backing up and kind of being in those games. I didn’t have a lot of time to really talk to the big league players as much some of the pitchers here there, but a lot of the big league players who can just play and get out. Fortes was my guy that I kind of go to with questions, all that kind of stuff. And of course, Brian Miller, who I know has been kind of on the brink, they’re here for a little bit and whatnot. So he was another guy that I want to talk about, pick their brain a little bit.”
OF Griffin Conine
The final player we had the chance to talk to was outfielder Griffin Conine. He led the Marlins minor leagues in home runs and made the jump from High-A to AA during the 2021 season and will begin in AA this 2022 season as well.
The first question I asked Griffin was very similar to my question to Troy Johnston, but the response was a bit different.
Conine: “It was really cool to be to be a part of some major league games (in Spring Training), to think this was the first time with the Marlins that that was able to get in there. So that was really cool. Just being in the dugout. There’s a lot of really big guys like I felt I felt small just being around him—(Garrett) Cooper and Avisaíl (García) and Jorge (Soler). Some big guys, but just a lot of really good energy. Fun to be around. I think they’re gonna have a lot of fun this year, and I think they’re gonna put together a pretty good year as well.”
Conine then was asked by Daniel Rodriguez about the housing situation for minor league players. For the first time in 2022, MLB will be covering their housing costs and helping them find convenient places to live.
Conine quickly mentions the situation he was in last season, scrambling to find a place to stay after many games. It will be a different story moving forward. Blue Wahoos players will be moving into their new apartments on Saturday and he is grateful for the owner of the Wahoos, Quint Studer.