As we grapple with the increasing probability that the lockout will cause, at the very least, a significant delay to the start of the 2022 season, some preseason baseball talk has at least reestablished the hope that Spring will truly arrive eventually. Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus published their annual Top 100 Prospects lists this past week, giving all baseball fans something to distract themselves from the bitter relationship between the big leaguers and the owners. The Marlins featured prominently in those lists, with top prospects Max Meyer and Kahlil Watson among the players to appear.
Those players have already cemented their status as top prospects due to amateur hype and minor league performance. The question being examined here is who shall follow their path this season and emerge one year from now as a Top 100 prospect from the Marlins system. For one who is not currently on the list to rise in the experts’ rankings, they will require a breakout season in 2022. Here are ten Marlins prospects who I could see rising to that status by this time next year, in advance of the 2023 season*:
* Prospects recently signed during the International Free Agency Period were not included during this exercise. While it is possible that a few could emerge on these lists by next season, we have no idea when they will be debuting with the uncertainty of the pandemic, lockout, etc. Waiting for them to debut first will allow us to form a better judgement next year on players who are so young.
Jose Salas, SS
2021 (Rk-A): .305/.391/.405, 14 2B, 2 HR, 51/22 K/BB, 14 SB
The main concern for the young Venezuelan prospect entering last season was his ability to make contact consistently. Salas had never appeared in a professional game prior to this season, due to signing late in 2019 and then the pandemic wiping out the 2020 minor league season. So, scouts were eager to see how the hit tool would look with Salas finally in uniform. He put some of those concerns to rest by posting a K% in the low twenties, a reasonable figure at any level. If he can keep the rate below 30% as he jumps through the minors, then Salas should be able to reach the Majors as a power hitting shortstop.
That package is always a valuable one, especially with the additionally interesting characteristic of Salas being a switch hitter. Salas also offers some speed, with 14 SB over two levels last season. At 6’2 and nearly 200 pounds, Salas is growing into more power, but there is some concern about his staying at shortstop over time. The Marlins auditioned him at second and third base, so the added versatility should only keep Salas’ stock trending upwards. Some scouts also think his profile would fit in center field. Either way, this is an athletic prospect who should keep getting better.
Ian Lewis, 2B
2021 (Rk): .302/.354/.491, 10 2B, 5 3B, 24/11 K/BB
The top Bahamian prospect in the 2019 International Free Agent Class, Lewis looked the part in his first professional action following the cancelled pandemic season. He impressed scouts with his ability to make contact, posting just a 14.9 K% in rookie ball. The approach at the plate will need polishing, as Lewis did not walk much and was very aggressive. But, the physical tools are there. The elite trait that Lewis possesses is speed, which is beneficial on the basepaths and in the field. He was playing second in the Florida Coast League mostly due to Salas getting the nod at shortstop, but held his own there and should be able to do the same at short. Lewis is not huge, at 5’10, but does possess some pop that will probably manifest in gap-to-gap power. Once again, Lewis being a switch hitter makes his profile even more appealing.
Joe Mack, C
2021 (Rk): .132/.373/.208, 22/20 K/BB
Mack passed up a scholarship to Clemson to sign with the Marlins after being drafted thirty-first overall in last year’s amateur draft. He possesses that aesthetically pleasing profile of a lefty hitting catcher, with a gorgeous swing to match. His slash line from a brief Rookie ball debut indicates that Mack has great plate discipline, which was known going into the draft. His struggles with the bat, especially with slugging, is not surprising considering Mack is from New York. Players from cold-weather states typically need to be given a little bit more leeway, as they are not used to playing year-round and typically take a little longer to develop. That should excite Marlins fans, as Mack should continue developing, while it is also clear that he already has the right approach at the plate. Moreover, Mack is expected to stay at catcher as he develops due to a strong arm and plenty of athleticism. Making solid contact this season should be all it takes to get Mack on prospect lists next season.
Nasim Nunez, SS
2021 (A): .243/.366/.265, 46/35 K BB, 33 SB
Nunez has played just over one hundred minor league games now and has racked up over sixty stolen bases in the process. Prospects with one elite tool can be easy to dream on, and Nunez has one of those tools in his speed. With a success rate over 80% on those stolen bases, Nunez has the potential to be a special base runner. That speed translates very well into the field, where Nunez may be the best fielding shortstop prospect in the system. Furthermore, his arm should be strong enough to stay at the position long-term.
Like Mack, Nunez passed up a Clemson scholarship to enter the draft. He needs to keep working on making contact consistently in order to maximize his strength on the basepaths. This will never be a power profile, but one has to like the approach Nunez takes at the plate. He needs to be a bit more aggressive, btu he clearly recognizes speed as his strength and tries to get on-base as a result. If Nunez can just show a little more promise with the bat, then the defense and speed will easily make him a prospect to get excited about.
Yiddi Cappe, SS
2021 (Rk): .270/.329/.402
While prospects like Nunez possess an elite trait that makes them projectable, others just physically appear to be future monsters. Cappe would fit into the latter category, with a 6’3, 175 lbs. frame that, at nineteen years old, has room for growth. Cappe already showed an ability to hit the ball hard to all fields in his 2021 professional debut, and scouts expect the power to continue to grow. He is such a promising athlete that Cappe does have the potential to stay at the position, despite his size. Few shortstops have played the position at that height, although Carlos Correa comes to mind. Cappe is that exciting as an athlete. Fangraphs described Cappe as “toolsy” before last season, which perfectly describes why scouts will be excited about him if the production starts to come in the lower levels.
Jordan McCants, SS
2021 (Rk): .224/.286/.237
McCants passed up a scholarship to Mississippi State to sign with the Marlins after being drafted in the third round of last year’s draft. In a brief Rookie ball debut, McCants displayed an all-fields, line-drive approach that scouts saw in high school. He struck out more than expected, but scouts do like McCants ability to make contact consistently as he begins to climb up the minor league ladder. More power should also come, as McCants is over six feet tall and should keep adding on muscle. That may not manifest itself in huge homerun power, but hopefully McCants can play gap-to-gap with his speed and athleticism. McCants does have the range to play shortstop, but may move to second base due to a lack of arm strength. Similar to all the guys listed above him here, McCants’ abundance of athleticism will allow him some room for error though, as he could play any of the up-the-middle (SS, 2B, CF) positions well due to in-game speed.
Yoelvis Sanchez, OF
2021 (Rk): .151/.311/.279
Sanchez finally saw the field for an extended time in 2021 and showed some of the tools that scouts are excited about. He has the speed to be an up the middle player that can stick in center field. There is a lot of swing and miss in his game right now, but it is only concerning if it continues to happen for someone so young. For now, he is a projectible, athletic bat who is must-watch in 2022 to see if there have been improvements made at the plate. With a 6’2 frame, the lefty Sanchez has the sort of athleticism that can lead to breakouts and quick improvements.
Dax Fulton, LHP
2021 (A-A+): 78.1 IP, 84 K, 38 BB, 4.60 ERA
This pick feels a bit like cheating, as Fulton did appear on the Baseball Prospectus Top Prospects list this week. However, he has largely flown under the radar, and did not appear on the Baseball America version. He is clearly trending upwards, so it feels like a good bet that Fulton will be on more of these lists next season.
Fulton was the Marlins’ second round pick in 2020, but was unable to debut until 2021 due to the pandemic and Tommy John surgery in his senior year of high school. That he showed so much promise in that debut is very exciting, considering Fulton had not been able to pitch in such a long period of time. At 6’7 and 225 lbs., Fulton has the look of an intimidating, monster left handed pitcher. He struck out batters at a high clip last year due to a fastball that sits in the mid-nineties, paired with a curveball that generates a lot of swings and misses. The fastball has a lot of downward movement, leading to an abundance of ground balls. The lack of a third pitch could lead to this being a reliever profile down the road, but Fulton did make progress with the changeup last year. If that keeps developing, he will be projected as a 2-3 starter and will be on all of these top prospect lists a year from now.
Evan Fitterer, RHP
2021 (Rk-A): 30.1 IP, 33 K, 10 BB, 4.15 ERA
Fitterer was one of the top high school arms in the 2019 draft, but fell to the 5th round due to a UCLA commitment. The Marlins had to give him the equivalent of second round money to entice him to sign. Fitterer is polished for his age, with a four-pitch mix that points to this being a starters profile. All four pitches project as average eventually, and the fastball has sinking action that results in a lot of ground balls. A little more velocity would make that pitch more interesting, and there is a chance for that considering Fitterer’s age and size. His control greatly improved in 2021, with a very low BB rate. That came in a small sample size, but it would be a great sign for Fitterer if that continued considering he lacks a truly dominant out pitch. He was described by MLB Pipeline as a potential Kyle Hendricks with better raw stuff, which is obviously high praise.
Jake Eder, LHP
2021 (AA): 71.1 IP, 99 K, 27 BB, 1.77 ERA
This is the biggest wild card on this list for a disappointing reason; Eder is not expected to pitch in 2022 after having Tommy John Surgery at the end of last season. If Eder was a Major League pitcher who could contribute to a pennant race, then he might be brought back towards the end of this summer.
The knock against Eder going into 2021 was a lack of control, but he was incredibly effective in the Minors because he was able to limit the walks. A 9.4 BB% is not exceptional by any means, but with Eder’s stuff it is good enough to have success at the lower levels. Eder was a first round talent coming out of high school, but stuck to his Vanderbilt commitment instead after being drafted later by the Mets. He had an excellent college career, including closing out a CWS, and showed a fastball that could absolutely play at the next level. The slider is also a plus pitch, and there was some concern he’d be a reliever because the lack of a third pitch and control issues. Yet, Eder developed a decent changeup last year that was not easy on minor league hitters. 2021 was such a promising year for Eder that he should be on the radar for prospect experts the second he returns to the mound, with the hope that he maintains his velocity and the control has not slipped too much.