In 2021, the winds changed just offshore of Jupiter Inlet. Within the township of Abacoa, for the first time, the Jupiter Hammerheads competed as a A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. While the redrawing of the lines in Minor League Baseball sent the Sharks down a peg on the minor league ladder, it provided fans with the ability to see more of the organization’s freshest prospects. Jupiter fielded a club record 85 players and a melting pot of international prospects making their stateside debuts as well as those coming out of the 2021 MLB Draft, forming an overall roster very becoming of the culture their home club is trying to build. This coming April to begin the 25th minor league season played at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, those two aspects will once again join to form what projects to be an exciting Opening Day roster and a glimpse at the next wave of of the Miami Marlins’ system.
And it all starts with a new skipper. Joining the Hammerheads as manager is long time organizational man Angel Espada. Espada, a former Braves late round draft pick and independent league standout infielder, joined the Marlins coaching staff as GCL hitting coach in 2009. After serving as hitting coach in AAA and short season ball, Espada helped bridge the gap from Jamestown to Batavia, making his managerial debut as the Jammers’ manager in their final season as a Marlins’ affiliate in 2012 followed by the Muckdogs in their first three seasons with Miami from 2013-2016. From 2017-2018, Espada served as a defensive coach with the A Greensboro Grasshoppers. He comes to the Hammerheads after a two year stint overseas with the DSL Marlins. Espada managed the Dominican club in 2019 and served as field coordinator in 2021. The 46 year old, who boasts over 25 years of experience in professional baseball as both a player and a coach in a variety of roles, helped develop many current big leaguers such as Brian Anderson, Jordan Holloway and Cody Poteet and current prospects Cristhian Rodriguez, Yoelvis Sanchez and Breidy Encarnacion, all of whom should be under his watch again this season in Jupiter.
2B Ian Lewis
2021 Stats (FCL): .302/.354/.497, 3 HR, 18 XBH, 27 RBI, 24/11 K/BB, 9/4 SB/CS
Lewis was part of the Marlins’ impeccable 2019-20 international signing class. The 16 year old was deemed to be the Bahamas’ top export and earned the signing bonus becoming of such a title: $950,000 made him the third most lucrative Marlins signing in the class.
Coming into pro ball, Lewis was touted for his ability to put the ball in play effectively from both sides, his plus-plus speed and his quick reads in the field that should allow him to stick in the middle infield. However, there were doubts surrounding the lanky 5’10”, 177 specimen’s power projection. This past summer, Nunez began to those questions. After showing up to minor league spring training with added muscle mass, Lewis, playing against competition nearly two years older than him on average, had 18 of his 45 hits go for extra bases.
Lewis has been acquainted with Marlins’ infielder Jazz Chisholm Jr since childhood when the pair played little league together. Chisholm Jr has stated that he knew Lewis was going to be a big leaguer from a very young age. This year, as Lewis comes to Jupiter, his stock is as high as its ever been. While there will always be more average than power in his bat, he has begun to bring those two aspects much closer as he’s migrated stateside. With speed bordering on 70 grade and a hit tool that could approach 60, Lewis is a great athlete with a ton of upside who won’t turn 20 until 2023. Place his future ceiling around the likes of Orlando Hudson.
SS Kahlil Watson
2021 Stats (FCL): .394/.524/.606, 5 XBH, 7/8 K/BB
Watson is the Marlins’ highly heralded first round draft pick out of last year’s class. An 18-year-old prep out of North Carolina, Watson was MLB Pipeline’s fourth overall rated talent but fell to the Marlins at 16 overall due to signability concerns. Those concerns became reality as Watson went without a contract for most of last summer. Finally though, the Marlins got Watson to put pen to paper on August 2nd. His $4,540,790 completely exhausted the rest of the Marlins’ allotted draft pool and was $786,290 over slot value.
Watson can be very good and he knows it. So when he fell in the draft, the chip on his shoulder got a bit bigger evident by the fact that he was heard in one of his first interviews telling his brand new boss, former Marlins CEO Derek Jeter to “give him his money”. As the summer days went by, excitement grew to a fever pitch for the days Watson would take the field in a Marlins uniform. The first day finally came on August 16th but there would be just eight more occasions after that as Watson suffered a grade 2 hamstring strain, ending his FCL season.
A 5’11”, 170 pound lefty, Watson checks many boxes at the ripe age of 18. Watson’s best offensive tool is his 60-grade raw power stemming from vicious physicality and bat speed. As he grows physically and gets reps, translation to in game power is evident. Annual 20/20 potential is very real. Watson also owns incredible running speed that should allot him 20+ stolen bases. In the field, Watson has the athletic ability to dazzle and take hits off the board with good range to both sides. His quickness and accurate cross-body arm give him a long-term home at shortstop.
If there were weaknesses in Watson’s high school game, they came in the form of struggling against plus breaking stuff and the tendency to try to pull pitches on the outer half rather than go with them to the opposite field. While he handled the inside part of the plate very well, this lead to weak contact from opposing pitchers that back-doored him, limiting the current grade of his hit tool, but with experience and pro coaching, there is a ton of room for both natural progression as well as growth and improvement.
The only other potential weakness for Watson could lie in his head. A player who has been elite and been set on his destiny for his entire amateur career, it will be intriguing to see how Watson handles his first taste of failure if and when it comes against the most advanced pitching he’s ever faced in a pitcher friendly environment at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium and across most of the old Florida State League circuit.
With the ability to limit strikeouts, destroy pitches on the inner half, turn anything into extra bases and take away bases on the infield, Watson is the kind of quick-twitch guy both amateur and international scouting in the Marlins’ organization have salivated over and for good reason. He will come back to Jupiter and to the main field at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in 2022 as quite possibly the most anticipated prospect available for viewing both within the organization and within the lower levels of the minor leagues.
3B Jose Salas
2021 Stats (FCL-A): .305/.391/.405, 2 HR, 14 2B, 19 RBI, 51/22 K/BB, 14/5 SB/CS
From one quick-twitch athlete to another, Jose Salas is another new adult who defines the term. Salas, the 10th ranked prospect in that year’s class, earned the highest bonus handed out by the Marlins: $2.8 million. At the time, Pipeline called Salas the most advanced hitter in the class and stated he could become a 30-30 annual threat.
That potential was on full display as Salas came stateside to the FCL last season. In his first taste of stateside ball, Salas hit .370/.458/.511 before being promoted to the Hammerheads in mid-August. With the Sharks, Salas hit .250/.333/.315. We expect the soon-to-be 19 year old will return to the Hammerheads this summer.
At age 18, Salas is 6’2”, 190 and already showing huge power potential from both sides of the plate. As his projectable frame grows, even more power should come and he shouldn’t have any trouble getting his 60-grade raw power translate to equally imposing game power. Salas is selective and shows a good knowledge for the zone but he does have a bit of loop in his swing which could pave the way for more strikeouts as he grows through the levels and adjusts to his growing body. Even more so than Watson, Salas is a very pull heavy hitter that will struggle with plus pitches on the outer half. In his first showing last season between the FCL and A, over 50% of Salas’ contact was to his pull side. There are some gaps in the offensive approach but Salas should be able to continue to hit for enough power to overlook them as he continues to grow through the system.
In addition to the power, Salas dazzles with his speed, currently rated at 60 grade. When he isn’t putting balls over fences, he has the intuition and readability to turn any ball put past infielders into extra bases and should threaten for 20+ steals a season.
Salas was signed as a shortstop but he has spent time at other positions. Given his current frame and how much more size he will grow into, the power pedigree and 55+ grade throwing arm, we expect Salas to move off of the crowded shortstop position to third base.
With potential for four of five plus tools, fantastic athleticism and a ton of time to grow, Salas is one of the more exciting prospects in the Marlins’ organization. Already bordering on many top evaluators’ top 100 lists, the ingredients are in place for him to make some major noise in 2022, potentially make it up to A+ and start having his name mentioned nationally.
1B Cristhian Rodriguez
RF Yoelvis Sanchez
C Joe Mack
2021 Stats (FCL): .132/.373/.208, 2 XBH, 22/20 K/BB
Mack is the Marlins’ competitive balance pick from 2021 out of Williamsville East High School in East Amherst, New York. Another early round prep pick by DJ Svihlik, Mack commanded a $2.5 million signing bonus, slightly over slot but surprisingly not as high as expected considering the Clemson commit was labeled the third best catching prospect in the nation by PerfectGame and the fourth best catching prospect in the draft according to most outlets.
New York isn’t necessarily a baseball breeding ground and as the Marlins have learned with other prep catchers through the years, they are very volatile. However, Mack has a very good chance to crack both of those molds. A 6’1”, 210 figure, the newly turned 19-year-old who will maintain that age for all of the 2022 playing season, received high marks for many of his tools as he competed in prep showcases leading into the draft. According to scouts that viewed Mack, he has the tools to become an impact player on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Mack boasts a 60-grade arm with elite pop and home-to-second clock times in the 1.8 range which is considered elite. The only questions surrounding Mack’s defense surround his ability to call and receive, a common issue for prep backstops and something Mack has the raw athleticism and IQ to clean up quickly as he spends time with pro pitchers and coaches.
Offensively, Mack is known as an aggressive hitter early in counts but selective late further complementing his baseball IQ. Evaluators say Mack is more of an on-base threat than base circler long term. Those variables were on display in Mack’s first 19 career affiliated games. For the FCL Marlins last year against competition two years older than him on average, he hit .132/.373/.208 with a 22/20 K/BB. As he grows, it isn’t out of the question that Mack can grow into a bit more power (especially if he is taught to employ his lower half more) but it will never be a big part of his game. That said, Mack could make a very good career as an elite defensive catcher and a tough out that works counts and works his way on base in multiple ways. A Joe Mauer-light type ceiling is not out of the question here if everything goes his way.
CF Brady Allen
Allen is another 2021 Marlins’ draftee, selected in the 5th round out of the University of South Carolina. A Florida native, Allen spent three years with the Gamecocks in which he hit .255/.372/.471 and mixed in two wood bat summer league showings in which he managed a .297/.416/.441 slash line.
Allen would probably be challenged to a higher level had he made his pro debut in 2021. However, the 21-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery shortly before the draft, stunting his ranking and preventing him from taking the field for the Marlins’ organization as of yet. Allen, who will turn 22 before the end of the minor league season, will begin the year in Jupiter and with results, could be quickly promoted to higher levels.
Allen, 6’1”, 220, was highly lauded for his ability to create contact as a high schooler but as a collegiate player, he struggled in that regard, racking up high ground ball rates, especially against plus breakers and better locations on the lower half. While Allen has shown a good feel for the zone allowing him to limit whiffs, due to missed time, his floor is equally limited. Still, he has 50-grade raw power and athleticism that could allow him to make up for lost time offensively. Defensively, Allen owns average tools but could stick long term as a right fielder.
View Allen, an under slot signee, as a guy who needs raw offensive tools to permeate quickly as he begins his first season with the Marlins’ organization this summer in Jupiter.
LF Javeon Cody
DH Diowill Burgos
RHP Breidy Encarnacion
2021 Stats (FCL): 22 IP, 8.18 ERA, 21/18 K/BB, 1.955 WHIP
Encarnacion is a member of the Marlins’ 2019-20 signing class out of the DR. After spending most of their pool on the Mesas, he came to the organization for a paltry $30,000. However, the 18 year old made a good first impression when he held down a 1.91 ERA and had a 57/11 K/BB for the DSL squad.
This past season, Encarnacion’s projection was stunted by a throwing arm injury which held him out of action until July. Even after returning, building back his arm was a slow process as he pitched almost exclusively in long relief for the FCL Marlins and didn’t surpass four innings in any appearance. Breidy should return to action full time this coming season.
A 6’3”, 180 pound 19-year-old, Encarnacion tops at 93 with his fastball but with good separation from a low 70s 12-6 curve and a solid changeup in the low-mid 80s. With a very loose wind and delivery though, there is certainly room for Encarnacion to build into more explosiveness and a higher arm speed. What currently excites about Encarnacion’s stuff are well above average spin rates that have the ability to make the opposition look foolish. Take his stats as he built back from injury this past year with a grain of salt and look more closely at his results as he comes back at 100% with the Hammerheads this season.
RHP Jesse Bergin
LHP Sandro Bargallo
RHP Luis Vizcaino
2021 Stats (FCL): 49.1 IP, 2.92 ERA, 51/24 K/BB, 1.196 WHIP
Vizcaino is a member of the Marlins’ 2018-2019 signing class and Encarnacion’s fellow graduate of the Dominican academy in 2020. This past season, the 19-year-old made it stateside where he held down a 2.92 ERA by way of a 1.20 WHIP and 51/24 K/BB in 49.1 IP.
Listed at 6’4”, 199, Vizcaino earns top marks for his hammer breaking ball, a low 70s curve. His heat, which currently sits in the low 90s, holds a 45 grade future value. He lacks much of a third pitch and has spotty command which lead to a lot of line drive contact during his FCL showing last season paving the way to a 5.08 FIP.
Vizcaino has peripherals that will continue to allow him to limit free passes but he will need to catch his fastball up and develop a third pitch is he hopes to stick as a starter. That work starts this season with Jupiter.
LHP Mario Doble
RHP Delvis Alegre