What stands out about these Jumbo Shrimp of Jacksonville, in just their second season classifying in AAA? Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. It is the strength of the Major League team, and the Marlins organization as a whole. While that depth presents itself in a quality big league rotation, it also manifests in the Triple-A rotation. Four of the six pitchers listed below have experience at the Major League level already. To have that many pitchers ready to step in, who have already received a cup of coffee in the Majors, should provide a competitive advantage for the Marlins when pitcher injuries inevitably occur to the guys currently expected to be in the MLB rotation. Moreover, this projected roster does not even include Edward Cabrera, who could potentially start the year at AAA if he does not earn a spot in the big league rotation. Either way, there figures to be a plethora of pitching talent moving through Jacksonville this year, with the Marlins ready to call up anyone at a moments notice for a spot start 350 miles south.
While the pitching deserves the most attention, there is an intriguing collection of hitters prepared to play in Jacksonville in 2022 as well. The one most worth watching is JJ Bleday, the former fourth overall pick who had a rough go of it last year in Pensacola. While this has resulted in a plummet down most prospect rankings for Bleday, his Arizona Fall League performance gave some hope that he may be on the path towards righting things. Bleday has the highest ceiling amongst this projected Jacksonville collection of hitters, but there are plenty of other bats worth watching. Peyton Burdick‘s value as a prospect has skyrocketed as he has continued to hit at every level he sees. Jerar Encarnacion has prodigious raw power, but needs to start getting to more of it in games. Isan Diaz has been a frustrating player to watch for Marlins fans, but he clearly has the tools to mash at the AAA level. All in all, there should be plenty of hitters on this team that are worth keeping an eye on for Fish fans.
Managing the team, in his first year in Jacksonville, will be longtime baseball coach Daren Brown. Brown, 54, managed for almost two decades in the Seattle Mariners organization. He more recently served as the manager with a collegiate summer league team, the Kingsport Axmen. Brown is probably most well known for his brief stint as interim manager with the Mariners in 2010. He took over for Don Wakamatsu, and went 19-31 over the final fifty games of the season. Many viewed it as a seamless transition for Brown, who had managed many of the Mariners players already at AAA-Tacoma. Brown ended up as a bit of a legend in Tacoma, as he is the current recordholder for wins there. Clearly, Brown brings a lot of experience with him. That should serve this group of players in Jacksonville well, considering how many of them already have MLB experience and may just need that little push that a baseball lifer like Brown can provide for them. In fact, Daren Brown will now be the second consecutive Jacksonville manager with major league managing experience. Al Pedrique, now the Marlins third base coach, managed the team last year, and served as the interim manager with the Arizona Diamondbacks for half a season in 2004.
Without further adieu, here is the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp projected roster for 2022:
C Payton Henry
1B Jerar Encarnacion
2021 Stats (A-AA): .221/.308/.396, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 102/25 K/BB
It is hard to understate how important of a year this is for Encarnacion. Already twenty-four years old, and having never played above AA, Encarnacion has to hit this year. The K% of 38.1% at AA is scary to the point where it is doubtful he can hit at a higher level, but there is still hope that the raw power will translate into a powerful bat off of the bench in the Majors. At this point, it is about getting to that power in games for Encarnacion. The arrow was really pointing up for him after 2019, when he had a breakout in A-ball while keeping his strikeout rate in check. The pandemic must have hindered his development somewhat, as he has struggled to replicate that success since then. With someone this talented, however, the Marlins are wise to keep giving him chances to show what he can do in the Minors. Unfortunately, he does not profile well defensively, having struggled in the outfield and in limited reps at first base. The universal DH would only help the stock of Encarnacion if he can get back in a groove at the plate.
2B Riley Mahan
3B Isan Diaz
SS Jose Devers
The cousin of Boston’s Rafael Devers, Jose appeared briefly in the Majors at the end of the 2021 season. Devers profile is quite different from that of his cousin; he has a quality glove at short or second and displays a lot of speed, while also being very slight of build. Devers does have an exceptional ability to make contact, but the exit velocities in the minors have been concerningly low (according to Fangraphs). Moreover, he has only one homerun in four seasons of minor league play. At best, Devers will need to hit a lot of line drives to get as many hits as possible. The offensive profile is just not there for an everyday player, but Devers is probably ready to contribute as a good glove off the bench for the Marlins. As it relates to the Jumbo Shrimp, Devers will certainly be a favorite of the pitching staff with his ability to turn a high percentage of groundballs into outs.
LF JJ Bleday
2021 Stats (AA): .212/.323/.373, 12 HR, 54 RBI, 101/64 K/BB
The argument could be made that no position player within the Marlins system, other than perhaps Khalil Watson, has a higher upside than Bleday does. There is a reason he was a top-five draft pick just a few years ago; Bleday has a sweet swing, power to all fields, and is a quality athlete. His speed even surprised scouts prior to the draft, and many had given him that classic label of a “five-tool” player. Since the draft, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Bleday looked solid in a limited sample in 2019, and then had his first full season cancelled by the pandemic. He slimmed down a bit heading into 2021, and that seemed to backfire. There was a lack of hard contact, and now more concern about a potential hitch in his swing.
Bleday put some of the angst to rest with a better performance in the Arizona Fall League. It is worth noting, however, that the pitching in that league was not exceptional this year, and many hitters raked. Still, it was good to see Bleday have some success at the plate professionally. He enters this season already twenty-four years old, and should be on the doorstep of the Major Leagues. A great start to the season in AAA will get him there, and he could be an option to play in center field eventually this year (depending on how the Marlins fill out the rest of the roster). He profiles as more of a solid corner outfielder, but has the potential to play an adequate center field as well.
CF Victor Victor Mesa
2021 Stats (A+-AA): .249/.321/.345, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 56/28 K/BB
Mesa was a highly sought after prospect coming out of Cuba due to what was believed to be an MLB ready package; he was already twenty-two at the time of signing. However, he has failed to hit in the minors, which has resulted in his development being stalled. Mesa has the speed to be an above average runner and defender in center field, but has not displayed max effort at all times. This is probably preventing him from being a MLB fourth outfielder as much as his lack of hitting at this point. At the plate, Mesa has a long swing that does not allow him to tap into some of the raw power he has. He does not swing and miss too much, and has a good feel for the barrel, but still puts the ball on the ground with too great of a frequency. Some improvement was clearly made in 2021 at High-A, as Mesa hit a solid .306/.357/.432 (118 wRC+) over 225 PA. However, he immediately struggled when getting promoted to AA, and will need to hit at the upper levels at some point if he wants an MLB callup. The ceiling for Mesa is likely just a fourth outfielder, but even that is starting to feel unlikely for the former top prospect.
RF Peyton Burdick
2021 Stats (AA-AAA): .224/.367/.456, 23 HR, 53 RBI, 146/79 K/BB
A stocky corner outfielder who was not on the draft radar going into his senior year, Burdick tore up the country at Wright State in 2018. The Marlins signed him below slot and he has kept hitting his way through the minors. Making contact is the main concern, as Burdick’s 29.3 K% in AA last year counters his solid .231/.376/.472 line a bit. The power is real, although there is some concern that Burdick will not be able to catch up to big league fastballs due to an open stride. Scouts rave about his makeup, which is always a good sign, and he should be able to provide at least average corner outfield defense. The entire package culminates in a player who has skied up prospect rankings over the past year. There is no doubt that the power is MLB caliber, so Burdick just needs to keep doing what he has been doing. Burdick briefly appeared in AAA at the end of 2021, and should get an extended look in Jacksonville before making his Major League debut.
DH Lorenzo Quintana
RHP Max Meyer
2021 Stats (AA-AAA): 111 IP, 2.27 ERA, 130/42 K/BB, 1.19 WHIP
Meyer attended a cold weather school, which left some scouts skeptical and others dreaming on what he could be. The dreamers seem to be on the right side of history, as Meyer has really developed since being drafted third overall. He was mostly a two-pitch guy in college, after initially starting out as a reliever (had sixteen saves as a freshman at Minnesota). Then the big games started piling up, and Meyer showed the competitor he is on the mound and started reaching triple digits with the fastball. He was fading later in games at first as a starter, but seems to have gotten better with fatigue issues since then. The slider was described by Fangraphs as being the single best pitch in the draft that year, and he has continued to get strikeouts with it in the minors. The command could still use some work, but Meyer is a tough guy on the mound who seems like he will continue to compete.
He was also a decent college hitter, which shows some of his athleticism despite a lack of typical size for a kid who throws this hard. That is a big part of why I am higher on Meyer than many in the industry have been this offseason. Meyer has become a divisive prospect; some experts included him in the top half of their top one hundred, while others did not have him in their lists at all. Typically, quality athleticism is one of the best indicators of being able to develop, so I trust that Meyer can make the necessary adjustments. That, and his clear competitiveness on the mound, make me think that he has the intangibles needed to succeed. Meyer was promoted to AAA right before the season ended, and should get an extended look there prior to making his MLB debut at some point in 2022.
LHP Braxton Garrett
2021 Stats (AAA): 85.2 IP, 3.89 ERA, 86/32 K/BB, 1.23 WHIP
Garrett required Tommy John Surgery almost immediately after being drafted, which delayed his development quite a bit. Still, he has the potential to be a back end starter because of a quality breaking ball, good movement on his third pitch (changeup), and good feel and command for his pitches. The fastball is the most concerning part of the profile; Garrett never has consistently reached the velocity that scouts hoped for him, and was barely averaging 90 mph on the fastball last season. If that could rise back up a few ticks it would make Garrett far more appealing, as it is a pitch right now that is only being used to get ground balls. It does have downward movement, but big leaguers were able to tee off at that low velocity. The slider and changeup are thrown too hard to pair well with that fastball, so adding some velocity would be a huge value driver for Garrett. While he is unlikely to ever live up to the hype that comes with being the seventh overall pick in the draft, Garrett did perform well at Jacksonville last year and should be one of the first calls the Marlins make if they need a spot starter.
RHP Nick Neidert
2021 Stats (AAA): 68.2 IP, 3.67 ERA, 52/21 K/BB, 1.34 WHIP
Neidert once drew a Kyle Hendricks comp from Fangraphs for his plus changeup, excellent command, and not possessing an overpowering fastball. That obviously has more to do with style of pitching, as opposed to Neidert’s ceiling. However, it is a big reason why I am high on Neidert. The way he pitches, showing command of a variety of pitches and an emphasis on getting weak contact, is a joy to watch when done right.
Neidert commands a mid-eighties slider very well to the outside part of the plate against righties, which helps set up the movement of that changeup. The curveball is a slower pitch that does not get used as much but can still be dropped in effectively. Neidert will not miss many bats, but he has the potential to be a back-of-the-rotation starter because of the command and getting a high amount of weak contact. He struggled more than expected with control in a brief cup of coffee in 2021, but it was a very small sample. Neidert should be one of the first guys the Marlins turn to for a spot start in 2022. Like Garrett, he showed enough at AAA last year to get more opportunities in the big leagues.
RHP Cody Poteet
2021 Stats (MLB): 30.2 IP, 4.99 ERA, 32/16 K/BB, 1.34 WHIP
Poteet came back onto the radar in 2021 due to an increase in his strikeout rate, which had plummeted as he advanced through the minors. He then held his own over seven Major League starts, with a 24% K rate. The BB rate was a little bit high, but has been much more reasonable in a larger samples at AAA over the past few years. The UCLA product flashes four pitches, with a high spin curve, good control on the slider, and the changeup being the out pitch. His fastball sits in the low nineties, and tops in the mid nineties. It has less sink on it than it once did, and surprises some hitters. The complete package means that Poteet has a chance to be a back end starter, and the Marlins will probably turn to him for depth at some point next season. He may not be the most exciting option out of this minor league depth, but Poteet showed in his MLB sample last year that he can hold his own when called upon.
RHP Jeff Lindgren
LHP Will Stewart
2021 Stats (AA): 99.2 IP, 4.33 ERA, 85/38 K/BB, 1.34 WHIP
Acquired as one of the main pieces in the JT Realmuto trade, Stewart has not quite pitched well enough to keep moving up the organizational ladder quickly. His fastball has dropped a few ticks since his Phillies days, and his groundball rate has seen the same sort of decrease. Those two things do not mix well for a guy without elite stuff, and the results have shown it. His secondary pitches are not poor, and he does possess a four pitch mix. However, the results are not good enough for this to be a starter profile. At best, Stewart’s path to the Majors is probably as a ground ball producing lefty out of the bullpen. The Marlins left him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft last offseason but there were no takers. That would not indicate the highest level of confidence in Stewart’s chances in the big leagues, but lefties can always stick if they show an ability to get same-handed hitters out.