Josh Simpson (Photo by Pensacola Blue Wahoos)

Due to a rare six-game sweep of the Rocket City Trash Pandas, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos feature prominently in this week’s roundup. However, a few Marlins middle infield prospects putting together their best weeks of the young season are also worthy of our attention.

2B Ian Lewis, A
This Week’s Stats: 10-17, 2 R, 1 SB, 1 2B

Lewis made his 2022 debut this season after getting a late start this spring due to a personal issue at home in the Bahamas. After getting some work in at extended spring training, Lewis picked up right where he left off at the end of last year. The switch-hitting middle infielder showed surprising pop in his professional debut at rookie ball, while making consistent contact and showing off the athleticism that made him a prized international free agent signing. Lewis had nine steals last year in just 43 games in the Florida Complex League, while playing solid defense at second base. He is almost certainly athletic enough to play shortstop, with a strong arm to boot. However, with Jose Salas, Khalil Watson, and Nasim Nunez needing reps at short as well, the smart move was to give Lewis the chance to show his versatility at another infield spot. With the way he has hit, finding Lewis a position in the field is far less important than getting his bat in the lineup every day.

The numbers speak for themselves from Lewis’ debut week in 2022 at Jupiter. He smacked nine singles, and got on base in 61% of his plate appearances. Lewis also only struck out one time, showcasing a hit tool that scouts have always been confident in. While his contact did not result in an abundance of extra base hits this week, the limited Statcast data that we have from Jupiter showed why there should be plenty of optimism for Lewis showcasing more of the power that we saw last year. On Thursday, Lewis ripped a single with a 106.4 mph exit velocity off of a 93 mph fastball. For a nineteen year old who is still getting stronger to showcase an ability to hit the ball that hard is incredibly promising. For context, Billy Hamilton, who has put up over 11 fWAR in his career, has never hit a ball over 107 mph in the big leagues. Hamilton was years older than Lewis when he was hitting the ball even close to that hard, showing that some guys just do not have the bat speed and strength to hit the ball hard enough to be quality big league hitters. Lewis seems to already possess that tool, which combined with his elite speed, makes him one of the best prospects in the Marlins entire system.

LHP Josh Simpson, AA
This Week’s Stats: 4.0 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 5/1 K/BB

Trying to find a more dominant relief pitcher than Josh Simpson, at any level of baseball, would be a waste of time. Simpson has thrown 17.2 innings this season; he has yet to allow a run. Simpson has gotten 53 outs; 32 of them have come via strikeout. He has only allowed five fly balls all season. Needless to say, none of them have turned into home runs. 62 batters have come to the plate against Simpson this season; the majority of them have struck out. These statistics of pure dominance could continue to be listed, but the point has been proven: nobody has been able to hit Josh Simpson with any success this year.

This week was not even one of Simpson’s most dominant. His five strikeouts in four innings actually brought his K% down for the season, which further shows how dominant he has been. With a low arm slot and a fastball that sits in the mid-nineties, Simpson has basically done whatever he desires against hitters. His breaking ball plays well off of the fastball low in the zone, and both pitches seem to generate a lot of weak contact on balls that are chopped right into the ground. From simply watching Simpson’s delivery, it is evident just how uncomfortable left handed hitters must be against him. The ball seems to disappear behind his back before it is finally released, and then it gets on hitters quickly. Still, right handers have not had any more luck against Simpson than lefties. His third pitch, a changeup, seems to work well in these situations, but Simpson still leans on the fastball-curveball combo. With the way he has pitched, it is fair to say that Josh Simpson has done literally everything possible to be deserving of a promotion to Jacksonville.

RHP Eli Villalobos, AA
This Week’s Stats: 3.0 IP, 1 R, 1 H, 8/1 K/BB

Picking a dominant reliever in the Blue Wahoos Bullpen is an easy task, as so many of them are worthy of recognition. Simpson, Andrew Nardi, Colton Hock, Jeffry Yan, and Anthony Maldonado have combined to form a dominant unit. Eli Villalobos has been another valuable contributor to Pensacola, a team that is fresh off of a rare and impressive six game sweep of the Rocket City Trash Pandas. The Blue Wahoos are now in first place in the Southern League South Division, with an 18-15 record and +15 run differential. Not only is this team talented, but just from watching them one can see the way they seem to get along well and enjoy winning together. On Sunday, Villalobos contributed a scoreless seventh inning in a wild game that featured a rain delay and a four run comeback in the bottom of the ninth inning which culminated in a Pensacola victory.

Villalobos, a 14th round pick in 2018 out of Long Beach State, had some hiccups to start his minor league career. The Marlins tried to stretch him out a bit as a starter in 2019, but that was met with limited success. Villalobos had been a reliever in college, and he has been dominant in that role this year. It was last year that Villalobos began to really put things together. With 72 strikeouts in 44 innings, Villalobos showcased the potential he had as a reliever and is now firmly on the radar as a future big league relief pitcher. Like Simpson, Villalobos is a three-pitch guy, with a fastball, slider, and changeup. He has had reverse platoon splits this season, as lefties have not touched him. That shows the effectiveness of the off speed pitches, which he is not afraid to throw in any count. In the seventh inning of Sunday’s crazy game, Villalobos showed this ability to utilize his off speed pitches in an at bat against Rocket City’s Torri Hunter Jr. He started him with two breaking balls down and away, with Hunter whiffing on both. Villalobos finished him off with a high fastball up in zone, producing another swing and miss. There have been many at bats just like that this season for Villalobos, who has a very clean delivery for a guy who was primarily a catcher only five years ago. If the Marlins are looking for a guy who has gotten better each year as a pitcher, than look no further than Eli Villalobos.

OF/1B Jerar Encarnacion, AA
This Week’s Stats: 10-19, 2 HR, 5 R, 5 RBI

Charles Leblanc and Jerar Encarnacion have had a great competition going when it comes to getting recognition in these weekly roundups. Both hitters have done nothing but rake at their respective levels, but this week belonged to Encarnacion. His OPS now stands at 1.010 for the season, with a 169 wRC+ that is just one point shy of Leblanc’s for the lead amongst all Marlins minor league hitters. Encarnacion is just one home run shy of his own total from last season, in roughly half of the plate appearances. Going into this year, the book on Encarnacion was always that he was a freak athlete who could hit the ball as far as anybody in the organization. However, his lack of pitch recognition and an uncertain future defensively made Encarnacion more of a middle of the road prospect. In 2022, by quieting his doubters at the plate, Encarnacion is firmly back on the radar as a potential big leaguer.

To be clear, the defensive question marks and limitations still exist. On Sunday, Encarnacion completely overran a foul ball pop up while playing first base, resulting in Eli Villalobos essentially needing to get an extra out in the seventh inning. Encarnacion does have a plus arm, which leads me to believe that if he is going to find a home in the field it will have to be in right field. With such a large frame, however, it is not easy to see Encarnacion having the necessary range to play the position in the big leagues. However, all the talk about defense is irrelevant if Encarnacion continues to progress like that at the plate. His K% of 25.7% is well below last year’s 38.1%, as Encarnacion has made more contact with more experience at AA. He is posting a high line drive rate, and hitting the ball to all fields, leading to a remarkably high BABIP of .449. That will not be sustainable, but the process leading to that high BABIP is far more important. Encarnacion is squaring the ball up consistently and hitting it hard, while also getting lift more often to hit the ball out of the ball park. We always knew that he had big raw power, but seeing it in games was essential this year for Encarnacion.

Right as this post was being finalized, the news came in that Encarnacion would reportedly be promoted to AAA Jacksonville later this week. Due to just how thoroughly Encarnacion has dominated pitching at AA this season, it is understandable that the Marlins front office would like to see him get more of a challenge. Considering the swing and miss risk inherent in Encarnacion’s profile, it is fair to assume he will get a long look at Jacksonville before hopefully contributing to the big league club.

2B Cody Morissette, A+
This Week’s Stats: 6-21, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 R, 1 SB

With players that come from the Northeast, it is not uncommon to see a slow start to professional ball. The lack of reps that come from not being able to play year round puts many of these players at a disadvantage compared to their warm weather peers. Cody Morissette, a two-time All-American at Boston College and a New Hampshire native, would certainly not use that as an excuse for his limited success in the lower levels to this point. Still, as we now are in the midst of the second month of the season, Morissette’s bat is coming alive at the right time. A second round pick in last year’s draft, the hit tool was Morisette’s calling card. He has an all fields approach that should result in high batting averages eventually, with a sweet swing from the left side of the plate.

When analyzing Morissette’s batted ball data this year compared to last year, the increase in his fly ball rate stands out. Morissette was known as a guy who hit a lot of grounders, in part because his lack of raw power makes him better equipped for that time of profile. However, the power is starting to come with his ability to lift the ball more. Morissette has four home runs so far this season, compared to only one last year in A ball. His strikeout and walk numbers both remain acceptable, so he has not had to sacrifice contact to hit for some power. This could be a good sign for Morissette’s ceiling, if nothing else, as he is better utilizing the bit of loft in his swing. The load depth of his hands remains pretty high, so it is impressive that Morissette is figuring out ways to pull the ball with authority more often. Despite the slow start, he is now at about a league average hitter (96 wRC+) rate for High-A Beloit. All the signs are pointing up for Cody Morissette as he continues to figure out ways to get to more power.

RHP George Soriano, AA
This Week’s Stats: 6.0 IP, 1 R, 4 H, 8/1 K/BB

George Soriano’s path to get to the point of being a prized Marlins prospect has not been an easy or linear one. The big Dominican righty made his professional debut in 2016, missed the entirety of 2017 due to injury, and then had to deal with the missed 2020 season due to the pandemic. Through it all, Soriano has pitched well at the lower levels of the minors and gotten better as he has gotten older and stronger. Still, Soriano turned twenty-three years old in March, so he is not necessarily behind in his development. At that age, it is impressive to be matching up well with AA hitters, as Soriano has to this point in the year.

Soriano faced Rocket City on Tuesday, who came into the game having won five out of six games. This makes the Blue Wahoos sweep even more impressive, but Soriano got the week started the right way with a great start. His greatest weakness right now may be a lack of consistent command, but that was not the case on Tuesday. Soriano located the fastball well to both sides of the plate, and got a lot of weak contact off of the pitch. He also only walked one batter in the game, in part because his off speed pitches were getting plenty of chases. The slider generated several strikeouts, and Soriano’s changeup has improved as well. His fastball is sitting in the mid-to-low nineties, but with his frame scouts expect that there could be more to come still. For a guy who was left unprotected by the Marlins over the offseason by not being placed on the 40 man roster, it seems like his stock should be on the rise and that the organization should be valuing his potential more going forward. If Soriano can continue to develop his changeup, there is certainly a chance that he could remain a starter going forward.

Next Up (5/17-5/22)

  • AAA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp vs Durham
  • AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos at Montgomery
  • A+ Beloit Sky Carp vs Peoria
  • A Jupiter Hammerheads at Lakeland

Marlins Links

  • Blue Wahoos’ catcher Paul McIntosh spoke with Alex and Daniel on Swimming Upstream about his growth in the game, his ability to immediately produce at the pro level, the catching craft and more
  • Alex joined Peter Pratt on Locked On Marlins to talk about the Marlins’ recent roster decisions and to highlight some standout minor league performers
  • On The Offishal Show, Ely Sussman points out how important it will be for Marlins’ depth players to step up
  • MLB.com‘s Christina De Nicola reports on how the Marlins’ big bats are heating up in May
  • On the Man On 2nd Baseball podcast, Joe Frisaro and David Fernandez discussed when we might see JJ Bleday get his big league call