Troy Johnston (Photo by Pensacola Blue Wahoos)

Due to some issues with COVID, and general business at this time of year, we are a bit behind on our weekly roundups. However, we are back this week with a general breakdown of how the last month went down, and prospects to continue watching as the season heads into the dog days of summer.

RHP Jeff Brigham, AAA

The Last Month’s Stats: 11.1 IP, 5 R, 7 H, 24/10 BB

Marlins fans have been put through the ringer while watching the career of Jeff Brigham play out. Originally drafted by the Dodgers back in 2014, Brigham was part of the return that sent Mat Latos to Los Angeles at the 2015 trade deadline. Since then, the right hander has pitched in parts of three seasons in the big leagues, with mixed success. Brigham was removed from the 40-man roster this offseason after not pitching in 2021 due to injury. The Marlins were willing to give him another shot at AAA though, and he has looked beyond encouraging in a bullpen role in Jacksonville. In 26.1 innings this season, Brigham has struck out 43 batters. That 37.1 K% is the best amongst all Jumbo Shrimp pitchers, and it has made Brigham the premier reliver on the team.

Brigham was a starter for much of his amateur career, and the benefits of that can be seen in the way he has pitched this year. Brigham has pitched multiple innings in eight of his sixteen appearances this year, and all but two of his appearances in May were at least two innings long. That kind of versatility could make him a valuable swing man in the Majors, if Brigham continues to pitch the way that he has. While he did turn thirty years old in February, Brigham still seems to be able to maintain a high velocity out of the bullpen. Like many pitchers, Brigham may have less trouble throwing harder in the bullpen because he is able to put more effort into each pitch, rather than pacing himself throughout a long start. His slider has been the out pitch this season, and has given hitters plenty of trouble. Brigham has been mostly a two-pitch guy for a while now, so there should be no concerns about his ability to pitch well over multiple innings. He seems to be comfortable with his repertoire, and the results are really starting to show up.

Brigham did have a rough first week of June, with a couple of homers given up across two appearances. Still, the strikeouts continue to come, making Brigham an enticing potential piece of the big league bullpen. He has walked far too many batters, especially recently, but the swing and miss stuff continues to show up. Brigham is giving up less than one hit per inning, so if he can harness his control then the WHIP and ERA will tumble down as a result. AAA is the place for these veteran pitchers to figure things out, and it certainly seems like Brigham is on the verge of doing just that.

C Joe Mack, A

The Last Month’s Stats: 4-13, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 R, 3/3 K/BB

For a nineteen year old hitter from the Northeast, expectations are typically not too high. Joe Mack was the thirty-first overall pick in last years amateur draft, and he has done nothing but raise expectations in his brief professional debut. The lefty swinging catcher has shown power and impressive plate discipline. While it has been a small sample of just 91 total plate appearances, Mack has a ridiculous 25.2% walk rate. Coming out of the draft, Mack was known as a guy who may struggle to make contact immediately due to his lack of experience and young background. However, he had a decent future projected hit tool, with plus raw power. That has proven to be the case in Mack’s brief professional career, as the strikeouts have been a bit high. Mack has shown a much more professional approach at the plate than could have been expected. Having that solid baseline of performance should raise Mack’s floor significantly, especially considering how depressed the catching position is offensively.

Mack’s value as a prospect would be significantly dampened if he was not also a superb defensive catcher. His athleticism contributes a lot to his success behind the plate, as he has a quick pop time and a strong arm. That should help Mack stay at the position long term. The one area of his game that could use improvement defensively is framing, but Mack is several years away from being ready to contribute to the big league team. By then, an automated strike zone may be the reality, so Mack’s receiving improvements may not be as vital as it may have seemed if he was in this situation a few years ago. Ultimately, Mack’s bat will determine his future. The home run he hit last week, in his 2022 debut, was hit at 100 mph with a forty degree launch angle. That is an encouraging sign from Mack, as he still has plenty of room to add strength to his frame. Having that baseline exit velocity in the triple digits makes Mack an exciting prospect, and another enticing hitter to watch in the Jupiter lineup.

While Mack did get off to an impressive start, he unfortunately went back on the injured list following his first full week of action. Getting Mack back on the field in Jupiter, to showcase more of his power and improved contact, should be a top priority for the Marlins at the minor league level. Considering his age and background, Mack has one of the highest ceilings in the system as a catcher with the potential to be an above average hitter. Getting in-game reps should be the best way for him to realize that potential.

2B Cody Morissette, A+

The Last Month’s Stats: 23-93 , 11 2B, 4 HR, 19 RBI

For the second straight roundup, Cody Morissette is deserving of a shoutout. Like most Beloit hitters (including the next guy in this roundup), Morissette had gotten off to a slow start to the season. The cold weather undoubtedly contributes to the unfriendly hitting environment of the Midwest League, in April especially. That seems like it may have applied even more to Morissette than others, considering the shift in his batted ball profile. Morissette’s fly ball rate is way up, as he seems to have made the adjustments necessary to try to utilize more of his raw power. Cold weather and windy conditions can knock down a lot of fly balls early in the season, as we see often. Morisette was primarily known as a contact hitter in college, with long hitting streaks at Boston College. Still, he has quality bat speed and certainly had some power that was not being tapped into in games. Seeing Morissette making that adjustment successfully in games has been vitally important, and now the hits are starting to come with warmer weather.

Following Morissette’s slow start, his wRC+ was still just 96 by about hte middle of May. He was beginning to heat up, but had still only been about a league average hitter in the Midwest League. The past couple week’s success has brought that wRC+ up to an above average 119. Morissette’s batting line for the season now stands at .243/.332/.446, with a reasonable strikeout rate and a high walk rate. That batting line may not be gaudy, but in the pitcher friendly Midwest League it is more than enough to be a prized hitter. His BABIP on the season still stands at just .281, which is not insanely low for a guy hitting the ball in the air so often. Still, it seems like there may be some room for improvement there, considering Morissette is frequently hitting the ball hard and he has the speed to beat out ground balls. His six home runs are five more than he had in all of last season, in just twelve more plate appearances. Morissette has one of the most fluid swings in the Marlins system, and he should rise up prospect rankings if he keeps translating that to on field success.

1B Troy Johnston, AA

The Last Month’s Stats: 33-75, 7 2B, 4 HR, 19 RBI

Troy Johnston was one of the best hitters in the entirety of the Marlins minor league system a year ago. The Gonzaga product displayed power, batting average, and an ability to get on base. Johnston was universally lauded by those in the organization for his work ethic and makeup. He is one of those guys that everyone seems to be rooting for, but that did not translate into success early in this season. Once again at Pensacola, Johnston had just one home run this season and a 77 wRC+ two weeks ago. He had not been an above average hitter, in a Wahoos lineup that has been full of them. However, things finally seem to be turning around for the left handed first baseman, as Johnston has done nothing but rack up hits over the past few weeks.

Nothing appears to be overly concerning in the batted ball data that is available for Johnston this season. He is hitting a similar amount of fly balls and line drives as last season, while not putting the ball on the ground more often. His walk rate has come down a bit, but Johnston has not struck out any more often. The most notable difference from this year’s performance compared to last season’s is what Johnston’s fly balls are turning into. 14.0% of Johnston’s fly balls turned into home runs last season, while just 2.3% of his fly balls this season had turned into long balls up until two weeks ago. Since then, Johnston has seen positive regression with three more home runs clearing the yard. That number can be a bit fluky, and Johnston has enough pop to hit balls out of the park more often. He is still pulling the ball at a similar rate, and has power to all fields. Instead of hitting homers this year, though, Johnston’s in-field fly ball rate is way up. If he can continue to level off the pop ups, and start driving the ball a bit more regularly, than Johnston will be just fine.

Johnston certainly seemed to simplify things at the plate over the past few weeks. While going through those early season struggles, he seemed to be experimenting with all sorts of ideas at the plate. Johnston was using a noticeable toe tap with his lead foot, and his stance was fairly narrow. Since then, he has opened up, put the bat further back on his shoulder, and limited the toe tap. These changes have seemed to serve as a way for Johnston to make things easier at the plate, and just concentrate on hitting the ball hard. Over the past month, that is all that he has been doing.

RHP Edward Cabrera, AAA

The Last Month’s Stats (just AAA): 14.2 IP, 10 ER, 15 H, 24/7 K/BB

With the way Max Meyer and Eury Perez have dominated the opposition this year, Edward Cabrera has managed to fly under the radar. Undoubtedly, his slow ramp up did not help, as Cabrera did not appear in a game until the end of Spring Training. He then started in Jupiter, before working making his way up to Jacksonville. This is now the second straight season where Cabrera has had to endure a biceps injury, so it is understandable that it took him some time to get right. After watching all of Cabrera’s MLB starts from last year, it is clear that his stuff this year has gotten even nastier, which is incredibly impressive considering all of the injuries that he has gone through.

Cabrera’s velocity appears to be back to where it was last season. That was never much of a concern, but his fastball is consistently sitting in the high nineties again while frequently hitting triple digits. Despite the elite velocity, his fastball is not a dominant pitch and is instead geared towards producing weak groundball contact. The swing-and-miss stuff that makes Cabrera an elite prospect comes from the breaking ball and changeup. The changeup arguably became Cabrera’s best pitch last season, but he struggled to locate it in his Major League cup of coffee which resulted in a lot of hard contact. This season, he seems to have much better command of the pitch and it still has some filthy movement. Again, it will all come down to how well Cabrera can locate the pitch when he is inevitably called up to the big leagues for the second time.

Against Durham on May 20th, Cabrera continued to looked comfortable with all three off speed pitches than he did at any point last year in the majors. He is never afraid to throw his slowest pitch, a low-eighties curveball, in any count. It is often effective as a first pitch strike, as hitters continue to not really expect it. His slider has more bite to it, and almost looks more like a cutter, but did not seem to be used as frequently as the curve. The changeup seemed to be his out pitch in many two strike counts, which shows an increasing comfort level with a pitch that he has been inconsistent with in the past. Ultimately, Cabrera seemed very comfortable using his fastball against the Bulls, and was able to locate it well. Command was his biggest problem last season in the Majors, despite not being a major concern to that point in his career. Cabrera deserves a lot of credit for the way he seems to be fine tuning things right now, and working through any potential command or injury issues that arise. After seeing the way his stuff looked in his last few starts at Jacksonville, even while getting hit a bit, I am not surprised that he pitched so well in his season debut against the Rockies last week. There is plenty more in the tank for this thrilling, tall right hander.

Next Up (6-6/6/11)

AAA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp vs Gwinnett

AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos at Birmingham

A+ Beloit Sky Carp vs Wisconsin

A Jupiter Hammerheads vs St. Lucie