JJ Bleday (Photo by Steve Meadows/JAcksonville Jumbo Shrimp)

In this week’s roundup, a few players are deserving of repeat mentions after continued stellar performance. On the other side of things are a few unheralded prospects, worthy of your attention, who both put up noteworthy pitching performances at the lower levels.

RHP Luarbert Arias, A

This Week’s Stats: 4.0 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 8/0 K/BB

Luarbert Arias is quietly emerging as an exciting find for the Marlins this year in Jupiter. The Venezuelan right hander was signed by the Padres in 2017 as an international free agent. He pitched well in his first few professional seasons, while typically starting games but not throwing more than a few innings at a time. However, missing the 2020 season due to the pandemic may have taken a tole on the development of Arias. In his 2021 preview of the Padres minor league system, Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen noted that Arias, “throws a ton of strikes.” While not a hard thrower with a wipeout breaking ball, Arias was known as a guy who could get outs quickly and a surprising amount of swings and misses. That went away in 2021, when Arias was working out of the bullpen and struggled towards a 15% walk rate. San Diego waved Arias in December, after that tumultuous season, and the Marlins quickly pounced.

Arias is now twenty one years old, and has yet to pitch above the A level. His BB% this season remains in the double digits, a troubling trend for any pitcher at any level. However, slight improvements have been seen in recent weeks. Since the start of May, Arias has walked four batters over 15.1 innings. In that span, he has struck out twenty one opponents. After an April in which he struggled to find his control, Arias has become a reliable and trusted member of the Hammerheads bullpen. Against the St. Lucie Mets on Thursday, Arias was about as perfect as it gets. He faced six batters, and struck out all of them. Moreover, five of those K’s were of the swinging variety. His fastball, sitting around 92-93 during the outing, was paired well with the slider, in the low 80’s, that got many swings and misses. Arias’ fastball-changeup combo had led to his success in the past, but he seems to be utilizing the slider more this year out of the bullpen. He posted two more scoreless innings on Sunday, with just one hit and no walks allowed. The Marlins pitching development pipeline seems to have worked wonders on Arias, who was available on waivers just six months ago. This is the sort of find that provides crucial depth in an organization, as Arias is a far more interesting arm than he seemed like a year ago at this time.

OF JJ Bleday, AAA

This Week’s Stats: 4-16, 3 HR, 1 2B, 6/6 K/BB

We have written about JJ Bleday a few times in these roundups so far this year, but it is hard to understate his importance to the Marlins organization. This offseason, there was no denying that Bleday’s stock had dipped quite a bit since he was initially drafted in 2019 out of Vanderbilt. 2021 saw Bleday’s power greatly diminished, which is a huge concern for a hitter with such extreme fly ball tendencies. Without elite power, there is little benefit to hitting the ball in the air so often. After an improved Arizona Fall League performance, and putting on some strength over the winter, Bleday is firmly back on the prospect radar. His inclination to hit the ball in the air has become even more extreme; Bleday’s ground ball rate of 25.8% is comically low. Perhaps due to the added strength, however, Bleday is managing to maximize the potential of those fly balls more often. His thirteen home runs at Jacksonville this season already eclipse the twelve he hit last season, in almost exactly half the plate appearances.

That is not to say Bleday becoming a more productive hitter has been without it’s hiccups. His K% is hovering around that ever dangerous 30% mark, and has remained around there throughout the season. For a player lauded for his tool coming out of the draft, that is of some concern. Still, I think the benefit of the doubt should be given to Bleday; he made some mechanical change this winter, including lowering his hands, that could plausibly result in some transition time needed before the contact rate can stabilize.

Bleday is such a natural hitter with a great feel at the plate when things are going right, that any worries about his K% may be premature due to the small sample size. More impressive is his high BB%, which is in line with some prime Carlos Santana seasons at the moment. Any hitter who can get on base that often has a high ceiling, which is how Bleday should start being viewed. He may not have the hit-power combo that fans dreamed on coming out of Vanderbilt, but he should be a productive hitter at any level due to his approach. Bleday currently is sitting with a 126 wRC+ and a .370 OBP for Jacksonville, and has been their most consistent hitter over the past month or two. The Marlins may give him some more time to get comfortable with the mechanical changes, but I think he will be a productive big league hitter whenever that time comes.

C Paul McIntosh, AA

This Week’s Stats: 7-15, 1 HR, 3 2B, 7 RBI, 2/3 K/BB

No hitter in the Marlins system improved his stock to begin the season more than Paul McIntosh did in April. McIntosh finished the month hitting .316/.435/.544, and threw in five stolen bases just for good measure. Every night seemed like a multi-hit game for the catcher, who was also walking and limiting his strikeouts. Naturally, every hitter (not named Mike Trout or Juan Soto) is going to come down from that sort of high after a while, and McIntosh’s May was certainly more humble. Still, he hit three homeruns and produced a .754 OPS, which is far from anything to be ashamed of. The month of June has seen more of a return to those early season numbers, though. In just seven games this month, McIntosh is slashing .435/.594/.870, with nine walks against three strikeouts. While that has clearly come in a small sample size, anybody who is doubting that Paul McIntosh can hit at this point probably has not been paying attention.

It remains hard to believe that McIntosh went undrafted as a college hitter. He was taken late in the 2018 draft by the Angels, coming out of high school, but chose to attend West Virginia University instead. McIntosh was a productive college player, but he has shown more offensive ability in his minor league appearances with the Marlins. While catching the majority of Pensacola’s games this season, McIntosh has put up a cumulative 151 wRC+ with seven home runs and nine stolen bases. That amount of steals is not common for any catcher, and McIntosh does have a pretty big frame. Still, it shows just how exceptional of an athlete that he is, as he is able to impact the game offensively, defensively, and on the base paths.

The Statcast data that is available from McIntosh’s 2021 with Jupiter even indicates that he was consistently posting exit velocities over 110 mph. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos’ Twitter account confirmed as much in the video you see above. Having that baseline ability to hit the ball hard indicates major league caliber bat speed, so it is no fluke that he is performing well at every level the Marlins have brought him through to this point. While this has been a bit of an up-and-down start for the Wahoos’ catcher, there is a reason that McIntosh has quickly emerged as cult favorite amongst Marlins fans who are monitoring the Marlins minor league system: finding catchers who can hit like Paul McIntosh is just not that easy to do.

LHP Pat Monteverde, A+

This Week’s Stats: 6.0 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 6/3 K/BB

Much like McIntosh, Pat Monteverde was a late find in the 2021 Draft process with the potential to reap rewards. While McIntosh went completely undrafted, Monteverde was selected in the eighth round out of Texas Tech. He transferred there for his final year of eligibility following three seasons with Seton Hall, and put up a complete performance after missing time in previous years. Monteverde posted an impressive 22% K-BB ratio, as he demonstrated impressive control with swing and miss ability in a major conference. Transitioning from a Northeastern school is no easy task, so Monteverde deserved a lot of credit for the job he did in boosting his stock. Making it all the way up to the eighth round, Monteverde entered the draft as an older prospect (he is almost 25 years old already) with a refined repertoire and plus command.

Through almost a season’s worth of games, it is fair to say that Monteverde is living up to that scouting report. I am continuously impressed at his ability to miss bats, despite lacking high velocity or filthy off-speed pitches. The fastball serves more as a sinker, but has not gotten as many ground balls as one might expect. Instead, it seems to fool hitters quite a bit, to the point of swinging and missing, when paired with his quality slider and changeup. The changeup helps Monteverde neutralize right handed batters very well; they have hit just .183 against him this season with 32 strikeouts in 29.2 innings pitched. Lefties have hit Monteverde considerably harder, but there is a certain amount of deception that is helping Monteverde succeed in unusual spots.

The Marlins have utilized him as a starter all season at Beloit, but I wonder if these reserve splits could lead Monteverde into a relief role by the end of the year. That fastball-changeup combo could serve as an effective weapon to neutralize opposite handed hitters at any level, while an improvement in the slider would make it more difficult for lefties to hit him as well. He mowed down the Wisconsin lineup with ease last week in a 2-0 Beloit victory, and he has been the team’s most reliable starter along with MD Johnson. Still, if a path for the big leagues exists for Monteverde, I would not be surprised if it comes in a swing-man role out of the bullpen as opposed to starting.

SS Jose Salas, A

This Week’s Stats: 8-24, 3 2B,1 3B, 1 SB, 4/3 K/BB

Salas turned nineteen years old just over a month ago, so patience is the key word when it comes to monitoring his development. Still, there have been gradual improvements in recent weeks that are encouraging for the long term development of one of the Marlins’ best prospects. Salas has about as high of a ceiling as any position player in the system, other than his teammate Khalil Watson probably. This is due to plus raw power, foot speed, and an ability to be an adequate defender at several premium positions. Coming into the season, a few things that the experts at MLB Pipeline, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, hoped to see was a less pull happy approach, fewer groundballs, and a more patient approach at the plate. For the most part, Salas has made improvements in all three of those categories.

Starting with the groundball rate, nobody should be too disappointed to see Salsas put the ball on the ground a decent amount. While he has plus raw power, with the potential to get to far more as he gets older and stronger, Salas has enough speed to the point where he can post a high BABIP even while hitting balls on the ground. While his GB% eclipsed 50% last year, it is down to a more reasonable 41% at the moment. More importantly, Salas is hitting far more line drives, which is the right path towards barreling up more balls. He has been pulling balls at about the same rate, but the increase in line drives makes this a bit less of an issue. Moreover, considering Salas’ speed, it is hard to imagine huge shifts being used against him with the threat of the bunt existing. Finally, while we lack the data to see how often Salas is chasing pitches at Jupiter, he has posted a solid walk rate of 9% and is not striking out too often. His hit tool is not considered a major plus, so keeping that K-rate low and consistently making contact is vital.

Perhaps most important to the value of Salas is his future as a switch hitter. Scouts had expressed concerns with his swing from the right handed side, but he has actually performed better from that side this season. Admittedly, we are not talking about huge sample sizes, but his .849 OPS from the right side far exceeds the .674 OPS from the left. Salas has hit one home run from both sides of the plate. So, while the lefty swing may be more dependable and mechanically sound, Salas is at least seeing results from the other side of the plate as well. With a 109 wRC+ and 11 SB added into the profile, Salas is trending towards a successful first full season at Jupiter.

Up Next (6/14-6/19)

  • AAA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (32-28) at Charlotte (23-37)
  • AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos (28-24) vs Tennessee (32-25)
  • A+ Beloit Sky Carp (25-31) at Lake County (30-26)
  • A Jupiter Hammerheads (29-26) vs Dunedin (25-32)