Ryan Lavarnway (Photo by USA Today)

Fresh off a sweep of the Washington Nationals, things are beginning to look up again for the Marlins. Some quality pitching performances from top prospects at the lower levels should extend that optimism for Miami fans, as the second half of the season continues in the minors.

RHP Max Meyer, AAA

This Week’s Stats: 9.2 IP (2 GS), 1 R, 4 H, 9/1 K/BB

Prior to being sidelined with right ulnar nerve irritation, Max Meyer had been experiencing his first difficulties of the 2022 season. This forearm injury may have contributed to Meyer’s struggles, as he gave up fourteen runs in his two starts before landing on the injured list. Meyer had exactly a month off between outings, and he has looked much better since his return to action. Since coming back from the injury, Meyer has a 14/1 K/BB ratio through three starts and has given up just two runs. He has been the electric pitcher that fans were getting excited about in April, and is again knocking on the door of the big leagues.

Perhaps the best sign that Meyer has shown over the past few starts has been improved command. After walking close to 10% of the batters he faced last year in Pensacola, Meyer has lowered that walk rate a few ticks this season. He seems to be a bit more consistent with his delivery, which has helped him throw pitches exactly where he wants them. Meyer’s changeup continues to need work to avoid leaving it in dangerous spots, but it is clearly becoming more of a weapon against left handed hitters because of the way it tunnels with his fastball. The changeup is not the out pitch that his slider is, but Meyer can still get some uncomfortable looking swings on it when the pitch is well executed.

Meyer got a few strikeouts on the changeup in his win versus Memphis on Sunday, and was featuring it frequently against lefties. Meyer’s fastball continues to be an effective, ground ball generating pitch, although his velocity has not yet returned to the upper nineties consistently. His velocity was down right before he went on the injured list, so the forearm injury could have led to a slight decrease in miles per hour. Still, it is worth monitoring as Meyer continues to pitch his way closer to the Major Leagues with each successful start.

OF Osiris Johnson, A

This Week’s Stats: 8-20, 1 HR, 2 2B, 1 SB

Osiris Johnson has developed a bit slower than many may have hoped. However, it is important to keep in mind that the former second round pick is still only twenty one years old. If he had decided to play college baseball instead of signing with the Marlins, Johnson could be eligible for the upcoming draft. So, while Johnson is still trying to find his footing in Jupiter, it is important just to see his tools starting to translate to on-field success. That was the case this past week, as the quick Johnson showed some extra base power against St. Lucie.

Johnson’s development was further hindered by a tibia injury; he had fewer than 200 career professional plate appearances prior to missing the 2020 season due to the pandemic. Finally back seeing live pitching last year, Johnson struggled with an overly aggressive approach. While his right handed swing is smooth through the zone, Johnson tended to make poor swing choices that limited how often he was maximizing his contact.

Johnson drew the unenviable task of batting leadoff against the Mets’ Jacob DeGrom in his rehab start on Sunday afternoon. Johnson struck out against the Cy Young Award winning right hander, but that did not sour his performance for the rest of the week. He has shown plus bat speed throughout his minor league career; this spring Johnson hit a home run with a 103 mph exit velocity. That is a trait that can continue progressing as Johnson matures and gets stronger, but it is vitally important that he already possesses such a talent. Johnson still needs to work on his approach and get on base more, but he is also making more contact than he was a year ago. I would be surprised if Miami moves him up to Beloit anytime soon, but Osiris Johnson is showing some encouraging signs in recent weeks.

C Ryan Lavarnway, AAA

This Week’s Stats: 4-16, 2 HR, 1 2B, 4 RBI

I will admit that I was a bit excited when the Marlins acquired Ryan Lavarnway a few weeks ago from the Tigers, in exchange for cash considerations. With Payton Henry still on the minor league injured list, Jacksonville needed another catcher for depth, so the move made sense. Lavarnway has been around for a long time, and I can remember his days as a top prospect in the Boston Red Sox system. Lavarnway came up to the Majors in 2011 to some fanfare, and almost saved the Red Sox from a late season collapse with a few timely homers.

Lavarnway never panned out for Boston, or in the big leagues in general unfortunately. His career line of .217/.272/.345 is not out of place for a backup catcher, but his defense behind the plate has never been of a high enough quality to latch on to a team. Lavarnway is the perfect example of the “Quadruple A” hitter as a guy who can hit AAA pitching consistently well, but struggles against major leaguers. With a .274/.366/.457 career minor league batting line, Lavarnway has never struggled to produce at the lower levels. He has also belted 141 minor league homers and 213 doubles.

Lavarnway put a few of those homers onto his career line this week against Memphis. With a swing generated to do pull side damage through elevation, Lavarnway crushed a 443 foot homer on Friday night. He does not hit for the same kind of power that he did as a younger top prospect. Lavarnway hit 32 homers in 2011 between two levels (not including the two he hit in Boston), but has not come close to matching that total since then. Still, it was great to see this kind of power this week, to show that Lavarnway is still capable of adding to his rΓ©sumΓ© as one of the best minor league players of the past decade. The leadership he can provide for some of the Marlins young hitters should go a long way.

RHP Eury Perez, AA

This Week’s Stats: 5.0 IP, 1 R, 4 H, 8/3 K/BB

Eury Perez belongs to the Zach King and MD Johnson Club of guys who could be included in these roundups pretty much every week. Perez has been similarly dominant as those two Beloit pitchers, but he has done it a bit differently. As a guy who just turned nineteen years old to pitch this well at an upper level of the minor leagues, a spot in this list really could be guaranteed. The Marlins have been careful about Perez pitching too many innings at such a young age, but that has not limited his value to the Blue Wahoos this year. Manager Kevin “Smoke” Randel told us in April that Perez would be limited to about seventy five pitches per start, and that has largely proven to be the case.

Perez has not thrown more than eighty four pitches in any given start, and has also yet to give up more than three earned runs in a start this year. With a 77/14 K/BB ratio through fifty six innings now, Perez has been everything Marlins fans could have possibly hoped for before entering the year. The numbers do not do Eury Perez justice though, as his composure and Major League quality stuff have been more of the story.

Fangraphs, who now rates Perez among the top pitching prospects in the game, gave Eury a 70 future grade on his command. They already have a 50 on his current command, meaning that they think he already has big league average command. That is an incredible accomplishment for a nineteen year old, an age where most guys are just being drafted or are beginning their college careers. While he did walk three batters in his start last week, Perez still has a 6.3% BB rate on the season. That figure is solid for a starter at any level, and is a testament to how comfortable he is with a four pitch arsenal. As long as he keeps pitching like this, Eury Perez will be on the top of many prospects list going into 2023.

RHP Evan Fitterer, A+

This Week’s Stats: 6.0 IP, 2 R, 5 H, 5/2 K/BB

It has been a rocky year to this point for Evan Fitterer, a prospect who I was hoping to see more out of this year. His strikeout rate sits at a below average 17.2%, while a double digit walk rate has contributed to a high ERA. Fitterer intrigues me as a prospect due to two plus off speed pitches that contribute to a plethora of ground balls. Pitchers with that background have had success out of the bullpen for big league teams in swing roles, as they tend to effectively give hitters a different look compared to a fastball heavy starter. Fitterer has not had the necessary command to utilize that sort of repertoire this year though.

Fitterer continues to sit in the low nineties with his fastball, which also has a lot of movement. The pitch seems to cut more than anything else, and can be deceptive at times against hitters. Unfortunately, his delivery has not been consistent enough to deliver the pitch where he always wants to. Against South Bend last week, Fitterer did seem to clean things up a bit and put together one of his better performances of the season as a result.

With only two walks, he now has five walks total over his last eighteen innings. That is nothing special, but is a step in the right direction. Over that same stretch, however, Fitterer has only eleven strikeouts. He needs to put the two together to locate pitches within the zone, but where it will be more difficult for batters to make contact against it. Giving me optimism going forward is Fitterer’s ground ball rate, which is just below 60% right now. If he can just keep pitches near the zone, Fitterer can get outs on the ground and limit serious damage through the air. This past week’s start was a step in the right direction.

Up Next (7/4-7/10)

  • AAA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp vs Norfolk
  • AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos at Mississippi
  • A+ Beloit Sky Carp at Peoria
  • A Jupiter Hammerheads vs Palm Beach