2019 Clinton LumberKings Season Preview

Read more from Fish on the Farm.

In 2019, Marlins baseball will expand westward  as Clinton, Iowa will be provided with a taste of Miami. There, future Fish will compete as Clinton LumberKings, the oldest franchise in the Midwest League. The Marlins, on a two year player development contract, are Clinton’s sixteenth MLB affiliate.

“Gosh, I hope they’re gonna be happier than a pig in slop. I hope they come in here and go, “holy cow!”” Tornow said of his organization’s hospitality, both on and off the field. “We’ve got a great host family situation. Believe it or not, in Clinton, Iowa, we have a great Latino connection. We’ve got great clubhouse facilities and great player amenities. We might be small, but we have first class facilities.”

The manager making those judgments will be former Marlins’ first baseman Mike Jacobs who gets the promotion to full season ball after spending the first two seasons of his managerial career at the helm of the Batavia Muckdogs. According to Jacobs, during his first two years on the other side of the bench, the most important skill he garnered was the ability to remain acquiescent with his understudies.

“I think one of the things that you learn from it is the patience you need to have with the young guys,” Jacobs said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things in this job: just being able to have patience.”

Regarding the full season A team switching cities and, Jacobs says that while the process is rousing, his and his team’s MO remains the same.

“I think that when you go to a new place regardless of whatever the environment is we are still out there to play baseball,” Jacobs said.

In that spirit, Jake is going to do everything in his power to create a squad and a culture northeastern Iowa can take pride in.

“It’s exciting to be somewhere new and I know (the fans) are excited about it and are looking forward to us getting out there,” said Jacobs. “They can be sure we are going to go out there and play the game the right way every day. They’re going to get a good chance to see some of the great young prospects the Marlins have and that should be exciting for them.”

These are the names Jacobs speaks of that should make up most of his positional squad:

Projected Lineup

CF Connor Scott
2B Christopher Torres
RF Jerar Encarnacion
1B Sean Reynolds
C Will Banfield
DH Thomas Jones
SS Demetrius Sims
3B Bubba Hollins
LF Michael Donadio

Connor Scott (Photo by Tony Capobianco)

CF Connor Scott
2018 (ROK/A) – .218/.309/.296, 3 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 56/24 K/BB

Scott is the Marlins’ highly-heralded first round pick from this past season out of Plant High School in a Tampa, FL. Ranked as the second best outfield prospect in the Draft, the Marlins took Scott with the 13th overall selection after he hit .526/.640/.929 with five homers and 11 XBHs. An effervescent athlete, Scott also turned in plus work on the mound, topping out at 92 and showing a plus slider, allowing him to hold down a 2.13 ERA and a 28/7 K/BB in five appearances. That same arm strength showed true in the field where, during a PerfectGame showcase, he threw as high as 91 MPH. He signed with Miami for a bonus worth over $4,000,000.

“I committed to Florida pretty early in high school as a freshman. It was a big dream of mine to play college baseball,” Scott said. “I never thought I’d take that extra step and go straight into pro ball, but I worked my butt off and it paid off. I’m happy with where I’m at.”

Scott broke in to pro ball by hitting .223/.319/.311 with a 29/14 K/BB in 103 ABs in the Gulf Coast League. Scott spent the final 23 games of the season nearly mirroring those totals at the level in which he will begin the 2019 season. In 75 ABs with the Grasshoppers, he slashed .211/.295/.276 with a 27/10 K/BB. During that tenure, he also hit his first professional homer. While those numbers don’t necessarily jump off of this page, it should be noted that in his first 50 games across multiple levels and in by far the longest season of his playing career, the 18-year-old enjoyed sustained success and showed that his tools are already worthy of plus-plus projection. According to Scott, he has his high school alma matter and the nurturing he received from the coaching staff at Plant, the same school that produced Hall Of Famer Wade Boggs and more recently Mets’ top prospect Peter Alonso and Astros’ standout Kyle Tucker, to thank.

“I would think of [Plant] as a small college team. We practiced every day but we took care of ourselves. We stretched a bunch before practice and also stretched after practice. We conditioned all Fall and preseason so we were all in great shape,” Scott said. “They just cared about us. I think that’s the biggest thing. I think a lot of high schools don’t; they just care about winning. But they didn’t care if we went 0-28, just as long as we got to be better men and better people.”

Already with a 70-grade run tool via exceptional acceleration rates and a 60-grade arm on top of a 55-grade hit tool, there aren’t many holes in Scott’s game. If there is one area of improvement, it’s in getting his legs, which are currently mostly stationary, involved in his swing allowing him to tap in to more over-the-fence power. According to Scott, that has been an area of focus this offseason and early on in camp.

“We’ve been working on it a lot and we’ve improved drastically. Good things are happening,” Scott said. “I think one of the big things would be getting stronger. In getting stronger, the legs start working better, the hips start working better and you get faster too. I’ve been working in the weight room a lot. It’s gonna do big things for us.”

At 19, the lefty hitting Scott currently weighs in at 6’4”, 180. At the same age, a young Marlins prospect by name of Christian Yelich was 6’4”, 181. Yelich even had a similar pedigree: good contact rates via great bat speed, a good speed tool (Scott’s is probably better) and good fielding grades but adjustments needed to complete a five-tool skill set.

Seven years later, Yelich hit the 12th most homers in the majors en route to becoming the National League MVP.

While Scott views the comps to Yelich as well as to future teammate Lewis Brinson and past teammate Kyle Tucker, he is out to make his own name a unique household fixture.

“Nowadays it’s hard not to see stuff like that because of social media and all of that,” Scott said. “Obviously the comparison is cool but I want to be me, I want to be me. I want to be Connor Scott.”

Scott has a lot to be in being himself. Already advanced, especially for his age, in four of five tools, the still-teenaged prospect is building towards an All-Star worthy future. We like Scott to begin collecting ASG selections this year as a member of the LumberKings and foresee his future ceiling as one that would allow Marlins fans to forget about the loss of Yelich. We pin Scott’s full-time arrival in the big leagues to the year 2021.

RF Jerar Encarnacion
2018 (A) – .236/.269/.363, 20 XBH, 26 RBI, 80/9 K/BB

Encarnacion is a heavy-hitting strong-armed right handed power threat signed by the Marlins out of the Dominican jn 2016. After breaking into pro ball by slashing .218/.232/.345 with four XBHs including his first homer back home, Encarnacion received his first stateside assignment with the GCL Marlins. Not only did Jerar impress during his first 25 games against North American pitching, he blew the usually-difficult initial challenge of facing it out of the park. Literally. In 42 games spanning 154 ABs, Encarnacion slashed .266/.323/.448. On top of leading his team in SLG (among full-time GCLers), Jerar also led the squad in homers (5) and RBI (26) while placing second in doubles (7).

This past season, Jerar moved up to A ball with the Muckdogs. Despite competing against competition a full year older that he was, Enc managed a .284/.305/.448 line with four homers and a team-leading 14 doubles. His outfield arm also grew as he contributed seven outfield assists. That arm persisted in his cup of coffee with the Grasshoppers in full-season A, where he spent his final 16 games of the season. However, his bat was a bit overmatched against pitchers 1.5 years his elder as he went just 4-54.

It is there to the same full-season A ranks that Jerar returns this season. Another year older with at least another 15 pounds added to his 6’4” frame, we like Encarnacion to meet his latest inquisition well, just as he has with every test he’s come across in his past.

In order to do so though, Encarnacion has some adjustments to make. Though his doubles-first power which he has the ability to grow into frequent over-the-fence power is unquestioned, Encarnacion‘s mechanics are entirely too pull happy.

Watching his lower half, Jerar approaches from a straight away stance before turning his hips inward then snapping them out. While this provides him success on inside pitches, it leads to him pulling off on pitches on the outer half and to his swing getting long and frequent on pitches out of his field of vision. In order for Encarnacion to take the next step, he will need to improve his plate vision and coverage. If he can adjust accordingly at the behest of pro coaching, Encarnacion has the ability to be a pure power hitting talent, capable of 20/20+ production.

While his past success is encouraging, Encarnacion is very much a work in progress, but still just 21, he has time and the ability to become an “out of nowhere” top 25 prospect. He’s a guy we will follow intently this coming season.

Osiris Johnson (Photo by Tony Capobianco)

SS Osiris Johnson
2018 (ROK-A) – .250/.276/.378, 16 XBH, 19 RBI, 53/5 K/BB, 7/4 SB/CS

Johnson is the second pick in the Jeter era selected last year at 53rd overall out of Encinal High School in Alameda, CA. In his four year career there, the prep hit .403/.452/.688 with 37 stolen bases in 43 attempts. Those marks included a .535/.588/.965 senior year in which Johnson earned All-American and Top Prospect Team honors. In Perfect Game’s 2017 National Showcase, he ran a blistering 6.72 60  and showed an elite maturing power tool that nearly earned a perfect grade via an average barrel exit velo of 93 MPH which ranked in the 66th percentile. It is worthy to note that Johnson was one of the youngest players taking part in that event.

“I think he’s a first or second-round pick,” said Johnson’s high school coach Jim Saunders who also coached the likes of . “Whoever gets him is going to be very, very happy. He’s a pure baseball talent. He runs like a deer. He’s got a great glove and a big-time arm. And God gifted him with an incredible body.”

Johnson’s fantastic natural gifts stem from the same family tree that produced another Encinal standout: 2007 NL MVP, four time Gold Glover and three time All-Star Jimmy Rollins. The pair are second cousins. Where Osiris is still very raw and very much growing physically, the teenager has the beginnings of leveraged swing mechanics and more than the start of plus-plus foot speed as well as a potentially elite fielding tools including great hands and swift footwork.

Johnson needs to make the biggest jump is at the plate. Though he shows leveraged swing mechanics that provide him with a 50-grade power tool, a mark that should grow as his physique improves and although he also has a good hitters IQ and the same soft hands that he maintains on the other side of the ball, allowing him to both lengthen his swing in favorable counts and shorten it in unfavorable situations, he has trouble recognizing sequences and visualizing pitches. This led to him being over-matched in his brief appearance in full season A last year (.188/.205/.294, 34/1 K/BB). It should be noted however that the teenager was playing against competition nearly five years older than him. It was also, by far, the summation of  the longest season of his playing career.

A year later, Osiris, who turns 19 in October, is ready for another, longer crack at full season A ball. Along with being better prepared mentally for life in full season ball, Johnson’s physique also looks to have improved over his first offseason on a professional regimen. Still billed at 6’0, 180 by MiLB.com, Johnson appears to have put on at least 20 pounds worth of muscle mass.

While Johnson still has plenty of growing to do offensively, the holes in his game are very common for a prep hitter just starting his journey up the minor league ladder and can all be remedied by effective coaching. What is positively uncommon in Johnson’s game is his exceptional defensive skill set that already plays up to the big league level. If his bat catches up to his glove or at the very least, gets anywhere close, the Marlins will have a special talent at their disposal. With youth on his side and stemming from bloodlines that produced a potential future Hall of Famer, we place Osiris’ floor and ceiling both very high. Fully mature, we like Johnson to reach the level of current Marlins’ middle infielder Starlin Castro (.281/.321/.411 162-game average, 1.6 career dWAR) with the potential for even more.

UPDATE: On May 29th, it was announced that Johnson will likely miss the entirety of the 2019 season with a stress fracture in his tibia. This is a huge blow for Johnson who, after a solid 2018, was entering an important developmental season. On the plus side, Osiris still has youth on his side and an outstanding pedigree. Even after missing an entire year, we don’t put it past Johnson to come back and make a huge impact. In fact, knowing Johnson’s mental drive and mindset, we expect it.

SS Demetrius Sims
2018 (A) – .227/.306/.294, 10 XBH, 16 RBI, 53/18 K/BB, 9/4 SB/CS

Filling the void for Johnson at short for the LumberKings will likely be Demetrius Sims, a 6’2”, 200 pounder out of Bethune Cookman who hit .227/.306/.294 with the Muckdogs last year. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, they were well up from the .186/.262/.237 line he posted in 17 games at the same level in 2017. While the soon to be 24-year-old is a bit old to be receiving his first full season ball assignment, he’s a kid that has shown the ability to adjust well to his environment including in going from metal to wood bat leagues and he’s a guy who owns plus speed on the basepaths (29/10 K/BB in college, 9/4 SB/CS last year).

D-Sims comes from great bloodlines. He’s the brother of NFL tight end Dion Sims. While he has work to do in repeating his swing and perfecting his timing mechanics, especially as the pitching gets harder to face, we wouldn’t put those tasks over the head of this great an athlete. If that happens early this year, he could be fast-tracked up to A+.

Sean Reynolds (Photo by Tony Capobianco)

1B Sean Reynolds
2018 (A) – .193/.306/.441, 17 HR, 12 2B, 52 RBI, 133/42 K/BB, 13/1 SB/CS

Reynolds, currently 6’7”, 240+, is the Marlins’ fourth round pick from 2016 out of Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, CA. As a prep senior, Reynolds hit .364/.454/.742 with nine homers and a 7/1 SB/CS. Reynolds was even more impressive on the mound where he earned 11 wins by way of a 1.08 ERA and 94 Ks in 84 IP.

Reynolds tells the story of his early career in baseball, adjusting to being the biggest kid on the field and growing into his body this way:

“I was always big for my age but I never really was towering over everybody until my sophomore and junior year of high school I grew about six and a half inches in a 12-18 month span. That was obviously really quick development and I had no idea what to do with my body,” Reynolds said. “I knew I was big and I started to get some more power but I didn’t know how to run, didn’t really know how to throw hard yet. My senior year, I gained a little more weight and started getting behind everything.”

While many teams had Reynolds on their radars as a mid-late round pitcher, few viewed him as a position player due to his inflexibility in the field. The Marlins however, quickly fell in love with Reynolds’ power potential, selecting the then-gargantuan-but-lanky 6’7, 205 pounder as a positional player 113th overall.

Upon being drafted, even before he took the field for the first time, Reynolds received a big wake-up call.

“When I got drafted I was 18, 6’7”, 195-200. My first day I was getting changed and getting ready next to grown men,” Reynolds said. “It was a shock, just how I thought I was so ready physically then I got out there and I was like, “man I’ve got a lot of work to do.””

For the still physically immature Reynolds playing in the field full-time for the first time in his career and for the first time with a wood bat, his break-in to the professional ranks was pretty rudimentary. In his first 148 MLB-affiliated ABs, he hit .155/.262/.196 with a 64/22 K/BB. He had two homers and two triples but failed to homer. This came as Reynolds attempted to learn a brand new position, the outfield as he split time between both corner spots, mostly on the strength of his throwing arm. A season later, Reynolds returned to the GCL, this time as a first baseman, a position that is much less physically demanding. This allowed Reynolds to focus much more significantly on improving his hit tool. As his contact rates made leaps and bounds, his stats reaped the benefits as he slashed .214/.303/.311 with five doubles, a triple and his first pro homer.

This past season, with an offseason of physical growth under the watchful eye of coaches and trainers under his belt, Reynolds’ power tool flourished as the lefty hit 17 homers, most in the New York Penn League. However, the pure power hitter also showed tons of swing and miss, whiffing 133 times. Put another way, Reynolds was the epitome of all or nothing. 32% of his ABs ended in a homer and 49% resulted in a K. He was the only player in MiLB to hit sub-.200 while slugging over .400.

Reynolds attributes his unique stat line to learning how to take the good with the bad and gaining the knowledge to not be careless but to not be too careful, either.

“I made a big jump last year in taking the tension out; going from “oh there’s a guy on third, I have to get him in” to “there’s a guy on third? Perfect.””, Reynolds said. “Staying true to what I know I’m good at; that’s what the mindset is. Trying to change something every day and working on something new every day just doesn’t work. It’s just going to be about staying with what works and knowing what I’m capable of and knowing that at the end of the day, you’ve got to tell yourself you’re the best player on the field.”

Heading into 2019, Reynolds feels that he is better prepared mentally thanks to time spent reflecting on his first professional stint. According to Sean, learning how accept deficiency last year and this offseason as well as learning how to separate amateur success from professional growth will be lessons that allow him to take the a very important next step in his first full season this year.

“I’m coming into this year after having a lot of time alone reflecting on the season I had and going over previous swings and just letting go of the fear of failure. That’s something a lot of people that don’t play baseball don’t understand: you have to be okay with falling on your face and looking like an idiot, like you’re swinging a sword in the box. You have too many ABs over the course of a season to look good every time,” Reynolds said. “In high school you’re always the man that everyone is looking forward to getting up and watching. You’re gonna be the one driving in the runs every game. Then you come into pro ball and you’re just another guy. So letting go of that fear and just not worrying about. That‘s something I feel like is gonna let me make a big jump this year.”

In addition to changing his thought process, Reynolds has also made some mechanical adjustments, including approaching from deeper in the box and maintaining a more upright stance. According to Reynolds, these modifications will allow him to make the most of his reach and cover more of his big strike zone.

“That has been a big focus for me, changing some things around in my swings and my mechanics and the way I go about hitting, improving the contact rate. All the numbers will increase by default if the contact rate increases and I know that,” Reynolds said. “Staying linear and trying to catch the ball out in front where I know I can use my leverage and my long limbs and power. Staying through the middle and not try to get too pull happy. That’s what it’s been about for me.”

In making the trip up the ladder to Clinton, Reynolds will be playing in almost twice as many games as he ever has in a calendar year and all within a five-month span. But according to Reynolds, he is not only ready physically, but just as prominent, mentally.

“Physical endurance has a lot to do with it keeping your body healthy and ready but overall, I think once you get into that 100-game range it’s just mental,” Reynolds said. “You’ve got to convince yourself that for three hours a day, you’re good to go, even if something is not feeling right. If you’re at 80%, then you’ve gotta give 100% of that 80%. Just gotta do he best with what you’ve got. Mental toughness, making sure that you’re able to play, even if you know in the back of your mind you’re not 100%. That’s what it’s about to me.”

Jacobs, who rostered Reynolds in Batavia last season, speaks very highly of his abilities both as a player and as a mentor.

“The power is obviously legit and he’s made great strides defensively from where he was at at the beginning of the year to where he ended up. You don’t get a lot of guys with that size and the ability to hit the ball as far as he can. The biggest thing is getting the ball in play a little bit more but it’s all a work in progress,” Jacobs said. “He wants to be really good and he’s impressive to watch. He’s a great kid, he’s a hard worker, he’s a leader in the clubhouse and he wants to be out there every day. I’m excited for what he’s gonna bring to the table. It’s been fun watching him make the adjustments he’s made already and I expect him to have a great year this year.”

Reynolds enters his second season as a professional already in a better state of mind and in an overall better position as a maturing player. According to Reynolds, the new attitude and new direction of the franchise has created a better sense of comfortability while also invigorating him and it will be a major catalyst in his further development.

“Before it was kind of a foregone conclusion that if you were a sought after prospect you were gonna be traded, the closer you get to the big leagues,” Reynolds said. “It definitely adds a bit of excitement when you think about the direction that Gary and the rest of the staff are taking this organization and how everything is being conducted in such a professional way. It’s definitely a big change from what it was before.”

A guy who can be seen around the cage coaching up his teammates, we see Reynolds as both a current and future locker room leader ceiling at that can approach the ceiling of Chris Davis (.238/.319/.471).

Will Banfield (Photo by Tony Capobianco)

C Will Banfield
2018 (ROK-A) – .238/.308/.385, 12 XBH, 18 RBI, 43/11 K/BB; 38% CS%

Banfield is the Marlins’ second round pick from last year’s draft, taken 69th overall out of Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA. A force in his two-year varsity career, Banfield followed a .409/.511/.686 12/22 K/BB junior season with a .398, 49 RBI, 15 2B 9 HR senior campaign. A guy who was already clocking in at 95 from the mound as a sophomore, Banfield built his throwing arm up to being the best in last season’s draft. On top of that, his 1.74 second pop time ranked in the 99th percentile during PerfectGame showcases.

After a season of professional coaching as well as an offseason spent under the watchful eye of a pro organization, here is what Will is looking like headed into his first full season in the minors:

With more physical maturity to his credit (looks like at least 10-20 pounds of muscle mass added), the 29-year-old stands to enter his first full year as a pro at around 6’1”, 220. Approaching 2019, Banfield’s improved physique should allow him to tap into his raw power potential as well as cover even more area behind the plate. Areas in which he still needs to improve on the offensive side are barrel speed and swing length. If he’s able to shorten up a bit and get barrel in the zone at advantageous times, the righty hitter who approaches from the back of the box and recognizes pitches well, should be able to turn into a .260+ for-average threat with the potential for 15+ homers and 20+ doubles.

Projected Rotation

  1. Alberto Guerrero 
  2. Humberto Mejia 
  3. Josh Roberson
  4. Chris Vallimont

RHP Josh Roberson
2018 (ROK-A) – 48.1 IP, 1.30 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 34/12 K/BB

Roberson is the Marlins’ twelfth round pick from last season out of UNC Wilmington in his hometown of North Carolina. Primarily a reliever in his first two collegiate seasons, his big velocity and the maturation of his slider allowed him to assume regular rotational work in 2017. That year, Roberson held down a 1.80 ERA and 1.40 WHIP by way of a 23/8 K/BB. As was the case in 2016 though, recurring throwing arm injuries limited him to just 20-something innings. Just before the draft in June, it was revealed that Roberson would require Tommy John surgery which cost him the rest of the 2017 season. Thought to be a late-first to early-second day pick, Roberson fell to the Marlins in round 12, 359th overall.

This past season, Roberson returned to the mound with a vengeance. One-hundred percent healthy for the first time in a long time, he held a 1.06 ERA through eight GCL starts, limiting his opposition to a .184 BAA with a 0.94 WHIP and a 31/12 K/BB. His five wins far and away led the GCL Marlins. Those exports earned Roberson a late-season call to Batavia where he made two starts, spanning a total of six IP. He allowed two earned runs (3.00 ERA), struck out three and didn’t walk any.

This season, Roberson, 22, makes the jump up the ladder to the full-season ranks. He also participated in the post-season instructional league. A tall and lanky 6’3″, 175, he owns two plus pitches, a calling card heater that is capable of 97+ MPH and a hard-biting 86-88 MPH slider. He has the blueprint of a changeup, but that pitch is very much in its infantile stages and is currently little more than a mix-in waste pitch. Given his injury history and past spent throwing mostly in relief, Roberson’s future would sensibly lie in the bullpen. However, we wouldn’t put it past this very hungry hard thrower to surprise a lot of people this season, allow the organization to throw his medical record out the window and continue to develop him as a back-end starter. He’s a very interesting piece to watch and, given his drive, could wind up being a diamond in the rough.

RHP CJ Carter
2018 (ROK-A) – 29.2 IP, 3.64 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 38/17 K/BB, .179 BAA

One of the most interesting guys in the system, Carter is a 6’, 165 pound righty out of Troy University in his home state of Georgia, preceded by Alvin Community College In Texas. A full time JuCo starter where he held down a 2.64 ERA via a 1.13 WHIP and 84/32 K/BB, he made the transition to the pen after being recruited to Division I. After 69.2 IP worth of 3.75 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 90/23 ball out of the pen as a Trojan, the Marlins selected him in the 29th round of last season’s draft.

Although he has worked exclusively out of the bullpen in his first 29.2 professional IP between the GCL and Batavia, it looks as though the organization is impressed enough with Carter to allow him to at least return to a swing-man role. Watching him throw against some of he Marlins’ top prospects as well as current big leaguers this spring, its easy to see what the organization sees.

Carter is one of the more unique arms not only to observe but more importantly for hitters to face. He combats his limited size by creating deception stemming from a high leg kick and extremely short arm action and a low sidearm slot. Stuff-wise, he is a complete offspeed artist, rarely reaching over 90 MPH and dipping all the way down to 72. It is in his ability to repeat his delivery and in his swing and miss potential that the Marlins view him as a future rotational piece. Everything has good movement when it comes to Carter’s four pitch arsenal, including a biting two seamer, a dancing changeup, a loopy curveball with late sink and a disappearing slider.

An extremely fun guy to watch work, Carter has the ceiling of change-of-pace back end starter ala Dan Haren and the floor of an innings-eating bullpen anchor.

Projected Stats

.245/.322/.390, 115 HR, 320 XBH
4.29 ERA, 1.34 WHIP

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