Minor League Baseball is back once again. After a spring campaign that seemed to quickly pass by, players are learning where they will begin the 2023 season and have hit the road for their new temporary destinations. Accordingly, we begin our yearly season preview series. First up: the AAA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.
Wednesday afternoon, players and staff reported back to Bragan Field for the team’s annual media day. This provided us with our first confirmed look at what the Shrimp roster will look like when they take the field in Gwinett tonight against the Stripers.
There are some interesting omissions from the Jumbo Shrimp roster that will apparently head back to the AA level to start the year. Jacksonville will begin the 2023 season with what looks to be a roster not inclusive of many top Marlins prospects. However, with traffic abound and aplenty at the lower levels, they will most certainly house them as the season wears on. For now, here is a look at some of the talent fans can expect to see during the early weeks and months of the year at Bragan Field.
C Austin Allen
1B Jerar Encarnacion
Encarnacion is a 6’4” 250 huge physical specimen who has arguably the best raw power in the Marlins’ organization. After struggling with injury in 2021, Encarnacion got a full season in with the Blue Wahoos, Shrimp and in his major league debut with Miami in 2022. Leading up to his initial call up to the major leagues in June, Encarnacion was mashing, hitting .313/.385/.518. In his first game with Miami, he did this:
Overall in his time with the Marlins though, Jerar proved exactly how much swing and miss there is to his game at the next level. In his 23 games, he struck out at a 39% clip. In his small sample with Miami, he was nearly literally homer or nothing. Another aspect that holds Jerar back is his defensive limitation. He has a good arm in the outfield but his route running is well below average. He began playing first base in 2021 and he has spent time there this spring on the backfields, but he needs a bit more experience to be able to quantify regular big league time at that spot. Encarnacion will look to gain the rest of his polish at the AAA level to begin 2023. Due to the power potential, he will likely see another stint with the Marlins in the near future, but at this point, his reasonable expectation is closer to his floor rather than his ceiling.
2B Xavier Edwards
Edwards is a Marlins’ acquisition from this offseason who came over as the main return piece from the Rays for two pitching prospects, Marcus Johnson and Santiago Suarez. This was the second time the 23-year-old Edwards has been traded before making his debut. He was a key piece in the deal that sent Blake Snell to the Padres.
The switch hitting Edwards has had a solid minor league career overall, hitting 300/.373/.379 over four seasons, but he didn’t fare well or nearly up to his ceiling projection against AAA pitching last year. With the Durham Bulls, Edwards hit just .246/.328/.350 while posting a career high 18.8% strikeout rate. However, Edwards also recorded five home runs. He entered the 2022 season with just one career home run to his credit. In his 93 games with Durham, he also recorded 19 doubles. It wasn’t luck, either. Edwards’ BABIP was a normalized .300 even.
Beginning the season with the Shrimp, Edwards will need to find the balance between swinging harder and getting back to swinging at quality stuff that he can do something with. He’s not a guy who has ever been built for a ton of over-the-fence power. The Marlins, who approached this offseason with the mindset of finding contact over anything else in the offensive players they acquired, understand that. If they can get Edwards back to amplifying his strengths, he’s a piece that plays multiple infield positions and who may be tried out in the outfield. His higher floor gives him a very real chance to contribute to the big league club this season.
3B Jordan Groshans
At the start of the offseason, Groshans, who was acquired by the Marlins at the deadline and performed well down the stretch for the Marlins, was looking at potentially beginning the season back with the big league club. But after the acquisition of Jean Segura, Groshans’ chances diminished. The Marlins attempted to work Groshans out at first base for a bit, an experiment that ended rather quickly after the team acquired veteran Yuli Gurriel. Due to the numbers crunch and the fact that his spring wasn’t very impressive overall, Groshans heads back to AAA.
That said, Groshans, who is still just 23, progressed through the minors quickly en route to his aforementioned debut last year. After his change of scenery from Toronto to Miami, the bat perked up as he hit .301/.399/.416 for Jacksonville. The first round pick and 6’3”, 200 righty exhibits good plate discipline and the ability to hit to all fields. In his 17 big league games, Groshans struggled against breaking pitches at the next level which limited his quality of contact. That is what he will attempt to work out with Jacksonville before he gets his next chance. With more success at AAA, the positionally flexible Groshans will very likely be back with the Marlins at some point this season.
SS Jacob Amaya
Amaya is another new face in town after he came over from the Dodgers in the trade that sent Miguel Rojas westward. Much like his new teammate Edwards, Amaya has had similar recent results. Another piece who is at his best when he is focused on working his way on base however possible, Amaya came by some newfound power after bulking up a bit during COVID. Working to understand his new frame better, Amaya came by more power but his on base numbers became a victim. As he rose to AAA in 2022, Amaya posted a 23.6% K rate with the Oklahoma City Dodgers, by far a career high. Prior to 2021, his career high was 17%. Amaya still saw the ball very well though with OKC, allowing a 14%+ walk rate permeate to the highest level of minor league baseball.
Amaya’s hit tool is dependent on his best offensive asset, his plate vision and his ability to spit on close pitches and wait for his spot. His recent power surge has been encouraging but it’s come at the expense of consistent barrel contact. With just an average run tool, Amaya is a player who is at a pivotal moment of his career in his age 24 season. At his ceiling, Amaya is a doubles first threat who could definitely stick as a starter at a premium defensive position, shortstop where he is very good and the owner of a 60 grade glove. The question revolving around his ability to make consistent contact will be the main one for him to answer when it comes to him getting higher to that rather than lower to his utility player floor.
LF Jake Mangum
Mangum is another new Marlins acquisition who came over as part of an in division trade with the Mets. A 27-year-old outfielder who signed for $20K when he was selected in the fourth round of the 2019 draft, he’s a switch hitter who set school records at Mississippi State, including their single season hits record and the all-time hits record for the Southeastern Conference.
Looking at Mangum overall, he can make contact from both sides of the plate but he’s another guy who struggles to hit the ball hard. Mangum puts the ball in play to all fields and his run tool is probably the most developed tool that he owns. That said, he hasn’t shown much in the way of stolen bases throughout his pro career as of yet. To carve out a regular role with a big league team, Mangum will need to show better vision of pro stuff and the ability to work his way on base for free more consistently. The 6’1”, 180 pound specimen will be developed as a catalytic type threat that can make it at any of the three outfield spots, but is probably best suited for a corner. He’s a lower floor guy who could become more with proper tutelage.
CF Garrett Hampson
RF Peyton Burdick
I don’t think I’ll ever be low on the potential of Burdick. The 6’, 200 ton of bricks build is without question the most physical player in the Marlins’ system. And this offseason, he got even more built. Before suffering a toe injury, Burdick had some of the best swings in camp.
A 2019 third rounder out of Wright State University, Burdick has flown through the Marlins’ minor league system to make it to the majors in just two seasons. Amidst his call to the bigs last year, Burdick’s biggest challenge was balancing his supreme physicality and explosiveness with his bat to ball skills. Burdick put out four homers in his 32 games with the Marlins, but it came at the expense of a 34% K rate. Working with new hitting coach Brant Brown this spring, Burdick improved his lower half mechanics. He ceased getting out on his front foot, allowing him to incorporate more torque into his swings and improve his timing. A guy who only went oppo 29% of the year with Miami last year, Burdick showed he has a newfound ability to cover that area of the field and pitches on the outer half more often.
Because of his style of game, there will always be swing and miss to Burdick, but if his plate coverage and contact consistency improvements permeate from this spring into the regular season, he will be back in the Marlins’ outfield shortly, possibly in center field which he learned how to play last year and proved that he can make it stick.
BN CJ Hinojosa
BN Santiago Chavez
BN Charles Leblanc
BN Alex De Goti
BN Brian Miller
There are a lot of questions surrounding prospects in the Marlins’ system this year, but one no one is asking (maybe because they’ve just given up on receiving an answer) is what does Brian Miller have to do to get his full shot in the major leagues?
Miller is one of the longest tenured members of the Marlins’ organization. A 2017 pick out of North Carolina, he knows Jacksonville well. Since joining the Shrimp in 2018 when they were the Marlins’ AA affiliate, he’s spent most of his career playing at Bragan Field including 66 games of 2018, all of 2019 and all of 2021 minus the five games he spent with the Marlins. Miller was once again back with the Shrimp in 2022 and he put together a career year. Slashing .292/.349/.434 with 26 steals, Miller proved that he’s worthy of a spot on a team struggling to put runners on base. The hope for Miller, arguably the fastest guy in the organization next to Nasim Nunez and a couple of others, is that the Marlins’ new method of thinking regarding their offense as well as their thinning in center field will allow him to finally break through to some real big league time in 2023.
SP Daniel Castano
Castano, the 28-year-old lefty, pretty evenly split time between AAA and the majors last year. During that time, Castano fully developed a cutter. He gained complete feel for it pretty quickly and wound up throwing it over 40% of the time, by far his most used offering. The Italian Stallion’s slider tunneled off the cutter nicely. His ground ball rate spiked to right around 46% and his walk rate fell to under 6%. All in all, despite multiple trips back and for there between Jacksonville and Miami, Castano put together a fairly productive year and could be counted on to eat innings.
Entering his final option year, Castano had a great spring training, tossing 17.2 innings and allowing just three runs. He stuck around big league camp for its entirety and nearly pitched himself into a bullpen role. Castano isn’t and will never be a dominant ace, but in his role of a guy who will provide length wherever and whenever he is called upon, he’s a solid option. The Marlins will need Castano again at some point this season.
SP Devin Smeltzer
Smeltzer is a 27-year-old lefty with quite an admirable backstory. As a child, Smeltzer was diagnosed with a form of cancer that required surgery. Smeltzer battled the ailment for three years before entering remission at age 12. He entered full remission in 2012 when he was attending high school. Drafted by the Dodgers as a fifth rounder in 2016, Smeltzer made it through the minors in three seasons. He debuted with the Twins in 2019. After shuttling back and forth multiple times during the COVID year, Smeltzer made the Twins Opening Day lineup in 2021. However, after just one outing, Smeltzer was placed on the IL due to a hernia. He rehabbed from the injury and nearly made it back, but during a bullpen in May, he collapsed and was hospitalized, bringing an end to his season. Smeltzer made it back to the Twins in May of 2022. Healthy, Smeltzer was affective mostly as a starter pitching to a 3.71 ERA in 70.1 IP. He was outrighted to AAA and elected free agency before signing a minor league deal with Miami this offseason.
Smeltzer has gone from the proverbial highest of highs to lowest of lows, but he’s never stopped working to improve and get the most out of his potential. On the mound, Smeltzer isn’t the highest velo guy (he will rarely go much higher than 90 mph) but he keeps hitters guessing thanks to a wide variety of pitches. Running down his laundry list of offerings, Smeltzer throws a fastball, cutter, sinker, slider, curveball and changeup. Historically, he’s mostly relied on fastball/changeup but last year showed more confidence in the curveball, going to it 18% of the time.
Smeltzer at his core is another depth arm who can provide length in either a bullpen or swing man role. He won’t overpower with velo or strike many guys out, but he relies on weak contact and deception to record quick outs. He can get in trouble when he’s not living on the corners so he is very much reliant on his command. He’s another arm that the Marlins could easily go to this year to eat innings.
SP Enmanuel De Jesus
SP Chi Chi Gonzalez
SP Jeff Lindgren
I was as surprised as many others when I received our first glimpse of this Shrimp roster. This is a much older team than it could have been and there are several of glaring omissions who will be back in AA ball to start the season. But after a much busier offseason and after a spring in which nearly all of their new acquisitions stuck around, Miami needs a place to house them and get them reps. The vision seems to be to continue to get those players regular playing time and to get most of those who performed well at AA last year within the organization the same.
Another unexpected surprise is that the team is expected to begin the year with a five man rotation even with six game series being continued. The method here would seem to be that the Marlins want to keep guys who they may need to contribute to their rotation on a five day schedule.
Overall, Jacksonville starts out a bit older in the average age category but they prove to get younger as the season goes along