The 25th anniversary season at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium provided plenty of fireworks literally and figuratively. In addition to their weekly pyrotechnic shows as well as their annual 4th of July celebration, there were also plenty of illuminations on the diamond from the Jupiter Hammerheads. Highlighted by recent top draft picks and international signings, the next crop of long-term projection gave Marlins fans plenty to buy in to.
Slash line: .241/.327/.352
Pitching line: 1097.1 IP, 4.08 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 2.44 K/BB
Beginning the season with five top 30 organizational prospects including the team’s first round draft pick Kahlil Watson and a rehabbing Edward Cabrera, it was an exciting time to be in Abacoa to begin 2022. As the season wore on, first year manager Angel Espada and his staff were challenged in a multitude of ways. From acclimating new draft picks to the pros to acclimating international prospects to their first taste of stateside action mixed in with major league rehabbers, the Hammerheads fielded 90 different players. At 21 years even, Jupiter was the fourth youngest offensive team in the Florida State League. On the pitching side, the team was 22.3 years of age on average, the third oldest staff in the FSL. The symbiosis of younger position players and older pitching spelled out a 62-66 record. Jupiter’s offense was the second best for-average team in the league but, playing at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, struggled for power, hitting the least amount of homers in the league and recording the third lowest slugging percentage. Their power numbers were only higher than the Clearwater Threshers and their stadium roommates, the Palm Beach Cardinals. The pitching staff allowed the most earned runs in the FSL via it’s third lowest K/BB ratio (2.44). Still, Jupiter battled its way to a second-place finish in the South Division in the first half. They finished 8.5 games out of a playoff spot in the second half.
Kahlil Watson hits four homers in first six career games; rakes in April
To say Kahlil Watson’s first pro season was a roller coaster would be something of an understatement, but the Marlins’ 2021 first round pick definitely started his career on a high note, showcasing the potential the Marlins saw in his ability when they were ecstatic to select him at 16th overall. After going 1-4 with a double in his first career game, Watson teed off for the first time in the 4th inning the next night. A day later, Watson did it again. In the Hammerheads’ first road series against Ft Myers, Watson went 6-20 with two more homers which also came in back-to-back games on April 13th and 14th. Overall, in his first month of work, the tooled-up lefty hitter slashed .294/.338/.603 with hits in 13 of 18 games.
Watson also closed his rookie season out strong, slashing .333/.400/.639 in the month of September. The pure talent, skills, and athleticism in Watson are clear, present, and evident. He could see time with the big league team as a non-roster invitee in spring training next season before his assignment.
Luis Palacios fans a career high 9 in 8 shutout innings
He may not throw above 92, but this 22-year-old lefty has some of the best command in the Miami Marlins’ system. In this late May matchup against the Clearwater Threshers, he proved how much he can do when he has it all working. In a career high eight innings, Palacios, who dominated the Dominican Summer League with video game numbers before coming stateside, struck out a career high nine. Mixing all three of his pitches and working the entire strike zone while changing eye levels, he allowed just four hits. Backed by a three RBI night from Brady Allen and a two-hit game by Cameron Barstad, the Hammerheads cruised to a 6-0 win.
In this outing, Palacios not only showed off his ability to locate three pitches with precision, he also showed the ability to bounce back from adversity in the form of a 6.1 IP, 6 ER start his previous time out. It was the start of a streak of four straight quality starts and a run of 48 IP with a 3.37 ERA and 48/3 K/BB which spurred his promotion to high A Beloit. Palacios finished the season by throwing 10 innings of three run ball over two starts, helping the Pensacola Blue Wahoos to a Southern League championship.
Jupiter orchestrates late season route of playoff-bound Palm Beach
On the second to last day of the season, the Hammerheads, donned in jerseys designed by a local teenager and that benefitted a local charity, got contributions from all over the lineup. Led by Carlos Santiago who hit a grand slam and drove in a total of five runs, Jupiter routed the eventual FSL playoff finalist Cardinals, 14-1. 2022 draftee Jake Thompson contributed a double and his third career homer. Comeback player of the year candidate Jorge Caballero posted three hits including a double.
Eury Perez made his final rehab start on the mound, tossing two scoreless innings. He was followed by a second rehabbed, Bryan Mitchell who threw 0.2 scoreless. Yeuris Jimenez then took over, keeping the Cardinals off the board for another 1.1 innings. The Marlins’ 2022 4th round pick Marcus Johnson ended his first pro stint on a high note, finishing a career high five full innings. He allowed just two hits, one earned run and struck out 10, another career mark for the 6’6” righty.
IF Jose Salas – .267/.356/.421, 5 HR, 21 XBH, 24 RBI, 15 SB, 54/23 K/BB
Salas ended his 2021 campaign in Jupiter and expectedly reported back to the Hammerheads to begin the 2022 campaign. A 19 year old playing against competition over two years his elder on average in the pitcher friendly Florida State League, Salas posted more than respectable offensive numbers. The fourth youngest player in the FSL that recorded at least 200 ABs, Salas exhibited his plus power even within his still developing frame by slamming five homers and 21 total extra base hits for Jupiter while beginning to use more of the field and cover the plate more advantageously. Salas also showed an advanced approach from both sides of the plate by holding his K rate to a manageable 21% while walking at a 9% clip. Salas’ numbers came by way of an almost neutral .327 BABIP. A catalytic threat, he hit .280/.419/.460 when leading off an inning and worked his way into a regular role at the top of the Hammerheads’ lineup. A midseason call up to Beloit and to another pitcher friendly park, Salas hit .230/.319/.340 via a hard luck .274 BABIP. Despite the jump, Salas still continued to exhibit great plate discipline and even saw his K rate shrink to 18.9% while his walk rate rose to 9.2% against even older competition. His speed on the bases also improved: in 48 games with the Sky Carp, Salas stole another 18 bags giving him 33 on the season.
Not turning 20 until next April, Salas is currently competing in the Arizona Fall League. And, guess what, he’s once again playing against guys who are much older than him. Salas is the second youngest player out west this fall. He will enter spring training next season eyeing the possibility of being sent back to Beloit, but the Marlins have not shied away from continuing to challenge him. If he does not begin the season in the upper minors, it will definitely be in the cards during the 2023 season.
Well ahead of schedule with many plus tools and the ability to handle multiple infield positions, Salas is one of the most exciting offensive prospects in the pipeline.
IF Ian Lewis – .265/.347/.368, 2 HR, 12 XBH, 21 RBI, 16 SB, 45/22 K/BB
Ian Lewis is another young middle infield prospect who showed out for the Hammerheads in 2022. After joining Jupiter a little over a month into the season, Lewis had probably the best month of May system wide. A .349/.386/.476 hitter in his first 51 games in the Florida State League, Lewis posted a 106 wRC+ and stole 16 bases, tied with Kahlil Watson for the most on the 2022 Hammerheads squad. Lewis was only caught stealing once, giving him a 94% success rate stealing bases. Riding an 11-game on base streak, Lewis’ first season came to a premature end due to a right hand injury. Lewis suffered the injury on July 16th. It kept him out for the rest of 2022.
While his freshman campaign came to a premature end, the second youngest player on the Hammerheads after Salas showed a consistent ability to work his way on base via an extremely advanced approach. From there, Lewis made stolen bases look simple via 70 grade speed, arguably the best in the Marlins’ organization (he and Nasim Nunez would have entertaining foot races). Despite very limited size (5’11”, 177), via fiery bat speed, Lewis also shows the ability to come by some plus pop which should get even better as he physically fills out. One facet of his offensive game that will need to fill out is his ability to cover the entire field. So far, Lewis has been extremely pull heavy and has struggled to get good wood on back door pitches, a weakness that pitchers at the upper levels of the minors will begin to exploit. If that gap is closed, a fully healthy Ian Lewis is a multi-faceted offensive threat with above average defense at second base and the ability to fill in at shortstop and third base. 2023 should include a promotion up to the Beloit Sky Carp.
LHP Luis Palacios – 82.2 IP, 4.03 ERA, 5.88 FIP, 1.10 WHIP, 16.4 K/BB
Palacios is a finesse lefty who impressed overseas before coming stateside last year where his positive results permeated. This season, beginning with the Hammerheads, Palacios stepped into the full season ball ranks and kept it going. Showing pinpoint command of all four quadrants of the zone and the ability to mix three pitches, Palacios posted a ridiculous 16.40 K/BB ratio for Jupiter, by far the top mark in the FSL among pitchers who tossed at least 60 innings. He also maintained a respectable 4.03 ERA and had an even lower 3.45 FIP.
But will a guy of Palacios’ makeup, an average-sized lefty who throws sub-93 with little room for error, be able to succeed as a starter above of the low A ranks? In July, Palacios got the call to A+ Beloit to begin a seven game tenure. Palacios’ ability to work into the back third of games consisted as he threw into the 6th inning in all but two outings. One of his outings that came to a premature end was a three inning, 9 ER event that caused his ERA with the Sky Carp to balloon from to 3.10 to 5.18. After his last outing with in which he tossed 6 innings of shutout ball, Palacios got another challenge up to the AA level to assist the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in their playoff run. He allowed three earned runs in 10 IP.
Palacios is a very polarizing prospect. While he doesn’t have room for very much error at all when he is on the mound, he has been able to remain mostly affective through each step he has taken through the system. His command and control may just be that good to allow the soft-tossing lefty to remain as a back-end starter. At the least, Palacios has the floor of a high-IQ change of pace multiple innings reliever and/or spot starter. Already with plus breaking stuff and superb command within an organization known for pitching development, reaching his full ceiling shouldn’t be discounted. Palacios could begin 2022 at the AA level where we should learn quite a bit more about how close to that potential ceiling he is.