When it comes to the placement of their younger minor leaguers, the first half of the Marlins’ season in the minors has differed significantly from last. After the team challenged the likes of Eury Perez, Evan Fitterer, Victor Mesa Jr, and others in 2022, they took a more conservative approach to 2023 as many of their minor leaguers headed to levels where they more closely matched the league’s average age.
Now, in July with the MLB Draft wrapped up, challenge will need to occur as 21 new faces are stepping into the organization at presumably the lowest stateside levels in Jupiter. Who will be challenged to step up to the next level of their development? Here is a list of players who are deserving.
IF/OF Javier Sanoja
Sanoja is a signing from the Marlins’ 2019 international class, the same class that also brought them Eury Perez, Jose Salas, Ian Lewis, and others. The Venezuelan signed just before the 2020 COVID shutdown, disallowing him from participating in MiLB games or even being around the team facilities in the Dominican much for two years. He stepped into his debut pro ball season in 2021 and showed an immediate impact. In his first 28 pro games, Sanoja amassed a 143 wRC+.
Still 19, Sanoja came stateside in 2022. He skipped the FCL and instead spent 73 games with the A Jupiter Hammerheads where he experienced an understandable dip in production. Back with the Hammerheads this year, Sanoja is back to doing what made him an attractive piece when the Marlins signed him: limiting strikeouts as well as just about anyone in Minor League Baseball, exhibiting simple bat to ball skills, running extremely well, and playing multiple positions. Through 80 games, already the most he’s played in a season, Sanoja is slashing .287/.337/.382 with a 7.9% K rate, a 98 wRC+ and 25 stolen bases.
The 5’7”, 150 pound Sanoja probably won’t ever be a huge power threat, but he exhibits a great feel for and handle of the bat, views pitching extremely well, puts the ball in play consistently, and has plus speed on the base paths. With positional flexibility, Sanoja could be in line for the call to A+ Beloit.
1B/DH Torin Montgomery
Montgomery is a 22-year-old who was drafted by the Marlins in the 11th round last year out of Missouri. Montgomery is listed at 6’3”, 220 but is a lot more physically imposing than those figures illustrate. A slow starter in Jupiter this year, Torin turned it on in a big way in May and hasn’t turned it off since. Since May 1st, Montgomery is hitting .355/.487/.476. He’s also been viewing A pitching very well, evident by a 17.1% walk rate and a manageable 17.7 K% rate. Over that same span, he has 13 XBHs.
Montgomery is a defensively limited prospect that can only be placed at 1B or DH. That said, he’s over performing in a pitcher friendly environment and clearly needs a challenge. If Torin can continue to get his lower half more involved in his swing and show that his plate vision can permeate at higher levels, he’s an under-the-radar prospect who could continue to cement his name pretty quickly.
1B Zach Zubia
To make room for Montgomery at the A+ level, the Marlins could decide to promote Zubia who is plenty deserving of a look in the upper minors during the second half. A 6’4”, 230 pound physical specimen who was drafted by Miami in 2021, Zubia is enjoying his highest rate of success at the plate this season with Beloit. Always a patient hitter at the plate who has limited his swings and misses, Zubia has started to come by higher contact rates this season with the Sky Carp. Through 41 games, he’s slashing .274/.412/.404 with a 34/24 K/BB and a 141 wRC+.
The only puzzling part of Zubia’s game has been his inability to hit for power. He only has six extra base hits this season. However, the Texan has spent the year dealing with cold weather months and a very pitcher friendly park. At age 25, Zubia has a mature approach at the plate and is doing more than enough to warrant a look at the upper levels of Minor League Baseball. At AA, hope is hitting coach Matt Snyder will work on fostering Zubia’s natural raw power potential to fill out his skill set and boost his floor. His call-up makes a lot of sense if Troy Johnston—currently hitting .277/.389/.558—is promoted from AA to AAA.
Signed by the Marlins as part of the 2021 international class, Hernandez, 19, made an immediate impression with his plate presence and ability to work his way on base, all while dealing with catching duties consistently. With the DSL Marlins that year, Hernandez slashed .209/.365/.358. In a similar amount of ABs in 2022, Hernandez’s slash took a bit of a hit as the league adjusted to him.
For a third straight year, Hernandez is back in the FCL and he’s back in a big way. Through 22 games, Hernandez is hitting .268/.470/.437. He has a 147 wRC+. The switch hitter is still developing his catching tools including his throwing arm, but shows a solid feel for the barrel from both sides of the plate and the ability to hit to all fields. He should have more than enough room to continue to his development with the Hammerheads. He is solidly on the radar for a call-up to full season ball very shortly.
RHP Ike Buxton
Buxton is a member of the 2022 draft class. After being recruited to Boise State out of high school, he red-shirted in 2019 before missing nearly all of 2020 due to the COVID cancellation. Facing a comeback from nearly two full years idle Buxton earned his draft capital in 2022 when he proved he can handle a full slate of work and improve his craft.
So far, the Marlins have taken it easy with Buxton’s workload, originally making him a member of the Hammerheads’ bullpen. Recently, Buxton has returned to the Jupiter rotation. This past week, in his fourth career start, Buxton had a career day as he went six innings on five hits, one run, three walks and eight strikeouts. Overall in 33 IP with Jupiter, Buxton has a 1.91 ERA via a 1.21 WHIP and a 40/23 K/BB.
Buxton features a wide arsenal of five pitches and can reach the upper 90s. He throws his fastball three different ways (4S, 2S, CT) and mixes in a changeup. Arguably his best pitch is a sweeper that tunnels off the heat very well. Buxton’s focal point as he grows will be improving his command and control and controlling all quadrants of the zone. That said, at 22, Buxton has shown enough to get a look at A+ in the second half this year. An inspirational story as a three-sport collegiate athlete with a great work ethic, Buxton has a back end rotational ceiling.
LHP Evan Taylor
Taylor is a 23-year-old lefty drafted in the 9th round last season. After being assigned to the Hammerheads for the first nine games of his pro career last season, he is back with Jupiter this season. For the entirety of the season, Taylor has served as Jupiter’s closer. He’s successfully converted 11 of 12 save opportunities and is holding down a 2.86 ERA via a 50/18 K/BB through 34.2 IP. In 47 pro innings total—all with Jupiter—he has a 2.87 ERA and 69/25 K/BB.
Taylor’s arsenal consists of two pitches: a fastball that tops at 93 and and his best pitch, a slider that sits in the high 70s and can reach 82. Taylor’s best weapon is his deception. At 6’4”, 250, Taylor is extremely quick and extremely short to the plate from a funky low left handed arm angle. This and his confidence to challenge inside the zone has awarded him with a possible call up to A+.
Thompson is quite possibly the next diamond in the rough find prospect by the Marlins. A guy who has never had an issue staying on the field, Thompson moved from South Dakota State University to Oklahoma State University and mixed in four summer league showings before the MLB Draft. Despite OPSing 1.063 in his senior year, Thompson went undrafted. The Marlins signed Thompson as a free agent on July 20th, 2022.
Since being drafted, Thompson has found consistent offensive success. After slashing .292/.397/.475 in his first 34 pro games, the 6’, 207-pound lefty batter is hitting .254/.356/.520 in 53 games this season. His 11 home runs are tied for 8th in the Midwest League. A compact yet physical bat, Thompson is showing solid bat to ball skills. He can also play all corner positions on the infield and outfield. Performing at age 25, Thompson could get pushed quickly through the system.