In minor league baseball, there are times when winning games takes a backseat to overall individual development. In 2022, the members of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos made winning and cultivating a winning culture part of their development. To start the 2023 season, the club will have many of those same faces back by the bay at Blue Wahoos Stadium. Here’s a look at what to expect from the Wahoos this season.
While there are many names on the Wahoos roster that could have easily gotten the promotion to AAA, Kevin “Smoke” Randel will begin the year with many of the players who helped lead Pensacola to the 2022 Southern League title. Randel is excited about bringing players that know how to create a winning culture back into his clubhouse.
“It’s a privilege to have a lot of these championship players return. I think we have 15 total and they were the guys going down the stretch,” Randel said. “They came to the park with some energy. They sparked some life in our club that we didn’t really have when they came. The clubhouse was unbelievable and the dugout was unbelievable. Watching these guys compete and win ballgames night in and night out was really impressive. I’m fortunate and grateful they are back with us.”
C Paul McIntosh
We have said this before and we will stick to it: McIntosh is a mountain of muscle. He puts it all to work for him well at the plate and this spring, he showed the ability to get more of it involved behind the plate. A 6’1”, 220 pound specimen, the undrafted free agent has turned a lot of heads during his first two seasons in the Marlins organization including last year where he hit .258/.379/.465 as the Pensacola Blue Wahoos’ primary catcher. At the plate, McIntosh has exhibited fantastic plate vision and some of the simplest power in the Marlins’ system. With the Wahoos, PMac had a 75/55 K/BB and hit 13 home runs. Behind the plate, McIntosh could be seen working diligently on his lateral movement and blocking ability this spring.
It’s been a quick rise for PMac since he was signed by Miami in 2021. He’s played a lot of baseball at the most physically demanding position on the diamond, but he’s been productive and shown fantastic athleticism throughout. His body caught up with him at the end of 2022 when he suffered an intercostal injury, but he has remained healthy throughout the spring. If McIntosh’s offensive consistency continues and he continues to gain polish as a backstop, he could be called upon to contribute to the Marlins sometime this season.
When rosters were released, there were questions about how Randel will get both McIntosh and Banfield adequate playing time. According to Randel, McIntosh will also see time in left field once a week. McIntosh has experience at the position due to spending time there in his collegiate years. The positional flexibility will only be to his advantage as he edges closer to his big league future. McIntosh is a high floor hitter who is only getting better and who continues to prove his worth to the franchise that trusted in his abilities.
1B Troy Johnston
Johnston is the most scientific hitter in the Marlins’ minor league system. The 2019 draftee out of Gonzaga works to maintain that title by way of good swing decisions and the ability to keep it simple. Johnston takes what he can get at the plate and settles for reaching base, but his ability to make consistent quality contact has started to earn him more extra bases late in his MiLB career.
Johnston is an average corner outfielder who started playing first base in 2021. He’s still working to complete his polish at the spot, but he shows enough consistency to be able to man first regularly. Being able to man one of the thinnest positions in the organization, if this new slimmed down version of Johnston continues to hit at Pensacola this year, his big league debut shouldn’t be far away.
2B Jose Devers
3B Cobie Fletcher-Vance
SS Nasim Nunez
Nunez is hands down the best defensive player in the Marlins’ organization. His 70-grade field tool and 60-grade arm give him a very high floor as there is little doubt he will stick at shortstop for his whole career. How close Nunez will get to his ceiling of a catalytic starting shortstop will depend on the future progression of his bat.
This spring, although he only saw limited time in games, Nunez impressed the new Marlins coaching staff with his work ethic, drive and exhibition of on base tools. A 5’9”, 168 pound switch hitter, Nunez showed continued patience and plate vision while also beginning to exhibit higher exit velos up to 107 mph. Per his own words, Nunez is a guy who is starting to understand himself as a player with each rep he gets. He will continue to get those as the every day shortstop for the Wahoos this season. Despite his wiry frame, Nunez also remains confident in his ability to come by consistent plus contact, but even if he doesn’t, Nunez is consistently looking to turn his opportunities on base into more bases.
With MLB ready defense right now, blazing speed, and a simple approach, Nunez has a high MLB floor as utility player and the ceiling of a full time starter. He’s also still just 22. With plenty of time to completely fill out, Nunez is a very intriguing follow this year.
LF Griffin Conine
Conine has had a lot of moments to remember in Pensacola as a member of the Blue Wahoos. Thirty-seven of them relate to his ability to put the ball over the fence. The owner of insane power bordering on 70 grade, Conine went from 13 in 42 AA games last year to 24, a team record, over the course of a full season with Pensacola last season making him a key cog in their Southern League championship run. Over the course of the past three seasons, Conine has slammed 27 homers per season on average.
There’s zero question about what Conine can do when he makes quality contact. The question is how often can he do so? Conine’s development has been limited by an extremely high strikeout rate. As hard as it can be to hit on the bay in Pensacola, luck hasn’t played much of a part, either. In fact, Conine was slightly luckier than the league average player in the Southern League this past season, posting a .308 BABIP. The good news for Conine is that he was seeing AA pitching so much better last year, reviving his walk rate from 6.9% in his 42 games with the Wahoos all the way back up to 14.9% in 118 games. Conine’s offensive profile will always include strikeouts, but how respectable can he make his on base figures? How he answers that question as he finishes his minor league career will make the difference between fourth outfielder/bat off the bench and starting outfielder/DH. This is a big year for Conine.
CF Victor Mesa Jr
Mesa Jr was a highly heralded Marlins international signing that came to the club with his brother and top international class signee Victor Victor Mesa. Five years later, Mesa Jr has made his own name and rose to within the top 10 in the Marlins’ organizational rankings.
After a solid 2022 with the Sky Carp, Mesa Jr came to camp this spring with added weight and a more focused purpose. On the backfields, Mesa Jr consistently exhibited arguably the best swings of any non-40 man player. Late in camp, Mesa Jr got into a couple games with the big league team and faced off against mostly AA and AAA talent. On March 19th, he stepped up in the bottom of the 9th in a tie game and ambushed the first pitch he saw for a game winning ace.
At the plate, Mesa Jr continues to build on a much quieter approach and a more straight-through swing that he began to fully implement in 2021. As he fills out physically, Mesa Jr is coming by more power via improved bat speed. How he acclimates to pitching at the upper levels of the minors will be the tipping point but judging by how he looked both physically and mechanically this spring, this could be a breakout year for the younger Mesa brother. Still just 21, Mesa Jr is well ahead of schedule which gives him a pretty high floor. Defensively, Mesa has an average arm and makes good reads, giving him the ability to get it done in center field, but as his physical projection continues, he may fit better as a corner outfielder long term. Overall, there’s still a lot of variance and a lot to learn about this prospect. That learning continues this season.
RF Victor Victor Mesa
BN Will Banfield
BN Dane Myers
BN Joe Rizzo
BN Norel Gonzalez
BN JD Orr
SP Dax Fulton
SP Eury Perez
Perez is music to Marlins’ fans ears. Perez is the top pitching prospect in baseball in one of the best pitching development systems. And he had the NL Cy Young award winner at his disposal this spring. Perez didn’t balk on the chance to make the most of Sandy’s tutelage. Minus the time that Sandy spent away competing for the Dominican Republic, Perez wasn’t seen far from Sandy’s side. The pair were part of the same throwing group in early spring and in the clubhouse, even though their lockers were placed on opposite sides, they were usually shoulder to shoulder. Speaking about Perez and the rest of the Marlins’ young pitchers in camp this spring, Alcantara stated he was impressed with how they’ve responded to his leadership.
For Perez himself, even in his time in MLB games and on the backfields, it’s clear that opposing teams and hitters are getting to know him. During his time with the Marlins, Perez gave up two long balls as part of the same start and a total of 10 earned runs in his 10.2 IP. On the backfields, Perez could be seen doing a bit of the same especially when he worked himself into deeper counts. The tipping point for Perez as he continues his fast-track development this spring will be the mental side of the game: how does he affect the hitter and throw off timing while continuing to exhibit his plus-plus stuff.
With four pitches up to triple digits and down to the low 80s, Perez is still well ahead of his time and still has so much more room to grow into his full potential. While he still has a bit to learn to fully grow into his craft, he will take lessons from Sandy and the rest of his future big league teammates into his third pro season.
A 6’8” power arm, Perez is the model candidate for what the Marlins’ front office is targeting in their pitchers of the future. With continued projection, this man will ace the a big league rotation alongside his mentor someday soon.
SP M.D. Johnson
It finally happened. Johnson has taken the next step. A sixth rounder from 2019, Johnson came to the Marlins after a fantastic senior season at Dallas Baptist consisting of a 2.76 ERA, 1.020 WHIP and 110/29 K/BB in 16 starts. Since arriving in the pros, all Johnson has done is perform. In 232.2 MiLB innings, the 25-year-old has a 3.25 ERA, 1.165 WHIP and 254/102 K/BB.
The Doctor is another sizable specimen who tosses from an easy delivery and a high 3/4 arm slot. The velo is average but the array of pitches, stuff, deception, command, and durability are all real. Johnson owns four pitches, a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup that he mixes supremely well. Johnson throws the four-seam within the 92-94 mph range with enough behind it to play off his plus breakers. He works extremely well all around and in the zone with great command (probably his best tool) and the pitcher IQ to make it stick as a starter. Speaking this preseason, Randel stated Johnson impressed him during spring training.
“His overall package stood out. He threw strikes,” Randel said. “I know in the past he’s been a tinkerer with mechanics and spin; all that stuff was kind of out the window and he just went out and performed. He had a great spring. He’s earned his spot here in the rotation.”
Randel also said part of what set Johnson apart is the addition of a new pitch.
“He developed a cutter/slider type pitch to go in his repertoire. He will be filtered into the back end of the rotation here and it’ll be good to see what he has under the lights.”
2023 will welcome a big jump for Johnson as he faces off against upper minors hitting but he is up for this challenge. Going on 26, Johnson is another arm who could be pushed rather quickly into big league action. He has the size, stuff, and background to make it stick at any level. How he responds to the upper minors this year will be well worth keeping tabs on.
SP Patrick Monteverde
Monteverde is another guy over 6’5” that fits the mold the Marlins have made for pitchers they love to develop perfectly. A guy that was passed on by D I schools out of high school, Monteverde rose up the ranks from D III to Texas Tech. The Marlins selected him in the 8th round of the 2021 draft.
So far in his big league career, Monteverde has had a similarly quick rise going from the FCL to AA in under two seasons. The southpaw has performed at every level he’s visited. His current career numbers include a 3.04 ERA and a 149/37 K/BB. And he keeps getting better. This past week in his AA debut, Monteverde struck out a career high 11.
Though it has ticked up slightly from his collegiate career and currently sits at 93-94, velocity is not Monteverde’s calling card. What is is his wide arsenal of four pitches including an advanced changeup, a good tunneling slider and a curveball and his ability to exhibit consistent command of the strike zone. From a high arm slot, Monteverde planes downhill well adding a layer of deception to his delivery. While Monteverde will need to show he can maintain those strengths at the toughest level of MiLB as the league adjusts to him, the initial output has continued to be very positive. He has the ceiling of a back end rotational talent.
SP Zach King
To start the year, Pensacola will welcome back many of the guys who led them to the Southern League title last season, especially down the stretch and during the playoffs. Meanwhile, AAA will be housed with older players, many closer to a replacement level ceiling. Looking up and down rosters, it is clear that the Marlins are housing much of their top talent at Pensacola. It is entirely possible the big league team draws straight from this level to contribute to the big league team in 2023. On the forefront though, the defending champs look primed to make another run.