Troy Johnston’s 2023 success didn’t come out of nowhere. Dating back to his professional debut in 2019, Johnston had been the leading run producer among all Miami Marlins prospects. He’s been a Midwest League and Southern League post-season All-Star selection, an Arizona Fall League participant and a non-roster invitee to major league spring training. He posted a 124 wRC+ in regular season games during that span (with 100 representing league average).
Despite the accolades and offensive prowess, the Marlins weren’t fully sold on Johnston. After spending most of the 2022 season with Double-A Pensacola, he was assigned to play there again.
“I would just like to polish my game to become more of a big leaguer than I am right now,” Johnston told Fish On First’s Kevin Barral entering his age-26 campaign. “I really enjoy progressing my game to a level that potentially I could make the Opening Day roster next year, or even debut this year. That’s just up to me and how well I’m gonna perform this year.”
If only the baseball business was so simple, because Johnston has done everything in his power to legitimize himself. He bumped up his Double-A slash line from .292/.360/.450 in 2022 to .296/.396/.567 in 2023, reducing his strikeout rate and making a far greater impact as a baserunner. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A Jacksonville, where the numbers have been even more extraordinary—.419/.471/.758 slash line in 15 games entering Saturday.
With the Blue Wahoos and Jumbo Shrimp combined, Johnston has driven in 100 runs. It’s the most RBIs in a single season by a Marlins minor leaguer since Scott Seabol (2007).
There are 12 other Marlins minor leaguers who have reached 100 ribbies in a single season, but Johnston is on pace to became the first to drive in more than one run per game while doing so:
- Kevin Millar, 131 RBI in 135 AA games (1997)
- Tim Clark, 126 RBI in 128 A+ games (1993)
- John Toale, 125 RBI in 134 A+ games (1993)
- Brian Daubach, 124 RBI in 140 AAA games (1998)
- Bryn Kosco, 121 RBI in 121 A+ games (1993)
- Joe Dillon, 117 RBI in 141 AA/AAA games (2004)
- Jerry Brooks, 107 RBI in 136 AAA games (1996)
- Brad McCann, 106 RBI in 123 A games (2005)
- José Santos, 105 RBI in 128 A games (1999)
- Scott Seabol, 105 RBI in 139 AAA games (2007)
- Adrián González, 103 RBI in 127 A games (2001)
- Billy McMillon, 101 RBI in 137 AAA games (1994)
- Troy Johnston, 100 RBI in 98 AA/AAA games (2023)
You won’t get far when attempting to translate MiLB RBIs to MLB RBIs. Five of the players ahead of Johnston on this leaderboard didn’t even appear in the majors. Several others who broke through to the highest level failed to stick for any full-length seasons.
That being said, I’m glad I put in the time to research this because Brian Daubach jumps out as an intriguing comp for Troy. Both were 17th-round draft picks who played first base and the corner outfield spots with similar physical measurements and batted from the left side. Like Johnston, Daubach enjoyed his monster season at age 26 while repeating a level he previously played at. Daubach got his first MLB opportunity with the Fish in 1998, but spent the majority of his career with the Boston Red Sox. He played parts of eight seasons in The Show and posted a 108 wRC+, accruing 4.7 fWAR.
The 2023 Marlins have surprisingly stayed in playoff contention despite struggling to produce runs throughout the season. Why not let Johnston try to help with that?
For the time being, he is simply blocked. Josh Bell and Jorge Soler are in the Marlins lineup practically every day at first base and designated hitter, respectively. Yuli Gurriel is next up on the depth chart—although Gurriel hasn’t exactly been “good” on the field in 2023, the club values his glovework, contact hitting and veteran savvy too much to release him at this stage of the season.
In a vacuum, is Johnston a better baseball player than Avisaíl García? I believe so. But it’s probably time to talk about Johnston’s corner outfield days in the past tense. He has not played there at all this season after getting sporadic reps in 2021 and 2022 (almost all of those in left field). Also, he wouldn’t be a natural platoon partner with Jesús Sánchez, a fellow left-handed hitter.
If there’s an injury to Bell, Soler or Gurriel, Johnston should be on the next flight to Miami. Even if that trio stays healthy, perhaps Johnston could squeeze onto the Marlins active roster when it expands on Sept. 1, relegating Gurriel exclusively to pinch-hitting and late-game defensive work.
Photo courtesy of Pensacola Blue Wahoos