This is the first weekly post of a season long series that will update readers on a few Marlins prospects each week. The players who perform best, or terribly, in any given week in the minor leagues are most likely to be featured here. However, those with significant prospect status, such as JJ Bleday or Max Meyer, are more likely to be featured if anything of note happens with them, as opposed to an off-the-radar name who has a noteworthy week.
With Spring Training games officially under way, there has been plenty to look at for this group of young Marlins. A few players, like the aforementioned Meyer, have really stood out, while there were also a few notes that I gathered from watching this past week’s action where there is room for improvement.
Max Meyer, RHP
This Week’s Stats: 4.0 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 5 K, 0 BB
Nothing excited Marlins fans more this week than Meyer’s performance against the Mets on Monday. Coming into the game in relief of Elieser Hernandez, Meyer notched four perfect innings against a Mets lineup that still featured a few everyday players. More importantly, he showed developments in his repertoire that should appease more skeptical prospect experts who think Meyer will not pan out as a starting pitcher.
Meyer’s fastball sat around 96, as expected, and topped out at almost 98. As most pitchers do early in the Spring, Meyer threw plenty of fastballs. However, he also showed off two different versions of a slider. One version was so unique that Statcast was classifying it as a cutter, but it was almost certainly just Meyer manipulating the slider in a different fashion. It was a few miles per hour faster, and Meyer controlled the pitch well while getting many swings and misses. The changeup, Meyer’s elusive third pitch, is still a work in progress and he did not consistently locate it on Monday. Still, if Meyer can use his slider in two different ways then it may alleviate the problem. Either way, Meyer showed this week why there is so much reason to be optimistic about his potential.
Jerar Encarnacion, 1B/OF/DH
This Week’s Stats: 2-7, 1 HR, 4 RBI, .286/.286/.857
This is a big year for Encarnacion; he has untapped potential that was not realized last season. There were many reasons for this, including nagging injuries, but Encarnacion has to face the cold reality of being a 24-year-old prospect who needs to hit. The unheralded Dominican prospect gained attention on prospect lists because of his stature. Many have compared him to an NFL Tight End, and he has the strength and raw power to match that description. Getting to that power in games continues to be what Encarnacion needs to improve upon, and he has showed some real signs of life early in Spring Training.
Of course, Encarnacion could also help his stock by becoming a better defensive player. He is undoubtedly limited based on his size, and having the DH in both leagues will help him if he can get to his power more often and become a better hitter. For now, there is plenty to work on still. Encarnacion has played the corner outfield and first base, but has not looked great at either position. Against the Cardinals earlier in the week, while playing first, he seemed to stretch with the wrong foot on the bag in the 7th inning. For a right handed first basemen, the right foot should be the one on the bag. Instead, the left was, and it looked a bit awkward as a result. Encarnacion still recorded the out at first base, but it may just be something to watch to see if the Marlins coaches can help improve his footwork this spring.
The Marlins have optioned Encarnacion back to Triple-A, but he showed some of his elite contact skills prior to departing big league camp. Last Saturday against Houston, Encarnacion hit a ball 110 mph that went 459 feet. It was the hardest hit ball in the game, and would be in most MLB games as well. Encarnacion, for all of his defensive limitations and struggles making contact, still has the ceiling of an offensive difference maker because of how hard he hits the ball.
The Battle for Backup Catcher
It looks like we may have a winner of this positional battle, after the Marlins sent down Nick Fortes and Alex Jackson to Triple-A on Saturday. Fortes seemed to be the favorite for the position based on his impressive September cup of coffee. Jackson would have been a reasonable choice as well, since he had only one minor league option left. Instead, it will be Henry backing up Jacob Stallings on Opening Day in San Francisco, if health permits.
Henry was seen as the least likely out of that trio to win the position heading into the Spring. We have yet to see him in much game action to this point, with three hits in just eight at-bats. It seems like the Marlins are making a bet on his power and defensive abilities. In Henry’s last full minor league season, with the Milwaukee Brewers, he hit fourteen home runs in fewer than five hundred plate appearances. So, there is certainly some pop in his bat. Henry has also worked to become a better pitch framer with the now commonly used technique of catching off of one knee with the bases empty. This allows him to present the ball better, and the Marlins must be satisfied with the progress Henry has made. Henry caught Jesus Luzardo on Tuesday and Sunday, and the two seemed to have a good rapport.
One final name worth mentioning is Lorenzo Quintana, a player who is not on the 40-man roster but who has had a great spring. The 33-year-old minor league journey man has five hits in 11 at-bats, with four for extra bases. Quintana hit well last year in Jacksonville, with a 131 wRC+. However, he played more first base than catcher, and he has seen limited reps behind the plate in Spring Training. So, Quintana was probably never a serious option for the backup catcher spot, considering the emphasis the Marlins are placing on defense with their young pitching. Still, he has had an awesome spring and is a guy deserving some praise.
Huascar Brazoban, RHP
This Week’s Stats: 2.0 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 0 K, 0 BB
Brazoban, a thirty-two year old reliever, never pitched above the Double-A level prior to playing in independent leagues over the past few seasons. Brazoban was dominant last season in the Atlantic League, and earned a well-deserved minor league contract from the Marlins in January. After pitching against the Nationals on Wednesday, his stuff seemed intriguing. Brazoban has struggled with control a bit over the years, but racked up huge strikeout totals as well. In an admittedly limited sample size this spring, Brazoban has not walked any batters.
More intruiging is the velocity and swing-and-miss potential that Brazoban has shown. The Marlins bullpen is lacking in flamethrowers compared to the rest of the league. Brazoban registered six fastballs over ninety-seven miles per hour against Washington, and also generated two swings and misses. It is an incredibly limited sample, but Brazoban could fill a hole in the Marlins current bullpen. With Nick Neidert being sent down on Sunday, and expanded rosters for April, it does not seem impossible that Brazoban could be added to the 40-man at some point and see some big league time.
Nick Neidert, RHP
This Week’s Stats: 2.0 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 1 K, 1 BB
Neidert is a prospect worth featuring this week due to the career-altering news that was announced: Neidert will be transitioning into a reliever role permanently. I have my doubts about this move, as soft throwing guys with a kitchen sink pitch mix do not seem to have a place in big league bullpens anymore. I have been higher than most on Neidert over the past few years, because I thought that he could develop as a back-end starter in a sort of poor man’s Kyle Hendricks mold. Instead, Miami sees his best path to production in the bullpen.
On Sunday, Neidert was sent down to Triple-A, meaning that he will seemingly not have a place on the Opening Day roster. This came as a bit of a surprise, as many figured Neidert would be ready to serve in a multiple-inning role immediately for the big league club. Jordan Holloway was sent down as well, so that spot seems to be one the Marlins still need to fill. We know Miami has a plethora of pitching depth, but finding the right guys to work out of the ‘pen is still something the club needs to do. Neidert looked okay in his early Spring outings, but it does not seem like Kim Ng and Don Mattingly view him as the answer right now.