Most of the Marlins’ minor league affiliates were finishing up the first halves of their seasons last week. Congratulations are in order for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, who won their division and have secured a spot in the playoffs in a few months. Moreover, all four minor league teams are now at .500 or better on the season, which underlies the development we have seen from many players this season.
LHP Andrew Nardi, AAA
This Week’s Stats: 3.0 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 5/1 K/BB
The Marlins may rank 21st in the Major Leagues in bullpen ERA, but they have a host of exciting relievers in the system that should be valuable reinforcements within the next year or so. Nardi is one of the guys closest to contributing at the highest level of professional baseball. Since his promotion to Jacksonville about a month ago, Nardi has continued to display a repertoire that can gets swings and misses and limit base runners. He has posted a WHIP below 1.00 at both Pensacola and Jacksonville this year, while posting a strikeout rate of 38% between the two levels. This has been Nardi’s most promising season since being drafted in 2019, and the twenty-three year old is still young enough that more development can be expected.
Nardi worked primarily as a starting pitcher in college, albeit with limited success. He posted a 6.75 ERA in seventeen games (fourteen starts) while at Arizona in 2018. Still, the Marlins saw enough promise to take the big lefty in the sixteenth round of the 2019 draft. Nardi has worked only as a reliever since joining Miami’s pipeline, but has shown an ability to pitch multiple innings. These types of hybrid roles can be incredibly valuable for a manager, as we have seen progressive teams utilize pitchers like Nardi one to two times a week for multiple innings. Nardi has made twenty five appearances, between the two levels, this season; in over half of them he has gotten four outs or more.
Nardi’s three pitch arsenal makes this sort of multi-inning role plausible in the Major Leagues. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid nineties, while his slider misses bats. Nardi’s third pitch, a changeup, neutralizes opposite handed batters well when he is able to locate the pitch. Lefties have not been able to touch Nardi this season, with a .105/.191/.105 line against him, while righties have had greater success. Developing the changeup will be crucial to Nardi’s big league future, as just being a lefty specialist would provide value but would also limit Nardi’s ceiling. Still, as that .000 ISO against lefties indicates, Nardi has not even given up an XBH against them this season. Based on the way he has pitched, even if Nardi does not get a call up before the end of the season, he will have earned a spot on the 40 man roster this winter instead of being exposed to the Rule 5 Draft.
OF Victor Mesa Jr., A+
This Week’s Stats: 8-23, 4 2B, 6 R, 2/7 K/BB
It is hard to believe Victor Mesa Jr. is only twenty years old still (he turns twenty-one in September). After signing with the Marlins as the second wheel to his brother in a much publicized pursuit of the Cuban outfielders, the younger Mesa brother has slowly developed into the more intriguing prospect. While neither of the Mesa brothers is a sure thing to ever even reach the big leagues, Victor Jr. has shown enough this season to retain some hope that he could end up contributing at the highest level.
Much like the rest of the Beloit lineup, Mesa’s performance has gotten better as the season has gone on. His OPS has trended upwards on a monthly basis, while he is walking more and striking out less. With a .253/.343/.380 line, Mesa has performed 3% better than league average. Interestingly, the lefty swinging Mesa has performed far better against left handed pitchers than righties. His .855 OPS versus lefties, as opposed to a .676 OPS against righties, may just be a case of a small sample size. Still, two of his three home runs this season came against lefties, and his strikeout rate is also lower against southpaws. Mesa struggled mightily against lefties last year, so he has made some important adjustments to counteract that with his approach.
Scouts still raise concerns, and justifiably so, about the lack of a standout tool from Mesa. An argument could be made that his hit tool could end up being that trait. Looking at his last week, Mesa was on base fifteen times while striking out only twice. His K% for the season sits at an impressive, if not necessarily elite, 18%. For the month of June, that strikeout rate is at an exceptional 11.9%. Hope needs to remain that Mesa can come into some more power considering his age and athletic frame. Unfortunately, not much power has emerged in games, with an ISO of .122 this season. The doubles we saw this week are a good sign, and Mesa’s future path to the big leagues may be as a contact hitter who can pick up some steals, doubles, and get on base enough to be a fringe starter/fourth outfielder type.
SS Nasim Nunez, A+
This Week’s Stats: 9-19, 1 HR, 2 2B, 2 3B, 1/6 K/BB
The defense that Nasim Nunez consistently plays is not usually discernible in the minor league box scores, but provides a value that is hard to quantify at the lower levels. The major scouting publications all seem to agree that Nunez’s calling card is his glove though, and it has the potential to be a ticket to the majors eventually. Unfortunately, up until the last few weeks, the glove and speed were about all there was to be excited about when it came to Nunez. To say he had not hit in professional ball would be an understatement; Nunez had never hit a home run in the minors and most of his hits were a result of great speed.
Nunez snapped that homerless drought this past week with not just a homer, but a no doubt bomb to center field. Nothing demonstrates how toolsy Nunez is better than that long ball. The switch hitting shortstop is still growing into his frame and tacking on muscle that will help him reach more power. Nunez has also definitely made some adjustments this year with his swing to try and get to some more of that raw power. His ground ball rate of 52% is still high, but certainly not unreasonable for a speedy, glove-first player. The glove will provide so much value that all Nunez needs to do is be a somewhat productive hitter to be a useful player at the upper levels.
One concern that remains with Nunez is his ability to hit from the right side of the plate. He is striking out more, walking less, and hitting for less power as a right handed hitter. The swing from the left side, which you see on his home run cut, also looks more fluid and geared toward maximizing his contact. On the whole, Nunez is making more contact as the season progresses though. In June, he has eighteen strikeouts to seventeen walks, an impressive ratio at any level. While Nunez will probably need to be more aggressive eventually, that approach is working to make him a league average hitter at High-A and restoring some belief amongst Marlins fans that he could be an eventual contributor.
LHP Zach King, A+
This Week’s Stats: 7.0 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 11/1 K/BB
I try to avoid including the same player in the Roundup in consecutive weeks, but Zach King followed a great performance up with an even better one. His eleven strikeouts cement King’s status as the strikeout leader in the organization, which is quite the accomplishment considering King’s initial sting in High-A last year. He labored towards an ERA a few ticks below 6.00, while giving up fourteen home runs in seventy-eight innings. This season, on the other hand, King has avoided the long ball and gotten more strikeouts. After this most recent outing, his ERA sits at 2.77 and has helped spur a Beloit revival to the .500 mark for the season (34-34).
Unlike some of his peers on this list, King has not needed to get continuously better this season to earn a spot in the Roundup. He has pitched well throughout the year, as him and MD Johnson managed to keep the Sky Carp in many games earlier this season when the offense was as cold as the weather. King has done it by consistently pitching deep into games; only two of his twelve starts have been shorter than five innings long. He has done it with a fastball-cutter combo that can get groundballs, a slider that misses plenty of bats, and a changeup that neutralizes righties well.
Considering King was a reliever at Vanderbilt, his transition into a starter has been an impressive bit of development from both the player and the Marlins pitching development program. Fangraphs recently speculated King could be used as a “bulk reliever” in their Marlins Prospects List, but I am optimistic that he could end up being a back end starter. The four pitch mix that has emerged this season is promising, as is King’s improved control. He has walked just 5.6% of opposing hitters this month, after posting walk rates over 12% in both April and May. Keeping that walk rate low will be the best way for King to remain a starter, as his more fluid delivery and deep repertoire indicate that he can stay in a starting role going forward.
SS Jose Salas, A
This Week’s Stats: 6-23, 2 HR, 2 2B, 6 R
In that aforementioned Fangraphs prospects list, Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen stirred up a fair bit of discussion amongst Marlins fans by ranking Jose Salas the third best prospect in the Miami system. Most other rankings have had the shortstop on the back half of the top ten in the system, but Longenhagen even had Salas ranked above his teammate in Jupiter, Khalil Watson. While I have tended to regard Watson as the higher ceiling prospect with the potential for more power, the two are probably closer than people imagine. Salas, being a well-known international free agent signing in 2019, has certainly shown more at Jupiter this season than Watson, who was also a well regarded amateur taken in the first round last season.
Nasim Nunez is more known for his speed than Salas, and has doubled his stolen base output compared to the younger Salas this season. However, Salas has been caught only once this season, while he has successfully stolen fifteen bags. Nunez has thirty steals, but has been caught ten times. I mention this, along with Salas’ plus power, to demonstrate that he may be the most complete shortstop prospect in the system. While it remains to be seen if Salas stays at short, his athleticism and arm should make him adequate at second or third base as well. Ultimately, there is not any one glaring weakness in Salas’ game right now.
As with Nunez, Salas and the Marlins will have to decide if they want him to remain a switch hitter going forward. There is plenty of time to decide, as Salas is still just nineteen years old. Moreover, he has had success from both sides of the plate this year. The sample size from the right handed side is small (46 plate appearances), but he has just five strikeouts from that side and has hit a homer. It was not long ago that the right side was not even mentioned as a concern, but Salas has made so much progress from the left side that it naturally leads people to wonder. For now, the Marlins will sit back and watch him continue to develop. Salas’ two homers this week both came from the left side, and contributed to an impressive 126 wRC+ for the season. The Marlins will take it slowly with the youngster, but his star level potential remains.
Up Next (6/28-7/3)
- AAA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp at Memphis
- AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos vs Montgomery
- A+ Beloit Sky Carp vs South Bend
- A Jupiter Hammerheads at St. Lucie