In the first full week since the All-Star break, several Marlins pitching prospects showed continued development. For a few of these young players, that means progressing from injuries and working their way back to the big leagues.
OF Victor Mesa Jr, A+
This Week’s Stats: 8-23, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 3B, 3 SB
Victor Mesa Jr. has quietly had a solid season this year at Beloit. Perhaps due to his brother’s status as a likely prospect bust, Mesa Jr. has never gotten much praise in his own right. Undeniably, he does not have the talent to place too high on prospect lists. However, Mesa also does not have many holes in his game despite lacking any exceptional individual traits. For instance, Mesa has struck out in a reasonable 18% of his plate appearances this season, while walking in 10% of them. That is a solid, low strikeout rate, but not low enough for his hit tool to be considered elite.
Go up and down Mesa’s skillset and much of the same will be true. He has shown some raw power, but struggles to get to it in games and does not have a large frame. He is a decent athlete, but not likely to be a major base stealer or anything more than an average center fielder. Still, to have more of a glass half full approach, it is important to remember that average is valuable in the big leagues. If Mesa continues to do all of these things fairly well, he could develop into a useful player.
Mesa Jr. is still just twenty years old, so there is time for the young outfielder. He has improved as the year has gone on, which is a good sign for his future. July was Mesa’s highest month by slugging percentage this season. In-game power remains Mesa’s most obvious crux, so continuing to grow on that will be vital. The lefty has a long, but smooth, swing that should result in line drives. The next month or so will be fascinating, and should determine whether Mesa starts next year in Pensacola.
RHP Edward Cabrera, AAA
This Week’s Stats: 5.0 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 7/0 K/BB
Edward Cabrera has made starts at four different levels this season, in what has been a frustrating, up-and-down campaign. Battling through an injury to start the season was the initial delay, and that was followed up by a June trip to the IL with right elbow tendinitis. Cabrera has been unlucky on the injury front, but when on the mound he has continued to show why he has been so highly regarded as a prospect. In 38.2 minor league innings this year, Cabrera has struck out 36% of opposing hitters while allowing only two homeruns.
After seeing Cabrera struggle with control issues in his major league cup of coffee last season, it felt like the tall righty was starting to turn the corner in his second stint with the Marlins. While his walk rate was still far too high for a starter, Cabrera had decent command of his changeup and fastball in his three starts in June. Against Colorado, specifically, Cabrera’s repertoire was so filthy that it did not matter where he threw the ball as Rockies hitters would still be flailing after it. Nothing shows the potential of Cabrera more than that; when on, his changeup and slider are major swing and miss pitches, because hitters also have to keep the upper-nineties velocity in the back of their minds.
Pitching against Gwinnett last Thursday, Cabrera showcased how he can look when everything is going right. He walked nobody over five shutout innings, while striking out seven batters. Seeing Cabrera develop that level of comfort with his arsenal is immensely important. Over eleven innings in the minors since returning from the injury, Cabrera has walked just one batter. Perhaps the elbow issues were preventing him from commanding the ball with ease, which would make sense considering it was an injury to his throwing arm. Either way, Edward Cabrera is showing how filthy he can be, and will be doing it soon again in Miami.
RHP Gabe Bierman, A
This Week’s Stats: 7.0 IP, 1 R, 3 H, 8/1 K/BB
Along with Luis Palacios, Gabe Bierman has been one of the most consistent and durable starting pitchers in the Jupiter rotation this season. The tall right hander has consistently put the Hammerheads in a good position to win, while also pitching fairly deep into ballgames (especially considering the level). For the first time this season, Bierman managed to throw seven complete innings when he pitched a gem against Daytona on Saturday.
That superb outing capped off a more-than stellar month of July for Bierman. Opposing batters hit just .191/.273/.281 against him, while Bierman registered a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the month. As Bierman has developed, he continues to show a plus fastball that can be used up in the zone. The pitch has clocked in the mid-nineties this season, and he seems to be comfortable sitting with it in the low-nineties. Bierman also features a slider and a curveball, both of which can flash plus at times but need to be fine tuned going forward. His other plus offering is the changeup, which combines with the fastball to get a lot of groundballs.
For now, Bierman has earned a spot in the Jupiter rotation, and should be well on the way to an appearance in Beloit. Selected last year in the 7th Round out of Indiana University, Bierman has shown enough signs that the Marlins should keep seeing him as a starter. While many expect him to eventually be moved into a relief role, Bierman has displayed the ability to get outs as a starter and pitch deeper into games. The key going forward will be harnessing his control a bit, as he has a walk rate above 10% at the moment. On the bright side, Bierman has showed excellent command in certain starts this season and does seem to have a good feel for his fastball/changeup combo.
SS Jose Devers, AA
This Week’s Stats: 8-21, 4 2B, 4 RBI, 4/1 K/BB
One of my favorite player archetypes is the slick fielding, light hitting middle infielder. Straight out of that 1980’s, National League style game that featured so many of those sorts of players is Jose Devers. Following a lengthy struggle with injuries to start this season, Devers has struggled too much at the plate in Pensacola. While he made his major league debut last season, Devers will have to hit more if he wants to reach that level again anytime soon. Over the past few weeks, the middle infielder seems to be finding a bit more rhythm at the plate.
Acquired via the Giancarlo Stanton trade with the Yankees prior to the 2018 season, Devers came with the reputation of a speedy, glove first player. His power has yet to develop in any substantial way; Devers has not hit a home run as a member of the Miami Marlins organization. It is with good reason that Fangraphs has a 20 FV on his in in-game power. While he has shown the ability to at least hit the ball hard, Devers is certainly limited to being more of a singles hitter.
If he can play shortstop well, than that profile can be doable. Devers will need to cut his strikeout rate down a bit from it’s current rate of 19%, and probably put the ball on the ground more. His .264 BABIP this season is likely somewhat due to bad luck, but he has also not hit enough grounders and line drives. Considering Devers’ plus speed, beating out balls on the ground may be his best bet. Using all parts of the field more will also help. While this is atypical device for most young hitters nowadays, Devers’ future will depend on him continuing to show a plus glove and hitting just enough. Over the past week, he did exactly that, while also showing some doubles power that could raise his ceiling eventually.
RHP Eli Villalobos, AA
This Week’s Stats: 4.0 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 5/0 K/BB
Another week, and another Pensacola Blue Wahoos relief pitcher worth highlighting. After a bit of a rough start to July, Eli Villalobos put together his best week of the month and thoroughly dominated opposing hitters. The former 14th round pick in 2018 out of Long Beach State has really settled into a relief role over the past few seasons after Miami initially tried to use him as a starter in 2019. Like most other relief pitchers in the system, the Marlins have been aggressive in their using Villalobos for more than one inning this season. Villalobos averages about four-five outs per appearance, while still maintaining a high strikeout rate.
Villalobos has a fastball that sits in the mid-nineties, while featuring a wipeout curveball for swings and misses. This combination locks him into a relief role going forward, although Villalobos also features a changeup that can be useful against lefties. His relative lack of control would also seem to indicate that he is set as a reliever. However, Villalobos has improved upon his walk rate as the season has gone on. While it stands above 10% at the moment, since June 1st he has walked just 7% of batters after struggling at the start of the year.
The most intriguing part of Villalobos’ profile remains his revere splits. Lefties have hit just .153/.229/.245 against the lengthy right hander, which is considerably worse than same-sided batters have fared against him. The off speed pitches have clearly proven vital in these situations, as well as a little bit of deception in his delivery. Either way, this sort of unique trait could carry Villalobos far, as hitter will not be used to this sort of profile.
Next Up (8/2-8/7)
- AAA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp vs Memphis
- AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos at Montgomery
- A+ Beloit Sky Carp at Cedar Rapids
- A Jupiter Hammerheads at Palm Beach