The season is over for Beloit and Jupiter, but there is still plenty to play for at Jacksonville and Pensacola. This week’s Roundup features a few of the highest potential players in the system at the lower levels, and a few others who have performed well all season long.
SS Kahlil Watson, A
This Week’s Stats: 7-23, 1 HR, 2 3B, 6/1 K/BB
With the Hammerheads season ending, it was vital that Kahlil Watson left a positive impression on the minds of Marlins fans. This has been a rough season for Watson’s stock. He got off to a hot start, but quickly faded and had off the field issues, reported here first, that compounded his problems at the plate. He entered the season as one of the top prospects in the Marlins system, and a near consensus Top 100 prospect throughout the entire league. Since then, he has taken a rapid tumble, and is all the way down at #17 on the Fangraphs Marlins Prospect Rankings.
Even when Watson was performing well at the beginning of the season, there were swing and miss issues that were of concern in the peripherals. For the year, he has struck out in 35.5% of his plate appearances, while also posting an unimpressive walk rate. Watson’s approach has been his biggest problem, although there have been signs of life recently.
Since returning to the field following the discipline issues, Watson has cut his strikeout rate down by about 10%. Over this past week, he continued striking out about 25% of the time. While that rate is still a bit high, especially for the lower levels, it is not completely detrimental.
Most importantly, Watson is doing other things well on the field. He earned Florida State League Player of the Week honors for his performance this past week, because he was doing everything well. Watson has the speed to leg out extra bases, while also possessing the raw power of a future 20-25 home run hitter at the big leagues. He can be an electric player if the Marlins can help him figure the other stuff out. Since he is still only nineteen years old, there will be a lot riding on the mindset Watson comes into camp with next spring.
RHP Eli Villalobos, AAA
This Week’s Stats: 3.0 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 7/1 K/BB
Eli Villalobos could complete for the “Best Marlins Relief Pitcher” award for 2022. Throughout all levels of the system, he has been amongst the most consistently dominant pitchers. Anthony Maldonado and Josh Simpson would certainly have cases of their own, but Villalobos has been right there with them in both Pensacola and Jacksonville. Most impressively, since his promotion he has thrown his best ball of the year.
Villalobos has yet to give up a hit at Jacksonville in ten and two thirds innings. In that span, he has struck out sixteen batters while allowing just ten to reach base (5 H, 5 BB). His fastball can peak around 96-97 in many games, but the killer curveball continues to be hitter’s worst nightmare. The pitch is a sharp breaker, that seems to have a ton of late drop.
Much like Simpson and Maldonado, Villalobos should be in the mix to join the Miami bullpen immediately next year. Miami’s bullpen ranks 20th in the big leagues in ERA and 27th in WHIP. Villalobos could help in both of those categories, as he has kept his walk rate in check for most of the year while limiting hard contact. Considering the strikeout percentage he put up this past week, Villalobos will be amongst the top guys to watch in Spring Training next year.
RHP Marcus Johnson, A
This Week’s Stats: 5.0 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 10/2 K/BB
With the way that he has pitched in Jupiter, Marcus Johnson may be the 2022 Marlins draft pick most worthy of hype heading into next season. Alright… maybe just on the pitching side, since Jacob Berry has acclimated himself well at the same level. However, much like Barry, Johnson is showing that his college success was no fluke.
Johnson pitched out of the bullpen this past week. Against Lakeland, he pitched five innings in relief of the rehabbing starter Eury Perez. Over seven combined innings between the two righties, there were fourteen strikeouts. Amazingly, Johnson is two years Perez’s elder, but both are tall pitchers with intimidating mound presences.
Johnson’s advanced repertoire is certainly benefitting him at the lower levels. He has two plus breaking balls, on top of a fastball that tops in the mid-nineties. Johnson is still just twenty-one and considering his size there could still be more in the fastball. His changeup is a workable fourth pitch as well, and Johnson is using them all well to fool younger hitters. He has faced fifty-one hitters in Jupiter and struck out twenty-four of them. That ridiculous strikeout rate is accompanied by far too many walks, so Johnson will have plenty to work on over the winter.
C Paul McIntosh and OF Griffin Conine, AA
This Week’s Stats: McIntosh- 7/20, 1 HR, 1 2B, 7 R, 3/3 K/BB
Conine- 4-18, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 9/8 K/BB
With only one week left in the regular season for the Blue Wahoos, this seemed like a great opportunity to highlight two players that have had a big part in the success of Pensacola this year. After winning the Southern League South Division in the first half of the season, the Blue Wahoos are guaranteed a postseason spot. The Double-A playoffs will begin next Tuesday, with McIntosh and Conine in the middle of a lineup that they have helped carry this season.
There was not a hotter hitter in the Marlins system to begin the year as Paul McIntosh. He hit .316/.435/.544 in April, furthering the disbelief that McIntosh went undrafted out of West Virginia a year prior. He crushed Jupiter pitching in his professional debut in 2021 and was clearly in need of a bigger challenge. Skipping High-A ended up being the right choice for the big catcher, as he is wrapping up a great full season in Pensacola.
With his home run this past week, McIntosh passed the Pensacola record for RBI by a catcher in a single season. His quick bat has served him well all season, whether it be launching homers or smacking balls into the opposite field gap. McIntosh has made contact at an above average rate, while displaying a batting eye nearly as good as Conine’s. The result is a 126 wRC+ for the season. While there remains doubts about McIntosh’s long-term future behind the plate, his bat continues to speak for itself.
Similarly, Griffin Conine’s power speaks for itself. Like McIntosh, Conine broke a Pensacola record this season. With two homers this past week, he passed the Pensacola single season home run mark. Over 154 games in Pensacola over the past two seasons, Conine has smashed thirty-seven home runs.
The ease in which he drives balls to the opposite field makes be bullish on Conine’s potential to eventually contribute in the big leagues, despite the continued strikeout issues. On a brighter note, after a miserable August, Conine has had a much better month of September. His strikeouts are down, and his overall batting line is much improved. It will take baby steps, but if Conine can get the strikeout rate around 30%, he has the power and plate discipline to be a quality hitter at any level.
Next Up (9/13-9/18):
- AAA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp at Nashville
- AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos vs Biloxi