Roster decisions are being finalized, last-minute trades are being made, and the Marlins are ready to head west for Opening Day in San Francisco. However, it was an eventful last week of Spring Training, with some impressive performances from a cadre of young Marlins. Here are a few of the highlights, in advance of the Minor Leagues and Major League getting underway this week.
Edward Cabrera, RHP
This Week’s Stats: 3.0 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 3 K, 1 BB
Cabrera’s Spring 2022 debut was almost on par with Max Meyer’s when it comes to generating excitement amongst Marlins fans. Everything that I had mentioned previously this offseason about wanting to see Cabrera work on seemed to be focuses for him as well. While a three inning outing is a tiny sample size, the command of the fastball was apparent. Cabrera’s fastball control was a clear problem in his MLB cup of coffee last season, and contributed to his surprisingly high walk rate. This was not a guy who struggled much with control coming up through the minors, despite his age and stature. However, all pitchers have their hiccups as they advance to the highest level, so it was good to see that Cabrera may be a bit more settled in.
Furthermore, the command of the off-speed pitches also appeared to be improved. Cabrera’s changeup, which some scouts are now calling his best pitch due to it’s spin and movement, looked great. Last year, Cabrera gave up several home runs on the pitch because it was hung over the middle of the plate. His changeup command against the Nationals last week was not perfect, but when Cabrera missed it tended to be down in the zone. This is the recipe for avoiding mistakes to hitters, and hopefully drawing some ugly swings instead. The pitch that is also in the conversation for Cabrera’s best offering is the slider, which also was located well. His strikeout on Nelson Cruz was a near-perfect slider, in terms of location and movement. Lastly, the curveball, which Cabrera looked confident in last year, was still a pitch that he seemed to like. Cabrera started multiple at-bats by throwing it, and got two strikeouts with the pitch against the Nats. With the quality of Cabrera’s stuff, having four plus pitches could be unhittable going forward. He showed some positive signs in his spring debut that having four quality offerings could soon be a reality.
Aneurys Zabala, RHP
This Week’s Stats: 2.0 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 2 K, 3 BB
It is hard to watch Aneurys Zabala pitch and not be intrigued. The 6’3, 259 lbs. right hander throws hard and is not afraid to challenge hitters. Zabala has bounced around the minors a bit, but if he can improve his command and do a better job of pitching out of the stretch then he has a chance to reach the next level. Last year with the Phillies in Double-A, Zabala got his walk rate below 10% for the first time in his minor league career. This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but his overall numbers were not up to par due to struggles with runners on base. This seems to me to indicate some discomfort with pitching out of the stretch, because Zabala’s stuff and strikeout ability is just too good to struggle so much. Zabala struck out 36% of AA hitters last season, which is an elite rate at any level.
After walking three in an outing last week against the Nationals, Zabala did not walk any hitters against St. Louis on Thursday. Hopefully, he made the necessary adjustments and is prepared to continue improving at Jacksonville. The Marlins do not feature much velocity in the bullpen compared to most teams, even with the acquisition of Tanner Scott. Zabala is the kind of guy who could take the leap this year, since he is still only 25.
Brian Miller, OF
This Week’s Stats: 1-3, 1 single
Miller is a feel good-story after reaching the big leagues last season. He has never quite lived up to his billing as a hitter in the minors, after being drafted 36th overall in the 2017 draft. Still, he plays the outfield well, makes contact, and steals a lot of bases. The Marlins obviously still valued that skillset, and gave him a chance last year. I was impressed with what we saw from Miller this Spring, as he finished the Grapefruit League session 4-10 with a walk and two stolen bases. At this point, it is unfair to expect Miller to show much more power, but the speed and contact abilities are essential to him eventually finding a place as a bench player in the Majors. Miller was worth highlighting because he has been a bit lost in the shuffle on the Marlins Depth Chart, with the additions to the Major League team and the need for a center fielder. Miller may not fill that need as an everyday player, but he has experience playing center field well and should not be forgotten as the Marlins look for depth options when the inevitable injuries come.
Cody Morissette, 2B
This Week’s Stats: 1-1, 1 single
Morissette is a guy that I will be watching closely this season. He struggled a bit in his A-ball debut in Jupiter, with little power and a lot of ground balls. After being a second round pick out of Boston College, some adjustment time was expected. After all, transitioning from a cold-weather school to a warm environment down in Jupiter is a large adjustment. So, I would not put much stock in his minor league showing last season, because Morissette has a sweet lefty swing that translates into a lot of contact and line drives. He is never going to be a big power hitter, but spraying the ball all over the field, getting on base, and playing exceptional defense is Morissette’s ticket to the big leagues. In his lone Grapefruit League appearance, coming after several high level players had been sent down to AA and AAA, Morissette managed to get a hit against Houston. Unfortunatley, the Astros spring ballpark does not yet have Statcast data available, so we cannot gain much information from that one hit. Still, it should be a good little confidence boost for Morissette to start the season with.
Osiris Johnson, OF
This Week’s Stats: 1-2, 1 single
Like Morissette, Johnson is a guy who I was excited to see a sneak peak of this Spring, despite not playing above the lower levels yet. His profile is one that is not typical, but we have seen some Major League players have success with. Johnson is short and hits the ball hard, so it should not be surprising that he is the younger cousin of Phillies legend Jimmy Rollins. Even throughout some of his growing pains last year in A-ball, Johnson showed the power needed to remind fans of what he is capable of. He hit eleven homers across two levels, while not hitting many groundballs. Johnson is still just twenty-one, so there is plenty of time for growth, but this is the year that the Marlins will probably be looking for some of that raw potential to turn into in-game production.
We do have Statcast information from Johnson’s one Grapefruit League appearance in Port St. Lucie against the Mets. There is reason to be impressed, as Johnson hit two balls over 95 mph, one for a single and the other a flyout. Posting those kinds of exit velocities is a good sign that Johnson has the bat speed and pop to eventually become a big leaguer. Seeing him have some success in the lower levels of the minors comes first, however. Cutting his strikeout rate, which sat near 30% last year, and getting on base more is the first step towards accomplishing that.