This past week may have been a frustrating one for the big league team, but the performance of several Marlins top prospects should make the outlook more sunny as we enter the second full week of May.
OF JJ Bleday, AAA
This Week’s Stats: 9-21, 3 HR, 2 2B, 4/6 K/BB
Bleday was featured in last week’s roundup, as it was evident that his bat was starting to awaken following a relatively slow start to the season in Jacksonville. This week, Bleday went a step further by terrorizing the Memphis pitching staff all week. He got on base in over half of his plate appearances, while striking out less than he walked. This past week’s performance was one that Marlins fans have been expecting for some time now; Bleday has such a natural feel at the plate and was a tremendous collegiate hitter at Vanderbilt. Still, he had yet to truly break out in his minor league appearances, in no small part due to the pandemic wiping away what would have been his first full season in 2020. Now, everything finally seem to be coming together for Bleday while in the Jumbo Shrimp lineup each day.
Scouts had expressed some worry that the slight hitch in the swing of Bleday would prevent him from ever being a starting big leaguer. While those concerns may still exist, Bleday has quieted most of the criticism with his success to this point in 2022. After that slow start, his batting line is now up to .240/.382/.470 with a reasonable strikeout rate and a very high walk rate. That line is 33% better than the average at AAA, against pitchers who are right on the doorstep of the majors. Moreover, Bleday homered against two breaking balls and one fastball (which was up in the zone) last week. Being able to recognize the pitch and make quality contact is a testament to the hit tool of Bleday, which seems much more stable now than it did at this time last season. When Bleday had a quality performance in the Arizona Fall League last year, there was concern that it was due to the lack of pitching talent at the league. Once again, Bleday is showing that his added on muscle and patient approach at the plate is no fluke by hitting high quality pitching this year. Considering the frustration of watching Avisail Garcia chase so often, it may not be long before more Marlins fans are calling for the patient approach of Bleday to be utilized.
OF Griffin Conine, AA
This Week’s Stats: 6-17, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB
It may seem like an understatement, but when Griffin Conine consistently makes contact he can be a highly productive hitter. That is why his ceiling is so high as a prospect, but there is also a certain level of risk in depending on him in your lineup. This past week, Conine’s strikeout rate was still a bit high, at 26%. On the other hand, that was a slight improvement from his mark from the beginning of the season, when it was hovering at 40%. In our weekly recap two weeks ago, we mentioned how an increased familiarity with the quality pitching at AA will only help Conine hit for more contact. A small sample size improvement may be nothing, but steps in the right direction should still be applauded. The high likelihood of extra bases when Conine makes contact make any improvements in his swinging strike rate notable.
Conine had talked with our Alex Carver in that weekly recap two weeks ago about his finally being able to pull the ball and hit it hard. While becoming overly pull-side dependent can be dangerous for many hitters, maximizing your chances of extra bases often comes from hitting the ball hard to your pull side. Conine has done just that; over his last two weeks he is hitting a robust .395/.477/.658. He has easily been the most productive hitter in Pensacola’s lineup during that time, with a strikeout rate of 23%. That is a bit larger of a sample size than the one previously noted, all while maintaining that slugging percentage. Continuing to walk at higher rate will also benefit Conine, as he becomes a bit more selective in hunting pitches that he knows he can pull and crush. Ultimately, there is no understating just how important it is that Conine is trending in the right direction with his contact rate and is becoming a highly productive hitter in the process.
RHP Zach McCambley, AA
This Week’s Stats: 6.0 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 1 BB, 8 K
Zach McCambley has been understandably overshadowed by Eury Perez in Pensacola this season, but too many people are sleeping on just how effective McCambley’s stuff can be as well. A poor three start stretch has his numbers for the season looking ugly, with five homers given up over those three appearances. This past week, however, McCambley put up his best start of the season over six dominant innings in Mississippi. McCambley gave up back-to-back doubles to start the game, against the impressively productive bats of Michael Harris and Luke Waddell. Both balls were not hit particularly hard, and Conine took a poor route on the leadoff double by Harris. Following that bit of bad luck, McCambley was near perfect for the rest of the outing on his way to a 3-1 Wahoos victory. Facing the next nineteen batters, he walked just one and allowed no hits, while striking out eight.
The first thing one notices when watching McCambley is the violence of his delivery. He rotates his body slightly back towards second base before delivering a pitch but does not struggle too much with control like many pitchers do with similar deliveries. The walk rate could stand to come down a bit, but hovering around 10% is not too dangerous for a minor league pitcher. With the quality of McCambley’s high spin fastball and devastating curve, that walk rate should play. Against Mississippi, he commanded his breaking ball as well as he has at any point this season. He was able to throw it for a strike when needed, while his fastball was also commanded well both up and down in the zone. He sat 93-94 with the heater, which seems to be up a bit from the beginning of last year. McCambley’s lack of a third pitch has been much discussed, and his changeup still needs to be better located and is not a plus pitch. McCambley did discuss, during the Wahoos Media Day prior to the start of the season, how he is able to manipulate his curveball depending on the movement of his wrist. This should mitigate the need for a third pitch somewhat and keep McCambley in a starters role moving forward. While many prospects experts have speculated that McCambley could end up in the bullpen, his outing on Saturday showed why it is too early to give up on his being a future back-end major league starter.
RHP M.D. Johnson, A+
This Week’s Stats: 7.0 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 6 K
M.D. Johnson was not a pitcher getting discussed much going into this season, despite an impressive 2.58 ERA over nearly sixty innings last year in Beloit. While that success was backed up by a fluky low BABIP, Johnson pitched well enough to earn praise. Still pitching at Beloit, he has followed up last year’s performance with a far better start to this season. His BB%, which was in the double digits last year, is at a miniscule 2.4% right now, while there have been far more swings and misses. A sixth round pick out of Dallas Baptist University in 2019, Johnson will turn twenty-five in July. He is at this point where he needs to start dominating the lower levels in order to get to the big leagues eventually, which is exactly what he has done.
In a game that featured all of three hits total last Wednesday against Great Lakes, Johnson emerged as the victor in a quick 1-0 Beloit victory. The only two hits that Johnson gave up were plays that could have been made potentially, as seen in the video above from Fish Stripes, showing just how dominant Johnson was on the mound. The tall right hander has taken to the pitch clock well, as gets the ball and is ready to throw almost immediately. From simply watching his delivery, one would imagine that Johnson induces many ground balls due to his high release point. However, within his quick and twitchy delivery, he manages to get his hand lower than expected and deliver a high spin fastball. That is why the four-seamer has played so well up in the zone for Johnson, and resulted in more fly balls, with velocity sitting in the low nineties. It seems to be the pitch he relies on most, as there was little shaking off of catcher Bennett Hostetler on Wednesday. Continuing to develop his secondary pitches will be key for Johnson as he works towards a promotion to Pensacola that should be coming any day now. Many minor leaguers note how much better the hitters are once they reach AA, so Johnson facing that challenge should be telling of his future in the Marlins organization.
OF Tanner Allen, A+
This Week’s Stats: 7-16, 1 HR, 1 2B, 1 SB
Scouts noted that Tanner Allen looked a bit fatigued in his professional debut last season, after being drafted in the fourth round of last summer’s amateur draft. That should certainly be excused; Allen was coming off a remarkable collegiate season in which he was the SEC Player of the Year and led Mississippi State to a College World Series Championship. After being one of the best players in the country, Allen probably could have used some time to reset. This past offseason seemed to serve him well in that regard, as his .291/.325/.506 slash line is 34% better than league average in the notoriously pitcher friendly Midwest League early in the season. For a team that has struggled to hit, Allen has emerged as the bright spot in the Beloit lineup.
As a result of the fatigue, or possibly just the pressures that come with being drafted, Allen struggled to make an impact in games last year. Playing in A ball, Allen’s ground ball rate was over 50%, which contributed to a failure to maximize his solid raw power. An ugly .189/.258/.288 line was the result, but there was optimism for improvement due to his low strikeout rate and BABIP. After all, a hitter with Allen’s speed and high effort should not be posting a BABIP of .211 with a high ground ball rate. This year, his swing has looked much more fluid, and the power has come as a result. The groundball rate has come down to below 40%, and Allen has hit the ball to the gaps well. He has seven doubles already this season, compared to just one at A ball in a larger sample last year. Allen has become faster over time, and that should help him become a better defender as well, even if he has settled into more of a corner outfield role. All in all, Allen has been very steady for Beloit this season, and with his strong college track record there is plenty to be excited about.
Next Up (5/10-5/15)
- AAA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp vs Nashville
- AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos vs Rocket City
- A+ Beloit Sky Carp at West Michigan
- A Jupiter Hammerheads vs Bradenton
- Bryan Hoeing spoke with BaseballAmerica about refining the grip on his slider and how it has aided in his early success this season
- Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald recapped an impressive MLB debut for Joe Dunand
- Daniel Hirsch of Fish Stripes provided his own thoughts on JJ Bleday’s improvements at the plate recently and explains why he believes Bleday is starting to play to his full potential
- Craig Mish joined Peter Pratt on the most recent episode of Locked On Marlins where the pair chatted all things Marlins pitching
- The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are giving away fungible tokens on their upcoming homestand. The team calls them “completely worthless”; we’re sure a lot of fans will want one.