Jesus Sanchez (Photo by Florida Times-Union)

And so there were two… just Jacksonville and Pensacola remain in this Marlins minor league season. While Pensacola has faded a bit in the second half, they have a playoff spot locked up for this week. Jacksonville still has work to do but has played well all year long. Featured this week are the players helping their team most during this playoff push.

LHP Patrick Monteverde, AA

This Week’s Stats: 5.2 IP, 0 R, 6 H, 7/1 K/BB

Pat Monteverde has been on the receiving end of some poor luck since his promotion to Pensacola. He’s surrendered an unseemly .368 BABIP, despite a low line drive rate. This comes in a small sample of just over thirty innings pitched, but has led to Monteverde posting an ERA just a tick below five. He has pitched far better than that number indicates.

An eighth-round pick in last year’s amateur draft, Monteverde possesses exceptional control. He posted a 5.8% walk rate in his senior season at Texas Tech after transferring over from Seton Hall. Pitching in a more difficult conference proved to be a challenge that Monteverde was up to, as he also put up a 28% strikeout rate and a 3.75 ERA.

Monteverde’s stats in the minors bear a striking resemblance to his college performance. He does not boast an upper nineties fastball, but his changeup neutralizes righties very well and serves as an out pitch when needed. His reverse splits are notable, as Monteverde has allowed a .276 average against left-handed batters compared to a .188 against righties in far more at bats. The result has been a K%-BB% hovering around 20%, which is excellent at any level.

Monteverde did not have much better luck with the BABIP gods last week. Pitching against Biloxi, he allowed a .375 BABIP. However, the difference was in Monteverde’s ability to leave runners on base and get strikeouts when needed. The Wahoos gave no run support to the lefty in a tough 1-0 loss, but it was one of his best starts since the promotion. While the Wahoos have other options for their playoff rotation, they should not be hesitant to use Monteverde, especially against right-handed batters.

OF Jesus Sanchez, AAA

This Week’s Stats: 13-23, 1 HR, 2 2B, 3/4 K/BB

The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp have plenty to play for over the next two weeks. As of now, Jacksonville is 2.5 games behind first place Durham, with Scranton also two games up on them. The Jumbo Shrimp finish the season with Charlotte and Norfolk, two teams towards the bottom of the standings. They must win their division to complete for the International League championship.

Winning a few gams this week against Nashville was vital, as the Milwaukee affiliate has the best record in the International League. Playing no small part in those victories was Jesus Sanchez, who has had a whirlwind 2022 season. After starting the season as Miami’s center fielder, Sanchez looked mostly overmatched in the big leagues. While the metrics seem to agree that he was O.K. defensively, the bat is supposed to be Sanchez’s calling card.

Since the demotion to Jacksonville, Sanchez has made some adjustments that seem to be paying off. He’s a bit more crouched down at the plate, while his swing has been shortened a bit. Ultimately, there seems to be less effort coming from the upper body, and more power being derived through the legs. Considering Sanchez’s raw power and strength, this should be a beneficial change. He does not need to do as much with the upper body to still achieve hard hit balls.

Indeed, the results are beginning to come back for the twenty-four-year-old. Sanchez’s strikeout rate is down a bit, while he has an OPS over 1.000 in the month of September. These may be small signs, but Sanchez has also displayed a more patient approach. Chasing bad pitches has been Sanchez’s kryptonite at the plate in the big leagues, so continuing that trend will be beneficial. His shorter stroke has led to an all fields approach and a plethora of base hits (especially last week). As Jacksonville looks to finish this season with a playoff berth, Jesus Sanchez should be right in the middle of it to set himself up well for next spring.

RHP Elieser Hernandez, AAA

This Week’s Stats: 5.1 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 8/2 K/BB

Another former big leaguer has played a substantial role in keeping Jacksonville in the playoff hunt. Elieser Hernandez, much maligned in Miami for his early season struggles, has pitched better in Triple-A. While his trajectory has not always seemed to be moving upwards, Hernandez’s stats speak for themselves in Jacksonville: 10 starts, 4-2 record, 3.63 ERA.

The most important thing the veteran righty has been able to do is limit the home run balls. They were his biggest weakness in the majors, with an unheard of thirty-two homers given up since the start of last season. That has come in only 110 innings pitched.

Hernandez is a fly-ball pitcher. He consistently works up in the zone with his fastball, while trying to bury the changeup and slider below the zone. Unfortunately, command was his biggest problem this year. Too often, the fastball was not high enough and the off-speed pitches were not low enough. The result was a lot of baseballs in the middle of the zone for hitters to tee off on.

In fourty six and two-thirds minor league innings, Hernandez has given up just seven home runs. That is not an exceptional rate, but a huge improvement on how he has pitched in the big leagues. Most Marlins fans will not trust that number to maintain itself if Elieser is brought back up, but there should be some faith in the fact that he has displayed much better command over the past few months. While he surrendered two walks in his last start against Nashville, Hernandez’s breaking pitches were highly effective in getting hitters to chase below the zone. The quality of Elieser’s stuff cannot be denied when he is right, but finding consistent command remains vital.

Pensacola Blue Wahoos Offense

This Week’s Stats: 1-5 Record, 11 runs in six games

For the year, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, as a team, rank last in OPS, batting average, runs scored, walks, and hits among teams in the Double-A Southern League. Conversely, they are on the top half of the league in just about every pitching stat. The Wahoos already won the first half in their division, guaranteeing a spot in this week’s playoffs, but they will need to hit to keep this season going.

Last week, we gave a shoutout to two players who have carried the Wahoos lineup all season long. Since then, Paul McIntosh has landed on the IL and Griffin Conine went hitless in fifteen at bats with nine strikeouts. The Wahoos were completely dominated all week long by a Biloxi pitching staff that has not been exceptional at any point this season. With McIntosh’s status unknown for the start of Tuesday’s series against Montgomery, there are serious reasons for concern.

The Montgomery Biscuits, the Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, have run away with the South Division in the second half of the season. They boast a pitching staff with the best ERA in the Southern League. On paper, this is a tough matchup for Pensacola. However, this team has gotten to this point, and they have the talent to win this best of three matchup. Nasim Nunez, Will Banfield, and Norel Gonzalez have all swung the bat well in recent weeks. If Eury Perez pitches in the series, along with Dax Fulton, then Pensacola absolutely has a chance to pull this off.

Yet, the most important factor may be the status of those two players who have carried Pensacola all year long. Can McIntosh come back from injury sooner rather than later, to give this team the jolt it needs? More importantly, can Conine connect with a few long balls to provide the offense with a few quick runs? Since they won the first half of the season, the Blue Wahoos have known this opportunity would be awaiting them. It is now time for them to pull it off.  

Next Up (9/20-9/25)

  • AAA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp vs Charlotte
  • AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos at Montgomery (Game 1 on Tuesday), Home vs Montgomery (Games 2/3 on Thursday/Friday)