'Pure hitter' Berry, hard-throwing Miller highlight Marlins' 1st round

July 21st, 2022

With an eye toward adding a bat that should help the organization sooner rather than later, the Marlins selected LSU third baseman/outfielder Jacob Berry with the sixth overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft on Sunday night. Berry has agreed to a $6 million deal, slightly below the slot value of $6.03 million, a source told MLB Pipeline's Jim Callis.

Miami chose right-hander Jacob Miller from Liberty Union High School in the second round (46th overall) to wrap Day 1.

The Marlins’ interest in Berry traces back to 2020 at Queen Creek High School in Arizona, where he drew the attention of area scout Scott Stanley. Prior to transferring to LSU, Berry was named 2021 Collegiate Baseball National Co-Freshman of the Year at the University of Arizona. In Berry’s opinion, he made his biggest jump from prep to collegiate ball, then went on the organization’s shortlist following a strong showing last summer for Team USA.

That familiarity set Berry, ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 7 Draft prospect, apart from his collegiate peers.

“I would say it was more about the body of work that he put together in the summer and the progression of work that we've seen over the last three years dating back to high school with Jacob,” senior director of amateur scouting DJ Svihlik said. “He's a very determined young man. He's a very focused young man. Everything that he does is professional. It makes you believe in a player, especially when he goes out and does what he does at those two major universities.”

A switch-hitter, the 21-year-old Berry posted a .370 average, .464 on-base percentage and .630 slugging percentage with 15 homers and 48 RBIs in 53 games for the Tigers this season. He learned to hit from both sides of the plate at a young age from his father, Perry, a fourth-round selection in the 1990 Draft by the Astros.

Perry thought it would help Jacob with breaking pitches, and he was right. The younger Berry should have no problem switch-hitting in the future, per Svihlik, because he has pull power, controls the strike zone and uses the field from both sides. 

“If it's coming in to me, I have a lot better chance of hitting it than if it's moving away from me,” Berry told MLB.com. “Their out pitch, that's the reason they were created, and the reason they throw them. Being able to see the ball a little bit longer and see the spin having to come in to me, it helps me a little bit more, an advantage over some other guys.”

According to MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis, the 6-foot, 212-pound Berry had the best combination of hitting ability, power and plate discipline in college baseball. On MLB Network’s broadcast of the Draft, University of Tennessee coach Tony Vitello called Berry the “epitome of a hitter” and a “cage rat.”

Berry, who had around 100 people over for Draft night in Arizona, takes pride in not striking out much. It’s a tenet that general manager Kim Ng prescribes to.

“Very excited,” Ng said. “Everything from just being a pure hitter to his knowledge of the strike zone, his plate discipline. His competitiveness certainly struck a chord in our discussions when we were talking about him. All the things that you would love to have in a player.”

If there’s any knock on Berry, it’s where he’ll find a home on defense. He profiles as an average to below-average fielder at the hot corner, but his determination, resiliency and work ethic make the Marlins believe in his ability to develop. Earlier in the week, Svihlik noted the mindset was to draft the bat, then worry about the position later.

At the early stages of a contention window, Miami expects Berry to be of help soon. Right-hander Max Meyer, taken third overall two years ago, debuted on Saturday. Outfielder JJ Bleday (fourth overall in 2019) is on the cusp with 20 homers at Triple-A Jacksonville.

“He's pretty close,” Svihlik said of Berry. “This is a young man that has extreme plate discipline, really good bat-to-ball skills in a world now that we live in that's really, really hard to have those characteristics. Pitching has never been better. There's a challenge at an earlier age. So when you have an opportunity to get a player with this type of plate discipline, the ability to use the field, you get really excited. Along with his physical tools, his ability to impact the ball. You get really excited that those characteristics are going to quickly carry over into professional baseball and carry him quickly through our system.”

Miller, an 18-year-old Louisville commit, finished his senior season 9-1 with 133 strikeouts over 57 innings en route to Gatorade Ohio Baseball Player of the Year. According to MLB Pipeline, who ranked him as the No. 37 Draft prospect, he reached 97 mph in his first start and has good spin on his curveball and slider. 

Callis called the 6-foot-2, 180 pounder an “easy scout” thanks to his improved velocity, quality secondary pitches and pitchability. Miller projects as a mid-rotation starter, per Svihlik.

“I think I go in with a chip on my shoulder,” Miller told the broadcast. “[In] pro ball, everyone's accomplished a lot of things, so I'm going to go in there ready to battle.”