Prospect's hot streak leads him to warm weather

April 28th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Christina De Nicola's Marlins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MIAMI -- Enough of the cold.

Marlins No. 25 prospect Joe Mack grew up in upstate New York and spent the 2023 season at High-A Beloit, so he entered '24 hoping to play well enough in Spring Training and the first couple of months in Wisconsin to warrant a promotion to the warmer weather of Double-A Pensacola.

Mission accomplished.

The Marlins assigned Mack to the Blue Wahoos last Sunday after he batted .347/.467/.571 with five doubles and two homers in 13 games for the Sky Carp. Mack has held his own in Double-A so far, collecting three extra-base hits and five RBIs in six games entering Sunday.

“It definitely pushed me and made me want to compete more,” Mack said of beginning the season at the same level he finished last year. “It made me focus up a little bit more, it drove me to do the work and trust the work.

“I thought it'd be at least a month or two into the season before [a promotion] would happen, or midway through. I definitely wasn't thinking about coming up here anytime soon. I was just trying to be in Beloit and compete and do the best and help the team win as much as possible. I was surprised, definitely. But the organization thinks I'm ready, and I know I'm ready. I think that it's a comfortable fit for me.”

Expect to see more of that, according to director of player development Rachel Balkovec. The Marlins won’t shy away from challenging prospects.

“[Mack's] performance really speaks for itself," Balkovec said. "But also, I think it's probably a mentality that we're going to be taking moving forward, between [president of baseball operations] Peter [Bendix], [assistant general manager] Gabe [Kapler] and myself -- just thinking really aggressively.

“And letting the players prove us wrong, I guess, when we send them up and go, ‘Hey, we think you can do this,’ and see what they can do. Obviously, Joe's been off to a pretty good start in Pensacola as well, so it's proven us right. [Still], we're OK with failing in that way and making aggressive mistakes there.”

Before prospects reported to their respective affiliates, Balkovec and her staff ensured everyone knew what to improve upon this season. The 21-year-old Mack eyed the quality of his at-bats. In 60 plate appearances with Beloit, he walked as many times (11) as he struck out (11).

“For him, just swing decisions, which is actually, very generally speaking, probably what a lot of young hitters need to work on, so it's kind of a cop-out answer,” Balkovec said. “But basically knowing and having a great plan when he gets up to the plate and being able to execute on that. He's done a great job, and [he's] willing to continue to hone in on that as he climbs levels.

“As pitchers get smarter, they have better plans themselves. They're going to attack him exactly where they think he's not going to be successful, and he's going to have to be able to basically work on those weaknesses and have a fantastic plan for combating that.”

This kind of start is exactly what Mack hoped for after two humbling full seasons. Selected with the 31st overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, the former two-sport prep star had a brief stint at the Rookie level to begin his professional career, then he was limited to 44 games between there and Single-A Jupiter in '22 because of a torn left hamstring. Last year, Mack struggled at Beloit, where he slashed .218/.295/.287 in 120 games.

In order to leave the past behind, the catcher spent the offseason training at Hot Corner Athletics in Buffalo, N.Y., taking live at-bats almost every day. He worked on his rhythm, timing and spacing while coming to a batting stance and hand placement. Mack brought those adjustments to Spring Training, where he tinkered with a leg tuck rather than a toe tap.

“I was able to stay healthy the whole year and compete, play and learn from that,” Mack said. “And regardless of how I did -- good or bad -- I was able to just play and be out there every single day. I think that's what helped me, and now I know what I need to do to keep my body healthy and for me to be out on that field every day.”

Here’s a roundup of other notable performances from the Marlins’ four full-season Minor League affiliates.

Triple-A Jacksonville: 1B Troy Johnston (No. 17)
Johnston, who is known for going on tears, is batting .387 with eight extra-base hits during an eight-game hitting streak.

Double-A Pensacola: 3B Jacob Berry (No. 5)
Berry saw his eight-game hitting streak snapped on Saturday, but his average has improved 67 points and he lofted a homer into the bay during that span.

High-A Beloit: CF Mark Coley II (No. 22)
After receiving a promotion because of his hot start in Jupiter, Coley has continued to rake, picking up one double, one triple, three homers and 10 RBIs in seven games.

Single-A Jupiter: 2B JT Mabry (NR)
Mabry, the son of Miami hitting coach John Mabry, has had multiple hits in three of his six games, batting .381 during that time.