Jacob Berry always has hit. He batted .400 or better as a junior and senior at Queen Creek (Ariz.) HS, earned national freshman of the year honors at Arizona at 2021 and might have been the best all-around offensive player in the 2022 college Draft crop after posting more extra-base hits and walks than strikeouts at Louisiana State.
Berry's bat got him selected sixth overall by the Marlins last year. That's why it was a shock when he hit just .171/.204/.288 with a 27 percent strikeout rate during the opening two months of his first full pro season.
The fourth-ranked Marlins prospect did settle in, boosting his slash line to .233/.284/.388 with nine homers in 107 games by the end of the season. He actually performed better in Double-A than he did in High-A -- in part because he faced a higher quality of pitching.
"The pitchers were a little bit better," Berry said. "They have good stuff, but they're around the zone and umpires have good strike zones. ... I didn't try to do too much. I just tried to build on something one day and the next day tried to build on a little more, and I think that allowed me to kind of put one day into a week into a month. So I think that's what allowed me to play better at Double-A than I did in High-A."
The 22-year-old's season abruptly ended in late August when he bruised his right foot while trying to catch a foul ball. He's making up for some lost at-bats and also trying to generate some more positive momentum going into 2024 by playing in the Arizona Fall League.
In Berry's first eight games with the Peoria Javelinas, he hit .313/.405/.406. The switch-hitter stands out more with his bat-to-ball skills than his power, and some clubs were concerned about the relatively lackluster exit velocities he showed in college. He has yet to drive the ball consistently in the Fall League.
There's also some uncertainty about Berry's eventual defensive home. He's determined to prove he can play third base, but he made three errors in his first eight AFL games and most scouts believe he's destined for either an outfield corner or first base. While he has below-average quickness and average arm strength, he did make four nice plays in an early-season victory over the Mesa Solar Sox.
Though Berry faces more questions than he and the Marlins anticipated after he went near the top of the 2022 Draft, he's not buckling under the weight of expectations.
"Obviously, I think there's pressure but you can also take it as an opportunity," he said. "I was coached well enough in college and in high school to realize the pressure's really not pressure, it's just an opportunity that has been given to me and I've been really grateful for that opportunity. I've got a lot of people that believe in me and trust in me, and I think I'm going to prove them right."
Marlins hitters in the Fall League
Nasim Nuñez, SS/2B (No. 17): The 2023 Futures Game MVP is one of the best defenders and base stealers in the Minors, though he comes with questions about his bat and possesses little power. A 2019 second-round pick from a Georgia high school, Nuñez hit .224/.341/.286 with 52 steals in 125 Double-A games during the regular season.
Paul McIntosh, C: McIntosh performed well in the inaugural 2021 season of the MLB Draft League, which helped him land a spot with the Marlins as a non-drafted free agent. His defense behind the plate remains rough, but the West Virginia product hits the ball hard and batted .244/.355/.419 with 15 homers in 77 games between Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A.
Marlins pitchers in the Fall League
Gabe Bierman, RHP: Selected in the seventh round out of Indiana in 2021, Bierman works primarily with a low-90s fastball and a fading changeup. He logged a 3.46 ERA, .204 average-against and 68 strikeouts in 91 innings in High-A.
Ike Buxton, RHP: A catcher-turned-pitcher who divided his college career between Boise State and Lipscomb, Buxton was a 15th-round pick in 2022. Pitching heavily off his 93-97 mph power sinker and flashing a solid slider, he posted a 2.45 ERA with a .188 average-against and 73 strikeouts in 77 innings while rising from Single-A to Double-A.
Zach McCambley, RHP: When fully healthy, McCambley features a high-spin breaking ball with curveball depth and slider action at 82-85 mph, as well as a 92-96 mph four-seamer. Moved to the bullpen this year, he compiled a 3.76 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 38 2/3 Double-A innings.
Dale Stanavich, LHP: A 2022 eighth-round pick out of Rutgers, Stanavich compiled a 3.56 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings in Single-A. He operates with a low-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider.
Evan Taylor, LHP: Taylor finished second in the Minors with 20 saves in his first full pro season after the Marlins selected him in the ninth round out of Arkansas. Setting up a sweeping upper-70s slider with a sinker that sits around 90 mph, he sported a 2.18 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings in Single-A.