Marlins prospect report from alternate camp

September 30th, 2020

With alternate camps coming to an end, MLB Pipeline is recapping the development highlights for the prospects involved for each organization.

Top position prospect: JJ Bleday, OF (No. 2 on Marlins Top 30)
The Marlins put Bleday on the fast track after drafting him third overall in 2019, sending him straight to Class A Advanced for his pro debut. While he didn't get any actual game action this summer, he still gave every indication that it won't take him long to reach Miami.

The NCAA Division I leader in home runs (27) and total bases (192) in 2019, when he helped Vanderbilt win the College World Series, Bleday always will stand out most with his hitting ability. But he also made an impression with the improved athleticism he displayed at alternate camp in Jupiter, Fla.

"JJ came in in incredible shape," Marlins special assistant for player development and scouting Geoff DeGroot said. "He got himself into better condition and had an incredible camp. With the consistency of his at-bats, his plate discipline and his performance against some pretty good pitching -- Sixto Sánchez, Trevor Rogers, Braxton Garrett -- he was amazing to watch day to day.

"He's an incredible professional. He dropped 15 pounds without losing any strength -- he toned up. He improved his speed and agility. He ran the bases really well and his jumps and reads have improved tremendously. He got time in all three outfield spots but profiles on the corner still."

Top pitching prospect: Sixto Sánchez, RHP (No. 1)
No team had ever lost as many as 105 games in one year and rallied to make the playoffs the next before the Marlins did so in 2019-20. They wouldn't have done so without Sánchez, who spent the first month of the season in alternate camp and the second as a key cog in the big league rotation despite having just 18 starts of experience in Double-A and none in Triple-A.

The key to the J.T. Realmuto trade with the Phillies in February 2019, Sánchez allowed a total of six runs in his first five starts and finished with a 3.46 ERA and a 33/11 K/BB ratio in 39 innings. He laid the groundwork for that success in Jupiter, where he developed an upper-80s cutter that helped the rest of his repertoire play up. His best pitch in the big leagues was his lively changeup, and he also sat in the upper 90s with his two- and four-seam fastballs while also mixing in a power curveball.

"Sixto took off at the alternate site," DeGroot said. "He showed everything that you saw up at the big league level. He was ready to compete. His time here really helped him and we knew he was ready.

"He added a little cutter that wasn't there at the beginning. His breaking ball was more 84-85 mph, sometimes slower, and we wanted something harder. So we started him with the cutter, which was 88-90. He's a special, special talent."

Youngest prospect: Dax Fulton, LHP (No. 12)
Though he had Tommy John surgery in September 2019, Fulton still ranked as the best high school left-hander in the 2020 Draft. A first-round talent before he got hurt, he signed with Miami in the second round for $2.4 million, a record bonus for a prep pitcher who missed his senior season due to injury. With a projectable low-90s fastball, a nasty curveball and a 6-foot-6 frame that creates difficult angle and plane, the 18-year-old has a higher ceiling than first-round southpaws Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers.

Fulton's rehab has progressed to the point where he's throwing from a mound again, so the Marlins brought him in for the final week of alternate camp with the goal of getting him acclimated before their instructional league program began.

"We brought him in here to be around our pitching coaches and rehab coordinators to make sure everyone is on the same page," DeGroot said. "We love the body, we love the delivery and we love the way his arm works. It's going along smoothly. We've very excited about what Dax has to offer."

2020 Draft picks
In addition to Fulton making a cameo at the end of alternate camp, third overall choice Max Meyer (No. 3) was a full participant. He got acclimated to pro ball, albeit in unusual circumstances, while displaying what might have been the best overall stuff in the entire 2020 Draft class.

"You could see why he was the third overall pick," DeGroot said. "His slider is every bit a real, legitimate 70 slider [on the 20-80 scouting scale]. His velocity and natural strength and competitiveness were all apparent.

"We weren't really sure what we were getting with his changeup because he really didn't need it in college. But he came in and showed plus feel for that pitch. It's a weapon. It was really, really encouraging."

Pleasant developments
Catcher Will Banfield's (No. 29) plus-plus arm and solid receiving skills give him Gold Glove potential, but he hit just .199/.252/.310 in Class A during his first full pro season in 2019. DeGroot called him the camp's most improved player from an offensive standpoint and cited his improved strength, especially in his lower half. He continued to shine behind the plate as well.

He may not get much prospect hype, but shortstop Jose Devers (No. 13) continued to bolster his reputation as the best pure hitter in the Marlins system. Still just 20, he handled more experienced pitchers with aplomb and produced improved exit velocities as he began to tap into some sneaky power. He also showed improved arm strength after dealing with shoulder fatigue in 2018 and a forearm strain in 2019.

One of several talented outfield prospects in the system, Jerar Encarnacion (No. 17) didn't get a chance to build on a breakout 2019 that saw him homer in the Class A Midwest League all-star game, top the system with 71 RBIs and deliver the decisive grand slam in the Arizona Fall League championship game. But he did make some strides with his approach at the plate while sticking out with his strength, power and right-field arm.