When Derek Jeter arrived as Miami Marlins CEO, he promised to build a solid foundation for a consistent winner.
Jeter has always held that it starts on the farm by creating a Minor League system loaded with talent. That construction began in 2017 when the Marlins underwent yet another monumental rebuild. The Marlins traded three All-Star outfielders–Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna–to try and reload a system devoid of talent.
Yet it was not those trades that brought the headline talent to the system that is in it now. In fact, the Ozuna trade was actually the only success of the bunch. The Marlins got their ace Sandy Alcantara and Zach Gallen in the deal, then flipped Gallen for Jazz Chisholm Jr.
Miami actually made one of their most notable acquisitions in one of their least notable trades. The Fish acquired RHP Pablo López from Seattle for David Phelps, a 2017 deadline trade that barely anybody noticed.
Many of the players acquired in Miami’s first wave of trades have either fizzled out or graduated from prospect status. The final deal of that first wave was sending catcher JT Realmuto to the Phillies. The Marlins acquired prized RHP Sixto Sánchez, but for our purposes he has graduated from prospect status.
The 2019 deadline saw Lewin Díaz and Jesús Sánchez join the system, but neither will be included on this list.
Now the Marlins system is headlined by their own guys, drafted and groomed in-house. They also have a good crop of international prospects as four of their Top 30 prospects are from the 2019 class, per MLB Pipeline.
The system is best known for its plethora of pitching as Miami possesses an elite arsenal of arms. They are also deep in outfield talent, but a lot of them have high-risk factors. The biggest weakness in the system is infield talent at the higher levels, with no infielders playing above Low-A in their MLB Pipeline Top 30.
With the introduction complete, I present to you: Just Baseball’s 2021 Miami Marlins Top 10 Prospects.
1. Max Meyer – RHP – (Top 100 Rank: 34)
Age: 21 | Height/Weight: 6’0, 195 | Bat/Throw: R/R | 1st Round (3), 2020| ETA: 2022
Meyer possesses one of the best fastball, slider combos in all of Minor League Baseball. In fact, his slider is the best pitch in the system and one of the best pitchers in all of MiLB. Its combination of velocity and break make it as good a wipeout pitch as you will see. Meyer used that combo to put up a 10.07 K/9 and 27.2 K% in 101 innings in Double-A this year. Impressively, he did it without elite velocity on his fastball. He came out of the Draft being able to run it up towards 98, but sat more around 94-96 in 2021. His small frame worries some scouts about his ability to maintain velocity, so him bulking up will be something to watch moving forward.
The next big step Meyer needs to take with his arsenal is the development of his changeup. It has been in the works for a while now and has shown signs of being a plus pitch, but has yet to become one. The good news for Meyer is the Marlins organization has shown an innate ability to develop top-end changeups. How far that changeup comes will determine how much potential he truly has.
When the Marlins drafted Meyer third overall in 2020, it was clear they saw something in him that suggested front-line starter. Miami’s investment in Meyer–and specifically over Asa Lacy–showed they valued his ceiling over Lacy’s floor. There is no doubt that Meyer possesses ace potential, but he has some major improvements to make. If he cannot find that changeup to add to the fastball and slider, his ceiling is likely as a very good closer with an elite two-pitch mix.
If Meyer can unlock the changeup or adds something else to the repertoire, the sky is the limit for him. He was dominant in Double-A this year, posting a 2.41 ERA 1.23 WHIP and 113 strikeouts in 101 innings. He made two starts in Triple-A to end the year and did not slow down at all, striking out 17 in 10 innings. General Manager Kim Ng said the plan is for Meyer to start the year in Triple-A in 2022. With continued success, he could be well on his way to a Major League debut next season.
2. Eury Perez – RHP – (Top 100 Rank: 41)
Age: 18 | Height/Weight: 6’8, 200 | Bat/Throw: R/R | IFA: $200K, 2020 (MIA) | ETA: 2023
To me, Perez is the most interesting pitcher in the Marlins system by far. He is a 6’8 18-year-old (!) who did not begin touching 90 until this year. Perez sat in the 80s when the Marlins discovered him in the Dominican Republic before signing him for $200,000 in 2019. Perez took the Marlins by storm at instructs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and entered 2021 ready to make a statement…And he did.
Perez went from the high-80s, to touching 97 at just 18 in 2021. He has such an unusual frame for a kid of his age, but it will only allow for growth. Filling out his long, lanky frame will help him maintain velocity deeper into games. Perez did not throw more than five innings in 2021, and sat low-to-mid 90s as he got deeper into games. His ability to touch upper 90s shows with a little more weight on his frame, he can sit mid-to-high 90s and really take his stuff to the next level.
The young right-hander’s secondaries are a changeup and a curveball that show serious potential and generated a ton of swing and miss in 2021. He dominated in Low-A this year, posting a 1.61 ERA 0.95 WHIP and 82 strikeouts in 15 starts (56 innings). He was so good he got a promotion to High-A where he kept rolling, putting up a 2.86 ERA 0.73 WHIP and 26 K in 22 innings.
Perez could have as high a ceiling as any pitcher in the Marlins system. For him to do what he did at 18 is absolutely ridiculous. If he keeps rolling in 2022, he could move into the higher levels of the system before his 20th birthday, putting him on an insane trajectory. If he continues moving at this pace, he could legitimately make his MLB debut before he could legally buy a drink in the United States. He will need the secondaries to come along and maintain velocity more, but Perez has already shown the ability to generate swing-and-miss with his current arsenal.
If all goes well, the Marlins could really have something special on their hands with Perez. He is a candidate to rocket up Top 100 boards this year, and showed limitless potential in 2021. A floor could be as a bullpen arm with a mid-90s fastball and a good breaking ball. It might not be the elite closer potential that Meyer has, but he could slide into the bullpen really well worst case scenario.
3. Kahlil Watson – SS – (Top 100 Rank: 48)
Age: 18 | Height/Weight: 5’9, 180 | Bat/Throw: L/R | 1st Round (16), 2021 (MIA) | ETA: 2024
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In a system that is crying out for hitters, the Marlins found a gem in the 2021 Draft. Watson somehow fell into their laps at the 16th pick this year and they have to be ecstatic. The Marlins were able to sign him from Clemson using all of their leftover bonus pool money, which was over $4.5 million. They did it because they desperately need an elite offensive prospect, and Watson may just be it.
Arguably possessing as much upside as any prep bat in the 2021 draft, Watson has a ridiculously quick bat and a swing geared for homers. The pull-side power is immense for Watson, whose twitchy athleticism can really be seen by the way his lower half explodes on baseball’s middle-in.
The kid just hits. He only played nine games in the Complex League this year, but he certainly looked the part. Watson slashed .394/.524/.606 with 200 wRC+. He collected thirteen hits, including three doubles and two triples, walked eight times and struck out seven. He also added four stolen bases on five attempts. Watson has good bat-to-ball skills, above-average power, great speed and is super athletic. He is basically everything the Marlins need, especially in the middle infield where they lack depth.
Watson’s athleticism and skillset allow him to profile well at pretty much every position. However, at 5’9″ and about 180 pounds, shortstop is where he fits best. He is rated as an above-average defender there and his arm strength and movement project well for him sticking there. He will likely start 2022 at Low-A Jupiter, where the Marlins will have to pick between starting him and Nasim Nuñez at shortstop. Whoever gets the nod will tell us a lot about how Miami views Watson as a defender.
Of all the prospects in the Marlins system, Watson is the most likely to be a truly elite offensive prospect. He could end up as one of the Top 10-20 prospects in baseball depending on how much he hits in his first full seasons in MiLB. With the struggles of Jazz Chisholm Jr. defensively at shortstop, the Marlins could still be searching for their long term answer there. That could put plenty of pressure on Watson, but it also opens the door for him to be their superstar shortstop in a few years. He could be everything Marlins fans have been waiting for if he hits consistently and shows special potential at the plate. He is likely the prospect in this system with the highest ceiling, and could be a very special talent for a long time.
4. Jake Eder – LHP – (Top 100 Rank: 96)
Age: 23 | Height/Weight: 6’4, 215 | Bat/Throw: L/R | 4th Round (104), 2021 | ETA: 2023
Eder was arguably the best pitcher in all of Minor League Baseball in 2021. In 15 starts, the former Vanderbilt left-hander posted a 1.77 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 12.49 K/9. He comes at hitters with an electric mix of pitches from the left side. He will attack hitters with a fastball/slider combination that can be devastating, while mixing in a tumbling changeup that has the potential to be an above average pitch as well.
The southpaw’s heater will sit in the 93-96 range and can run up to 98 at times. His slider has great speed differential to pair with the fastball as it runs in the low-80s and has some absolutely nasty break to it. He had 99 strikeouts in 71.1 innings pitched, including a 12 strikeout performance in his pro debut.
After struggling a bit with command at Vanderbilt, Eder tweaked his mechanics prior to the 2021 season. Eder does a much better job keeping his front side closed, helping him hide the ball and create deception. His fastball and slider are hard to pick up out of the hand, making the pitches work well off of each other to left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters.
Eder’s season was cut short due to Tommy John surgery which is also likely to end his 2022. We likely will not see Eder again until 2023 which has put a huge delay on his timeline. It is likely that he could have been in Miami in 2022 if he continued on the trajectory he was on this year. His year was so impressive, some scouts suggested Eder may be even better than Meyer.
The good news is the success rate for TJ has increased dramatically over the last decade. If he does and returns to form, he will go down as the steal of the 2020 Draft. Marlins fans will likely be reminded of Trevor Rogers when they see Eder, but with his slider being ahead of his changeup. With Meyer and Eder leading the way, the Marlins’ second wave of arms could be even better than the first.
5. Jose Salas – SS/3B – (Low-A)
Age: 18 | Height/Weight: 6’2, 190 | Bat/Throw: S/R | IFA: $2.8M (2019) | ETA: 2024
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The Marlins desperately need a star hitting prospect in the infield in their system. They do not have any at the higher levels of the Minor Leagues, but with Watson and Salas they could have something cooking. Salas absolutely destroyed the Complex League, hitting .370/.458/.511 with a .969 OPS and 163 wRC+.
Salas is a part of what looks to be a tremendous 2019 IFA class for the Marlins and could be the best one of the bunch. Salas’s promising start in the Complex League looked like what some of the top IFAs in all of baseball do. He naturally slowed down at Low-A, posting just 85 wRC+ in 27 games, but some context is required here. Salas was one of the youngest players in the old Florida State League which has never been very hitter friendly. He also posted an 8.9 BB% and 22.8 K%, showing he has good plate discipline against full-season level pitching. He will begin 2022 at that level and can really speed up his timeline with a good year.
The 18-year-old shares some swing similarities with Jazz Chisholm and Kahlil Watson, but he has a more projectable frame than both. Salas starts in a pretty upright stance before getting into his backside in his load and unleashing plus bat speed and barrel whip. As Salas continues to fill out his quick bat and swing geared for lift should result in a good amount of homers.
Salas played second, short and third this year, but featured mostly at short where he struggled. He committed 18 errors in 45 games, including 11 in 25 games in Jupiter. It is no surprise the Marlins tried to make it happen for Salas at short in the absence of Nasim Nuñez, but the experiment will not last long. He struggled going both ways which is a deadly sin at short stop, and his big frame that has room to fill out is better for third base. His offensive profile is also a better fit at third, and the Marlins severely lack talent at that position. With the addition of Watson to the system at short, the Marlins have the luxury to move Salas around to find him a future home. With his strong arm and athleticism, third is the most likely option.
The Marlins have been calling out for a truly elite offensive prospect for years now and Salas just may be the one. Seeing what he did to the lower levels shows true superstar potential and if he continues to rake next year he will rocket up prospect lists. There is a massive ceiling on Salas and he could end up being the hitting prospect with the most potential in the system. His switch-hitting and possible defensive versatility is something the Marlins need desperately in their system. He has a long way to go as he will still be 18 when 2022 starts, but the sky is the limit. Next year will tell us a lot about what kind of floor Salas has, as well as what the timeline on his arrival could look like.
6. Peyton Burdick – OF – (Triple-A)
Age: 24 | Height/Weight: 6′ 200 | Bat/Throw: R/R | 3rd Round (83) – 2020 | ETA: 2022
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Burdick has the highest offensive ceiling of any player at the higher levels in the Marlins system. The third-round pick in 2019 exploded onto the scene in his first pro action by posting 172 wRC+ in 63 games at the Low-A level. Burdick slashed .307/.408/.542 with 10 homers in 288 plate appearances, but perhaps most impressive was his 23.3 K%. For a guy who always projected as a high-strikeout guy, it was an extremely promising start.
Some of that went away in 2021, but Burdick still had a fine year. He hit just .231, but had a .376 OBP and slugged .472 with 23 homers. Put that together and Burdick finished with an .848 OPS and 137 wRC+ in Double-A this year. The good was the on-base and slug, the bad was the average and strikeouts. Burdick struck out 135 times (29.3 K%) in 106 games and had just six more hits in 37 more games than he did in 2019.
With plus plus raw power, Burdick does not require a ton of effort to impact the baseball. Burdick sits pre-loaded into his back side and deploys a rhythmic leg kick as a timing mechanism more than a power source. The 24-year-old’s swing is very lower half driven, and he punishes baseball’s located at the bottom of the strike zone. Burdick has the kind of power that can leave the yard even when he doesn’t square up baseballs; the strikeout rate is a bit high, but his big time power and high walk rates help offset it.
Burdick took control of center in Penscaola this year and did not relent. He played 50 games there this year after playing none in 2019. He went head-to-head with JJ Bleday in the outfield and emerged as the clear option in center field for the Marlins. It is a huge surprise considering he spent most of 2019 in left and did not play a single game in center. The fact that he can be great in center will no doubt accelerate his timeline.
Burdick still has a good amount to prove. The strikeouts are a major concern and the average against Minor League competition is not promising. Nevertheless he showed elite on-base ability (16.5 BB%) and big-time power that the Marlins desperately need. The Marlins will add in center field this winter, so Burdick making the Opening Day roster is unlikely. Instead, he will probably start in Triple-A. He has a very high ceiling, but a much lower floor than a guy like Bleday. I see him as a boom-or-bust type prospect and it will all come down to limiting the strikeouts. However, the Marlins desperately need to add power to their lineup and Burdick can provide that with ease. Maybe he can fill that hole left by Adam Duvall, who was somehow traded for Alex Jackson?
7. JJ Bleday – OF – (Double-A)
Age: 23 | Height/Weight: 6’3″ 205 | Bat/Throw: L/R | 1st Round (4) – 2020 | ETA: 2022
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Bleday had one of the most disappointing seasons offensively of MiLB player this year. Once touted as arguably the best college bat in his draft, 2021 was a massive struggle for the former Vanderbilt man. Bleday slashed just .212/.323/.373 with 12 home runs, a .695 OPS and 97 wRC+. Every time he seemed like he was turning a corner, Bleday would come back to earth with a cold spell. He never put together a consistent stretch of weeks where he was very good offensively, and seemed to trade off between hot and cold weeks in each series.
There were some positives for Bleday, however. He showed a very good feel for the strike zone and really good plate discipline, posting a 13.7% walk rate compared to a 21.6% strikeout rate. It should calm Marlins fans down that at the level where pitching is at its best in the Minors, Bleday did not struggle with the strikeout and was still able to get on base at a solid rate. He also finished really strongly, slashing .311/.382/.444 in the final two weeks of the season in September.
What it came down to with Bleday in 2021 is he simply did not impact the ball enough. Even on some of his extra base hits, the ball did not always jump off the bat. His .250 BABIP is pretty good evidence to suggest that the ball was not landing for him because he just was not hitting it hard enough. Bleday also struggled with his timing all year and seemed to be unable to figure out a setup that worked for him.
That has changed for him in the Arizona Fall League, where Bleday has been dominant to this point. He has started keeping the bat on his shoulder and quieting down his pre swing movements which were hard to repeat. Since those tweaks, Bleday has been roping balls and producing some loud contact. As of Tuesday morning, Bleday is slugging .680 in Arizona with five doubles and three homers in 60 plate appearances. It does not mean he has figured it out completely—pitching has never been worse in the AZFL than it is right now—but if he finishes well it would be a huge momentum builder for Bleday going into a decisive 2022.
Bleday played all over the outfield this year, but seemed to settle in left towards the end of the year. His days in center field are behind him as Peyton Burdick locked down that spot in Pensacola over the course of the year. Bleday played 23 games in center, 28 in left and 38 in right, which is his natural position. It seems like settling in a corner is practically a guarantee at this point, so which one will be based on his arm strength. He had 11 total assists to just two errors—both in right field—this season.
2022 will be the decisive year for Bleday and he has a lot to prove. He has to demonstrate he can consistently impact the baseball and put up consistent results. He definitely has a high floor, but the question will be how high the ceiling can be. One comparison that has been thrown around a lot is Michael Conforto, and I think right now the Marlins would be delighted with that type of outcome. Would they have been when they drafted him? Who knows.
Despite the rough year, Bleday did enough to give Marlins fans a reason to hope he can turn it around next year. If he breaks out to start the year, he can really speed up his timeline, which a lot of people thought would have had him in the big leagues in 2021. At this point, an MLB appearance in 2022 would probably be a massive win for the Marlins.
8. Dax Fulton – LHP – (High-A)
Age: 20 | Height/Weight: 6’7″ 225 | Bat/Throw: R/R | 2nd Round (40) – 2020 | ETA: 2023
Fulton is not going to overpower anybody with his stuff, but he has a very solid repertoire. He will sit between 90-93 with his fastball and adds a solid changeup. Where he really sets him apart is a plus curveball that has a chance to be special. Fulton will run his hook up into the lower 80s and creates good depth with it. He showed very good swing-and-miss potential as he had 10.13 K/9 in 14 starts in Low-A this season. His lanky 6’7″ frame causes his velocity to play up with his funky left-handed delivery. He still has some room to add, so that could help with increased velocity. Despite that, he will likely never be a high-90s type pitcher.
Fulton struggled with command this year and got knocked around at times. He a 1.36 WHIP and 4.60 BB/9 at Low-A and 1.47 WHIP and 3.66 BB/9 at High-A. His ERAs were high at both levels so his numbers do not exactly jump off the page, but it was still a good first year for Fulton. He made it up to High-A along with Perez after 18 combined strikeouts in his last two starts in Jupiter. He will have to sharpen his command in 2022 to really become a great pitcher. Durability could also be an issue for the young lefty. Fulton did not pitch more than five innings all year and it took until July to even go that long.
It was a strong first year in pro ball for Fulton but he still has a long way to go. MLB Pipeline said he “offers more upside than Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers” which I’m not ready to agree with yet. On Garrett yes, but definitely not on Rogers. The results were simply not dominant but there is a lot to like. I would like to see better results from Fulton before I move him up among the elite prospects in this pitching-heavy system. The good news is he will pitch all of 2021 at just 20-years-old and has a world of potential. If he can cut down the walks and last longer into games, he could put up some great numbers in 2022. If he does that, you are looking at another special pitching prospect in this Miami Marlins system.
9. Ian Lewis – SS/2B – (Complex)
Age: 18 | Height/Weight: 5’10” 175 | Bat/Throw: S/R | IFA: $950,000 – MIA (2019) | ETA: 2025
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An intriguing athlete with a good feel to hit, Lewis impressed at the complex last season and has the Marlins brass excited about his potential.
Given the fact that it was Lewis’ first professional season, you could see him feeling out his swing a bit from both sides in the earlier parts of the year. The 18-year-old continued to get more comfortable as the season went on and settled into a nice groove through the final 30 games in the Complex League.
Lewis has a smooth swing from both sides and controls his body exceptionally well for such a raw hitter. While complex stats should generally be taken with a grain of salt, a young switch hitter only punching out 24 times in 161 PA’s is extremely encouraging. Projecting power for a prospect like Lewis is a bit tough because he is a freakish athlete who has twitchy bat speed similar to fellow Bohemian Marlin Jazz Chisholm. While Lewis does not quite have Chisholm’s power upside, he packs more of a punch than his 175 pound frame would suggest.
A borderline plus plus runner, Lewis has impactful speed and should be able to swipe plenty of bags as he gets better with his jumps. The Marlins have been getting Lewis more reps at second base where he projects to be a plus defender with his athleticism and range.
After not seeing Lewis in 2020, the teenager emerged last season looking more physical and the results could be seen with the way the ball was jumping off of his bat compared to when he was signed. Still just 18 years old, Lewis has a ton of upside and could be one of the names to watch that could rapidly ascend up the prospect rankings.
10. Zach McCambley – RHP – (Double-A)
Age: 22 | Height/Weight: 6’2″ 220 | Bat/Throw: R/R | 3rd Round (75) – 2020 | ETA: 2023
Another great pick from the Marlins 2020 Draft class, McCambley posted a ridiculous 73 strikeouts against just 6 walks prior to his Double-A call up.
There are two breaking balls in this system that stand above everyone else: Max Meyer’s slider and Zach McCambley’s curveball. McCambley’s low-80s power curve is plus plus, with late two plane break making it almost impossible to hit. In fact, opponents only hit to a .332 OPS against the pitch last season.
McCambley struggled to keep the ball in the yard at times when throwing the heater, allowing 17 of his 21 home runs off of that pitch. The fastball is high spin and plays well up in the zone, however some hitters were virtually eliminating the curveball and hunting McCambley’s four seamer, which he threw nearly 60% of the time. An encouraging sign on the fastball was the fact that McCambley saw his velocity rise by the end of the season, hitting 95 and 96 mph much more frequently.
McCambley’s fastball has a solid profile and should play up as an above average pitch if he can develop his changeup. In his final couple starts, you could see the 22-year-old making an effort to throw the pitch more often and at times locating it, however it is a bit firm. If McCambley’s changeup can develop to average, he will be in great shape with an already big league plus curveball and a fastball with good metrics.
After a bumpy start to his Double-A tenure, McCambley settled in through his final four starts. The right-hander benefitted from the velocity bump and improved feel for his changeup, pitching to a 2.37 ERA while striking out 27 batters in his final 19 innings. McCambley’s curveball is elite, giving him a big whiff offering as a baseline and with a strong finish to his Double-A season last year, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic on the former third round pick.
McCambley projects as a swing and miss No. 4 starter with a shot at becoming a middle of the rotation arm if he can continue to gain a feel for that changeup. He is a bulldog on the mound with a great work ethic who is not afraid to attack hitters.
Even in the worst case, that curveball will play phenomenally in the back end of a bullpen, but I’ll bet on McCambley continuing to figure it out as a starter.
Other Names To Watch
Yiddi Cappe – SS – (DSL): The Marlins prized IFA signing in the 2021 class, Cappe has 5-tool upside at the shortstop position. An advanced feel to hit for a 19-year-old, Cappe should settle into Low-A next season with a chance to jump up the Marlins top prospect lists as we see a bit more of him.
Griffin Conine – OF – (Double-A): Conine has as much power as anybody in the Minor Leagues–made evident by his 36 homers last season. The power has come with a price tag of a 40% strikeout clip, which Conine will have to iron out to have success at the big league level. Conine’s ability to hit lefties and foul pole to foul pole power make him worthy of following heading into next year.
Joe Mack – C – (Complex): A first round pick in the 2021 Draft, Mack has plenty of offensive upside in his left handed swing and a good shot to stick behind the dish. There is a good deal of swing and miss concern however, and the track record of high school catchers is impossible to ignore.
Victor Mesa Jr. – OF – (Low-A): The younger brother of Victor Victor, Victor Jr. has proved to be the more valuable Mesa brother to the Marlins organization. He impressed everybody with a strong GCL showing in 2019 and showed great potential in Low-A in 2021 even if the numbers do not jump off the page. He just turned 20 and has a big year in front of him in 2022, but the Marlins are very excited about him.
Antonio Velez – LHP – (Double-A): An undrafted free agent signee in 2020, Velez has come out of nowhere to really impress. While his stuff is relatively average, Velez can flat out pitch and is your prototypical crafty left. He mixes up his three offerings well and hardly walks anyone (11 BB in 99 IP). Velez is a name to watch if his stuff ticks up a tad, but as is, he could be a solid swingman option.
Troy Johnston – OF – (High-A): A 17th round pick in 2019, Johnston turned heads with his impressive feel to hit. The 24-year-old produced an impressive 142 wRC+ between Low and High-A last season, but will need to do it in Double-A to prove that he was not just beating up on lower level competition.