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Over 1,600 players reached 50 innings pitched during the 2019 Minor League Baseball season, from Triple-A all the way down to the various Rookie ball circuits. Out of all of those pitchers, a Marlins prospect ranked sixth overall in terms of strikeout percentage—sixth—and you may not even know his name. That prospect is reliever Alex Vesia, a 2018 17th-round draft pick from NCAA Divison II Cal State East Bay.
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You will not find Vesia on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Marlins prospects list, but you will find him in the bullpen during the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game on Saturday.
The distinction is the latest chapter in a dominant 2019 for the left-hander. Vesia started the year at Single-A Clinton after getting his feet wet with the GCL Marlins and Batavia Muckdogs the previous summer. In 19 appearances, the 23-year-old went 1-2 with a 2.56 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 51:17 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Those stats earned him a promotion to High-A Jupiter on June 20, but that would actually turn out to be his worst “slump” all season.
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With the Hammerheads Vesia pitched 18 2⁄3 innings, allowing only one walk compared to 24 punch-outs. He picked up one save in two attempts, and finished with a 4-0 record and a 1.93 ERA. Going from strength to strength, Vesia was promoted again on August 1, and did not allow a single run for the rest of the season. Over 16 1⁄3 frames at Double-A Jacksonville he struck out 25 batters and produced a WHIP of 0.55. Overall, Vesia posted a 1.76 ERA over 66 2⁄3 innings across three levels during the regular season, along with a 38.2 K% and 13.50 K/9. Just in case that did not impress, he has struck out 11 batters over 7 1⁄3 scoreless innings in the AFL thus far.
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The Miami Marlins need to solidify who’s going to be their backup catcher in 2020.
Jorge Alfaro is the undisputed starter for the 2020 Miami Marlins at backstop, but being a catcher in the majors is physically demanding. A backup catcher is important in that they can step in when the starter goes down, or give the starter an off day now and then.
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For two seasons now, Bryan Holaday has been a very solid backup to Alfaro and J.T. Realmuto before him. Holaday was weak at the plate in 2018, with a .205/.261/.258 slashline, but more than made up for it by leading the National League with a 45 percent kill-rate on runners trying to steal.
This past season, Holaday only nabbed 20 percent, but his hitting was much improved over 43 games, to the tune of a .278/.344/.435 line. In 668 1/3 innings combined between the two seasons, he was guilty of one error and two passed balls. That’s incredible, if you didn’t know already.
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Also logging time at catcher for the 2019 Miami Marlins were Chad Wallach, Tyler Heineman, and Wilkin Castillo. Will one of these four fill the coveted number two catcher roster spot for the Marlins? Will they dig deeper into the existing system? Will they look outside for help through free agency? How about a trade? We’ll have to wait and see how things develop in Spring Training, but in the meantime, we can make a few guesses.
I went on about this at some length in an article a few days ago, here. The Crib notes version is this – J.D. Osborne is likely the best hitting catcher in the system, outside of Alfaro and the 2019 version of Holaday. Nick Fortes, Dustin Skelton, and Will Banfield all wait in the wings, with Banfield as the heir apparent to Alfaro in a few years. Down at the rookie level, Casey Combs and Cameron Barstad lurk, if one of the others don’t work out.
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As I’ve previously stated, I believe that Banfield is the answer to the long-term question behind the dish, and I think Skelton will shape into a fine backup in time. They won’t be ready for the 2020 season, so what about looking outside?
Livin life with no complaints pic.twitter.com/CfRPWbRycH
— Alex Vesia (@Alex_Vesia) September 28, 2019
Vesia may just be growing into a dominant closer on a currently closer-less team. While he was not often used in such a role in 2019, he displays all of the tools of a lock-down, late-inning specialist. He possesses a mid-90s fastball, has great control of the strike zone, and definitely owns a strikeout pitch. Only one of those things can be said about José Ureña, who posted a 9.00 ERA after being moved to the bullpen this year.
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All in all, the Marlins ‘pen is arguably the worst in MLB, the only one in the league that performed below replacement level in 2019, according to FanGraphs. The current talent level may be even lower than that suggests, moving forward without the services of Sergio Romo and Nick Anderson.
Continuing on this trajectory, Vesia is a potential major league call-up as early as next season. Easier said than done, though—fellow prospect Tommy Eveld looked to have similar promise after being acquired by trade from the Diamondbacks, but seemed to hit a wall (7.71 ERA) when he reached Triple-A and still hasn’t debuted at the highest level.
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In short, Alex Vesia is very, very good and could end up being one of the steals of the 2018 draft. The lefty should start to appear across the industry’s top prospect lists during the offseason. Look for Vesia to be seriously considered for a non-roster invite to 2020 Spring Training.