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Eight years after a World Series title slipped away from him, Cruz remains one of the majors’ best power hitters, in a surprisingly powerful Minnesota Twins lineup.
Nelson Cruz, 39, hit 41 homers this year, to bring his career total to 401.
Nelson Cruz, 39, hit 41 homers this year, to bring his career total to 401.Credit…David Berding/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

By Tyler Kepner

Oct. 4, 2019

A ring sailed right over his head, and eight years later, Nelson Cruz is still trying to grab it.

Cruz, the slugging designated hitter for the Minnesota Twins, was the right fielder for the Texas Rangers in 2011, one out away from a championship in Game 6 of the World Series in St. Louis. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Cardinals’ David Freese tripled off the right-field wall to tie the game. Cruz raced back more than 10 strides and leapt for it, but his efforts were in vain and the Rangers went on to lose the game and the series.

Cruz is 39 now, and hit 41 home runs this season to bring his career total to 401. His efforts helped lift the Twins to the American League Central title and a meeting with the Yankees in a division series. Cruz hit another homer — his 17th career postseason home run — off James Paxton in the third inning of the Twins’ Game 1 loss on Friday.

Cruz has not returned to the World Series since 2011, and he could not forget his near miss if he tried.

“I mean, it’s there,” he said last month, before a game in Boston. “You cannot erase that from your mind. It’s something that, as a player, you know that you’re that close to winning something that important and you weren’t able to do it — and not only one time, it was two times.”
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Cruz went on to describe the excruciating details: a two-run homer by his teammate Josh Hamilton in the 10th, then another St. Louis rally, then a homer by Freese to win the game in the 11th.

“It was like, ‘Are you kidding me, what is this?’” Cruz said. “It’s a shame, you know? But you cannot be with that weight on top of your shoulders for long. You have to let it go.”

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In truth, Endy Chavez, a superior defender, probably should have been in for defense in the ninth. Cruz is a full-time D.H. now, yet that role — and his most famous chance in the field — obscures the athleticism that gave him a career in the first place.

As a boy in the Dominican Republic, Cruz starred in basketball because he could play that sport at night. During the afternoons, he worked as a mechanic at his uncle’s shop. He could play baseball only on Sundays, he said, but eventually he caught the attention of a Mets scout, Eddy Toledo.
ImageCruz could not come down with David Freese’s triple off the wall in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
Cruz could not come down with David Freese’s triple off the wall in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.Credit…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Dominican players can sign at 16 years old, but Cruz was already 18 when Toledo signed him in 1998 for $15,000. That was at least three times the going rate for Dominican amateurs, said Omar Minaya, then the Mets’ assistant general manager in charge of international scouting. But as a project, Minaya believed, Cruz was worth it.

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“I couldn’t tell you I thought he was going to be the player he is today, but he was a raw athlete,” Minaya said. “I’m a big believer in looking for guys that have the physical profile, have strength and athleticism, and that’s what this guy had.”

But in 2000, the Mets were pushing for the playoffs and seeking an extra infielder, so on Aug. 30 they dealt Cruz to the A’s for Jorge Velandia, a smooth fielder at several infield positions. Cruz was crushed.

“I remember I didn’t tell anyone in my house for like a week,” he said. “I was like: ‘Why did they trade me? They don’t like me!’ That was my first impression. As a kid, you have no idea.”

Velandia played 15 games after the trade without a hit, and he was left off the Mets’ postseason roster. (A different backup shortstop, Kurt Abbott, dived futilely for Luis Sojo’s go-ahead single up the middle in the ninth inning of the World Series finale against the Yankees.) Cruz hit well as an Oakland prospect, but he did not stick there, either, moving on to Milwaukee in a 2004 deal for infielder Keith Ginter, and then to Texas in a six-player deal for closer Francisco Cordero two years later. Yet even the Rangers — just like the Mets, the A’s and the Brewers — did not know what they had.

“On one hand, we traded for him, we saw potential and we ultimately gave him an opportunity,” said Jon Daniels, the Rangers’ general manager. “On the other hand, in the middle of that, we passed him through outright waivers and he went unclaimed.”

That happened at the end of spring training in 2008, with every team passing on the chance to claim Cruz for $20,000 and a major league roster spot. He went back to the minors, where the Rangers’ hitting coordinator, Mike Boulanger, suggested an open stance that gave Cruz a better view of the pitcher.
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It worked: Cruz was most valuable player of the Pacific Coast League, hit .330 for Texas down the stretch and has been a mainstay in the majors ever since — except for a 50-game suspension in 2013 in connection with the Biogenesis doping scandal.

Two years later, Cruz told The Seattle Times that he was “freaked out” after losing 45 pounds because of a viral infection and “made the wrong choice” out of desperation to get better. Looking back now, he said, the suspension reinforced his passion for the game.
Image
Celebrating after the Twins clinched the American League Central title in September.
Celebrating after the Twins clinched the American League Central title in September.Credit…Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

“Once you get separated from something that you love so much — like I love baseball a lot — you know how important it is, so you don’t want to leave that part again,” he said. “It’s something I’ve got to hold as long as I can, because I love the game so much. That’s the thing that I know how to do, all my life.”

In the six seasons since his suspension, Cruz has hit the most home runs in the majors: 243, 20 more than the next closest hitter, Mike Trout. The Twins signed him last winter for one year and $14.3 million with a team option for 2020, and watched as he led a parade of sluggers to become the first team in major league history to reach 300 homers in a season.

“He’s not just as advertised, he’s better,” Twins Manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Yeah, the at-bats are pretty impressive, but he definitely changes all the dynamics in the clubhouse, in the dugout, everywhere, just by who he is. He has a tremendous presence and charisma.”

Outfielder Max Kepler said he studies Cruz’s preparation and marvels at the way his swing never changes.

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“And his mind is always great,” Kepler said. “It seems like he’s always smiling, always in a good, positive mind-set.”

In Cruz’s mind, he said, one vision sustains him each winter.

“I train every year just thinking of that first game of the playoffs,” he said. “When everything starts right after the season, I start thinking about that moment. When that moment comes, I just have to be ready.”

The moment has arrived again for Cruz, another chance for the ring he just missed

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On February 7, 2019, prior to signing superstar Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak made a big win-now move, trading top prospect Sixto Sanchez and young catcher Jorge Alfaro to the Miami Marlins as part of a package for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

After this trade, along with the acquisitions of Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura, the Phillies had suddenly added four former All-Stars to a group that had won 80 games in the year prior.

However, despite the additions, the team failed to meet expectations in an 81-81 season. But while many things went very wrong for the 2019 Phillies, one thing went even better than planned – the acquisition of Realmuto.

At first, the returns on the trade appeared to just be OK. Realmuto was a defensive stud out of the gate, but was not as good as advertised at the plate during the first half of the season. Heading into the All-Star Break, he had only a .767 OPS to go along with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs. That certainly isn’t bad offensive production for a catcher, but not what the Phillies were looking for when they traded a blue-chip prospect for him.

Despite his struggles on offense, Realmuto still earned the Phillies lone All-Star bid behind his stellar defense. He threw out 26 baserunners to lead baseball and his overall defensive contribution had him 25th in baseball in fWAR despite the offensive inconsistency.

In the second half of the season, Realmuto got stronger. He put together an incredible stretch, hitting 15 home runs with a .892 OPS, while continuing to provide excellent defense behind the plate.

In the last two months of the season, Realmuto was especially good, becoming one of the most valuable players in baseball. His 2.6 fWAR after Aug. 1 ranked sixth overall in the National League. His 15 doubles and 28 extra-base hits after the midsummer classic led the Phillies to go along with 11 home runs and .591 slugging percentage, which trailed only Harper.

J.T. Realmuto had an excellent first season in Philadelphia. (Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Realmuto’s season may have been, statistically, the best all-around one for any Phillies catcher ever. He was the first catcher in franchise history to have 35+ doubles and 25+ home runs in a single season, and his caught-stealing percentage of 46.7 percent was the highest for any Phillies catcher since Bob Boone in 1973.

He also cemented his place as the best catcher in baseball right now. He led all catchers in hits, doubles, extra-base hits, runs, RBIs, caught stealing and fWAR, among several other categories.

No matter the metric, the story holds true for Realmuto’s 2019 season – he was great. It doesn’t seem out of the question that he will get some National League MVP votes, considering he finished seventh in the league in fWAR in addition to being the highest-rated defensive player in the league, according to Fangraphs‘ metrics.

He may become the first Phillie to ever win the Platinum Glove Award in addition to likely becoming the first Phillies catcher to win a Gold Glove Award since Mike Lieberthal did it in 1999. In addition to an MLB-leading caught-stealing percentage, Realmuto improved his framing, the part of the game the Phillies thought needed the most help. He finished fourth among all catchers with 8.0 framing runs above average.

There is no question that the Phillies gave up a sizable haul in order to get Realmuto. Alfaro is clearly a tier or two down from Realmuto, but offers promise as an everyday major league catcher in the years to come. And Sanchez, just 21, ranks as the 22nd prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.

But, it certainly seems that the Phillies made the right decision when they sent these two very talented players packing in this acquisition. Their next move should and will be to try to give Realmuto an extension this offseason. There is mutual interest from Realmuto, too, and it seems more to be a matter of when and for how much, not if, he will sign an extension.

Catchers typically have a shorter peak than other position players, and one of Realmuto’s prime years was wasted in this lost 2019 season. He started 130 games at catcher in 2019, the most in baseball, and his season ended early after dealing with right knee soreness that led to a meniscus cleanup, showing the fragility of the position.

Realmuto will be 29 in 2020, and the Phillies need to capitalize on having the best catcher in baseball in his prime. Trading for him was a win-now move, and Sanchez and Alfaro were valuable pieces to give up. The Phillies have to back it up by bolstering the current roster in a vital offseason.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Pedro Martínez stood on the field before Game 4 of the World Series and pictured himself on the mound.

“I was supposed to be pitching in this game tonight,” he said.

Martínez was the No. 4 starter for the 1994 Montreal Expos, who were the best team in baseball on the morning of Aug. 12 when players went on strike, leading to the cancellation of the rest of the season. Now the Washington Nationals — the former Expos — are in the World Series with a chance to accomplish what so many thought the Expos would have done 25 years ago if they got the opportunity.

“Everybody in the Nationals is starting to do something that we expected to be 25 years ago,” Martínez said. “We were destined to go to the World Series. It got suspended. We never had a chance to get a crack at it, and it would never be recognized as one of those seasons where we were supposed to be in that game.”

The ’94 Expos had five All-Stars — not counting a future Hall of Famer in Martínez, career .313 hitter Larry Walker and 1996 World Series MVP John Wetteland — and were a major league-best 74-40 at the time of the strike. They won 20 of their last 23 games, led the mighty Atlanta Braves by six games in the NL East and looked like favorites to help Canada capture three consecutive titles after the Toronto Blue Jays won in 1992 and 1993.

With little warning, Montreal was a juggernaut and looked to make the playoffs for the second time in franchise history and first since 1981. With a pitching staff so deep that a 22-year-old Martínez was fourth in the rotation, he believes the Expos would’ve won it all.

“We were well on our way to doing that,” said Martínez, now an MLB Network analyst. “We were young, energetic — we knew the fundamentals of the game by being managed by Felipe (Alou). Felipe was great at teaching us the proper way to play the game. We had a lot of great defense, great young arms going at it every single night. Every single aspect that you can think of the game, I think we had it on the team.”

Martínez eventually won the World Series in 2004 with the Boston Red Sox. The Expos never got another chance.

Of course, Expos fan Marvin Matthews couldn’t imagine at the time his team wouldn’t get close again. Matthews proposed to his girlfriend at the final Expos home game on Aug. 4, 1994, with a message on the scoreboard that read: “Kristy, the Expos are #1 in baseball. Will you be my #1? Please marry me! Marvin.”

Sitting next to Marvin and Kristy at Olympic Stadium was Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, who won the Stanley Cup with the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens 14 months earlier. The Expos lost that game to St. Louis 7-3 but went 7-1 in their final eight games before the strike.

“It was such a great team,” Matthews said. “Who knew it was going to end? Nobody had that feeling or anything. Nobody knew that was going to happen.”

Matthews, now 60, remembered feeling more devastated by the “Blue Monday” loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 NL Championship Series because everyone saw the young talent in the ’90s and figured there’d be more opportunities.

“In ’94 you just thought, ‘OK, there’s going to be another time, there’s going to be another time,’” Matthews said. “There were 10 more years, but nothing happened.”

Martínez said after the strike cut off the Expos’ chance to win the World Series in 1994, “the economics of the game cut Montreal off from being a city of baseball.” No. 1 starter Ken Hill and center fielder Marquis Grissom never played another game for Montreal after being traded away in April 1995, shortstop Wil Cordero was dealt away after that season, outfielder Moises Alou left in free agency after 1996 and had five more All-Star seasons, and then Darrin Fletcher left and Martínez was sent to Boston after the 1997 season.

The Expos finished above .500 just three more times and never made the playoffs again in Montreal. Attendance tanked before the infamous series of “home” games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. By the end, Expos/Nationals reliever Chad Cordero said, “you only had a couple hundred fans a night.”

“It was hard for me to see the team disappear without having that legit chance at making it to the World Series,” Martínez said.

Major League Baseball bought the franchise and moved it to Washington in 2005. The Nationals have nods to their past in the form of Montreal greats in their ring of honor and even wore throwback power blue Expos uniforms for a game earlier this season.

Andre Dawson, who played for Montreal for 11 seasons and has his name in that ring of honor, thinks the Nationals’ run is good for the city that was left behind.

“It’s honestly an extension of the Expos,” Dawson said by phone Sunday.

With the prospect of the Rays splitting time between Tampa Bay and Montreal and the talk of Quebec’s biggest city getting a team of its own again, the Nationals’ success shining a light on the Expos’ history is certainly one positive.

When he watches the Nationals, Martínez thinks of them as the team he used to play for and yearns for a day the Expos can make good on what he and his teammates thought they’d do in 1994.

“I think that there’s a connection,” he said. “Hopefully Montreal will come into play and get another team, and who knows.”

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As the Miami Marlins make more changes to their 40-man roster, what changes are in store for the starting rotation in 2020?

It would be difficult to look at the coming baseball season and think the Miami Marlins are a team ready to contend for a playoff berth. This being the third year of the rebuild in South Florida, you get the sense there must be a real show of improvement in the win column and how players have developed, but there is a reality to all this that fans in Miami are going to have to deal with once again.

This organization may be getting better, but it’s just not ready, yet.
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The front office made the move to promote Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera and Nick Neidert to the 40-man roster with the vision of them making their Major League debuts at some point this coming season. There is no rush to push these young arms to the starting rotation, but the coaching staff will have plenty of opportunities to see them perform in Spring Training to see what the timetable is on their arrival.

Unless the Marlins make a move this offseason to bring in a veteran arm for the fifth spot in the rotation, you can pencil in four starters – Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez, and Jordan Yamamoto. There will be some discussion about Robert Dugger and Elieser Hernandez as possible starters. Dugger may need more time in the minors to develop. Hernandez is a candidate to become the team’s long reliever, a role he had during different parts of last season.
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Neidert is the most “Major League” ready. After a knee injury sidelined him last season in Triple-A, he came back in the final months of the season to show he can still be a dominant pitcher on the mound. He backed that up with his showing in the Arizona Fall League. My theory is he wins the fifth starter spot in camp.

Cabrera may have been the biggest surprise of the Marlins minor league system last season. He developed into a top-flight starter at Jupiter and then showed how he could control Southern League hitters at Jacksonville. He should begin the season at Wichita, the team’s new Triple-A affiliate. He should be on the roster after the All-Star break.

Sanchez is the one to watch. The front office will take their time with him, monitor his progress and bring him along slowly. The former Philadelphia Phillies prospect has a chance to be a Pedro Martinez-like ace. It’s worth the time and care the organization takes in making sure he is ready.

The discussion of a veteran arm is not off the table as far as I am concerned. There are names out there who fit the Marlins need for a fifth starter without spending a lot of money. As has been written before, someone like Gio Gonzalez or Felix Hernandez makes plenty of sense at the right price.

The team should spend money this offseason in brining a first baseman and outfielder to the lineup. I don’t think the front office will overpay for a veteran who would overshadow the progress the young arms have made in the organization this past season.

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For the second time in three seasons, there will be a Game 7 in the World Series. The Houston Astros will host the Washington Nationals after the Nationals came back to secure a 7-2 win in Game 6. Now Wednesday will feature Game 7 to decide who wins it all.

There have been some very thrilling Game 7s in the 115 year history of the World Series and some have even ended in the walk-off variety. Here’s a look at the top five Game 7 moments in World Series history.
5. Gene Larkin hits walk-off single to beat Braves (1991)

The Minnesota Twins were one of the more talented teams of the 1990s. Eventual World Series MVP Jack Morris and John Smoltz both brought their best stuff with everything on the line and the game went to extra innings tied, 0-0. In the bottom of the 10th inning, Twins pinch-hitter Gene Larkin stepped in to face Braves reliever Alejandro Pena with the bases loaded and only one out. Larkin was able to send a deep fly ball over the heads of the Braves outfielders for a walk-off RBI single that gave the Twins a 1-0 win and a World Series title. It marked the first time since 1962 that a Game 7 of the World Series had just one run scored.
4. Edgar Renteria beats Indians on walk-off single (1997)

The 1997 World Series was another one that came down to the wire. The Florida Marlins and Cleveland Indians were deadlocked at 2-2 in the 11th inning when Edgar Renteria had a chance to make history. The Marlins were down to their last out of the inning when Renteria stroked a game-winning single up the middle to score Craig Counsell and give the franchise their first World Series title. The ball was nearly knocked down as Indians pitcher Charles Nagy even tipped the ball with his glove as it went up the middle. Renteria had three of Florida’s eight hits in the decisive Game 7.
3. Cubs break 108-year drought (2016)

The Chicago Cubs haven’t had the best luck on the big stage in the past. This was a franchise that hadn’t been to the World Series since 1945 before the 2016 season rolled around. In 2016, Chicago found themselves matched up with the Cleveland Indians in a Game 7 and were looking to reverse the fortunes of their past. Heading into the ninth inning, this Game 7 was tied 6-6 after the Indians produced a three-run eighth inning. In the 10th inning, Ben Zobrist delivered an RBI double to score Albert Almora and Miguel Montero connected on an RBI single to plate Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs were able to edge out the Indians 8-7 to capture their first World Series title in 108 years.
2. Luis Gonzalez hits walk-off single to beat the Yankees (2001)

In the 2001 World Series, Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens took the ball for their respective teams and both turned in strong performances, with Schilling tossing 7 1/3 innings and allowing two earned runs while striking out nine, and Clemens striking out 10 while allowing just one run over 6 1/3 innings. Game 7 was then left in the hands of both bullpens. Fast forward to the ninth inning when the Diamondbacks found themselves trailing 2-1 and were facing Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera. Arizona was able to tie the game on a one-out RBI double from Tony Womack. With the bases loaded just one batter later, Luis Gonzalez stepped in and laced a line drive in shallow center field to give the Diamondbacks their first World Series title in franchise history.
1. Bill Mazeroski hits walk-off home run (1960)

With the 1960 World Series hanging in the balance against the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski came to the plate with a chance to make history and he was able to do just much. Facing Ralph Terry in the ninth inning, Mazeroski ripped a 1-0 pitch deep to left field and into the seats at Forbes Field. The Pirates slugger is the only player in MLB history to hit a walk-off home run in a Game 7 of the World Series, so this one has to be at the top of the list. The relatively light hitting second baseman — .260 career batting average and 138 home runs in 17 MLB seasons — is in the Baseball Hall of Fame largely because of this moment. Mazeroski later helped the franchise win another World Series in 1971.

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6) Robb Nen (9.40)

Robb Nen played in 643 major league games over 10 innings, and was the last pitcher in 549 of them. He didn’t start a single game.
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Nen made his major league debut with the Texas Rangers in 1993. In July, they traded him with Kurt Miller to the Florida Marlins for Cris Carpenter. Nen pitched in 15 games for the Fish, pitching to a 7.02 ERA in 33 1/3 innings. He only struck out 27 in 33 1/3 innings, so it kinda looks like he figured something out later. In fact, through the entire 1993 season, he struck out 6.3K/9 between the Rangers and the Marlins. He would never again finish under 9.3K/9.

In 1994, Nen racked up a 2.95 ERA in 58 innings, saving 15 games and striking out 60 in 58 innings. Batters earned a 1.086 WHIP off him, and slashed just .222/.280/.382. Nen was 0-7 in 1995, but also saved 23 games and had a 3.29 ERA. He struck out 68 in 65 2/3 innings, finishing with a 1.294 WHIP.

In 1996, Nen was 5-1 with a 1.95 ERA and a 1.060 WHIP, with 35 saves. He struck out 92 in 83 innings, and held the opposing slashline down to .225/.277/.299. It was probably his best Florida Marlins season.

Nen went 9-3, 3.89 in 1997 for the eventual World Champions, and struck out 81 in 74 innings. His 1.514 WHIP would remain his worst full-season total through his entire career. After the season, the Marlins traded Nen to the San Francisco Giants for Mike Villano, Mike Pageler, and Joe Fontenot.

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The Miami Marlins may be faced with a tough decision this offseason. What to do with outfielder Garrett Cooper given his injury history.
At some point soon, the Miami Marlins will have to answer a question that has been asked by many fans since the end of the 2019 MLB season. What will this team do with Garrett Cooper?

If you are looking for a quick answer, then as of right now, the 28-year-old first baseman will be in the 2020 starting lineup and on the bag in the clean-up spot in the batting order. A long-term solution is that the Marlins find a power-hitting player with more longevity given Cooper’s injury history.

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The organization hopes there is still a place for him, as he has proven when healthy, he swings a powerful bat. And with the potential to hit 30 home runs in a season, Derek Jeter and the front office would be foolish to give up on him so quickly. But he is on a short leash.

“He can play first or corner outfield. But mainly, the 28-year-old has to stay on the field,” writes Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. “Cooper played in just 107 games last season, missing time early with a left calf strain and a bruised left hand. And he sat out the final few weeks in September with a left knee injury. Durability factors into decisions.”

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Some of the plans that Marlins may have had for free agency changed this week when Jose Abreu accepted the Chicago White Sox offer to him. It’s not known whether Abreu was seriously an option for Miami, but he did offer what this franchise needed, which is a slugger who can produce on the base pads.

If the Marlins do look to add a first baseman in free agency this off-season, and I think they do, then somebody like Justin Smoak seems like a potential upgrade (Frisaro agrees). It’s also possible Miami will look to convert Austin Dean to an every day first baseman after spending the last few games of 2019 at the position.

Cooper is going to be one of those players we talk about who was a steal for this organization if he can get himself right physically. He came along with Caleb Smith two offseasons ago from the New York Yankees in a deal that wasn’t talked about much but has paid off for Miami.

Last season, he dealt with calf and hand injuries last year but still managed to swat 15 homers. Cooper missed the final few weeks of the season due to a knee injury, and the front office is hoping he would be ready to go, without question by spring training.

Should the Marlins not be able to acquire a power hitter or two, he and Brian Anderson could be the team’s best chance do you have 30 home runs next season.

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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.

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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.