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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.