On January 3, the Marlins announced RHP Anthony Bender—among others—had signed a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Just two months after that, Bender is making an impression in major league camp.
Entering Monday, the 26-year-old has appeared three times and he’s made the most out of those. In 3 1⁄3 innings, he has yet to allow any baserunners while striking out six hitters (16.2 K/9). One of those games was a 12-pitch save to secure a 1-0 win against the Astros on March 5.
Bender’s pitch mix consists of a sinker that has touched 98.6 miles per hour, a high-spin slider, and a splitter that he uses from time to time. He has had far and away the highest average fastball velocity among all Marlins pitchers in Grapefruit League games, according to Statcast.
The quality of Bender’s competition further legitimizes what he’s done. Punchout victims of his include Brandon Nimmo, Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber, and Starlin Castro.
After being an out-of-the-blue acquisition, Bender is now one of the most intriguing stories in camp. Right now, the Marlins 40-man roster is full and Bender is a non-roster invitee, but he can give Don Mattingly something to think about if he continues this good preseason showing.
The Marlins have plenty of options to use out of the bullpen in the late innings. Yimi García, Anthony Bass, Ross Detwiler and Richard Bleier are Opening Day roster locks; Dylan Floro would be too assuming he catches up on his preparation after falling behind due to soreness (no spring game appearances yet); John Curtiss and James Hoyt were both great in 2020. But having depth never hurts anyone, especially if that additional piece is due to make league minimum salary.
Anthony Bender. If his next 3 spring games are anything like his first 3, the team will option/IL one of the vet relievers to make room for him.— Ely Sussman (@RealEly) March 14, 2021
Bender has already enjoyed professional success and seems to be improving year after year. Between 2018-19, pitching in the Royals’ and Brewers’ farm systems, he threw 129 2⁄3 innings, gave up 47 walks, struck out 89 opponents, allowed 122 hits, 43 earned runs, and recorded a 2.98 ERA. Just like thousands of other minor leaguers, he didn’t have official MiLB games last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though he did pitch in an independent league (American Association).
Bender also has experience throwing multiple innings at a time, so he can contribute to the Marlins pitching staff in a variety of roles if called upon.
Given what he has done so far, Bender should be a name to follow closely during the final 12 games of Spring Training.