The trade between the Marlins and Blue Jays on Monday was far from a headline-maker, but Miami did manage to come away with an intriguing minor league arm who could be a bullpen asset down the line—and perhaps not especially far. The man in question is right hander Andrew McInvale, a Double-A setup man who has taken an interesting path from relative obscurity to the brink of the big leagues.
McInvale’s career beginnings were pretty humble. A native of Austin, McInvale enjoyed enough success as a prep player to draw interest from numerous college programs. He was seen as more of a solid, middle-of-the-road college prospect than a potential big league arm at that time, though his background as a multi-sport athlete with success at quarterback pointed to untapped potential in the eyes of some.
He eventually settled on Baylor, where he made his NCAA debut during the 2016 season, but was unable to get off the ground with the Bears. While he was able to secure a role as a freshman, pitching primarily out of the bullpen, he struggled through the year, posting a 5.63 ERA and 25/22 K/BB ratio in 32 innings (16 appearances), leaving his role in a state of flux heading into 2017.
Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, McInvale decided to transfer following his freshman season. Rather than jumping immediately to another NCAA program, he took his talents to the JUCO level, attending Howard College (TX) for his sophomore campaign. His strikeout-to-walk numbers didn’t improve a heck of a lot (32/25 in 37 innings), but he was able to prevent hits and runs more effectively in NJCAA play with a 3.89 ERA. The performance impressed evaluators who got eyes on him, generating interest among D1 coaches in a potential return to the level. He’d end up making the long move from Texas to Virginia to join Liberty for the 2019 season, and it’d be there that his career would hit another gear.
After pitching primarily as a reliever for both Baylor and Howard, McInvale was able to seize a rotation role as soon as he was eligible for the Flames, and by season’s end, he was perhaps the team’s most reliable hurler. Experience seemed to unlock a new gear for McInvale, who showed vastly improved control as a junior. He slashed his walk rate to 40 in 103 innings, while simultaneously allowing fewer hits than either of his previous stops and striking out 101. The results were excellent from a run prevention standpoint as well, as McInvale pitched to a 3.41 ERA over his 17 starts, including an appearance in the regional stage of the College World Series and showing little wear and tear while enduring the heaviest workload of his career.
The step forward generated a bit of pro interest for McInvale for the first time in his career- there had always been some power in his arm, but lagging feel had prevented him from harnessing it in a game setting prior to 2019. Now more fully realized, it was fairly easy for evaluators to envision a relief future for McInvale in the pro game, even if some shortcomings persisted. He eventually became a 37th round pick of the Blue Jays, and decided to go ahead and make the leap to the minor leagues rather than exhausting his remaining year of college eligibility.
Toronto sent McInvale, fresh off 100+ innings with the Flames, to rookie ball in 2019 to get his feet wet. The results were mixed. While he did strike out 18 hitters in his 17 inning debut, he also got touched up for 18 hits and walked 10, resulting in an ERA north of 6. This put him in a precarious position during the COVID-19 layoff, on the very fringes of the affiliated game.
He seems to have used the time to his advantage. Historically a pretty massive dude, McInvale put a lot of work into his physique during 2020 and returned to camp in noticeably sharper shape. The improved conditioning has seemed to serve him well, creating a palpable spike in velocity. The added heat has helped him to post in a very promising 32% K rate and just 15 hits allowed in 24 and 2⁄3 innings thus far, with most of those innings coming at the Double-A level.
While McInvale is still walking too many batters to threaten for a call-up just yet, with 14 thus far in 2021, he has essentially skipped the entirety of the lower minors, and is facing by far the most patient hitters he has ever seen in his career. The command is solidly below average, and the delivery is strength-based and high effort, so it’d be unreasonable to expect a huge step forward in the location department, but more time to acclimate could help him to push the walk rate down, even if just slightly, to a more palatable range, which should be all he really needs to succeed in short stints.
From a stuff standpoint, McInvale has a setup man profile. His best offering is an above average fastball, which has crept all the way up to the 94-95 range from the low-90s in his college days and sports solid ride. It’s not an elite heater, but possesses multiple qualities that teams tend to pursue and has generated a strong whiff rate in the minors. The juice behind his heater also facilitates the effectiveness of a solid average slider, his best secondary, which shows broad horizontal break and can tunnel off of the fastball effectively when he’s on. While in the past McInvale has shown a curveball and change as well, at this point it’s a pure two pitch look, with perhaps the very occasional tertiary offering mixed in to throw hitters off balance.
It may not be a franchise-altering transaction, but hitting on moves like these can create serious value over time. McInvale comes to Miami under full team control, giving him the potential to become an affordable, long-term bullpen fixture with just a bit more polish. The trade market shows us year in, year out that such players are highly coveted by teams trying to pry open their competitive windows, and the Marlins didn’t have to give up any long-term value to acquire his services. As soon as he’s able to get his walk rate under a bit more control, he should be in Miami in short order, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could contribute to a winning Marlins team down the line.