During the last five years, the Marlins have tried everything to address the center field position. When initiating their rebuild by trading away star hitters, they sought standout athletes in return. Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna begot Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison and Magneuris Sierra.
In October 2018, new ownership distinguished themselves from the previous regime by investing in a top-tier international free agent. The vast majority of the Marlins’ bonus pool—$5.25 million—went to Victor Victor Mesa. With terrific defensive skills and several years of professional experience already under his belt, the club hoped he’d be MLB-ready quickly.
Instead, the Marlins are still starving for continuity. They used 21 different center fielders during the 2018-2022 regular seasons. Unable to get any offensive production from those aforementioned prospects, they toyed with converting players from other positions like Jesús Sánchez, Harold Ramirez and Jonathan Villar (an experiment which lasted exactly one game). Overall, Marlins CFs have contributed 2.4 wins above replacement throughout this half-decade span, according to FanGraphs, the third-lowest total in the majors. Starling Marte accounts for 3.7 of that 2.4. Not a typo: the non-Marte options have cumulatively been worth more than a win below replacement level.
Between now and Opening Day, the Marlins will attempt to swing another Marte-like trade for a well-rounded center fielder who’s in or near the prime of their career. But even if they succeed, injuries happen and contracts expire. It is crucial to have solid homegrown alternatives.
Victor Mesa Jr., the other Mesa brother who signed for $1 million as an amateur, started 103 games in center field with the Beloit Sky Carp this season, getting more reps at the position than anybody else at any level of the Marlins organization. He has a career slash line of .259/.328/.377 with 11 home runs and 29 stolen bases in three seasons of MiLB action while playing against much older competition. Shortly after his 21st birthday in September, Victor Jr. was selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League, where he slashed .207/.313/.431 in 17 games with the aptly named Mesa Solar Sox.
“I’m not happy with the year that I had,” he told Fish Stripes last week in a call from Arizona. “I think you guys should know that. I treat myself pretty hard.”
Digging into his 2022 campaign more closely, Mesa admits it was challenging to “adapt” to the climate and culture of Beloit, Wisconsin, as someone who played exclusively in Florida at his previous minor league stops. After posting a .601 OPS during the chilly month of April, he improved to a .748 OPS in May, .797 OPS in June and .767 OPS in July (the Midwest League average was .710).
“If you’re gonna get to the bigs, you gotta play like that,” Mesa says. “You gotta make adjustments, give your 100% every day. That’s it. You can’t blame the weather because you’re not gonna perform as well.”
Although Mesa’s overall offensive stats took a small step backwards from Low-A Jupiter to High-A Beloit, the left-handed batter made a leap against same-handed pitching:
- 2021 vs. LHP (85 PA)—.218/.259/.308, 0 HR, 28.2 K%
- 2022 vs. LHP (130 PA)—.308/.357/.458, 3 HR, 16.9 K%
“I was feeling more comfortable with the lefties than righties,” Mesa says. “That’s not common, but it happened.”
Nearly half of Mesa’s batted balls went to the pull side in 2021, per FanGraphs. He showed more of a willingness to use the whole field this year, which may have helped him navigate the platoon disadvantage.
Watching Mesa throughout the 2022 season on MiLB.TV, I couldn’t help noticing how frequently he tinkers with his mechanics in the batter’s box. For example, from day to day, at-bat to at-bat or even pitch to pitch, he will switch from a medium leg kick to a subtle toe tap.
Mesa’s leg kick was even more pronounced when he reported to Beloit. Hitting coach Matt Snyder explained that he would be exposed against advanced pitching because it was causing him to lose his balance when trying to time up slow breaking balls. He went through a phase mimicking the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Jerar Encarnación with a closed stance, positioning his front foot closer to home plate than his back foot. By season’s end, he settled on a compromise between those extremes that made him feel most comfortable and confident.
“I think the most important [thing] for us as minor league players with young age is try to know myself,” Mesa says.
Despite the five-year age difference between the Mesa brothers, it’s fair to wonder which one of them will make their MLB debut first. Victor Jr. is projected to begin 2023 with Double-A Pensacola as the team’s primary center fielder. In preparation for that, he will once again train at Team Sosa Baseball during the offseason in the company of big leaguers including Miguel Cabrera, Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Miguel Rojas. He says there’s no better place to learn what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
“I’m gonna come back faster and stronger. I’m gonna show what I can do, why the Marlins signed me and why I’m high on the prospect [list].”