JUPITER, Fla. -- No matter the level, Marlins lefty pitching prospect Alex Vesia keeps putting up zeroes.
Vesia extended his under-the-radar scoreless innings streak to 40 2/3 innings after the 23-year-old didn’t allow a run in the ninth inning of the Marlins’ 1-1 tie with the Mets on Monday at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.
Vesia -- ranked as Miami's No. 27 prospect by MLB Pipeline -- last allowed a run last season against one of the better prospects in the sport, as St. Louis' No. 2 prospect Nolan Gorman homered off Vesia on July 13, 2019. Vesia was pitching for Class A Advanced Jupiter and Gorman was with the Palm Beach Cardinals.
Now as a non-roster invitee, Vesia continues to roll along.
After July 13, Vesia didn’t allow a run in his final nine innings at Jupiter. After being promoted to Double-A Jacksonville last August, he threw 16 1/3 shutout innings, and followed that up with 10 1/3 shutout innings in the Arizona Fall League.
“He’s been good,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s aggressive. He’s one of those guys who is on the rise. We’ve been able to see him in games. A couple of times, he’s been in there late, with the game on the line. It’s been good to put him in the fire, and he’s handled it.”
With Miami having several bullpen openings, Vesia could make a case to be on the Marlins’ Opening Day roster. But a more likely starting point will either be at Triple-A Wichita or Jacksonville. Vesia was Miami’s 17th-round Draft pick out of Cal State East Bay in 2018.
Stanek dealing with back stiffness
The Marlins anticipated having some openings in their bullpen this spring. They just weren’t expecting one of them could be for right-hander Ryne Stanek.
Stanek, projected to be a late-inning setup option for Mattingly, is dealing with back stiffness.
The 28-year-old last pitched in a Grapefruit League game on Tuesday, throwing one inning at the Mets.
“He’s had a little bit of a stiff back,” Mattingly said. “We’re kind of keeping an eye on him and slowed him down some. Ever since the last game in Port St. Lucie, he pitched over there. He came up stiff the next day. He has a stiff lower back. We’ve tried to stay on top of that.”
Stanek was off to a solid start in Spring Training, allowing one hit with four strikeouts in four scoreless innings.
Opening Day is set for March 26 at home against the Phillies, so if the back issue lingers, the Marlins may have another possible bullpen opening.
“He’s been part of our ‘pen,” Mattingly said. “If it were to get extended, then obviously, more openings.”
The Marlins acquired Stanek from the Rays last July as part of the trade that sent relievers Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards to Tampa Bay. Miami also acquired outfield prospect Jesús Sánchez in the deal.
In 22 games with Miami in 2019, Stanek had a 5.48 ERA in 21 1/3 innings. The right-hander had a 3.40 ERA in 55 2/3 innings with Tampa Bay, and was used as an “opener” in 27 games.
The Marlins have several non-roster invitees who are candidates to make the team, like Brad Boxberger, who gave up a run on Monday, but has impressed in camp. Right-handers Josh A. Smith, who threw a scoreless inning in Monday's tie, and Aaron Northcraft have both thrown well. As has “switch-pitcher” Pat Venditte, who throws with both hands.
Raising the bar
Having some kind of a big league track record will not guarantee players will win Opening Day roster spots.
Mattingly made that clear on Monday, when speaking generally after being asked specifically about what the organization is looking for from outfielder Harold Ramirez. Ramirez had 421 at-bats a year ago and hit .276 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs. The 25-year-old is competing for an outfield spot and thus far in Spring Training, he’s 4-for-24 (.167) with two home runs after going 1-for-2 on Monday.
The Marlins finished 57-105 last year, and expectations are higher this year.
“Just because a guy was here last year doesn’t necessarily mean, and that’s with anybody, that they’re here this year,” Mattingly said. “When you went out and signed some guys, and there are some different pieces on your club, your club looks a little different. And obviously, it’s getting a little harder when deciding who are going to be the guys here.”
Ramirez has competition in the outfield.
The Marlins face the Nationals on Tuesday at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium at 1:05 p.m. ET. Left-hander Caleb Smith, projected as one of Miami's top three starters, will make his third Grapefruit League start. He has a 3.60 ERA in five innings, with six strikeouts and one walk. Listen to the game live on Gameday Audio.