Jose Mesa Jr. was drafted in the 24th round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2012 by the Yankees and now is an up and comer in New York’s succeeding minor league system. He also happens to be the son of former Major League closer Jose Mesa, who recorded the 18th most career saves in his 20-year career.
He was drafted out of Charles Flanagan high school in Pembroke Pines, Florida. After bouncing around the Rookie League and single-A Charleston due to injuries earlier in his career, Mesa Jr. is adjusting to higher levels of play, receiving a promotion in every year of his minor league career.
Beginning in the 2017 campaign in high-A Tampa, Mesa Jr. has been sensational in the bullpen this year, keeping hitters to a pathetic .085 batting average and striking out 28 in 21.1 innings of work.
Starting the year in Tampa instead of Trenton wasn't a disappointment to the right-hander. Instead he uses it as a learning experience. He sees the ascension as a journey, and is willing to work hard and learn to move up the ladder.
“I took it as a challenge of just working harder and I know where I want to be, the end result is in the big leagues,” he said. “It doesn't really matter where you start, you just gotta work hard and stay consistent all year so they see you can play at a higher level.”
He got his upper-level opportunity last Sunday when he got promoted to Trenton for the first time in his career. In his Double-A debut, the mold that began in Tampa resonated to the next level, with allowing no hits in three strong innings of relief on May 21 against Portland.
“It definitely feels great to be here," Mesa said after his Double-A debut. "It's a big step in my career and I look forward to doing my job and doing well. I just gotta keep following where this is taking me and go higher.
“I believe I did well, especially coming up and not being nervous like anyone else could have been, and being under the circumstances of coming on a early flight and having to pitch that same day, I believe I did well.”
“For his first time here and pitching the way he did, it was a testimony to his maturity and his focus,” Trenton Thunder manager Bobby Mitchell added. “He really did a good job. He was confident and wasn't overwhelmed.”
Mitchell also spoke on some things he was impressed with in his debut, and how the command of his pitches solidified his standout performance.
“He was able to show a lot of command with his fastball and other pitches and I think that is huge when you get to this level,” he said. “You have to command the fastball and you have to work ahead, which I thought he did.”
That's a key point too for a pitcher who had averaged nearly five and half walks per nine innings the previous two years entering this season, a number that has been cut down to a more respectable two and half per nine innings so far this season.
And given the sheer depth of quality pitches in his arsenal too, he's not just a guy who can throw any pitch at any time but give a bullpen a starter's look and inning impact when he's on the mound.
“We are happy to have him as long as he is here, he did a good job for us,” Mitchell said. “He can throw a number of innings so that helps us a lot in the bullpen.”
This has also been prevalent in his development at the Minor league level, his inning count. He has the arsenal of pitches; which include a fastball, changeup, slider and curveball; that can keep him in the game for long periods of time. In the 59 appearances of his professional career, he has pitched 113.1 innings, an average of nearly two innings per appearance.
“He did exactly what he needed to do, and he was able to show everyone he was capable of pitching at this level,” Trenton’s pitching coach Jose Rosado said. “He showed good poise and was able to hit the strike zone.
“He needs to continue to do exactly what he needs to do, continue to pound the strike zone with his fastball, try to attack hitters. That will give him better opportunities to be successful at this level.”
Rosado hopes this new strike-throwing trend continues for Mesa Jr., seeing he had thrown 154 strikes out of 231 total pitches this season with both Tampa and Trenton prior to being sent back down to Tampa earlier this week.
His father, Jose Mesa, was a top-tier closer for the majority of his 20 year Major League Baseball career. It begs the question, could Mesa Jr. follow in his footsteps and delve into the closer role as well? Rosado spoke on his position in the bullpen, and the innings that he will be assigned.
“As of right now he will stay right in the middle [relief],” he said. “These innings will be able to help him grow his confidence, so right now these will be his innings.”
Mesa Jr. certainly has the confidence and doesn't shy away from a challenge. He was called-up to Trenton relatively early in the season and opened some eyes in his stellar debut, and given his two and one-third inning hitless relief appearance back with Tampa on Friday it seems it's just a matter of time before he finds his way back up to the Eastern League.
“I feel good about myself every time I go out there,” Mesa said. “I just keep doing what I know I can do, just execute my pitches and I know things are gonna go well.”