The 1997 World Series is remembered as one of the most memorable Fall Classics in recent memory. The seven game thriller pitted a young Cleveland Indians team built from the ground up by general manager John Hart, against the veteran laden Florida Marlins, designed to win immediately with a squad comprised of high-priced veterans. The war of attrition went the distance with Cleveland three outs away from their first championship since 1948. With their season hanging in the balance, the Marlins proceeded to come back against closer Jose Mesa and eventually claim the title for themselves. Though Mesa would collect over 300 saves as a closer, his name would forever be linked to that game. Nearly eighteen years after the fact, his son Jose Mesa Jr. is following in his father’s footsteps as a pitching prospect for the New York Yankees, looking to establish his own name while following in the one bestowed to him by his father.
Exposed to the game at an early age, Mesa seems destined to embark on a future within its framework. Tagging also with his father during the latter stage of his career, Mesa obtained invaluable big league tutelage for future use. From there he became a student of the game, studying tendencies and putting his insider knowledge to use. As a senior at Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, Florida, Mesa threw two no-hitters and made the 2012 All-Regional First Team at the state of Florida. Striking out 134 in 80 1/3 innings during his senior season, Mesa drew strong consideration for the amateur draft and those contentions were realized when the New York Yankees selected him with their 24th round pick in 2012. Spurning a potential commitment to Seminole State Community College, Mesa chose to embark on his childhood, but the chance to pitch in professional would have to wait for nearly eighteen months after encountering Tommy John surgery. Mesa worked with way back through extensive rehab, making nine appearances in the Gulf Coast League in late 2014, pitching to a 2.79 Earned Run Average. Further removed from the surgery, Mesa experienced an uptick in his fastball velocity entering this season and began to light up the radar gun with the Staten Island Yankees, flirting with mid 90s heat, while posting a nearly invisible 0.46 ERA in nine appearances. Mesa’s strikeout rate of 14.1 per nine innings mirrored those of Andrew Miller and Wade Davis against lower competition. Entrenched in the Staten Island bullpen, prior to being promoted to full season Charleston, Mesa spoke to Baseball Essential about his impressive season and the connection between him and his father.
BASEBALL ESSENTIAL: As people know from your name, you are the son of former major league closer Jose Mesa. What type of influence has he had on your life and how has he prepared you for a professional career?
JOSE MESA JR: “He has had a great influence on my life. Always telling me to work hard and have a positive attitude in every situation I am in and always given me a great mindset and a feedback on what I should be doing to keep progressing for the next level”.
BBE: Growing up around the game you had the advantage of spending time in big league clubhouses and observing the way players conduct themselves. What memories do you have and what did you learn from those experiences?
JMJ: “The ones I mainly remember are always having respect towards the people who you work with. The people who work around you. Always be respectful of the people in the clubhouse, especially to the managers and coaches and see what they are doing and always learn from somebody else.”
BBE: At Broward County high school you threw two no-hitters. What goes through a pitchers mind while that is occurring and how much pressure is there on you while a no-hitter is in progress?
JMJ: “Honestly I did not feel any pressure. I just wanted to keep going out there and executing my pitches. I knew what I was capable of and just be positive out there”
BBE: The New York Yankees drafted you in the 24th round of the 2012 draft. Did you have any plans of attending school at any point during the process and did you have any idea that the Yankees had interest in drafting you?
JMJ: “I always wanted to go to school because I told my mom that I was going to study before playing baseball and I am thankful that the Yankees also gave me a scholarship and also pursue that as well”.
BBE: Once you were drafted, it took you roughly two years to make your professional debut with the Gulf Coast League due to injury. What do you do during that time to keep yourself busy and work your way back to the mound?
JMJ: “Throughout that time I stayed positive and worked hard and knowing that everything is in god’s plans and whatever god had in mind for me was just taking place. I had to wait at least four months to at least start tossing and off a mound at least eight months. It was a little rough because you can’t do everything you are used to doing but I felt it went by quick once I started to throw a ball”.
BBE: For those who have yet to see you pitch, could you give us a scouting report on yourself and the pitches you throw?
JMJ: “I throw a fastball, a curveball, slider, and a changeup. That’s all I can say right now”.
BBE: With the Staten Island Yankees you have been a force to be reckoned with on the mound with an ERA under 1 while striking out nearly 14 batters per nine innings. What steps did Butch Henry and the coaching staff take to help you achieve this level of success?
JMJ:“They have been really positive towards me. Always telling me to work hard and executing my pitches. They have been real helpful with the confidence they have in me and letting me work the way I know how.”
BBE: On a recent trip to the Cleveland Indians affiliate in Mahoning Valley you were booed ferociously by the fans before tossing three scoreless innings. What was that experience like for you and did you expect that type of reaction?
JMJ: “I honestly did not expect it, but once it happened, I felt like laughing to be honest. Once I was announced and they booed me it was pretty unexpected. I just went out there and it gave me a little fire just to go out there and shut them down”.
BBE: What has been the best piece of advice you have gotten in this game and who has been your biggest mentor in baseball?
JMJ: “Well definitely my biggest mentor has to have been my father. He has always been out there every step of the way. Always telling me to work hard. Always be positive and give one hundred percent. If my one hundred percent was not enough then unfortunately it wasn’t. If I am doing what I have doing then every outing will be a positive outing.”
A man of God, faith and confidence drive Mesa to success and achievement after facing one of his most arduous challenges. Being sidelined for two seasons forces a player to have the tendency of trying to make up for lost time and doing more than required justifying their status. Possessed with a developing fastball and three off speed pitches, Mesa is experiencing what many pitchers endure after Tommy John surgery, an increase in fastball velocity. The convergence of each of his four pitches has made him virtually untouchable and impossible to hit. Whether pitching in middle relief of closing games, Mesa is mowing down talented lineups with ease, while providing reliable length out of the bullpen. “He has been great ever since he got here”, Staten Island Yankees manager Pat Osborn said. “This kid is 92-93 miles per hour with three other pitches that he can throw at any time in the count. He has starter’s stuff and a really good angle on his fastball. If he gets up to 94-95 miles per hour at some point, we would be talking about his dad”. With repeated success at the upper levels of the minor leagues and continued development of relief pitching by the Yankees, it is conceivable that Mesa could eventually be added the mix of young arms. Having the tutelage from one of the most successful closers in baseball history has provided the tools for development and is an avenue for Mesa to turn to in times of need and hone his skills to fortify his ability to attain sustained progress.