I had a hard time initially getting psyched to write about Will Vest. I watched some clips of his 2019 video, flipped over to a SNL sketch where Keenan Thompson is playing Lavar Ball, and naturally ended up spending 15 minutes reading about Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. I learned the city traces back to the 1300s, making it older than waistcoats or whiskey. People loved it so much they couldn’t stop calling it something else.
What does this have to do with Mr. Vest? Absolutely nothing. But I didn’t watch The Simpsons growing up so I needed a buffer paragraph where site chief and casual-referencer-of-blue-period-minimalist-artists Kate Preusser assumed I had a sophisticated alternative intro to one that referenced the graphics she requested. Thank you everyone for being cool and not snitching to her.
RHP Will Vest was the Seattle Mariners Rule-5 Draft pick this December, marking the fourth straight year Seattle made a selection. The Mariners haven’t found breakout stars in any of their moves, but compared to the rate at which Rule-5 picks ultimately flounder and are returned to their original clubs, Seattle has done well. RHP Yohan Ramírez was erratic last year, but in the shortened season it was easy to keep the talented reliever on the roster and retain him for the organization’s depth. RHP Brandon Brennan was another relative success, showcasing potentially high-leverage stuff before injury muddied his trajectory. 2017 selection 1B/DH Mike Ford was ultimately returned to the Yankees in favor of Daniel Vogelbach. Neither slugger has found consistent success, but perhaps Vest can outpace them all and carve a role in a Mariners bullpen with anything but established stars.
The Stephen F. Austin University stud has not started a game since converting to pitcher after his sophomore season. The 6’0 Houston native been a light-hitting shortstop and utility-man before a move to the ‘pen that prompted a 1.38 ERA in 31 appearances over 45.2 innings and got the Detroit Tigers to bite, drafting Vest in the 12th round of the 2017 draft. While Vest had many of the traits of a quick-moving relief prospect, as Kate noted in the immediate Rule-5 reax piece, Vest has not had consistent success as a pro. Prior to 2020, he’d appeared in every level from Short Season A ball up to Triple-A in the Tigers system, but as a pure relief arm it generally requires eye-popping numbers to stand out and Vest had neither the results nor the peripherals to suggest he was scratching at the big-time.
Most scouting reports on Vest have his fastball around 90-94 prior to 2020, with Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs noting good carry up in the zone that was easy to understand thanks to his over-the-top motion. Here he is in a 2019 clip, with excellent use of that very proclivity.
There’s nothing wrong with this motion, and in fact with Vest’s sharp breaking ball he could have climbed to the bigs with good command and perhaps some small improvements. This profile, in fact, is not dissimilar to Sam Delaplane, but Vest has never consistently struck out the world in his wake as Delly has done thus far. So, it seems, Vest made a change for 2020.
This isn’t earth-shattering stuff, but in 2019, Vest was a tilt-back kinda guy as he broke his hands, creating the angle to leverage his catapulting release for excellent backspin and below-average MLB velocity. As Kyler Peterson has helpfully denoted in the bottom of the clip I’ve giffed (and linked), the velocity from this 2020 instructional league game in October of 2020, that’s some above-average velocity. No doubt Vest was one player who used the time out of games to improve his physicality, but this appears mechanically different. Vest gets more of his weight and momentum through with his forward bend as he comes home, but still gets a nice 3⁄4 release on the ball that makes for impressive running movement away from the lefty at a cool 95-97 mph. Mariners Assistant GM Justin Hollander said as much on draft day, noting he’s been clocked up to 98 mph. If that’s where Vest can be consistently now, his margin for error is suddenly far greater, and as a pitcher who has long gotten solid reviews for his command, it could be quite impressive to see him at high speeds.
The secondaries are not without intrigue either. His slider looks cromulent at minimum. Brandon Brennan has had issues keeping righties off his back, as many relievers without a lights-out breaking ball do, but hopefully Vest can make things work with this slider.
As has been hinted, the go-to off-speed for Vest however is the changeup. There are worse swings and misses in Peterson’s scouting video, but this clip gives the best look at its trapdoor drop. I won’t call something Rodney-esque, but it’s at least Rodney-evoking.
Both his fastball and changeup take a right turn sharp enough out of his hand to make a NASCAR fan sick to their stomach. The changeup drops that stomach from the ninth story to ground floor. Assuming Seattle sees this version of Vest as satisfactory without further tweaking, they’ll be likely bringing him in with the hopes of getting a fastball-changeup led reliever who can miss bats and get groundballs right away.
While multiple teams were interested in Vest in the Rule-5 Draft at the time, he was mostly off the radar for the public due to the lack of access or video to the alternate training sites or the fall instructional leagues teams orchestrated. Seattle, however, may have had an extra leg up in connection, as Vest himself appeared to link up with Tread Athletics for his remote training during the winter and continued to improve into summer. Tread is lead by former White Sox minor leaguer Ben Brewster, and has the enthusiastic endorsement of dozens of current pros, coaches, and trainers. Most notably for the Mariners and their acquisition of Vest, Seattle’s Pitching Coordinator, Max Weiner, worked with Tread for at least a couple years and utilized their programming during his time as a minor league pitching coach with Cleveland.
Based on a recent, updated testimonial for Tread, Weiner is clearly a believer, as well as fairly connected to Brewster and the current Tread trainees. Perhaps Vest simply popped up last fall and onto their radar, but it seems possible the Mariners were eyeing him already with a solid recommendation. Also of note, 2020 waiver claim LHP Nick Margevicius was/is a Tread trainee, so it wouldn’t have been the first connection between the groups. Margevicius was a bit of an afterthought last spring, but performed well enough to push himself into rotation conversations this year. The Mariners clearly bought that Vest could have a similar degree of staying power. The recent changes on health and safety protocols for MLB removed the limitations on number of pitchers on the active roster, which should be a boon for Vest’s odds at staying in a now eight slot bullpen, but he’ll still be fighting on the fringes against guys like Brennan, Ramírez, Casey Sadler, Domingo Tapia, Robert Dugger, Joey Gerber, and Erik Swanson for at least four rather open bullpen spots behind Rafael Montero, Kendall Graveman, Keynan Middleton, and likely Anthony Misiewicz.
As this beloved Simpsons character would say, “why not Will Vest?”