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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Nick Vespi

The Orioles were patient with this lefty reliever’s development and it may be paying off this season.

MLB: MAY 19 Yankees at Orioles
Nick Vespi is already back in the minors, but I think we’ll see him in Baltimore again.
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Over the offseason, Camden Chat published an article about each member of the Orioles 40-man roster. During the 2022 season, we will update on new arrivals after they make it to the roster.

How he arrived: Drafted by Orioles in the 18th round of the 2015 draft, contract selected 5/17/22

Who left: Logan Allen designated for assignment 5/17/22

When the Orioles sat down and figured out which Rule 5 draft-eligible minor leaguers needed to be added to their 40-man roster last November, they chose to protect two minor league relievers. Neither one of these was Nick Vespi. The lockout prevented the Rule 5 draft from occurring. Maybe the Orioles got lucky in there not being one, that no one took Vespi away from them, or maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.

The past winter was not the first time that Vespi was up for Rule 5 eligibility. As Vespi was originally an 18th round pick by the Orioles out of Palm Beach State College all the way in 2015, he actually became eligible for that draft ahead of the Winter Meetings in 2018.

At that time, Vespi had not made it higher than Low-A Delmarva in the Orioles system. No one was interested then, or after 2019, when Vespi had still not cracked higher than Delmarva. The lost minor league season of 2020 did not change anyone’s picture of Vespi. He was just a former junior college draft pick whose already-slow climb up the minor league ladder seemed like it had stalled out.

Only last year did Vespi finally have something of a breakthrough. Coming out of the canceled pandemic minors season, the Orioles assigned Vespi to Double-A Bowie to begin the season. Unlike in 2019, when they had him in the Delmarva rotation, Vespi was used exclusively as a reliever in 2021. That Bowie assignment went fairly well for Vespi. With a month on the injured list sandwiched in the middle, Vespi was sporting a 1.42 ERA at the level, throwing 19 innings in 14 games. He’d struck out 26 batters.

The 2021 season was Vespi’s age 25 season. That means that when he was at Bowie last year, he was actually a touch older than the average player in the league, and well older than anyone who would have any serious prospect stock. The Orioles challenged him with a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk to see what he could do.

Friends, it did not go well, at least from any results-oriented standpoint. Vespi added 19.2 innings for the Tides over the season’s final two-plus months and finished with an unsightly 6.86 ERA. Though he was striking out a comparable number of batters faced, stuff that was unhittable by Double-A hitters was getting wrecked at Triple-A. He allowed six home runs after having surrendered none for Bowie. Vespi did better when assigned to the Arizona Fall League - a 2.51 ERA in 10 games - but the team left him open to the draft, perhaps thinking others would be scared off by that Triple-A performance.

The 2022 season began with Vespi back at Norfolk, looking to prove that he deserved a big league chance. He could hardly have done any better. Through 12 outings and 14.1 innings, the now-26-year-old lefty did not allow an earned run. He’d struck out 21 batters and only issued three free passes. That’s a good ratio.

All of this added up to Vespi getting his big league call a week ago. For the first three days, the Orioles played some close games and used higher-leverage relievers rather than asking a rookie to make his MLB debut in a tight spot. Vespi’s time finally arrived on Friday night, after Tyler Wells made it 4.2 innings and the Orioles used five other relievers to stretch the game into the 12th inning. His first MLB action was going to be a tight spot after all. A smaller number of Vespi family/friends than were shown in the crowd earlier in the week remained to cheer him on. They were not disappointed.

Staring down the Manfred Man at second base to start both the 12th and 13th innings, Vespi did what other O’s extra inning pitchers could not and kept the Rays off the board. After three strikeouts over his two scoreless innings, Rougned Odor abruptly ended the game with a two-run home run. Vespi’s debut was also his first win. Pretty good deal.

Unfortunately for a guy with a full complement of minor league options, pitching well does not guarantee he’ll stay around. Vespi’s reward for that debut game was getting sent to the minors the next day because the Orioles needed a fresh arm in the bullpen.

The team did indeed make use of that fresh arm, Mike Baumann, for 3.2 innings after Vespi was sent down, so they weren’t wrong, but it still stinks. “Yeah, you pitched great, kid. Back to the minors.” That’s the way it goes sometimes.

Still, seven years after being drafted, Vespi finally made it onto the 40-man roster and into an MLB box score. I seldom get tired of the stories of guys who stuck around on the fringes for years and whose perseverance and hard work got them a big league chance. I think we’ll see Vespi again, and maybe he’ll stick around for longer next time.

Still to come: Adley Rutschman