Jon Berti, an 18th round pick in the 2011 MLB amateur draft, had to fight and claw his way up against the odds. The former BGSU standout middle infielder had to learn to become versatile and do anything asked of him if he wanted to make it — even just to the upper levels of the minor leagues.
He was always known for having great speed, a solid glove and signs of versatility by playing multiple positions at the collegiate level. His issues began with a lack of power and a general struggle to get on base.
After being drafted in 2011, he made his debut in rookie ball with the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He hit well, with an above-average statline that was all that more impressive considering where he was selected. But less than 1% of players drafted in the 18th round ever wear a major league uniform.
As the years progressed, Berti faced a so-called ‘crisis’ point that many minor league players that were drafted in the later rounds faced. With the fact that he wasn’t greatly exceeding expectations and the organization wasn’t going to pay a ton of attention to a non-standout late round pick, he had a decision to make: keep plugging away in the minors, or retire and focus on life after baseball.
Berti chose the former, and stuck it out. After over seven long seasons grinding in the Blue Jays system and making it up to AAA, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in early 2018, where he was promptly traded back to the Blue Jays by midseason. He made his major league debut in September after hitting a career high of eight home runs and posting his best slash line in his career at .296/.384/.446.
The Miami Marlins took notice and signed him to a minor league deal that offseason, where he was one injury away from going to the big league club. After crushing AAA pitching with the New Orleans Baby Cakes in early 2019, Berti was called up in May, and never went back down again. Making a strong impression with the Marlins as a super-utility player, he had 17 stolen bases on top of a .348 on-base rate in addition to playing every spot on the diamond.
This year, Berti has helped lead a surprising Marlins team to a 24-22 record through Sept. 16, with 12 games to go. If the season ended today, the Marlins, who have cast off multiple big-name players in recent years to cut costs, would be the sixth seed in the playoffs.
Berti has a lot to do with that.
Although he has had his share of injuries, he is putting up a career-best .354 on-base percentage with eight steals in just 30 games. More than that, he is a leader in a Miami locker room that has many young players, and provides a veteran presence.
And during a late August game against the Mets, Berti gained attention for stealing second, third and home in the same trip around the bases despite nearly falling down.
“(Berti) Had a long road to get here, and he’s just a baseball player. He walks, he scored twice in that last game, you know? He steals second easily and then he steals third with a delay, which is not a bad play, it’s a great play actually,” Don Mattingly, Marlins manager and former major league all-star, said of the winning game.
The Marlins have a dozen games to play in the shortened 60-game schedule, and they’ll have to continue to do well in order to make the playoffs. But make no mistake, Berti has a ton to do with the Marlins’ success.