The New York Metropolitans are very deep in one particular asset – right-handed starting pitching. While it’s early in the 2013 season, Matt Harvey is demonstrating a top-of-the-rotation arsenal and command that could propel him into being one of the top pitchers in the National League. Zack Wheeler, the Mets top ranked prospect, has even better stuff than Harvey but time will tell whether he’ll have the same early success.
Not only are all the elite arms in the Mets organization right-handed, they all have similar characteristics – arm-strength with excellent control and in some cases, outstanding command. Jake deGrom and Luis Mateo are older prospects that have dominated the lower levels of the minor leagues and over the next few weeks, we should get a chance to see if their stuff translates in Double-A. Noah Syndergaard, one of the key pieces in the R.A. Dickey deal is the youngest of the hurlers and arguably has the highest overall ceiling within the system after Wheeler. However, I’m partial to Rafael Montero as his slider has ticked up since I saw him last year. Given his polish and impressive showing in Spring Training, he might beat everyone to New York.
Zack Wheeler (RHP – Triple-A: Las Vegas in the PCL)
In the minor league stadium musical chair this past winter, the music stopped and the Mets were awarded Las Vegas. I had a chance to talk with a Blue Jays player a couple of years ago after a morning game in Las Vegas and he told me that the infield played like asphalt with potholes. Balls fly out of Vegas, as they do in many of the Pacific Coast League stadiums, but it’s worse in Cashman Field as the wind is always blowing out and that coupled with the dry air, makes pitching an adventure.
While it seemed logical to start Zack Wheeler in Triple-A, it’s proving to be a problem as Wheeler has really struggled with his control. In 18.1 innings, Wheeler has walked 12, including an ugly performance on April 19th where he walked six in 4.1 innings. Adding to the misery, he developed a blister during the game. While this can happen at anytime with a pitcher, blisters can also form when you over-grip the ball while trying to create movement with your pitches when the dry desert air wants to straighten everything out. While there is no guarantee this is what happened, it makes you wonder what Wheeler is doing there. Yes, dealing with adversity is important, but you also need to balance that with destroying a young pitchers confidence.
Is Wheeler going to be fine? Probably, but he does need work on his command. The arsenal has top-of-the-rotation potential but he still needs work on locating both his fastball and breaking pitches. The good news is that his pitching mechanics are excellent, so he has no problems repeating his delivery. In fact, the delivery is incredibly easy and it seems almost impossible that he could be throwing in the upper 90’s. However, when you’re athletic and have all of the physical attributes working together, the delivery will be easy and relaxed so that the ball explodes out of your hand.
Expect Wheeler to be up sometime in June and while there is no guarantee that he will have the early success that Harvey has had, the arsenal and delivery are even better. Translation – he could be VERY VERY good
Rafael Montero (RHP – Double-A: Binghamton in the Eastern League)
The typical progression for a Latin player is to sign with a professional team at 16-years-old, spend a summer or two in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) before hitting the states. Rafael Montero didn’t do that. Instead, he signed at 20 and then ripped through the lower minors in a season and a half, earning the 2012 Mets Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors. That’s right…it wasn’t Zack Wheeler or Matt Harvey, it was then 21-year-old Rafael Montero.
Montero is not a big guy, standing 6-foot and weighing only 170 pounds. This isn’t usually the profile of a starter, but Montero has an easy clean delivery in which his is able to repeat his delivery very well. The mechanics are not perfect as he falls-off to the first base-side, but fortunately, he does not lose his release slot. In fact, the delivery works so well that in 122.0 innings in 2012, he walked 19 batters. A fluke? So far, in 2013, he’s walked one batter in 22.2 innings.
Given his lack of downward plane, he is not a ground-ball pitcher, in fact, he’ll have a tendency to be more of flyball pitcher who might be homer-prone at the highest level. However, to-date, it has not been a problem.
The arsenal is solid with a fastball that sits 92-93 MPH and a slider that I really liked. It has a sharp two-plane break that is delivered at 86-87 MPH. He also throws a slightly slower slider at 83-84 MPH that doesn’t nearly have the tilt of his harder slider. I would grade out the change-up as average, although he’ll get swings and misses with the pitch as he can throw it for strikes.
In the outing I scouted, he faced 24 batters and only led off with a fastball in half of those at-bats. While in general, you want pitchers to pitch off their fastball, Montero’s command is so good, he can throw any one of his pitches for strikes and this is what could move Montero from a 3-4 pitcher to a ceiling of a three; if not a two. I really like his potential and given what he’s doing to Double-A hitters, New York Mets fans could see him sometime in the second half of 2013.
Noah Syndergaard (RHP – High-A: St. Lucie in the FSL)
At 21-years-old, Noah Syndergaard is already a polished pitcher with a nice three-pitch mix that should play very well at the highest level. Syndergaard arsenal consists of a plus fastball that sits 93-94 MPH with a lot of movement and sink. While I think it’s a four-seamer that he’s throwing, he has so much downward plane that it behaves more like a two-seamer and generates a ton of ground balls (3.21 G/F in 2012). His breaking pitch is primarily a curve and candidly, I don’t really like it. The spin is not tight and the Mets are starting to have him throw more sliders. The changeup though has promise and I believe could turn into a real weapon in the long run for Syndergaard.
Not only is Syndergaard 6-foot-5, he also has a high three-quarters delivery that provides even more downward plane to his pitches. His posture is excellent and this is leading to very good balance on his landing and helping him keep his release point consistent which is translating into a 2.69 BB/9. It all just works well together.
While Syndergaard has gotten off to a slow start in 2013, it’s primarily been issues with his control, particularly around his slider. I expect these to be worked out over the course of the first half of the year and could see Syndergaard promoted to Double-A Binghamton of the Eastern League during the second-half. Syndergaard has a ceiling of a number three starter with a high-floor and a strong likelihood of making it to new York by late 2014 or mid-2015.
I have a biased towards athletic pitchers, particularly pitchers that were once positional players. Why? In general, you need athleticism to have good pitching mechanics that then turn into the ability to throw strikes. It doesn’t always work that way, but for me, it’s a good place to start.
Jacob deGrom started his college career as a shortstop, moved to a closer role before becoming a starter. Maybe the transition was too fast, because shortly after signing with the Mets in 2010, he had Tommy John Surgery and missed the entire 2011 season.
So by now, you’ve gotten your abacus out and determine that deGrom must be fairly old and has exactly one year of professional baseball leading to the obvious question – why is he on this list? Let me tell you…
First, deGrom looks like ballplayer. In fact at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, deGrom has that ideal projectable frame that you look for in a pitcher. The delivery is clean with easy velocity, great balance and momentum to the plate. With excellent pitching mechanics comes outstanding control. In 2012, deGrom walked 1.62 per nine in 122 innings.
Secondly, the arsenal is really promising. His heavy four-seam fastball sits 92-94 MPH with plenty of 96’s and 7’s thrown in when he needs something extra. It has a lot of arm-side run that should generate a lot of ground balls. In the game I scouted, he had 10 ground ball outs to three fly ball outs.
When the gun started lighting up with the fastball, I got excited, but I also saw a nice tight slider. The offering still needs work as some of them came in a little flat, but it definitely was flashing. The change-up wasn’t doing it for me, but given his lack of pitching, I doubt he really has worked on it much.
If deGrom was 20-years-old, you could be looking at a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher, but he turns 25 in June and has just pitched a couple of games in Double-A. However, I see something in deGrom. The athleticism and pitching mechanics are there and he pounds the strike zone, he just needs time to develop his secondary pitches. If he can do that quickly, the Mets might have something.
Luis Mateo (RHP – Double-A: Binghamton in the Eastern League)
Similar to Jake deGrom, Luis Mateo is an older prospect that the Mets seem to be in a hurry to see what he can do in the upper minor leagues. As a 22-year-old in the NY Penn League in 2012, he was dominating with a 10.43 K/9 while walking nine batters in 73.1 innings. He throws hard, with his fastball sitting in the mid-90’s with a plus slider that will get a ton of swing-and-misses as he moves through the system.
He made one appearance in High-A to start the 2013 season and went 6.2 innings, giving up 4 hits and striking out nine while walking two. The outing earned him a quick promotion to Double-A where things didn’t nearly go as well as he gave up four runs in three innings. However, it was one outing and giving his arsenal and ability to throw strikes, I’m expecting things to improve from there.
From a pitching mechanics standpoint, Mateo has some work to do. He has a low three-quarters delivery; it’s not quite as pronounced as Tapia, but he’s definitely slinging the ball to home plate. While his posture looks good, his balance is inconsistent; looking like he’s going to fall down on some of his pitches.
Domingo Tapia (RHP – High-A: St. Lucie in the FSL)
Joining Noah Syndergaard in the rotation in St. Lucie is 21-year-old Dominican Domingo Tapia. While I haven’t had a chance to see Tapia this year, I did get a chance to see him at length in 2012 and was very impressed with his arm strength; which is evident as he lights up the radar gun with some pretty impressive readings.
Tapia complements his tailing mid-90’s two-seamer with a change-up with great deception that is a true swing-and-miss pitch. However, the reports on his breaking pitches are the same as when I saw him last year – average and inconsistent.
From a pitching mechanics standpoint, he throws from a low three-quarters angle that produces a lot of deception. The delivery is easy with good posture and balance. However, in general, you like your starting pitchers to have a more classic high three quarter delivery to ease pressure on the shoulder.
When you add it all up, Tapia has the profile of a late-inning reliever and a potential really good one. He throws hard, throws strikes, generates ground balls, has a very good change of pace pitch with his change-up, and has a deceptive delivery that should work well in limited action. If the Mets decide to move him to the pen, he could move very quickly through the system.
Hansel Robles (RHP – High-A: St. Lucie in the FSL)
To finish off the discussion, I’ve included 22-year-old Dominican Hansel Robles. While I see him as a step below the other pitchers on this list, I’m not sure the Mets do. They are super-high on Robles and believe his combination of stuff and command will play. I’m not so sure.
Robles arsenal starts with a four-seam fastball that he throws in the mid-90’s. He’s able to command both sides of the plate with the pitch. His breaking pitch is an average slider that does play-up because he is able to command his fastball so well, but it’s a pitch that needs a lot of work. The change-up is another average pitch but when I saw him last year, NY Penn League batters couldn’t do anything with it – which you kind of expect.
While Robles can command his fastball, he’s doing it despite some flaws in his delivery. The delivery is very arm-heavy with poor use of his lower-half. Plus, the momentum to the plate is poor as he clearly stops short on his pitches putting a tremendous amount of strain on his shoulder. While the delivery is leading to positive results, I don’t believe it will play long-term as the strain that he is putting on his shoulder is a huge red flag.