In Part I of this breakdown of Mets pitching depth, we found that at the upper levels of the minors, and for the duration of the 2014 season, it’s Noah Syndergaard, and not much else. Again, with Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom already getting a taste of the big leagues, and Syndergaard on the way if his elbow holds up, this is neither cause for concern nor a surprise. The best and most advanced of this group of pitchers can reasonably be expected to reach the big leagues in 2015 with the rest trickling in in the subsequent years.
At this level, we’re now talking about guys who can help the Mets not in 2014, but in years down the road, possibly as early as late 2015 for the arms in advanced-A already and 2016 for those in Savannah if they move quickly.
LHP Steven Matz
Following 6 2/3 shutout innings on Sunday, Matz now has a 1.73 ERA to go along with a 23.9 percent strikeout rate and an 8.5 percent walk rate in advanced Single-A. He’s fourth in the Florida State League in ERA, and eighth in strikeout rate. He has not allowed more than two earned runs in any start and after a weird hiccup in late April/early May, when he walked four batters in consecutive starts, he’s been lights out and has not walked more than two in any of his last four starts. In those four starts, he’s fanned 21 and walked six in 23 2/3 innings while allowing six runs, three earned (1.14 ERA).
Matz has a plus fastball, and the potential for an above-average changeup and an average curveball. He’s pretty clearly the Mets’ best pitching prospect in A-ball at the moment and given that he turned 23 last Thursday, should earn a promotion to Double-A Binghamton this summer (likely after the first half ends, and he gets to enjoy the FSL All-Star Game on June 14). With a good second half in Binghamton in 2014, he could start 2015 in Triple-A, and make himself an option later in the 2015 season.
RHP Gabriel Ynoa
The top-line numbers for Ynoa: 3.88 ERA, 15.9 strikeout percentage and a 5.3 walk percentage in a league where the average ERA is 3.44, with an 18.2 percent strikeout rate and a 8.1 percent walk rate doesn’t look like much. However, Ynoa, who turned 21 the day after Memorial Day, has been much, much better over the last few weeks.
|1st 6 Starts||30.67||6.16||.331||.375||.538||17||11||145||11.7||7.6|
|Last 4 Starts||25||1.08||.250||.265||.292||22||2||100||22.0||2.0|
That’s just ridiculous. Ynoa has an average-ish fastball (92-94), a slider and a changeup and he can throw all three for strikes out of a nice, easy delivery. He has a pretty advanced feel for pitching and demonstrated an impressive feel for setting up hitters and locating his stuff in the zone. He’s a fly-ball pitcher, when guys just make weak contact against him and when he’s on, he does not walk anyone. Given his age, the Mets can afford to let him take his time, but if his next six starts are anything like his last four, my preseason No. 13 prospect should head to north to Double-A this summer as well.
RHP Michael Fulmer
A little bit like Ynoa, the top line numbers don’t look great, but they appear to camouflage some nice progress. Fulmer is trying to bounce back from a lost 2013 and he’s run a 4.70 ERA with 38 K against 14 BB in 46 innings.
In April, he ran an 8.00 ERA while the FSL hit .361/.384/.482 against him in 18 innings. In May, that was down to a 2.57 ERA and a .245/.336/.355 opponents’ batting line in 28 innings. Overall, the good news is that he’s cut his walk rate from 12.3 percent last year to 6.6 percent this year. The bad news is that in return he’s giving up more hits, and more homeruns as the FSL has hit .295/.355/.409 against him this year. He still throws in the low to mid-90s, and get to 95 mph late in his starts. He’s a big young guy, who looks like he should have a durable frame, who turned 21 in March. If everything comes together for Fulmer, who has been working on adding a two-seamer to get more ground balls and his changeup, there’s still a rotation piece in here. A reliever pumping 95 is a nice downside option too.
Fulmer, my preseason No. 14 prospect, feels like he’s on a slower course than Matz or Ynoa. If he figures it out in the second half, he might earn a shot at Binghamton, or the Mets could leave him in St. Lucie to lead a potential FSL playoff chase. Even so, if he starts in Double-A in 2015, he’s more of a big league consideration in 2016.
RHP Domingo Tapia
The 22-year-old might have the best fastball in the system this side of Syndergaard, at 96-98 mph with sink and run when it’s right. He struggled mightily to throw strikes last year (14 percent walk rate) and has been a little better this year (11.6 percent). Still, it’s come with a surprising cost: he’s stopped missing bats completely, as he’s struck out just 10.5 percent of opponents this year. When he gets rolling, it feels like he’s unstoppable, generating grounder after grounder (he has a 12 and two 14 groundball out performances in his last six starts). However, some nights he never finds that rhythm. The story this week was that his good start was helped by his slider. He’s been working on the pitch for years (like at least four).
While the Mets can keep Tapia as a starter to facilitate his development, the bet here is that eventually he finds a home in a bullpen and could be helping the big league team by 2016.
RHP Matt Koch
Koch, the Mets third-round pick in 2012, throws lots and lots of fastballs. Last year, he rode them to a 19.4 percent strikeout rate and a 1.1 percent walk rate (!!!) in Savannah. This year, in the FSL, without another pitch to keep batters honest, he’s down to a 11.1 percent strikeout rate and a 4.2 percent walk rate and a 2.70 ERA. He’s coming back from a scary injury at the end of last year when he took a line drive off his head, and has recovered nicely. Maybe there’s a hard-throwing reliever in here, but it’s tough to project an MLB starter in here with a strikeout rate around 10 percent and no average secondary pitch.
The 22-year-old Cessa has struck out 10 percent of opposing batters through his first eight starts in the FSL on his way to a 3.98 ERA. There’s some feel here, but after a nice 2013 in the comfy confines of Historic Grayson Stadium, my preseason No. 24 prospect, looks more like an organizational soldier than a big league starter through the first third of the 2014 season.
This year’s Savannah Sand Gnats rotation does not have the big fastballs of Fulmer or Tapia, or the potential of Matz or Ynoa, but there are a few potential big league caliber arms lurking a few years away in this rotation.
RHP Miller Diaz
Diaz is 2 2/3 innings shy of qualifying for the SAL league leaders. If the 22-year had those two innings, he and his 1.93 ERA would be ninth in the league.
Since allowing three runs in four inning in his first start of the year, he’s given up just 10 runs, six earned, in his last 38 innings — a 1.42 ERA. Overall, he’s struck out 29.9 percent of opposing htitters and walked 10.2 percent. Including his four hit-by-pitches takes his “free bases” rate of walks+HBP to a heavy 12.4 percent. He’s really almost done with the SAL. He works off a fastball that’s mostly 92-94, and will touch 95 to go along with a slider and changeup. However, he loses velocity over the course of his outings.
He’s listed at a sturdy 6’1″, 210, and appears to be in better shape than last year when he was in Brooklyn. Scouts who have seen him recently do not see either the command or changeup to stick as a starter in the big leagues, but there might well be a big league middle reliever in here in a role where he can really cut loose on the velocity in short outings.
RHP Robert Gsellman
Gsellman, my preseason No. 25 prospect, rolled through April, but had to sit for three weeks at the beginning of May with a hamstring injury.
He has not looked quite as sharp since his return, but he’s sitting on a 2.27 ERA with a 19.9 percent strikeout rate and a 5.4 percent walk rate. He won’t turn 21 until July and has made nice progress in the last year. Over the weekend, he spotted his fastball well down to both sides of the plate to batters of both hands. His second pitch is a nice changeup that he throws with good armspeed. However, his curveball, which looked better earlier in the year, remains very much a work in progress. he had real trouble throwing it for a strike in this last start. He needed to slow the pitch down into the low-mid 70s, and soften its break to keep it in the strikezone. He sits around 91-94 with his fastball. With a big body at 6’4″, 200lbs, Gsellman has a build that looks like it should hold up to a full year in a rotation.
It’s a very small leap of imagination – like a better curveball – to see him slotting into the back of a big league rotation, otherwise he’s a bullpen candidate.
RHP Kevin McGowan
After his first three starts this year, the 22-year-old McGowan had a 5.27 ERA and a 11/6 K/BB ratio in 13 2/3 innings. Since then he’s allowed almost nothing. In his five starts since April 29, he’s given up one run (it was unearned) on 17 hits in 32 1/3 innings. The SAL has hit .152/.228/.161, against him in that time with a 19.5 percent strikeout rate and a 8.9 percent walk rate. At 6’6″, McGowan throws his fastball 91-94 to go along with his slider and changeup. Some nights in the SAL, he barely needs his secondary offerings. His strikeout and walk rates are ordinary, but there’s a potential big league arm in McGowan’s big body. He could be a back of the rotation type or middle reliever if he makes it, although he’ll need plenty of work on his secondary stuff. McGowan looks like a potentially nice find out of D-II Franklin Pierce College, in the 13th round last year.
RHP John Michael Gant
Gant, who grew up in Savannah, but moved to Florida before high school, has the enviable task of pitching at home. The 21-year-old has done well, working to a 2.67 ERA with a 20.9 percent strikeout rate and 8.9 percent walk rate. That strikeout rate is down from his 27.6 percent rate in the New York-Penn League last year. Gant is 6’3″ and lean with a loose, easy delivery. He has good feel with his changeup and can throw his curveball for strikes.
The problem in projecting a big league role for him comes back to his fastball which is still 88-91. It just might be too soft to hold a big league role. Jeff Paternostro at Amazin’ Avenue has a little more, and the same basic conclusion.
RHP Chris Flexen
I’ve been relatively high on the 19-year-old for a while, but he’s been a mess in the first half of the year for Savannah: 6.37 ERA, 41 IP, 50 H, 25 BB, 23 K, 5 HR. There’s still a good arm in here, but his control has been consistently erratic as he’s walked three batters or more in all but one of his eight starts. Forget about locating within the zone, it doesn’t matter how hard a pitcher throws if he can’t throw strikes (just ask Domingo Tapia). Forget MLB roles or timetables. Nothing matters until his command improves.
I excluded Rob Whalen here, who’s been on the disabled list with a hand infection and limited to four starts for the Gnats.