The Farm Cannot Help Replace Bobby Parnell Yet

parnellThe bad news: Bobby Parnell is going to have Tommy John surgery, and is done for the 2014 season. The good news: none. The bad news: the Mets farm system cannot offer a Parnell replacement right now. Instead, the Mets bullpen is going to have to muddle along with the pieces they have for now. (At right is an old picture of Parnell from his AA days.)

The Mets of course, have already replaced Parnell on the active roster with Kyler Farnsworth, outrighting Ryan Reid to triple-A Las Vegas, removing him from the 40-man roster in the process.  That means for the short-term, it’s all about righthanders Jeurys Familia, Kyle Farnsworth, Gonzalez Germen, Carlos Torres and Jose Valverde and lefties Scott Rice and John Lannan, a man with no career platoon splits, miscast as a situational left-hander.  There is risk nearly everywhere in this group. Farnsworth and Valverde no longer throw as hard as they once did. Scott Rice appeared in 73 games in 2013, in his rookie year, more than 15 more than in any of his 14 (!) minor league seasons. Gonzalez Germen and his marvelous changeup are probably not going to strike out 3 out of every 8 opponents.

What can the farm offer now, and in a two months? Crucially, these are different questions.

Bobby Parnell was the Mets’ best reliever in 2013. Losing him will hurt.

 

Now
The AAA Las Vegas bullpen features: righties Giancarlo Alvarado, Vic Black, Joel Carreno, Ryan Reid, Miguel Socolovich, and Jeff Walters and lefties Josh Edgin and Dana Eveland.

Black and Edgin are the two guys to watch for here.

- Black’s spring training control problems have continued in Las Vegas as he walked two batters in his only appearance so far. Scouts who saw him in Spring Training were also concerned that he did not create enough contrast with his pitches. “Everything was hard, his fastball was hard, his breaking ball was hard” one NL evaluator told MMiLB. Over short outings thats ok, as long as he can locate, which he has struggled to do. The smart bet here is that Black and his 98 mile an hour fastball will be back in the big leagues as soon as he starts throwing more strikes.

- Josh Edgin’s velocity dipped in July of 2013 from its 2012 peak. As a guy with only so-so command, he will either need to find the velocity or improve his command. He’s still left-handed and throws hard enough, if he had a better idea where it was going.

- Jeff Walters, the reigning Binghamton saves record-holder has found AAA to be tougher going so far. He picked up the always fun blown save/win combo on Sunday when Zach Lutz doubled home the winning run. He gave up four runs on five hits, including a homer, in his first outing. After striking out 27% of opposing hitters in 2013 in AA, Walters has not fanned any of the first 13 to face him in 2014. Yes, it’s only two outings. But those two outings do not scream: Big League Ready!

. (Audio courtesy Doug Greenwald, Fresno Grizzlies)

- Erik Goedel gave up a couple of runs Saturday to Fresno, as he transitions back to the bullpen fulltime.

 

Later
Fan favorite, LHP Jack Leathersich was sent back to AA in 2014 to improve his command. So far, it’s more of the same with lots of strikeouts and lots of walks: 2.1 innings, 13 batters, seven strikeouts and three walks.

 

There’s something inherently silly about citing less than a week’s worth of stats for any player, or two outings for a reliever. And yet, none of the preceding four pitchers looked ready to help the Mets in Spring Training. None helped their case in the season’s first week.

 

Two Months?
Lets fast forward two months. Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard have all been healthy and effective in the AAA rotation. They have made 10-12 starts, and thrown ~60-80 innings. These are the guys who are supposed to help the rotation this year, and in the case of Thor and Montero, become cheap building blocks in future seasons.

But lets proceed. Lets say the rotation is intact. But the bullpen needs help. With 80 innings under their belt, the Mets could transfer one guy, say deGrom or Montero to the bullpen and still get him enough innings that he could transition back to a starting role in 2015 or even later in the year. (Scouts are still split on whether deGrom should be a starter or reliever long term.)

Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs found that on average, teams need 32 starts from pitchers beyond their five most frequently used pitchers. Montero, deGrom and Syndergaard need to be ready to provide these innings. Fine, include Daisuke Matsuzaka for completeness here too.

The Mets cannot and should not move any of these three to the bullpen now, or before June. Moving them too early takes away valuable development time this year and cuts into their innings which will affect their ability to work without innings caps in future years.

 

Hang With Em
The hope? Edgin rediscovers his lost mph and tightens up his command. Vic Black throws more strikes. Goeddel turns back the clock to his UCLA days when his fastball and slider were plus pitches. Jeff Walters figures out more advanced hitters.

There are lots of potential paths to bullpen help, but all have twists and roots that could knock one off balance. There is no easy paved road to a bullpen savior.

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