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Much Ado About Nothing

Mike SteffanosMonday, March 12, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

Since Mike Pelfrey signed with the Mets in January of 2006 there have been questions about how much his relatively raw secondary pitches will hold him back early in his career. With respect to those who specialize on ranking prospects, I've always felt this was overblown. FoxSports.com's Dayn Perry is the latest to weigh in on the subject when he picks Pelfrey as his #42 prospect in baseball (link courtesy of The Metropolitans):

In his first professional season, Pelfrey pitched across four different levels and for the most part pitched well. He boasts one of the best fastballs in the minors (good velocity, lateral movement and sink), but he needs to work on his secondary pitches. He's also not very polished for a collegian, which is why label-mate Philip Humber is ahead of him in the organizational queue. Pelfrey might eventually wind up in the bullpen, but the fastball will remain a pitch to die for. [emphasis mine]

Again, nothing against Perry, who I enjoy reading, but I'll never understand this thinking. While there is a little doubt that his off-speed stuff has hindered Pelfrey in the short term, I'd be absolutely shocked if it became any sort of long term problem. The reasoning is simple. While there have been plenty of examples of young pitchers with great fastballs that failed to live up to their promise, you'd have trouble finding any that had sound mechanics and were unable to develop secondary pitches. If you've seen Pelfrey pitch, as I'm sure almost all readers of this blog have, you've had to have been impressed with his smooth, almost effortless delivery. To me, that consistent delivery that allows Pelfrey to have excellent command of his fastball is a great base on which to build major league caliber off-speed stuff.

The point is that there is a difference between a pitching prospect with suspect mechanics who has trouble developing complementary pitches and a kid like Pelfrey who has excellent mechanics. Mike Pelfrey had underdeveloped off-speed stuff because his fastball overmatched college hitters. He never really needed the slow stuff in college. When you have great mechanics, it's simply a matter of work and repetition to develop the other pitches, so it's not surprising that Pelfrey has made tremendous strides this season. Off-speed stuff can be learned, but a fastball like Pelfrey's is a gift from above.

I guess when Perry referred to Pelfrey as "not very polished for a collegian," he's basing that on the off-speed stuff. I'd argue that the smooth delivery combined with Mike Pelfrey's maturity and mound presence were signs of a pretty darned polished pitcher. If he remains healthy -- always a big "if" for young pitchers -- there is little doubt that Pelfrey will be a very good major league starting pitcher.

I have to admit that I also have some trouble understanding the need to rank Mike Pelfrey and Philip Humber against each other. While I believe that Humber is a notch below Pelfrey in potential upside, I like him a lot. I like the mental toughness he displays to go along with three excellent pitches. By the way, I don't read much into the slow start he's having in spring training. He only had 76 innings last season after returning from Tommy John surgery and it takes time to get all of his pitches going. Again, health is always an issue with young pitchers, but I think we're going to have some fun watching two pretty good young right-handers begin their major league careers in 2007 -- maybe not in April, but certainly before the year is over.

Finally, we spent the whole winter reading how Lastings Milledge's value had dropped off the chart as the media more or less labeled him as a selfish head case. National baseball writers characterize it as a mistake that the team didn't trade Milledge when he "still had value." The Mets insisted that they still regarded Lastings as an excellent prospect, and weren't about to bow to media pressure and dump him for some third-rate pitcher. Of course, this was written off as posturing on the Mets part. Sure enough, though, Lastings has shown a more mature understanding of how to get along in camp while not losing the natural cockiness that fuels his drive to succeed.

I would say that Lastings' stock has recovered quite nicely with all of the positive news about him coming out of camp. For all of the folks that were shipping him out of town, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he winds up roaming the outfield at Shea Stadium. If the Mets do wind up moving him in a trade for a pitcher, they can at least expect to get value in return for a kid who is a legitimate big-time prospect -- something that they surely wouldn't have received if they hastily traded him over the winter.

Much credit should be given to the team for sticking with their own evaluation of Milledge in the face of an almost ridiculous onslaught of negativity directed towards a kid who hasn't even turned 22 yet. A few years ago, they would have undoubtedly reacted to the pressure and dumped the kid. Now they just stick to their guns, and it was the right thing to do. Good organizations don't make their decisions based on popular opinion. After years of wandering in the wilderness, the Mets have finally gotten their act together.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (13)

Agreed, on both Pelfrey and Milledge.

My guess is that Pelfrey starts the season with the big club. He is clearly one of the eleven or twelve best pitchers in camp.

Also, seeing Pelfrey getting out hitters the other day with less than an outstanding fastball, at least in terms of velocity, led me to wonder if perhaps Mike was overthrowing last season when he was with the Mets. It would be a natural enough rookie reaction to the callup.

And yes, it would appear that the Mets have put their house in order, joy.

Now, about that Heilman! Just kidding.

Remind me again how much Lastings Milledge's batting average rose or sank in the off season to dictate his value to those who appraise such things for a living?

dd - Park didn't help himself today I guess, at least judging by the results. Part of me wouldn't mind seeing Pelfrey pitch a month or two in Triple-A, but not unless someone else really shows something.
Greg - I think the fact that he ran in problems with teammates last year hurt his value some. I don't think he actually played that bad considering age and experience. It was funny though, the same writers who insisted that the Mets were posturing when they said they wouldn't go crazy signing Zito also said the Mets would trade Milledge for a bag of balls this winter. Now Zito is in SF and Milledge is still here.

Mike-- great post. Some of these guys write and have obviously not done their research. To say Pelfrey doesn't look polished is a little ridiculous.

As for Milledge, I always had confidence in him. I have no doubt that he will be, at the very least, an above-average major league outfielder. It's a matter of time before he starts converting the critics. There's a reason why Minaya refused to trade him last winter for anyone not named Roy Oswalt.

I would love to see Pelfrey make the team and yet I would understand if they sent him down for more work and tune up. I wish Milledge would stop spitting so much. I think that will help his image also.

Perry's article merely restates the "conventional wisdom" of writers that cannot evaluate basebal talent yet need to fill a column. Suggesting that Pelfrey will become a relief pitcher at this stage in his career is foolish. The guy is a #2 starter at worst. Same with Milledge. His skill package screams Carl Crawford. Why would any organization that can competently evaluate baseball talent give up on a 21 year old top tier prospect after what amounts to a quarter season that exposed immaturity and moments of brilliant potential. By these standards the Devil Rays would have traded Delmon Young. Perry's article was a joke. Best of all, the Mets finally have a competent talent evaluating front office. That and the economic resources that comes with a NY sports team means they will be consistently competetive and occasionally spectacular. It's finally fun to be a Met fan again.

Anonymous - I'm not sure it's a question of not doing research. I just don't think it's possible for anyone to be an expert on all 30 teams, much less their prospects. I agree with you completely on Lastings. At the very least he looks like an above-average OF.
Al - We can call Lasting's spitting controversy "Loogey-gate". What do you think?
Orangeandblueblood - Again, I just think it's impossible for anyone to be an expert on all of these teams and their prospects. All I know about every other team's prospects is what I read, and I'm sure it's not all accurate.

You're right, it is finally fun to be a Mets fan again.

Whenever there's a chance to push Pelfrey and Milledge onto the roster, count me in.

After today's game, is it not time to cut Jon Adkins and give his innings to someone with a legit chance? I'd feel the same way about Soler were it not for those few flashes of brilliance last year, but still...he just doesn't seem to have the long-haul stuff, either. Glad I'm just an idiot fan, and not some actual grownup in charge.

The problem is that Adkins has no options left. He has been pitching poorly, but they'd probably rather try to get something for him rather than just cut him loose.

Excellent post Mike, I agree 100%. Pelfrey has done nothing to hurt his case as a legit #1 prospect. In fact, he managed to dominate even minor leaguers so well with his fastball that he got his first cup of coffee before he finished his first year of pro ball. When he was told he was being sent back down to can his go-to offspeed pitch (curve) and start throwing more changes and sliders, he did it without blinking.

Humber on the other hand is a completely different pitcher. He doesn't have the dominant fastball and although his heater is pretty strong he also gets less downward plane on it being a little shorter. Because of this, out of necessity, he was forced to try a different approach his entire life than Pelfrey. And he found something that worked for him: a brutal hammer curve and a bulldog mentality. But there's also a pragmatic issue here. Humber is entering his second year of recovery from surgery. Ask most atheletes about any major surgery and they tell you the second year is the most important. Humber won't be on the opening day roster just because it'll be easier to manage his innings and pitch counts in the minors, and he could use some more innings on the farm anyway. With so many pitchers in camp, Humber's potential for value to the club is much bigger in the long term than the short term.

As for Milledge, I think the Mets expected this kind of fallout to some degree, but I think the way they managed him is becoming clearer, and it might have been a much better plan than most had thought. They already knew Milledge wasn't Wright or Reyes, most notably in terms of work ethic and attitude towards the game. So, with the luxury of a 10+ game division lead, they called him up before they thought he was ready. If he was successful, they haven't done anything wrong and Milledge's "cockiness" is accepted and justified. But he wasn't, and he was humbled, and now he almost seems like a different person in camp this year. That first "cup of coffee" in 2006 may have a very lasting impact on him, in that he now seems to understand he's not bigger than the game. He's still cocky and confident, but he's also displaying an understanding of the picture bigger than just hitting the ball over the fence. The only problem with this plan is that the fallout from his debut got way out of hand in the media, but it seems like something that has already started to evaporate and should continue to if and when he continues to mature.

The top prospect list I saw that I liked the most had Pelfrey as the #9 overall, third pitcher behind Phil Hughes and Homer Bailey, then had Fernando Martinez right behind him at #10 overall. It was the top 150 over at Rotoworld by Matthew Pouliot. Gomez and Humber were both in the top 60 or so too and top 25 at their position. He also listed where he'd rank players who are barely inelligible for prospect status. Of that group, he ranked Milledge #1 and said he would have been #8 overall had he still techinically been a prospect. Don't know much about this guys rep, but he certainly likes the young Mets.

Mark - I agree that Humber is better off starting in the minors this season. Interesting info on the prospects, thanks.

Simply put, the future of the Mets looks extremely bright. Not just because we have a collection of relatively young major league stars in Wright, Reyes and Beltran (maybe not so young), or that we have guys like Gomez, Martinez, Pelfrey, Humber, Smith and Carp on the horizon, but also because we have a GM at the helm who believes in the continuous nurturing and development of strong young talent.

With the presence of a veteran backbone to the starting rotation, I always expected Pelfrey and/or Humber to be big contributors to the 2007 effort. If either or both give the big club what we hope for this year, they will be on their ways to success along with the likes of John Maine.

How much longer, 20 days?

Yeah, less than 3 weeks and they'll be playing for real...

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