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.