Monday, March 15, 2021

A Tale of Two Pitchers

In yesterday's post, I wrote about the Mets' effort to construct a bullpen for 2021 without resorting to spending a pile of money on established relievers. For an example of how that approach can go astray, we don't need to look any further than Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances, pitchers who will be pocketing a cool $17 million of Steve Cohen's hedge fund profits between them. Those two would have to meet the absolute wildest hopes for their performance to even approach earning that pile of cash. While I don't begrudge any player for signing for big bucks — who wouldn't if we were in their place? — if I could reallocate that money with a snap of my fingers, I wouldn't hesitate to do so.

I watched most of the game against the Cardinals yesterday and was able to get a pretty good look at Arodys Vizcaíno, one of the players mentioned in my piece yesterday. He was the Braves closer for a while, but shoulder injuries in 2018 and 2019 really derailed his career to the point where he's with the Mets on a minor league contract. He got an inning against the Cardinals. I have to say, I was really impressed with his performance.

One thing you worry about with a shoulder injury is a permanent loss of velocity. For instance, it remains to be seen what velocity Dellin Betances will have on his fastball this season, but it's unlikely to return to the upper 90s heat that Betances once dominated hitters with. So watching Vizcaíno yesterday, it was heartening to see him consistently in the mid-90s with some life on the fastball. He did struggle a bit throwing his slider for strikes, but all in all, it wasn't a bad first outing for Arodys.

There are bigger questions to be answered by Vizcaíno this season. He needs to show that the shoulder will hold up pitching regularly and that he can still get Major League batters out consistently in games that count. Also, for a man who served an 80-game PED suspension in 2015, we can only hope there is nothing illegal assisting this recovery.  Still, it's really heartening to see another live arm with real potential to contribute this season. In a year where teams will undoubtedly have to dig deep to cover all of the innings, it's crucial to come up with a few guys like this.

One man who pitched yesterday that I really haven't been writing or thinking about much is Corey Oswalt. Through no real fault of his own, Oswalt has come to represent the failure of the Wilpon regime to field teams with adequate depth. He's had a pretty rough time of it in 3 seasons with the Mets, with a 6.19 ERA over 84.1 innings pitched. He's given up 18 home runs and allowed more than a hit an inning while striking out a fairly low 6.5/9 IP.

Oswalt got quite a few chances to pitch for the Mets because he was often the least objectionable choice to fill a vacancy. It's kind of hard to hold that against him since he wasn't the man making personnel decisions. Still, Corey Oswalt can serve as a poster boy for the Mets' chronic lack of depth in recent years, even if he wasn't the worst example of that deficit.

I have to confess I was a bit surprised to see Oswalt consistently hitting 93 mph with his fastball against the Cardinals over his two innings of work yesterday. He mixed in his other pitches well and struck out 5 batters over his two innings pitched. It was an impressive spring debut for the Mets farmhand.

It had to rub Corey Oswalt the wrong way when the Mets removed him from the 40-man this spring. He had to pass through waivers to be reassigned to the minors, and I figured there would be at least one pitching-poor MLB club out there that would take a chance on the guy. There wasn't, and Oswalt looked like one of those guys who had some Major League chances and failed to pass the test. Players in that category often wind up bouncing around in the minors for a while until they decide to do something else with their lives.

I'm sure that Oswalt opened some eyes with yesterday's strong performance, both on the Mets and with other clubs. As I wrote earlier in this post, this will surely be a year where clubs will have to dig deep to cover all of the innings. Even if Corey doesn't get the call with the Mets, more performances like yesterday's should surely earn him a shot with another team. And he might even bring the Mets back a prospect with some value in a trade when a few weeks ago it looked like they would lose him for no return at all.

My guess would be that Corey Oswalt's best opportunity to pitch in the majors for the Mets would be in the bullpen, and solid velocity, like he showed yesterday, would be enough to earn some middle relief innings. Used as a starter primarily in his minor league career, Oswalt should be well-suited for a multi-inning relief role. I wouldn't expect to see him on the 26-man roster when the Mets break camp at the end of the month, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him sometime this season.

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Another pitcher, lefty David Peterson, started yesterday's game. His performance over 4 innings was spotty at best. Peterson himself characterized his own outing as "unacceptable." To me, it just looked more like watching a young pitcher who was still trying to establish himself as a bona fide Major League starter. Peterson lacks the kind of stuff that would make him a potential top-of-the-rotation starter. He's going to rely on commanding his pitches and keeping the ball down. He'll never overpower anyone.

That 9 start cameo last season was promising, but the real test for the kid will be this season. I wouldn't bet against the guy, as he seems to be a real competitor, but I don't think he's "proven" anything yet. The League has had a look at him now, and they'll surely make adjustments. He'll need to prove that he can make his own adjustments in return and continue to give the club solid starts.

It was heartening to see Peterson look like a viable Major League starting pitcher last season when so many others failed in the task for the Mets. Still, he only has 24 games of Double-A experience and no time at all at the Triple-A level. I'm glad for the pitching depth that the Mets put together this season that Peterson will have to earn a job in the Major League rotation. If not, it wouldn't be a bad thing for him to get some time in Triple-A. It probably makes more sense to look at Peterson as a prospect who's shown real potential rather than an established Major League starter.

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Tim Britton had a good piece in The Athletic about how well the Mets integrated their prospects into the Major League camp this spring. Rather than just having the prospects in camp for the sake of doing it, Luis Rojas and his staff had a plan for making the experience pay off for the youngsters:

The aim was twofold. First, the Mets wanted to expose players to major-league mentors in the early part of spring, and thus Allan was paired with Jacob deGrom in drills, Mauricio with Francisco Lindor, Baty and Vientos with J.D. Davis, etc. The spring cliche is young players learning from how veterans "go about their business," and it is indeed helpful for a teenager to see up close how the best pitcher in baseball prepares himself for a full season...

...The second goal was to give players who missed a competitive season in 2020 a chance to play in actual games against another uniform again. Manager Luis Rojas stated his intention early in camp to get the prospects into games as often as possible, and he's achieved that to this point. Outside of Alvarez, the position-player prospects have seen time in at least seven games.

I was impressed with how well the prospects did this spring, and it bodes well for the future that the club was able to jumpstart the development of these kids in such an effective manner. Given all of the constraints imposed by the still-ongoing pandemic, this seems like about as well-run of a camp as we've seen in years. It will be fun to continue to follow the development of these future Mets once the minor league seasons get underway.

I'm out for today. Please stay safe, be well, and take care.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

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