Monday, July 3, 2023

Creating the Next Generation of Mets' Pitchers

The free agent pitching market is expensive and unpredictable. The solution is for the Mets to get back to producing more of their own pitching talent. What will that take?

I've been rooting for the New York Mets for over 50 years. Although the Mets have developed some excellent position players over the years, this is an organization that, by far, is known for developing some great starting pitchers. However, the current edition of the Mets had to stock up their rotation on the free agent market. It was quite expensive and, at least up to now, a huge fail. As the dreadful 2023 season has shifted our focus to the future, we ponder how the Mets can develop some of their in-house arms into effective Major League hurlers and reduce dependence on the pricey free agent marketplace.

The top in-house starters, Tylor Megill and David Peterson, have face-planted this season in an ugly fashion. Megill earned a ticket to Syracuse with a 5.17 ERA and an unsightly 1.67 WHIP. Honestly, after watching many of Tylor's outings, he has been lucky not to have allowed many more runs. Meanwhile, Peterson has been equally as bad and more unlucky, posting a 6.61 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP. David was much better in his last two outings, limiting the Giants to a run in 4 innings after holding the Brewers scoreless over 6 innings. Still, I certainly won't have to fight off any feelings of overconfidence when he takes the mound again. Peterson issued 3 walks in his 4 innings against San Francisco after walking 3 in that outing against Milwaukee, and he was averaging 5.6 BB/9 in Syracuse. Clearly, the leftie's control issues have yet to be fixed.

That Peterson is even getting a chance to pitch in the majors again after earning his own demotion to Syracuse reflects the Mets' inability to develop other homegrown options. José Butto is on the 40-man roster and has pitched for the Mets this season, including a pair of emergency starts. Butto has been awful in Syracuse, however, with a 6.15 ERA in 10 starts. He has allowed 9.7 H/9, 5.2 BB/9, and 1.6 HR/9. Prospect Mike Vasil has been touted as a pitcher who might debut for the Mets this season. While Vasil has indeed impressed, he has scuffled in his first three starts since earning a promotion to Syracuse. I'm sure the Mets would like to see him settle in there before considering a promotion to MLB.

During his press conference this week, Steve Cohen bemoaned the Mets' inability to develop pitchers. As quoted by the Post's Mike Puma:
"We haven't developed any pitching, which is actually pretty shocking," Cohen said. "We're certainly capable of doing it. We may not have had the right infrastructure in place [in the past]."

Cohen alluded to the pitching lab the Mets have opened, noting that more progressive teams have had their own lab for years. It's part of the infrastructure upgrades the Mets have made since Cohen purchased the team. The Mets pitching development should benefit from this lab, but it won't happen overnight. And there's nothing magical about having a pitching lab. It certainly hasn't helped Megill and Peterson right their respective ships this season. But having the right technology in place and, equally important, having the right development people to correctly utilize this technology, still bodes well for the Mets' future in turning promising arms into big league pitchers.

Developing prospects is a numbers game. It is only more so for pitchers, who are much likelier to see their development stalled by injury than position players. So it is crucial that the team continually brings talented pitching prospects into the organization and, once they're on board, do everything possible to help some of their kids succeed. There has been ongoing upheaval in the Mets' player development as the club has made significant personnel changes over the last couple of years. The next step would be to stabilize things so that the young arms in the system receive consistent messaging from familiar coaches over the next few years.

In March 2021, I wrote about the Mets beginning work on the pitching lab that Mike Puma alluded to in the article quoted above. I linked to an excellent Tim Britton piece on the subject in The Athletic (subscription required). Britton quoted Pitching Coach Jeremy Hefner on what the ultimate goal for the Mets' pitching development:

"World-class, industry standard — that’s what we're after. "We've been tasked to develop a pitching powerhouse."

When Steve Cohen took over, the Mets were far behind other organizations in taking advantage of the technology available to maximize development efforts. It just wasn't something Fred and Jeff Wilpon were interested in. In the two-plus years since Britton wrote this piece, the Mets completed building the lab. They also made significant changes in their development personnel. Minor-league pitching coordinators Ricky Meinhold and Mike Cather who Britton wrote about in 2021 have moved on. Jono Arnold is now the minor league pitching coordinator, while Eric Jagers is the director of pitching development. I wrote about Jagers' hiring last November.

While the Mets clearly believe that Jagers and Arnold are the men to take their pitching development forward, it's important to note that all of the personnel changes — important as they may be — represent a break in the continuity of who is directing the development of the arms in the Mets' system. What I would most definitely like to see is stability and growth over the next few years. Consistent routine and messaging are needed if the Mets are to once again feature their share of home-grown pitching.

They'll also need to hit on draft picks and international signings. In the amateur draft, the Mets will need to be creative and diligent, as they will be trying to find talent without the benefit of high draft picks. It certainly can be done. Jacob deGrom was famously a ninth-round pick. Mike Vasil, who may be the pitching prospect closest to a Major League debut, was an eighth-rounder in 2021. Blade Tidwell, the Mets pitching prospect acknowledged to have the highest ceiling, came in the second round in 2022. The Mets will need to dig out potential gems who have fallen lower in the draft for health concerns or inconsistency in college.

Then, once they are in the system, technology can be used to help these pitchers stay as healthy as possible and achieve developmental goals. There's no magic answer to either of these challenges. Some will succeed, some will falter, and some will get hurt. As I said, it's a numbers game. The Mets will win this game only by developing as many talented arms as possible.

Looking at the system now, we see various outcomes with pitching prospects. Matt Allan, once the consensus top arm who looked so promising in the spring of 2021, has undergone a second Tommy John surgery and is probably a long shot to have any MLB career.

Mike Vasil, who really struggled in college at Virginia due to changes those coaches made to his game, was essentially transformed back closer to what he was in high school by the Mets and was promoted to Triple-A recently after dominating in Double-A.

Blade Tidwell is pitching in High-A at Brooklyn. He's been a bit up and down, struggling with control. He's walked an unsightly 5.7/9, but has also struck out batters at an impressive 13.2/9 rate. Opposing hitters are not enjoying success against Tidwell, as he is allowing only 5.8 H/9. Clearly, cutting down on the walks while continuing to dominate hitters will be the goal for Blade.

Besides Tidwell, two other pitching prospects rank above Vasil, at least according to MLB.com. Dominic Hamel is struggling somewhat in Double-A. He alternates good outings with poor ones. The strikeout number is fine (11.7), but he's just allowing too many hits. Calvin Ziegler had surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow this spring and has yet to pitch in a minor league game.

Joel Díaz, a Dominican pitcher who ranked just behind Vasil on MLB.com's list, is missing the season due to Tommy John surgery. Christian Scott, ranked 28th on the MLB.com list, has really opened some eyes this year, earning a promotion to Double-A Binghamton after dominating in Brooklyn.

I'm not trying to do something comprehensive here on Mets pitching prospects. I believe the sampling above demonstrates a fairly common pattern for pitching prospects. Some are doing well, some have yet to really put it together, and some are hurt. The challenge for the Mets going forward is to have as many positive outcomes as possible. We will see some of these kids eventually pitching for the Mets. Others may make it to MLB with another club. Some will never make it out of the minors. That's just how it goes.

One other note here. The Mets drafted some pitchers with their high picks in 2021. Kumar Rocker (1), who they didn't sign, Calvin Ziegler (2), Dominic Hamel (3), and Christian Scott (5). In 2022, they went a different way, picking catcher Kevin Parada and infielder Jett Williams in Round 1. They took Blade Tidwell in Round 2, then were unable to sign 3rd-round pick RHP Brandon Sproat. The Mets didn't draft another pitcher until taking Tyler Stuart in the 6th Round and signing him to a below-slot deal. (BTW, Stuart is doing very well in Brooklyn this season, pitching to a 1.42 ERA in 13 starts for the Cyclones.)

The Mets are clearly targeting the best talent available, whether it's a pitcher or a position player. As I've already mentioned, position players are a better bet to make it to the show than pitchers. Some have suggested that the Mets target pitching a little more because of their current lack. I'm agnostic on this point. If the Mets are someday to become a developmental success story, they need to produce MLB ballplayers, period.

The idea that the Mets must develop their next ace pitcher doesn't carry much weight with me, either. Perhaps they will trade for an ace, or sign one as a free agent. The important thing would be to develop major league pitchers, even if they are mid-rotation or back-end starters. What they can't do is keep having to buy an entire rotation on the open market. It's not a recipe for success.

But if the Mets get better at developing position players than they have been in recent years, it won't bother me if more of their top prospects are hitters rather than pitchers. But even in that case, there still should be success in developing some starting pitchers, and — God help us  — some bullpen arms that can be trusted pitching in the late innings of close games. I'll be watching with keen interest how the Mets' player development system performs over these next few years now that they have the team in place which will hopefully bring some stability and success stories to this organization.

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By the way, any of you professional baseball writers still writing dumb stories about "Bobby Bonilla Day" can seriously go f*** off. These tedious pieces, churned out by untalented hacks and making the same tired observations that other untalented hacks have made ad nauseam will never be linked to or commented on in this space.

Deferred contracts weren't invented when the Mets signed Bonilla. He's far from the only player collecting on one. And, while Bonilla was never great as a Met, I don't hold it against him that he signed a contract that deferred some of his pay. I just roll my eyes at how tediously unimaginative scribes still seek to get cheap clicks by writing about this crap as if they invented all of the well-worn tired punchlines. The Mets have enough failure this season to talk about if you want to put them down. Move on, please.

Be well and take care.


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2 comments:

  1. Given the sad state of the Mets pitching ranks throughout the minors it underscores the importance of selling between now and August 1st to fortify the junior levels with top prospects from other teams. As I stated recently in a post, how much would the Mets give up to acquire a pitcher right now like Gerritt Cole? Now turn it around -- what would contending teams give up to acquire Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander, even more so if the Mets pay down the salary. You should be able to do a minor league revamp pretty quickly. Throw David Robertson into that mix as well. You're not getting much back for Canha, Vogelbach, Guillorme, Nido or even Pham. So emphasize the ones who will net the most in return.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess much would depend on how well Scherzer and Verlander pitch between now and the deadline, and whether they would approve a trade. Even so, I doubt if anyone would give up big pitching prospects for either one. We'll see

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