With Noah Syndergaard going down with Tommy John, suddenly the question isn’t who among Steven Matz, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha will make the rotation. No, the question now is who is up next in the event there is another pitcher injury or the need for a spot starter in the case of fatigue or other complication.
On the bright side, the Mets appear better poised than they did in 2019. On that note, that Mets team didn’t have to go that deep into their rotation as Mickey Callaway had a knack for keeping his starting pitchers healthy. He’s now gone, and now, there is the challenge of keeping pitchers healthy in an environment where pitchers ramped up to start the season, were shut down, and now have to revamp it up to pitch a season.
The first pitcher who may be up in the event of an injury is Walker Lockett. Lockett has a step up on the competition because he is out of options meaning the Mets either put him on the Opening Day roster or risk losing him off waivers.
The downside he presents is that is if he is in the bullpen, he will not be stretched out enough to pitch as a starter. The other complication is he has not fared well as a Major League pitcher. In seven starts and six relief appearances, he has an 8.84 ERA and a 1.885 WHIP.
Another Mets pitcher who has struggled in his brief Major League appearances is Corey Oswalt. Of course, the biggest issue with him is how haphazardly the Mets have handled him. One minute, he is pitching in relief on two days rest after a cross country flight, and the next, he’s not being used for over a week.
If you want hope for him, he pitches much better when on regular rest and used normally. Still, in 12 starts and seven relief appearances, he has a 6.43 ERA and 1.458 WHIP. That’s not great, but it is much better than Lockett.
Similar to Lockett and Oswalt, Stephen Gonsalves struggled in his limited Major League appearances. In four starts and three relief appearances for the Twins in 2018, he was 2-2 with a 6.57 ERA, 2.027 WHIP, and a 0.73 K/BB. After that, he had arm issues leading to his release from the Twins, and the Mets claiming him.
Gonsalves is a former Top 100 prospect who Baseball America once described as a future middle of the rotation starter who ” reads hitters well and works effectively at the top of the zone.” When healthy, he can get his fastball near the mid 90s to couple with a very good change.
The issue with him now is health, getting his stuff back, and developing a third pitch. With this being a new organization and Jeremy Hefner having familiarity with him, it is possible.
On the topic of potential, there is also former first round pick David Peterson. He has reached the Top 100 just once in his career, but he has progressed through the Mets system, and he has had a strong Spring Training.
While his stats the past two years do not appear strong with an ERA of over 4.00 in St. Lucie and Binghamton, there are other stats which show he has pitched better than his ERA. First and foremost, his FIP the past two years was respectively 2.98 and 3.19.
He has also maintained a very good strikeout-to-walk ratio while keeping walks to just 2.5 per nine in his minor league career. When looking at him, he is not a pitcher who is going to beat himself when he gets the chance to pitch for the Mets.
When he does pitch, fans will see what MLB Pipeline says is “Solid bat-missing ability and a knack for inducing weak, ground-ball contact points to more of a floor than ceiling for Peterson, but it might not take him that long to reach that potential.
Finally, there is Kevin Smith, who appears further away than Peterson after making just six starts in Double-A last year. Still, the 2018 seventh round draft pick has far outperformed what was expected of him, and with another strong showing in the minors this year, he may find himself on the radar.
Overall, the Mets have interesting options in the minors, and that is before we take into account pitchers like Franklyn Kilome, who is returning from Tommy John. In the end, the Mets are likely going to have to go to the minors for at least a spot start or two, especially with baseball likely having scheduled doubleheaders in 2020.
The hope for the Mets is these talented pitchers can put it together and put some very strong starts together when the Mets need them. Time will tell.
Yesterday, the Mets made the announcement of the non-roster invitations to Spring Training. If you follow the minor leagues closely, you saw some interesting names who may help the Mets in 2020 like Kevin Smith, Patrick Mazeika, and Ryley Gilliam. Of course, none of those names garnered attention.
The headline as usual was Tim Tebow.
On the surface, inviting Tebow to Spring Training isn’t that big of a deal. After all, the Mets once invited country music star Garth Brooks to Spring Training in 2000 as part of the singer’s promotion of his Teammates for Kids charity.
It should be noted Brooks participated during the 2000 Spring Training, which was the year the Mets won the fourth pennant in their history. In the end, these celebrity and gimmick appearances at Spring Training really have no impact, and at the end of the day, it really doesn’t serve as any sort of distraction.
To his credit, Tebow hasn’t been a distraction during Spring Training. Rather, he is a draw due to his popularity, especially in the Florida area from which he hails. Honestly, if he is there drawing people to St. Lucie making money for the Mets, it’s not a bad thing at all.
The real problem is what happens afterwards.
To put things in perspective, last year Tebow hit .163/.240/.255 in 77 games for Triple-A Syracuse before succumbing to a season ending hand injury. While you could argue he had handled himself well in the lower levels of the minors, especially with a 106 wRC+ for Double-A Binghamton, he was completely over-matched last year.
Part of the problem appears to be his level of dedication.
We have seen Tebow travel and work with the SEC Network during the offseasons. Of note, he has previously left the Instructional Leagues to attend to those duties. On that note, he has also scheduled his charity golf outings during Spring Training, and as a result, he has left Spring Training for a day or two to attend to the golf outings for the charity he purportedly runs.
Now, you can argue this is not entirely fair to bring up because players do all sorts of stuff during their offseasons and during Spring Training. Plenty of players golf and do TV work as well as other things. While true, the level of dedication needed to be a top analyst is different than a promotional television or radio spot.
More to the point, Tebow has suffered season ending hand injuries in two successive seasons. You can make a very real and fair point he is just not getting himself the necessary training he needs to get himself into baseball shape. This is also besides the point.
Last year, the Mets had Tebow play in 77 of the team’s first 100 games despite the fact he probably deserved to play in none of them. While that was happening, Dilson Herrera was not getting any time in the outfield to help prepare him to be a useful Major League utility player. We also saw players like David Thompson get demoted partially due to a roster crunch.
It’s more than that. There were players like Jason Krizan who waited far too long in Binghamton before a move up to Triple-A. The same could be said for a Sam Haggerty who did eventually receive a call-up to the majors. The overriding point here is the Mets have allowed Tebow’s presence to interfere with the development of players who could have helped contribute in 2019 and potentially in 2020.
While it is fair to say part of the reason Tebow is getting these chances is because of how thin the Mets outfield is at the upper levels of the farm system, we are also seeing Tebow’s presence is serving as a hindrance to the Mets even giving players a look in the outfield.
Ultimately, when you have a player who is 32 years old and cannot get himself in sufficient shape to last a full season, he simply does not merit this amount of playing time. That’s why at the end of the day Brodie Van Wagenen has to do what’s right by the Mets and not by his former client and treat Tebow like the 32 year old non-prospect he is.