It is quite fitting that today is unseasonably warm because we have the first sign of Spring with the Mets pitchers and catchers officially reporting to Spring Training. No matter what your opinion on the Mets offseason, this time of year always brings a bit of hope for the fanbase because seeing the Mets players in uniform, you can begin to dream the players can put it all together and win the World Series.
For the Mets, like it has since 2015, the entire hope surrounds the starting pitching.
Now, there are people who are claiming there isn’t enough. They still want the Mets to go out and sign Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, or any number of a group of free agent starters who didn’t compile 200 innings, were coming off injuries themselves, or really just couldn’t even sniff this Mets rotation when healthy. In fact, you could argue with their recent injury histories and peripherals, Lynn and Cobb are just more of the same. Actually, what the Mets have is just better.
That’s part of the reason why the narrative the Mets did nothing to address their franchise worst pitching needs to end right now.
The first move the Mets had made this offseason to address the pitching was to go out and hire Mickey Callaway. If you are going to be a pitching staff built on pitching, Callaway was the inspired choice. Joining him on his pitching staff is Dave Eiland, who is renown for his ability to work with pitchers. One of his keys to success is how he helps pitchers with their mechanics, which in turn, helps reduce injury.
Speaking of injuries, gone is favorite punching bag Ray Ramirez. In his place is Jim Cavallini, who will oversee everything related to player care and conditioning. This includes nutrition, sleep science, injury prevention, and rehabilitation. Apparently, after all these years of injuries, the Mets are finally interested in getting players to eat better, sleep better, and take better care of themselves.
And yes, we know even with that Zack Wheeler needed osteoarthritis injections this offseason. Matt Harvey has not been able to stay healthy since that magical 2013 season. Steven Matz has continued to suffer one injury after another. Technically speaking, Seth Lugo is pitching with a torn UCL much like the Yankees have seen with Masahiro Tanaka.
Yes, these injuries and injury histories exist, but as noted, the Mets finally have the people in place to not only help prevent those injuries from happening again, but also to get Harvey, Wheeler, and Matz back to form. If they are, watch out because this is a pitching staff that can once again lead the Mets to the World Series.
If not? Well, there’s real pitching depth in the Mets organization. As noted above, there’s Lugo. The team also have Robert Gsellman and Chris Flexen. Yes, they both struggled last season, but they have an opportunity to learn from those struggles. They also have the support system with Eiland, Callaway, and Mickey Abbott in Las Vegas.
Behind them are some intriguing prospects in Triple-A. Corey Oswalt was the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year. P.J. Conlon continues to defy the odds with his under 90 MPH stuff to pitch to a minor league career 2.35 ERA. Marcos Molina is healthy after Tommy John, and he looks to build off a strong season. Mickey Jannis is a late blooming knucke ball pitcher much in the same vein as R.A. Dickey. And if you want to get deeper, Ricky Knapp rejuvenated himself after struggling in Vegas by pitching completely lights out as he helped pitch the Rumble Ponies to the Eastern League playoffs.
And if you are masochistic, this could finally be the year for Rafael Montero.
Point is, unlike last year, the Mets have actual starting pitching depth to start the season. If one goes down, there’s two or three behind them to pick up the slack. The team has a manager and pitching coach better suited to getting these pitchers to reaching their full potential.
Sure, it would be nice to see the Mets add a pitcher or two on a minor league deal to serve as a swing man, but even if the Mets don’t make that move, they have the depth they need in the organization. Today is the day that group gets in peak physical shape and realizes their full potential.
And if you have a hard time believing me, sit down, take a deep breath, and remember the first two games of the season will have Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard starting for the Mets. If you can’t get excited about that, nothing will.
It is a slow going offseason, but it seems even slower for the Mets. With so many teams with more money than the Mets still interested in many of the same free agents, it is hard to believe the Mets will make significant additions before the end of the offseason. If they don’t, here is what the 2018 Mets Opening Day roster will look like:
C – Travis d’Arnaud
1B – Dominic Smith
2B – Wilmer Flores
3B – Asdrubal Cabrera
SS – Amed Rosario
LF – Yoenis Cespedes
CF – Juan Lagares
RF – Michael Conforto
Bench – Kevin Plawecki, Brandon Nimmo, T.J. Rivera, Matt Reynolds, Phillip Evans
This should only highlight about how much work the Mets actually have to do this offseason.
Sure, we can buy the pitching staff as a whole as is because they have viable depth. In the rotation, Lugo could get transition back much like how he did in 2016. After that, they have Robert Gsellman, Chris Flexen, Corey Oswalt, and Mickey Jannis. And that is before the Mets go deeper with pitchers like P.J. Conlon. Suffice it to say, the Mets do have sufficient rotation depth.
However, that offense. You can’t sell anyone that is going to be alright. Mostly, that is because the Mets don’t believe themselves that it will be. And that is before you take into account the injury issues Conforto and Rivera are currently rehabbing from this offseason.
For example, the team has all but given up on Gavin Cecchini, who should be in a position to at least compete for a spot on the 25 man roster. He won’t. What’s scary is there is no real Major League ready talent behind him . . . at least no immediately as players like Luis Guillorme and David Thompson need at least some time in Triple-A. By the way, there’s no real outfield depth in this system.
Looking over this roster, you’d be hard pressed to believe the Mets will be better than the 70-92 team they were last season no matter how much they sell us Mickey Callaway as the solution to all that ails the Mets.
So, it really should not come as a surprise to no one the Mets have a lot of work to do, and it goes well beyond just adding one or two players. That applies just to the starting lineup. After that, they really need to build a Major League caliber bench.
Again, the good news is there are still many free agents available. However, it’s still hard to believe the Mets will be able to add the players they need to become a postseason contender.
Traditionally, the Arizona Fall League is reserved for the top Double-A and Triple-A prospects in each organization. We’ve previously seen with players like David Wright and Mike Piazza having played in the Arizona Fall League. We see it again this season with top prospects like Kyle Tucker (Astros), Ronald Acuna (Braves), and Francisco Mejia (Indians).
The list of players in the Arizona Fall League this year also includes 29 year old Mickey Jannis.
Typically speaking, when a prospect passes a certain age, they are no longer considered a prospect. Depending on which standard you apply, that age is a moving date, but everyone will agree that 29 years old is too old to be considered a prospect.
Jannis is different than your typical prospect because he is a knuckleball pitcher, and for a number of reasons knuckleball pitchers have a tendency to develop later in their careers than most prospects.
There are few pitching coaches out there who are actually adept at teaching the pitch, and it is a difficult pitch to throw. However, the main reason is probably due to it being seen as gimmick which pitchers do not seek to learn until their careers are almost at a premature end. Jim Bouton described this process best in Ball Four:
After a couple of year in the minors, however, I started to get bigger and stronger and started to overpower people with my fastball. So I phased the knuckleball out.
I never really used it again until 1967. My arm was very sore and I was getting my head beat in. [Ralph Houk] put me into a game against Baltimore and I didn’t have a thing except pain. I got two out and then with my arm still hurting like hell, I threw four knuckeballs to Frank Robinson and struck him out. The next day I get sent to Syracuse. Even so, it wasn’t until the last part of the next season that I began throwing it again. The idea that you’ve lost your regular stuff is very slow in coming.
That experience is typical to most knuckleballers. In R.A. Dickey‘s own book, Wherever I Wind Up, he stated his process of learning the knuckleball began when the Rangers front office suggested it was his best chance of being able to have a Major League career. That is an experience shared by Jannis:
It’s just a decision I made after I got released by the Rays after my second year in pro ball. I went into independent baseball and just made the transition. It’s been a long process. I’m still learning to throw it, learning to throw it for strikes. It’s just every day learning something new with the pitch.
(William Boor, MLB.com)
In many ways, Jannis is still learning how to control the pitch, and as a result, he has had middling results. He would go from a 3.55 ERA and 1.354 WHIP in 2015 to a 5.69 ERA and 1.564 WHIP in 2016. This made his age 29 season an important one to improve his status as a prospect. Based upon recent knuckleball pitchers age 29 season, there wasn’t much reason for hope:
- Tim Wakefield (1996) 14-13, 5.14 ERA, 1.550 WHIP
- Dickey (2004) 6-7, 5.61 ERA, 1.620 WHIP
Albeit in Double-A, Jannis had a much better age 29 season going 8-7 with a 3.60 ERA and a 1.251 WHIP. During the season, he’s come closer to taming the knuckleball leading to better success, a rejuvenation of his status as a prospect, and his assignment to the Arizona Fall League.
Jannis has taken full advantage of the opportunity by pitching great. In his six starts, he was 1-3 with a 2.33 ERA and a 1.037 WHIP. Overall, he’s showing he control his knuckeball, and he can get baseball’s top prospects out. If he continues learning how to harness his knuckleball, he may very well get the chance to prove he can use it to get Major League batters out.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This was first published on MMO