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’s apparent Rafael Montero doesn’t have it. He has all the talent in the world. Talent enough to lead the Mets to give him chance after chance after chance. He’s squandered them all. Last night was the latest example with him allowing five earned over 3.2 innings. The Mets cannot in good conscience let him make another start for this team.
Just like the Mets were forced to do last season, it is time to give someone else a chance. Last year meant Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Gsellman thrived, and as a result, he made the Opening Day rotation. Lugo was making a name for himself in the World Baseball Classic until a slight tear in his UCL was discovered. Lugo’s absence has been really felt with the injuries to Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard. With him and Matz still weeks away, the Mets need to figure out who should get a chance to pitch in the rotation.
As noted above, Montero has squandered that chance. It is time to give someone else a shot. Unfortunately, there are no stand outs right now in Triple-A meaning the Mets are going to have to take a chance on someone. That pitcher should be Ricky Knapp.
Knapp is the son of former major league pitching coach Richard Knapp. It should then come as no surprise that Knapp has repeatable and clean mechanics. He’s also a four pitch pitcher that really doesn’t have one outstanding pitch. Accordingly, Knapp is reliant upon location, mixing up his pitches, and pitching to contact in order to get batters out. He has been largely successful in that because Knapp keeps the ball on the ground having a 1.46 ground out to fly out ratio. As a result, Knapp has gone deep into games with him leading the Mets organization with three complete games last year.
As it so happens, Knapp is not the type of pitcher that typically thrives in Vegas. That is quite evident in Knapp’s stats to start the season. Through his first six starts, he is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. This makes him yet another Mets pitching prospect who is struggling in Vegas. Still, there are some signs of hope for him going forward.
Knapp is walking 2.1 batters per nine innings which is lower than his 2.3 BB/9 in his minor league career. In his two road games, Knapp is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. His opponents have a .328 BABIP this season which is higher than the .299 BABIP batters have against him in his minor league career or the .274 BABIP Double-A batters had against him. With a normalized BABIP and with Knapp replicating his numbers on the road, there is a strong case that can be made Knapp could succeed at the major league level.
Overall, there are signs for hope for Knapp to be able to succeed with the Mets. Those hopes should be elevated when you consider Knapp will have the opportunity to work with Dan Warthen. At the very least, he can’t be worse than Montero. For that reason alone, the Mets should give him a shot until Lugo or Matz are ready.
If the Mets were smart, they would use the window they have right now and call tonight’s game. They certainly have their excuse to do so. No, I’m not referring to the fact that it is supposed to rain all day into tomorrow. No, I’m referring to the fact that somehow we are back at the point where the Mets are once again in a position where they must give Rafael Montero a start.
This is the same Montero who made six appearances this year going 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA, 3.600 WHIP, and a 10.8 BB/9. This follows the pattern of Montero’s career where his ERA, WHIP, and BB/9 have continuously gone up in each of the last three seasons. While the narrative has been that Montero just needs to trust his stuff and pound the strike zone, the simple fact is he doesn’t. Furthermore, no one should trust that he can anymore.
Sure, he has gone down to Vegas, and he is pitching well again. In his two starts, he has a 1.74 ERA, 0.677 WHIP, and he has only walked three batters in 10.1 innings. That’s what he does. Montero pitches well against inferior competition. Last year, he was 4-3 with a 2.20 ERA, 1.102 WHIP, and a 3.5 BB/9 in nine starts. Due to his having a good stretch in Double-A and a rash of injuries, the Mets turned to Montero. The result was him making three starts pitching just 11 innings. Over those 11 innings, he walked 14 batters. This led to his 7.36 ERA and a 2.182 WHIP. From there, he was demoted to the bullpen.
The Mets were tricked again by him coming out of Spring Training when he pounded the strike zone. The Mets relied upon those outings and the Jeurys Familia suspension to give Montero another chance. As discussed above, he squandered that chance as well. In reality, there is no indication whatsoever that Montero will justify the chance he was once again given.
In fact, with every outing of his all you can think about is the other players the Mets passed on to let Montero keep getting chances. Logan Verrett and Gabriel Ynoa were traded for cash to the Orioles. Matthew Bowman was lost in the Rule 5 Draft, and he has since carved out a role in their bullpen. There are pitchers still in the Mets farm system like Ricky Knapp and P.J. Conlon, who despite their struggles to start the year, are certainly more deserving of a chance.
Instead, the Mets will once again give Montero yet another chance. That is unless it rains tonight, and they can skip his spot in the rotation. Hopefully, the rain beats Montero tonight. It wouldn’t be a surprise since everyone else beats him. Yet somehow, even if it does rain, we know this won’t be the last we see of Montero.
With the Mets adding Gavin Cecchini to the 40 man roster to sit on the bench as the Mets are chasing down a Wild Card spot, the team had one less decision to make on who should be added to the 40 man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason. Even if the Mets didn’t add Cecchini now, he was going to be added in the offseason. Cecchini is too valuable a prospect, and he would be snatched up immediately in the Rule 5 Draft.
Cecchini was not the only player the Mets were going to have to make a decision on this offseason. In fact, the Mets have to make a decision on 66 different prospects about whether or not they should be added to the 40 man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. Here is a review of some of the more notable Mets prospects that need to be added to the 40 man roster in order to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft:
SS Amed Rosario (Advanced A & AA) .324/.374/.459, 24 2B, 13 3B, 5 HR, 71 RBI, 19 SB
Yes, if it hasn’t been apparent this entire year, Rosario is in a class all by himself. If he’s not added to the 40 man roster someone is getting fired.
ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE
1B/3B Matt Oberste (AA) .283/340/.409, 21 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 54 RBI, 1 SB
One issue that has plagued Oberste his entire minor league career is he has to fight for at bats as he is usually behind a bigger Mets prospect. That has been literally and figuratively Dominic Smith (who is not yet Rule 5 eligible). Oberste was an Eastern League All Star; however, the issue that is always going to hold him back is the fact that he is a corner infielder that does not hit for much power. Most likely, Oberste will not be added to the 40 man roster.
CF Champ Stuart (Advanced A & AA) .240/.314/.349, 12 2B, 7 3B, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 40 SB
Stuart is an elite defensive outfielder that has speed on the bases as evidenced by him stealing 40 bases this season. The issue with Stuart is he is a maddening offensive player. He went from hitting .265/.347/.407 in 71 games for Advanced A St. Lucie to hitting .201/.264/.261 in 43 games for AA Binghamton. While he certainly has the tools to possibly be a big leauger one day, he’s too far away at this point. Also, with teams putting more of a premium on offense than defense, it’s likely he will not be protected, and he will go undrafted.
C Tomas Nido ( Advanced A) .320/.357/.459, 23 2B, 2 3B, 7 HR, 46 RBI, 0 SB
This year was a breakout season defensively and offensively for the Florida State League batting champion. Normally, with Nido never having played a game in AA, the Mets would be able to leave him unprotected and be assured he wouldn’t be drafted. However, with catcher being such a difficult position to fill, it’s possible a bad team like the Braves takes a flyer on him and keeps him as the second or third stringer catcher all year. It’s exactly how the Mets lost Jesus Flores to the Nationals many years ago.
SP Marcos Molina 2015 Stats (Rookie & Advanced A) 9 G, 8 GS, 1-5, 4.26 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 7.9 K/9
Molina did not pitch for the Mets organization for the entire 2016 season as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Arizona Fall League will be his first time facing batters in a game since his eight starts for St. Lucie in 2015. It’s likely he will go unprotected and undrafted.
ARMS THAT COULD HELP IN 2017
RHP Paul Sewald (AAA) 56 G, 5-3, 19 saves, 3.29 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 11.0 K/o
In many ways, it is surprising that a Mets bullpen that was looking for an extra arm never turned to Sewald. While he struggled to start the season like most pitchers transitioning to the Pacific Coast League do, Sewald figured it out and had a terrific second half with 10 saves, a 1.85 ERA, and a 0.95 WHIP. Sewald should be protected. In the event he isn’t, he should be as good as gone.
RHP Beck Wheeler (AA & AAA) 47 G, 0-3, 6 saves, 5.98 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 12.1 K/9
Wheeler went unprotected and undrafted last year, and based upon the numbers he put up in his time split between Binghamton and Las Vegas, it appears the same thing will happen this year. The one reservation is like with the Braves interest in Akeel Morris, teams will always take fliers on guys with mid 90s fastballs who can generate a lot of strikeouts. It just takes one team to think they can help him reduce his walk rate for him to go in the Rule 5 draft.
RHP Chasen Bradford (5 saves, 4.80 ERA, 1.48 WHIP) – Bradford regressed statistically from last year in large part because he is a sinker/slider pitcher that pitches to contact. On the bright side, he walks very few batters meaning if you have good infield defense, he will be a successful pitcher for your team. His numbers should scare off a number of teams in the Rule 5 draft just like it did last year.
RHP Ricky Knapp (Advanced A & AA) 25 G, 24 GS, 13-6, 2.69 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 6.3 K/9
Knapp started the year in St. Lucie, and he finished it with a spot start in Las Vegas. Knapp doesn’t have any plus pitches, but he gets the most out of all of his pitches because he is excellent at hitting his spots. He is a very polished product that is best suited to being a starting pitcher. Since he doesn’t strike out many batters, teams will most likely pass on him in the Rule 5 draft.
RHP Luis Mateo (AA & AAA) 51 G, 4-4, 1 save, 2.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.0 K/9
He’s a fastball/slider pitcher with a low 90s fastball that generates a fair share of groundball outs while keeping the ball in the ballpark. While his ERA should entice teams, his WHIP and strikeout rate may keep them away just like it did last year when the Mets left him exposed to the Rule 5 draft. He will most likely begin next year in AAA.
2B/3B/SS Phillip Evans (Advanced A & AA) .321/.366/.460, 30 2B, 0 3B, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 1 SB
The Eastern League Batting Champion certainly raised his profile with a much improved offensive season. He’s starting to become more selective at the plate and learn how to be less of a pull hitter. The main issue for Evans is he may not have a position. While he can make all the plays at the infield positions, he lacks range to be a solid middle infielder. He also lacks the arm strength and power numbers you would want at third base.
RHP Chris Flexen (Advanced A, AA, AAA) 25 GS, 10-9, 3.56 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 6.4 K/9
Flexen appears to be in the mold of a typical Mets pitching prospect in that he has a high 90’s fastball and a good slider. Despite the repertoire, he is not generating a lot of strikeouts right now. On the bright side, he does generate a number of ground balls while limiting home runs. He was rumored to be part of the initial Jay Bruce trade that fell apart due to an unnamed prospect’s physical (does not appear to be him). A second division club like the Reds could take a flyer on him and put him in the bullpen for a year to gain control over him despite him never having pitched at a level higher than Advanced A St. Lucie.
RHP Tyler Bashlor (Full Season & Advanced A) 54 G, 4-3, 2.75 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 11.8 K/9
While the 5’11” Bashlor is short on stature, he has a big arm throwing a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider which he used to dominate in the Sally League. Bashlor used these pitches to strike out 11.8 batters per nine innings. Like Flexen, there is danger exposing a big arm like this even if the highest level of experience he has is four games for Advanced A St. Lucie.
RHP Kevin McGowan (Advanced A & AA) 42 G, 4 GS, 2 saves, 2.35 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.9 K/9
McGowan is a fastball/changeup pitcher that still needs to develop a breaking pitch. While that fastball/changeup combination has been good enough to get batters out at the lower levels of the minor leagues, he is going to need another pitch if he is going to progress as a pitcher.
RF Wuilmer Becerra (Advanced A) .312/.341/.393, 17 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 34 RBI, 7 SB
Around the time of the Rule 5 Draft last year, the debate was whether a bad team like the Braves would take a flyer on Becerra just to get the promising young outfielder into their organization. Unfortunately, Becerra would have a shoulder injury that would rob him of his budding power. More importantly, that shoulder injury would require surgery ending his season after just 65 games.
1B/3B Jhoan Urena (Advanced A) .225/.301/.350, 17 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 0 SB
With the emergence of David Thompson, Urena was pushed from third to first. However, that isn’t what was most troubling about his season. In fact, many questioned whether he could stay at third given his frame. The issue was the switch hitting Urena stopped hitting for power this season. With his not hitting for power, Rosario’s best friend in the minors should go undrafted in the Rule 5 Draft.
LHP Paul Paez (Advanced A & AA) 34 G, 4-1, 3.88 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.9 K/9
This year Paez failed to distinguish himself by not pitching particularly well for St. Lucie and then struggling in Binghamton. He only has a high 80’s fastball and lacks a true swing and miss breaking pitch. While lefties hitting .308 off of him this year, he may not even have a future as a LOOGY in a major league bullpen.
NEEDS TIME TO DEVELOP
OF Patrick Biondi (Advanced A) .271/.352/.332, 17 2B, 2 3B, 0 HR, 34 RBI, 26 SB
While Biondi’s stats look good on the surface, it should be noted at 25 years old, he is old for the level. On the bright side, Biondi has speed and is a good defender in CF. However, until he starts getting on base more frequently, he will not be considered for the 40 man roster.
RHP Nabil Crismatt (Short & Full Season A) 13 G, 7 GS, 1-4, 1 Save, 2.47 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 10.1 K/9
Crismatt is only 21, but he is mature in terms of his ability to control his changeup and curveball and throw them at any point in the count. Couple that with a low 90s fastball that could gain velocity as he ages, and you have someone who has the repertoire to be a major leaguer. However, considering he hasn’t faced stiff competition yet in his career, he is nowhere ready for the majors, at least not yet.
2B/3B/SS Jeff McNeil 2015 Season (Advanced A & AA) .308/.369/.377, 18 2B, 6 3B, 1 HR, 40 RBI, 16 SB
Coming into the season, McNeil appeared to be more mature physically and at the plate. He seemed ready to begin hitting for more power while still being able to handle 2B defensively. Unfortunately, he would only play in three games this season for Binghamton before going on the disabled list needing season ending sports hernia surgery.
RHP Tim Peterson (Advanced A & AA) 48 G, 4-1, 2 saves, 3.03 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 12.3 K/9
At each and every level Peterson has pitched, he has shown the ability to strike people out with a fastball that touches on the mid 90s and a plus curveball. The only issue for him in his career so far was his PED suspension in 2014.
OF Travis Taijeron (AAA) .275/.372/.512, 42 2B, 5 3B, 19 HR, 88 RBI, 1 SB
Taijeron continued to do what he does best, which is get on base and hit for power. Despite a strong Spring Training and another solid offensive season, the Mets really showed no interest in calling him up to the majors. He will most likely go unprotected, but maybe this year a team out there desperate for some power in the outfield or on the bench will give him a shot.
2B L.J. Mazzilli (AA & AAA) .239/.320/.348, 18 2B, 6 3B, 5 HR, 43 RBI, 8 SB
Lee Mazzilli‘s son is a grinder out there who plays a decent second base. Unfortunately, it appears his bat will prevent him from ever getting a real shot to ever play in the big league.
Likely: Flexen, Nido
Bubble: Bashlor, Knapp, McGowan, Sewald, Wheeler
As for the remaining players, the Mets may very well gamble exposing them to the Rule 5 Draft and potentially lose them to another team. It is also possible the Mets unexpectedly protect a player like Knapp. In any event, the Mets have a number of important decisions to make that can have far reaching implications.
Currently, MLB and many of their full season affiliates are at the All Star Break. At each and every level, the Mets had a minor league pitcher named to their level’s All-Star Game. Listed below is a synopsis of the Mets’ organizations leaders at the break:
Class A Full Season – Columbia Fireflies
- Wins: P.J. Conlon (8)
- Saves: Alex Palsha (14)
- Strikeouts: Joe Shaw (88)
- ERA: P.J. Conlon (1.84 – League Leader)
- WHIP: P.J. Conlon (1.00)
- Games: Alex Palsha (28)
- Starts: Kevin Canelon, Chase Ingram (16)
- Innings: Kevin Canelon (97.2)
- Holds : Tyler Bashlor (4)
- All-Stars: P.J. Conlon, Alex Palsha
- Promotions: P.J. Conlon, Alex Palsha
Class A Advanced – St. Lucie Mets
- Wins: Ricky Knapp (8)
- Saves: Corey Taylor (13)
- Strikeouts: Chris Flexen, Corey Oswalt (63)
- ERA: Ricky Knapp (2.01)
- WHIP: Ricky Knapp (1.08)
- Games: Corey Taylor (28)
- Starts: Chris Flexen (17)
- Innings: Chris Flexen (95.1)
- Holds: Robert Coles (5)
- All-Stars: Alberto Baldonado (DNP – promoted)
- Promotions: Alberto Baldonado, Casey Delgado, Kevin McGowan, Tim Peterson
Double-A – Binghamton Mets
- Wins: Tyler Pill (6)
- Saves: Beck Wheeler (6)
- Strikeouts: Tyler Pill (88)
- ERA: Rainy Lara (3.98)
- WHIP: Tyler Pill (1.21)
- Games: Beck Wheeler (28)
- Starts: Tyler Pill (17)
- Innings: Tyler Pill (107.2)
- Holds: Tim Peterson (5)
- All Stars: Logan Taylor, Tyler Pill
- Promotions: Robert Gsellman, Beck Wheeler, Josh Zeid
Triple-A – Las Vegas 51s
- Wins: Sean Gilmartin, Gabriel Ynoa (9)
- Saves: Paul Sewald (9)
- Strikeouts: Sean Gilmartin (77)
- ERA: Gabriel Ynoa (4.19)
- WHIP: Sean Gilmartin (1.32)
- Games: Chasen Bradford, Josh Smoker (38)
- Starts: Gabriel Ynoa (18 – League Leader)
- Innings: Gabriel Ynoa (109.2)
- Holds: Josh Smoker (9)
- All-Stars: Gabriel Ynoa
- Promotions: Seth Lugo
- Wins: P.J. Conlon COL & STL (10)
- Saves: Alex Palsha COL (14)
- Strikeouts: Joe Shaw COL, Tyler Pill BNG (88)
- ERA: P.J. Conlon COL & STL (1.97)
- WHIP: P.J. Conlon COL & STL (1.03)
- Games: Chasen Bradford LV, Josh Smoker LV (38)
- Starts – Gabriel Ynoa LV (18)
- Innings – Gabriel Ynoa (109.2)
- Holds – Josh Smoker LV (9)
* stats are updated through July 13, 2016
Editor’s Note: this was first published on metsminors.net