Scouting the Highest-Upside New York Mets Pitching Prospects at Spring Training
General manager Sandy Alderson and the New York Mets have been taking a lot of flak lately for the absence of major league talent on the roster as the organization forges on with its painstaking rebuilding period.
Fans on all platforms are arguing that this team isn't heading in the right direction and won't be any better off in a few years than it was in recent memory. But Alderson and the front office have a counter-argument in the form of the prospects in the minor league system—most notable the pitching prospects.
Alderson has a slew of young arms at his proposal. And while many of them aren't live arms, they will be in the near future.
The San Francisco Giants showed the league that pitching is paramount in the quest to win the World Series, and the Mets are following that formula. Pitching will be the Mets' strong point for the better part of the next decade, especially when the spacious dimensions of Citi Field are taken into account.
Obviously, some pitching prospects have a higher upside than others. Which pitching prospects on the Mets have the highest upside? We'll determine that here.
One could argue that Matt Harvey is no longer a prospect after making his debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 26. The truth is that this kid has made less than a third of a season's worth of starts (10), and there is plenty still left to the imagination.
As he showed at Chase Field when he punched out 11 D'Backs in just 5.1 innings on the hill, Harvey has the potential for greatness. He was the first of the New York Mets trio of young pitching prospects to reach the majors and did well to shatter the notion that the Mets were in for another Generation-K-like scenario.
Harvey's plusses far outweigh his minuses, and his upside starts with his size. At 6'4", 225 pounds, Harvey figures into the Mets' future plans as a workhorse starter—a guy who can take the field every fifth day and rack up seven-plus effective innings.
The 23-year-old righty posted a 10.6 K/nine innings last season but proved to be raw at times. According to Fangraphs.com, he threw his fastball nearly two-thirds of the time. With a full spring training under his belt, Harvey's newfound polish should show itself when he begins to incorporate his slider, curveball and change up more often into his repertoire.
His upside is high—very, very high—but he'll need to show better command of all of his pitches down the line. Last season, Harvey issued a free pass in every game and walked three or more in 60 percent of his starts.
Harvey is tailored almost perfectly to Citi Field's cavernous outfield. During the month of August, in which he made five starts, Harvey either struck out the hitter (31) or induced a fly ball (54) 85 times compared to just 29 induced grounders.
The strange thing is that he allowed three of his five homers at home and the other two at Petco Park, a field that rivals Citi Field in size. It could just be bad luck, but a larger sample size will help determine if it is.
Either way, Mets fans should be elated that the organization developed a prospect that burst onto the scene the way Harvey did.
While Harvey is teetering on either side of the "prospect line," Zack Wheeler is firmly supplanted as one of the top prospects in all of Major League Baseball. His skill set and physical tools are so rare and valuable that MLB.com ranked him as the fourth-best pitching prospect in the league, and eighth-best overall.
By all accounts, Wheeler had one of the best seasons of any minor league starting pitcher in 2012. He went 12-8 in 25 starts, posted a 3.26 ERA across two levels of play, struck out 148 batters in 149 innings and shot up 20 spots on MLB.com's rankings from pre-2012 to pre-2013.
His bread and butter is undoubtedly going to be his two-seam fastball. He doesn't have any issues rearing back and burning it in somewhere around the mid-90s. It bites hard into right-handed hitters and gets the lefties flailing at it running away. His two-seamer doesn't just show late movement, but constant, increasing tail as it approaches the plate.
There have been some questions regarding his mechanics and how his motion could put extra stress on his arm. Although he is just as tall as Harvey, Wheeler weighs about 40 pounds less. Combine his wiry frame with less than ideal mechanics and you've got a recipe for a franchise-demoralizing disaster.
Until then, some Mets fans won't enjoy watching his wiry right arm snap 100 times a game, but he's just 22 years old, meaning that he should fill out significantly in the future.
Wheeler's main strength is that he's ahead of the curve. He's so young, but more often than not shows that he has the stuff to be a top-tier starter in this league.
The sky's the limit with this kid.
Ah, Noah Syndergaard—the 20-year-old righty that everybody has heard so much about but nobody really knows anything about.
He was a bit of an ancillary piece in the R.A. Dickey to Toronto trade, but he's anything but a secondary player. Travis d'Arnaud took the cake as the prized possession of that swap, but Syndergaard has the potential to be special.
Wheeler and Harvey get the credit for being power pitchers and missing bats, but Syndergaard will be looked at as the real power guy as he gets closer to the big league club. He started 19 games last season (plus eight relief appearances), threw 103.2 innings and whiffed 122 opposing batters with the Lansing Lugnuts (Single-A).
Who has the highest upside?
Syndergaard's older counterparts on this list have dealt and are dealing with control issues, but the former first-round pick hasn't been plagued by the like. He walked just 31 batters to finish with a K/BB ration of nearly four and posted a 1.08 WHIP in 2012.
His fastball comes in more or less around the mid-90s, which is impressive for a guy who is nearly six months removed from his teenage years, but it's his breaking ball that makes the difference. His fastball is a plus pitch, and will remain so if all goes according to plan, but it's the presence of a solid breaking pitch that can change up the speed and throw off hitters' rhythm.
At 6'5", Syndergaard is going to be throwing down on hitters. He should pack on some bulk to his 200-pound frame as he climbs through the ranks—and with that bulk, more velocity will come.
If things go well for Syndergaard, Wheeler and Harvey, Mets fans won't be complaining about this rebuilding period come 2015.
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