Noah Syndergaard, the latest top pitching prospect for the New York Mets, will likely be making his major league debut sometime this season. It will be the third year in a row Mets fans will see a potential ace make it to the majors—Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler started this trend.
While Harvey and Wheeler were immediately inserted into the starting rotation upon being promoted, this may not be the case for Syndergaard once he gets the call. Adam Rubin of ESPN New York notes that the tall right-hander will likely have a limit of 160 innings pitched after tossing 124.2 frames in Double-A last season.
The organization has stressed the importance of having young pitchers last through an entire season to feel what the grind is like. This goal will be the same for Syndergaard, but the front office won’t delay his 2014 season solely to ensure he has some innings left to pitch come September.
Paul DePodesta, vice president of player development, mentioned to Rubin that there are some ideas they could employ to keep “Thor” on the mound. One idea is to take a page out of the St. Louis Cardinals’ book by starting him in the bullpen, as they did last season with Michael Wacha.
I recently talked about using this strategy with Wilmer Flores as a bench player this season, but it would be a great idea for Syndergaard, as well. This would be the best way to get his feet wet in the major leagues while also preserving him through the entire season.
However, the strategy on how to use Syndergaard at the major league level could possibly be dictated by the performance of Terry Collins’ squad.
Since he has not thrown a pitch yet in Triple-A, the Mets will first send the righty to play for the Las Vegas 51s in the Pacific Coast League. Once he proves himself at that level, he’ll make his way to the big leagues—probably sometime in June or July.
The Mets do have some depth in the starting rotation. Four spots will be filled by Jonathon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee and Zack Wheeler. Jenrry Mejia, John Lannan and possibly another minor league free agent will contend for the fifth spot, along with some prospects. Carlos Torres can also be used as a starter—he made 33 appearances in 2013, including nine starts.
How the organization uses Noah will depend on a number of things. When Harvey and Wheeler made their debuts in 2012 and 2013, respectively, there was a spot in the rotation waiting for them, whether it was due to an injury or ineffectiveness.
It’s unlikely that the entire starting staff will stay both healthy and effective this year, but there may not be room for Syndergaard in the rotation if it does happen. If the Mets are playing solid baseball and find themselves in contention into the summer, it’s possible Noah is used out of the bullpen.
When Harvey made his debut in 2012, the Mets were starting to fall out of the playoff picture, entering that day with a 47-51 record. Wheeler’s debut last season came during a time when New York needed a huge boost—the Mets had a 25-40 record entering action that day.
Knowing it was unlikely they’d grab a playoff spot at the end of September, the Mets felt comfortable inserting Harvey and Wheeler into the rotation. They could control their outings through the end of the regular season without taking the uncertainty of the postseason into account.
This year could be different. There are still questions that remain, but there is a chance they could contend for a playoff spot into the fall if everything goes right. At least, there is more hope that it’s a reality this year than the last five losing seasons.
It would be a solid move to save Syndergaard’s arm in the bullpen if New York is playing well at the time of his promotion. He could still get his feet wet in the major leagues, but he'd also be available in October if the Mets are fortunate enough to get there.
However, if the team is underperforming once he’s promoted, the front office and coaching staff may be more comfortable having him replace someone in the rotation. They could then have a strict limit on his innings through the end of the regular season.
It’d be great to watch the Mets be in a situation where they can use Syndergaard similarly to how the Cardinals used Wacha.
It’d also be fantastic if New York can replicate what St. Louis did last year by reaching the World Series.
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