New York Mets: Assessing the Best Internal Bullpen Options
Instead of waiting two weeks to see if he could rehab his injury and return this season, Parnell opted for surgery and will now focus on being ready for 2015.
For the time being, manager Terry Collins has named Jose Valverde his closer. Despite signing him to a minor league deal, “Papa Grande” will now be an incredibly important piece of the bullpen.
Andy Martino of the New York Daily News noted that Joel Hanrahan, Kevin Gregg, Ryan Madson and Octavio Dotel are all available in the free-agent market. However, general manager Sandy Alderson will first investigate internal options while seeing how the bullpen performs over the season’s first month.
He’s made it clear that New York won’t sign another reliever just for the sake of doing so—if that happens, there will be a legitimate reason behind it.
The Mets could use some relievers who come into a game and get the ball over the plate consistently. So far, the bullpen has walked 10 batters in 22.1 innings pitched.
The 2014 season isn’t even two weeks old, so Alderson not making a reactionary move to counter Parnell's injury isn’t surprising. He's still mindful of potentially blocking a young minor league arm that could make an impact, if given a chance.
Let’s take a look at some of the internal options the organization will be keeping a close eye on over the next few weeks and their likelihood of getting a call to the big leagues.
All player statistics sourced from Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
Miguel Socolovich had a strong spring, but it wasn’t enough to crack the Opening Day bullpen. He didn’t give up a run in eight innings, but he allowed five hits, four walks and hit two more with pitches.
His ability to keep runs off the board was impressive, but his lack of control at times is what landed him with the Las Vegas 51s to start the year.
Socolovich has only appeared in 12 big league games, but he has put together a solid track record throughout his time in the minors, posting a 3.79 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 456 innings.
Signing him to a minor league deal was a solid move by Alderson to create some organizational depth. As he can attest to, building a bullpen is difficult, but hidden value can be found in players when given an opportunity to prove themselves.
Carlos Torres is a great example—he went from an afterthought in the Triple-A rotation last season to a crucial piece of Collins’ bullpen in 2014.
He’s continued to be effective in Triple-A, allowing one run on four hits, two walks and two strikeouts in three innings entering Wednesday.
The right-hander has finished 66 games and accumulated 15 saves in his minor league career. Collins may need Socolovich to bring some of his past experience to the majors, depending on how the current big league relievers perform.
However, not being included on the 40-man roster could be a big enough hurdle for him to be overlooked for now, especially this early into the season.
Another minor league signing from this past winter, Joel Carreno had only a few people thinking he would break camp with the Mets.
A source had some good things to say about the righty to ESPN New York's Adam Rubin:
Joel Carreno has really solid stuff -- a four-seam fastball at 89-92 mph with a slight cut, average sinker at 88-90 mph. He has a really solid slider, but has a tendency to overuse it, especially with runners in scoring position. He's a good competitor, can play a multitude of roles out of the bullpen.
He has plenty of upside, especially after posting a 2.43 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 50 appearances between Double-A and Triple-A within the Toronto Blue Jays farm system.
The 27-year-old showed flashes of his potential during Grapefruit League action but, again, lack of control is likely the reason why he’s in the minors to start the year. He allowed three runs on four hits, six walks and nine strikeouts in seven innings.
Carreno is still learning, as this is just his second full season of exclusively being a reliever. His skills provide some versatility for the Mets, and he could be a valuable hurler for Collins if he shows 2013 wasn’t an aberration.
Similar to Socolovich, Carreno not being on the 40-man roster is a big disadvantage right now. He will probably join his fellow right-hander as a secondary option for the time being.
Jeff Walters enjoyed a breakout season last year for the Binghamton Mets in Double-A.
The right-hander went 4-3 with a 2.09 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 38 saves and 60 strikeouts in 56 innings pitched. This performance crowned him as the single-season and career saves leader in B-Mets history.
His progression was promising enough for the Mets to include him on the 40-man roster last November, protecting him from getting selected in the Rule 5 draft.
Walters threw 3.2 innings during Grapefruit League action and performed well. He allowed one run on three hits, no walks and one strikeout. He had an outside chance of making the Opening Day roster, but it wasn’t meant to be.
He’s currently been adjusting to life in the Pacific Coast League with the 51s. The right-hander currently owns a 16.88 ERA and 2.63 WHIP in 2.2 innings entering action on Wednesday, but he notched his first Triple-A save on April 8.
Walters is a legitimate candidate to join the big league bullpen if reinforcements are needed. He has enough late-game experience, which should instill confidence to insert him into high-pressure situations. His inclusion on the 40-man roster is an easy decision. He has had control issues at times, but it has improved overall as he’s moved through the farm system.
It wouldn’t be ideal to immediately put a rookie pitcher with no big league experience into a potential setup role. However, if no other internal options are performing well enough, he could rise to the top.
The 2014 season hasn’t started the way Vic Black hoped. He entered spring training as a virtual lock to make the Opening Day bullpen. Unfortunately, his performance was so poor that New York optioned him to Triple-A in order to sort out his issues.
In 9.1 innings during camp, Black posted a disappointing 5.79 ERA and 2.46 WHIP, including 10 walks.
Black shared his thoughts on the demotion with ESPN New York:
I didn't see it coming, but I also couldn't expect anything different really because what I did was struggle all spring. And that's not what they're trying to put together on the team right now. Like they said, especially starting off, you're trying to get hot out of the gates, and I didn't give them the best opportunity for what they were hoping. I know they were disappointed, as am I, which is part of it. But I'll be back.
He only appeared in one game for the 51s before landing on the seven-day disabled list with a pinched nerve in his neck. Black didn’t give up a run but walked two over one inning pitched.
He’s expected to be activated by the end of the week. With Parnell sidelined, this is his opportunity to take a huge step forward this season.
The organization is high on him and he does have the tools to succeed. His mid-90s fastball and curveball have Mike Petriello of FanGraphs thinking Black has the makeup to eventually be a closer.
His big league experience isn’t extensive, but he was successful when he was there. That should give him an advantage, as long as he shows improvement in his control once he's activated off the DL.
Jacob deGrom’s 52 career minor league appearances have come as a starting pitcher, but he’s another candidate to help the big league bullpen. Despite no recent experience as a reliever, it wouldn’t be a role he’s unfamiliar with.
DeGrom was a shortstop for his first two years at Stetson University but also served as the closer in his junior season before converting into a starter. Some experience is better than none when looking for options to fortify this bullpen.
The right-hander has begun the season in Triple-A as a starting pitcher. His first appearance went very well despite not getting a decision. He allowed one unearned run, three hits, one walk and six strikeouts over six innings.
Before being considered, Collins told ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin that he and fellow prospect Rafael Montero need to prove they can handle it:
“If they’re going to pitch out of the bullpen, they’re going to have to get used to coming into a situation with guys on, where they’ve got to get a big out,” the manager said.
This is a good point, and one that will be addressed within a month. After a few starts, Triple-A manager Wally Backman will expose the hurler to situations as a reliever.
Like many of New York’s pitching prospects, deGrom is a strike thrower, with a career BB/9 rate of 2.3 over 291 innings pitched. His ability to throw the ball over the plate should make it relatively easy for him to transition back to a relief role.
He’s also already on the 40-man roster, making a potential promotion an easy process.
All but five of Montero’s 65 appearances in the Mets organization have come as a starting pitcher.
While deGrom has a strike-throwing reputation, Montero is on another level. For him to rise from the Dominican Summer League to Triple-A in two full seasons he had to be.
His poise on the mound and control of the strike zone have quickly made him a favorite among talent evaluators within the organization. Over 359.1 career minor league innings, he owns a 1.02 WHIP and 1.7 BB/9.
The right-hander has looked good in two starts for Las Vegas, allowing three runs on 10 hits, one walk and 14 strikeouts in 11 innings. Out of the 177 pitches he’s thrown, 124 of them have been in the strike zone (70 percent).
Ranked the 85th-best prospect in the game, Sam Dykstra of MiLB.com feels Montero is still underrated:
Any talk about Montero, who owns a plus fastball with an improving breaking ball and changeup, starts with his control after he allowed just two walks per nine innings between Double-A Binghamton (66 2/3 innings) and Triple-A Las Vegas (88 2/3 innings) in 2013 to go with an 8.7 K/9. His FIPs (1.88 and 2.87) were equally impressive, especially considering his work in the Vegas and the PCL which are notoriously tough on pitchers.
When a pitcher can adjust to the hitter-friendly PCL, he can probably adjust to anything. The maturity he’s shown on the mound (and all those strikes he throws) should help Montero make the temporary transition to being a successful reliever a smooth one.
The big league rotation is already crowded, and it will only get worse once Noah Syndergaard is ready to make his debut. Shifting Montero to the bullpen will be the best way for him to make an impact in the majors this season.
Of the options listed, he’s the most polished, with a pretty dominant track record. Even though he doesn’t have a lot of experience as a reliever, he should be on the top of New York’s watch list if bullpen help is needed in the big leagues.
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