Much-needed infusion of young pitching on its way to Mets

March 22nd, 2024

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets No. 14 prospect Dominic Hamel was his club’s starting pitcher in the Spring Breakout showcase against the Nationals on March 15. He touched 96.8 mph with his fastball and showed a five-pitch mix that also included a sweeper, a curveball, a changeup and a cutter. The 25-year-old is harnessing his stuff in hopes of making a Major League debut at some point in 2024, and he isn’t alone in that endeavor.

Five of New York’s Top 18 prospects -- Christian Scott, Blade Tidwell, Mike Vasil, Tyler Stuart and Hamel -- are pitchers with upper-level experience who could reach Flushing this summer. That depth is much-needed at a time when the Mets' rotation is arguably the Major League club’s biggest weakness.

It’s more than the on-field work that has stood out to new Mets senior vice president of player development Andy Green, a four-year manager with the Padres and most recently bench coach with the Cubs. It’s when, for example, he caught Hamel verbally pulling for Vasil in a back fields outing away from the bright lights and attention of Clover Park.

“One thing that’s blown me away with that upper-level group, they’re genuinely good people who are pulling for each other and recognize that if they do great, the Mets have a chance to be really special,” Green said. “There obviously is competition to get to spots and have opportunities, but these guys have been unbelievable teammates to one another. It’s fun to watch them come out and legitimately pull for each other.”

Based on most recent results, the one who might be closest to contributing in the Majors is the highest-ranked prospect in the group in Scott (No. 5). The 24-year-old right-hander struck out seven Marlins and walked none over four innings Wednesday, allowing one earned run and two hits along the way. He notched 11 whiffs over 59 pitches, with seven of those coming on his mid-90s four-seamer. He also showed off a newfound mid-80s sweeper to go with his 87-89 mph slider, and the multiple looks gave Miami fits.

As Green has dug into his new role, he’s found a lot to like in the former Florida Gator, who owned a 2.57 ERA with 107 strikeouts and 12 walks in 87 2/3 innings last season.

“After spending the last 10 years in the big leagues, you gravitate to people who have a demeanor like that. And you realize that those type of guys stand up really well to the tests of the big leagues,” Green said. “You’ve got to have stuff. You’ve got to have composure. You’ve got to have some game awareness. He has all those things.”

Scott might have the best chance at reaching his mid-rotation potential, but Tidwell’s fastball-slider combo, Vasil’s Triple-A experience, Hamel’s breaking stuff and Stuart’s sinker-slider mix could all be options should results or injuries cause the Mets to dip into their depth. But until that day comes, Green wants the group to continue to band together in their development at the upper levels.

“It’s just radically different when you get to Citi Field compared to Syracuse,” he said. “We’re making sure those guys are prepared mentally, have been battle-tested and have had the opportunity to grow.”

Breakout candidate: Jeremy Rodriguez

The Mets acquired Rodriguez in a straight-up swap with the D-backs for Tommy Pham at last year’s Trade Deadline and saw him go 19-for-45 (.422) with 11 walks and only four strikeouts over 13 games with the club’s Dominican Summer League affiliate. The left-handed-hitting shortstop finished with a .293/.411/.467 line and 31/33 K/BB ratio in 51 total DSL contests, underlining how advanced his approach was at the lowest rung of affiliated ball.

Rodriguez (New York's No. 12 prospect) became an easy decision to head stateside this spring, but the Mets believed so much in the bat and glove that they included him in their Spring Breakout roster as well. At 17 years old, Rodriguez was this year’s third-youngest Breakout participant and lived up to his scouting report by singling in his only Breakout at-bat.

The Dominican Republic native’s discipline and contact rate could translate quickly in his first full season in the New York system, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he hits his way to Single-A at some point this summer, though the Mets are willing to give him ample time and space first.

“I have a daughter that age, and I can’t imagine her leaving the country for a job,” Green said. “There’s a lot to acclimate to, and we don’t read too much into how it starts out. We believe in the skill set. We believe he can play shortstop. We believe there’s a ton of contact ability. There are really good swing decisions and the strength will come as he grows into his body.”

What’s new: Jett Williams

The 2022 first-rounder rose to the top of the Mets’ prospect rankings after posting a .425 OBP with 104 walks and 45 steals in 121 games across three levels (finishing out at Double-A) in his first full season. His plus speed played quickly in the pro game, and New York pushed the traditional shortstop into center field in 2023 to take further advantage of those wheels.

The closer Williams (Mets' No. 1 prospect, No. 45 overall) gets to Citi Field, the closer he gets to the shadow of Francisco Lindor, who is under contract through 2031. So long in fact that the Mets are going to give Williams looks at second base this season -- a position he’s yet to play in an official capacity in pro ball.

“We’re going to feed that versatility this year,” Green said. “As he continues to develop, we have a shortstop in the big leagues that’s locked down pretty well. That doesn’t mean Jett will never play that position someday, but it does mean that center field or second base are valuable spots for him to grow and learn in. He has the athleticism, mind, passion and desire to learn those positions and learn them well.”

Something to prove: Kevin Parada

Taken three spots ahead of Williams in the 2022 Draft, the Georgia Tech catcher was actually considered the better prospect after two stellar offensive years with the Yellow Jackets. That bat didn’t quite translate as hoped in pro ball. Parada (No. 9 prospect) slashed just .248/.324/.428 with 14 homers over 105 games (mostly at High-A and Double-A) in his first full season, though he was limited partly by a right ankle injury. A .611 OPS over 18 Arizona Fall League games didn’t do much to change the narrative.

The right-handed slugger still shows the potential for plus power, but questions about defensive work behind the plate -- specifically when it comes to controlling the running game -- have grown louder. For their part, the Mets believe their top catching prospect needed exposure to a professional workload first before he could take off. With that now achieved, they’re hopeful better times are ahead for the 22-year-old Parada.

“It’s a challenge to get to the big leagues in any capacity,” Green said. “It’s really a challenge at the catching position. There are so many things you’re responsible for. It’s not just how you hit. It’s the gamecalling. It’s the relationships with the pitchers. It’s the blocking, throwing, receiving. ... There’s a reason, in a lot of places, that catchers tend to come at a later age because there’s a lot thrown at them. It’s unsurprising he’d go through the first year and come away with a number of things he wants to improve on.”