Mets' Clenney making most of journey from indy ball to Fall League

October 12th, 2023

Entering Thursday, Mets right-hander Nolan Clenney is the fourth-oldest player in the Arizona Fall League at 27 years old, and while his road to the desert has been one of the longest and most winding of this year's iteration, his goal is no different than many Fall Leaguers three or four years his junior -- prove he's worth of his biggest shot yet in The Show.

"I'm very excited to be here and honored to be here," he said.

The 6-foot-2 hurler went undrafted out of NC State in 2019 and headed instead to independent ball in his home state of Michigan with Utica of the United Shore League. He dominated as a reliever for the Unicorns in 2020, posting a 1.48 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 24 innings, and joined a more prominent indy-ball circuit in the American Association -- an MLB Partner League -- the following year. He was off to a hot start with Gary (0.89 ERA, 26 K, 3 BB in 20 1/3 IP) when the Mets signed him to a Minor League deal in June 2021, giving the righty his first affiliated opportunity.

Two years after that initial transaction, Clenney is coming off a 2023 campaign in which he split time with the Mets' two upper-level affiliates. His 5.63 ERA didn't quite shine like his previous numbers, but he did punch out 81 batters in 64 innings. His 35.6 percent K rate at Triple-A Syracuse specifically was tops among Mets pitchers at that level (min. 20 IP).

The key to his success remains the pitch that's been his bread-and-butter since the Mets first signed him -- a mid-80s slider that he threw 49.3 percent of the time in Syracuse and has learned to manipulate even more under the tutelage of New York coaches and coordinators.

"Being comfortable to throw it in any count to righties and lefties has always been big for me," Clenney said. "But now changing the shape of it, I have kind of a smaller cutterish one and then a bigger sweeping one. Pairing those together to tunnel those against hitters I think helps a lot."

The Mets have also worked with Clenney on incorporating a low-90s sinker and upper-80s change -- the latter of which he used sparingly in Triple-A. But the slider will be his meal ticket to Queens, and considering his potential role as a bullpen arm, he might not need much more than that to earn his opportunity in 2024 and beyond.

But first comes the Fall League, another rung on Clenney's ladder and another opportunity to prove how far he's come since Utica.

"Being able to compete against high-level hitters, but also learn," he said of his AFL goals. "We have plenty of resources here with other organizations. [I want to] learn how to get these high-level hitters out and use those resources to further my game."

Mets hitters in the Fall League

Kevin Parada, C (No. 5/MLB No. 89): The 2022 11th overall pick is ending his first full season with extended time in Arizona, which should provide him with additional opportunities to work defensively behind the plate. Parada still exhibits the potential for plus power, and that makes him a notable performer at a premium position. But his glovework and arm still need improving for him to reach his lofty ceiling, and working with a large and diverse Glendale pitching staff should help in that regard.

Rowdey Jordan, OF/INF: A 2021 11th-round pick out of Mississippi State, Jordan spent this entire season with Double-A Binghamton, where he hit .230/.344/.389 with 13 homers and 30 steals. He primarily split time between center field and second base in the summer but has made two starts apiece in right and at third in the early going of the Fall League.

JT Schwartz, 1B: The Mets made Schwartz their fourth-round selection two years ago out of UCLA, and he has shown a hit-over-power profile in the pros so far. He hit .302/.383/.437 with four homers in 66 games for Double-A Binghamton during the regular season. His 16.6 percent K rate and 7.7 percent swinging-strike rate ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, among 40 Mets Minor Leaguers with at least 250 plate appearances in 2023.

D'Andre Smith, 2B: The 2022 fifth-rounder out of USC saw his first full season limited to only 64 games with High-A Brooklyn after missing time with a fractured scapula in April and May and later a hamstring issue in July. He produced a .237/.321/.353 line with three homers and eight steals in the time he did get, though his slash line away from Coney Island was much better at .265/.342/.480. After playing short for the Trojans, he’s been second-base-only in pro ball, including the early days of the AFL.

Mets pitchers in the Fall League

Jordan Geber, RHP: Geber spent four seasons on the pitching staff at Mount St. Mary's (Maryland), transferred to Virginia Tech for the 2022 season, spent a stint in the MLB Draft League that summer and was shortly thereafter signed by the Mets as a non-drafted free agent. The 24-year-old right-hander, who works with a fastball-slider-changeup mix, appeared in both the rotation and relief in 2023 but was especially dominant in a bulk role for Double-A Binghamton down the stretch with 18 scoreless and walkless innings over his final three appearances.

Brendan Hardy, RHP: The 23-year-old right-hander earned two promotions as he climbed from Single-A to Double-A after a late start to the season and put up solid numbers across the board: 1.80 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 54 strikeouts, .184 average-against in 35 innings. Hardy lacks velocity with a 90-92 mph fastball but can make it play up with good extension from his 6-foot-4 frame. His standout pitch is a 79-81 mph sweeper that helps generate K's and should be something he leans on against advanced AFL competition ahead of Rule 5 eligibility this winter.

Trey McLoughlin, RHP: The Fairfield product has a standout splitter that he leans on heavily, as he showed in his AFL debut on Oct. 2 by throwing it 11 times in a 22-pitch outing. He generated five whiffs on those 11 splitters, making it a pitch to watch in the desert, especially since McLoughlin's fastball is in the 89-91 mph range. The right-hander posted a 2.79 ERA with 64 strikeouts over 51 2/3 innings in the regular season at High-A and Double-A.

Tyler Thomas, LHP: A former member of the Cubs and Rangers systems, Thomas opened this season with Gastonia in the independent Atlantic League before the Mets signed him on June 6. He owned a 2.86 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings at Double-A and Triple-A, showing a 91-93 mph fastball, low-80s change and upper-70s slider along the way.