I saw a comment written recently asking the rhetorical question why is it that whenever the Mets promote someone from the Las Vegas desert AAA franchise 51's who is on fire he can’t hit a lick when he gets to Queens? While my initial response was a snarky, “It’s hard to get into a groove while sitting on the bench,” a’la Johnny Monell, there’s a good question being asked here. Most of the hitters from the PCL have not fared too well, so I thought about flipping the question around and thought about the usefulness of that environment as trial-by-fire for the pitching staff.
Jacob de Grom was never considered a top prospect, and after missing a year for TJS, he’s somewhat fallen off the map. In fact, in 2013 he combined in three leagues for a 7-7 record with a 4.51 ERA. The following season he started out in the AAA starting rotation and compiled a 4-0 and a 2.51 ERA over 38 IP before making his May debut with the Mets and subsequently finishing as the NL Rookie of the Year.
Noah Syndergaard had a bit of a rough Las Vegas debut in 2014 with a 9-7 record, a 4.60 ERA, and a rather ugly WHIP of 1.481. Even though he was striking out nearly 10 batters per 9 IP, he was not finding the kind of success he’d experienced earlier in his minor league career. Fast forward to 2015 and he was 3-0, a 1.82 ERA and a WHIP under 1.000 while his K-rate actually increased. No wonder he’s looked so good in his first trial in the big leagues.
Out of necessity, the Mets have promoted a couple of starters-turned-relievers from AAA and they too have pitched even better at the big league level than they did in the minors. Erik Goeddel currently has a 2.60 ERA with a WHIP under 1.000 across 17 big league innings this season after a minor league career that showed little promised with a 20-20 record and 4.02 ERA over the course of five stops on his way to the majors. His 2014 in Las Vegas was a particularly ugly 5.37 ERA with a 1.681 WHIP.
Hansel Robles, in his ten games of big league work this year, sports a 2.89 ERA and an ungodly 0.750 WHIP after sputtering as a minor league starter. During his transition year of 2014 he appeared in 30 games, starting 18 of them. He finished with a 7-6 records, a 4.31 ERA and a WHIP of 1.355. Nothing suggested the success he’s found thus far for the Mets.
Of course, everyone is chomping at the bit to get a look at lefty Steve Matz in the orange and blue. Even after his last less-than-stellar start he’s still off to a 5-2 record, a 2.24 ERA and a 1.101 WHIP while striking out better than a batter per inning. Imagine how he might do when no longer in the thin air of the PCL.
Of course, not everyone flourishes in that environment. Lefty Darin Gorski has pitched to three year of sub 3.00 ERA in Binghamton but hasn’t been able to turn the corner. Matt Bowman was on cruise control ascending level-by-level until crashing into a 2015 record of 2-5, 6.98 ERA, a 1.650 WHIP and giving up more than 11 hits per 9 IP.
Still, wouldn’t it be nice if the team could actually develop a hitter? No disrespect intended to Mssrs. Duda, Flores, Murphy and Lagares, but the team has not produced a relatively consistent All-Star batting talent since the all-too-frequently DL’d David Wright who debuted in 2004 on a team that included the likes of Mike Piazza, Cliff Floyd and Mike Cameron. Yes, it’s been THAT long!