Posted by Reese Kaplan at 10:00 AM
A lot of people love sequels. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already smashed box office records on its way to surpassing Avatar on its way to becoming the most successful movie of all time. There was certainly a great many people who embraced the rags-to-riches tale of one R.A. Dickey whose success here in Queens is starting it's second life with the arrival of Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard and the .417 hitting exploits of Wuilmer Becerra in the Winter League in Venezuela.
It was probably this blueprint that was in the Mets' personnel people's minds when they stumbled upon Independent League knuckleballer Mickey Jannis back in 2015. Having flamed out in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, the young Jannis found himself only able to latch onto the Frontier League's Lake Erie for four years (with a quick side trips to Bridgeport and Southern Maryland for two 10-game stints sandwiched in between the Lake Erie years). His two-fingered grip modeled after Tim Wakefield brought great motion to the pitch that sometimes eluded his catchers.
During this period of time while he continued to struggle with his control, he did turn in some fairly strong pitching performances, including 2.53 or less ERAs during three of these seasons. In 2015 he had moved to the local Long Island Ducks managed by former Met Kevin Baez and co-owned by Mets legend Bud Harrelson. After starting off the season with a stellar 6-2 record, 1.18 ERA and a miniscule 0.94 WHIP, it appeared the Mets had found another R.A. Dickey.
On his rockey road towards the majors Jannis has had help from some illustrious masters of the knuckleball, including Charlie Hough and Phil Niekro. He's not been in contact with Toronto Blue Jays hurler Dickey, Jannis has benefited from the guidance he's received. He throws what's considered a hard knuckleball that often hits the 80 mph mark. That's markedly different from many of the “floater” style pitchers of the past. It's not resulted in the same strikeout numbers others have enjoyed, but he's seemingly become more productive with the often hard-to-control pitch that he throws up to 70% of the time.
The gamble on Jannis has seemingly paid early dividends. His seven starts at Port St. Lucie produced a 2-1 record with a 2.98 ERA and motivated the Mets to promote the 27 year old to Binghamton. In AA Jannis hit something of a wall with an unspectacular 5.54 ERA and an underwhelming 1.38 K:BB ratio, but they must have seen something as he was included in the contingent of players sent to the Arizona Fall League where things once again fell into place. In six starts he went 1-1 with a tidy 2.48 ERA.
Jannis will turn 28 as he tries to advance to the hitter's paradise of Las Vegas this season. His future may be that of long reliever rather than starter in a pitching-rich organization like the Mets, but for a guy who persisted through four years of Independent League ball, that would probably suit him just fine, particularly when his manager for the 51s is a “Playing for Peanuts” independent leaguer, Wally Backman.