The good news is that Jeurys Familia has not pitched in the first three exhibition games of the year and is therefore not among the nine pitchers in camp with an ERA of 9.00 or above. The bad news is, well, just about everything else. Familia has gone from hot-shot pitching prospect to potential future closer to staring at another season in the minors and being bypassed by others on the team’s depth chart.
While he was never as highly-touted as Matt Harvey or Noah Syndergaard, there was once some buzz around Familia at one point. In 2011, he flew through Hi-A and had a solid debut at Double-A as a 21 year old, a performance that landed him on the bottom of Baseball America’s annual Top Prospect list. Injuries, shaky performances and the rise of talent in the Mets’ farm system saw him switch from starter to reliever yet there were still plenty of people impressed with the gas he threw.
Even at the end of the 2013 season, Familia was thought to be a power arm in the bullpen, perhaps someone who could develop into a Bobby Parnell-type of pitcher. But when news of Parnell’s seemingly slow recovery from neck surgery continued, the scuttlebutt was all about Vic Black potentially getting a shot to close, not Familia.
At this point, Familia seems in jeopardy of starting the season in Las Vegas. Parnell says he’ll be ready for Opening Day and it would take a major meltdown for Black not to join him going north. We all know Terry Collins – or is it Sandy Alderson – and his preference for two lefty relievers, so that leaves three spots available for Familia.
Jose Valverde has been the talk of early camp and he comes with the Jim Leyland seal of approval, which carries weight with Collins. Unless Valverde tanks, he’ll be considered a front-runner for one of the three available spots. That leaves Familia competing with Carlos Torres, Kyle Farnsworth and Gonzalez Germen for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
But there are other candidates for the jobs. After a 38-save season in Double-A, Jeff Walters is in camp and appears to be getting serious consideration from top brass. Joel Carreno has his backers, Cory Mazzoni has all but officially converted to a reliever and he could move quickly in his new role. And it wouldn’t be the Mets without a bit of crazy talk and rumors have started that Jenrry Mejia could move back to the bullpen.
There are countless permutations out there for relief spots but would anyone be surprised with an Opening Day roster comprised of this pen: Parnell, Black, Valverde, Rice, Lannan, Torres and Mazzoni? Of course, you could come up with seven names that included Familia that wouldn’t be a surprise, either. Still, the fact that he’s not in stronger position at this point of Spring Training has to at least raise some Josh Satins.
So, how did Familia get in this position?
He still throws gas, with an average fastball reading in the majors of 95.1 mph. Familia doesn’t get as many strikeouts as you would like but a 7.04 K% is not his main problem. And like Mejia, he gets a good number of ground balls (50.0 GB%) and isn’t done in by the gopher ball.
Familia’s major issue is too many baserunners, specifically walks. He has a 1.74 WHIP in his brief stints in the majors. And with a .303 BABIP, we know it’s not because of too many bloops and bleeders. Instead, we see Familia has surrendered 18 walks in 23 IP with the Mets. Now that’s too few innings to make any definitive judgments but in his last full season in the minors, Familia had a 4.80 BB/9 in 137 IP at Triple-A Buffalo in 2012.
In 2013, there were 135 relief pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the FanGraphs leaderboards. Only five of those had a BB/9 of 5.0 or greater, with only Yoervis Medina checking in with an ERA below 4.00 for the season. And Medina had a .257 BABIP and an 82.6 LOB%, two numbers likely to significantly regress in 2014.
Can Familia get his walks under control? The three projection systems at FanGraphs all show him with BB/9 in the fours, which is not great yet still an improvement over what he’s done in the majors to this point. Steamer is the most bullish, with a 4.22 BB/9 and a 3.66 ERA forecast.
So, when you’re watching the Spring Training games or reading the boxscores, pay special attention to Familia and his walks. He allowed 4 BB in 8.1 IP in the AFL for a 4.32 BB/9. That led to an ugly 6.48 ERA. My guess is that he’ll have to beat those numbers if he wants to make the Opening Day roster. While it’s not impossible, my best guess is that he doesn’t and he starts of the season in Las Vegas.
Did you see our new header image? We’ve got a contest going on about the bottom border collage. See here for details.