Once upon a time, in 2016, there was a left-handed pitching prospect named Thomas Szapucki. He pitched 52 innings between the Kingsport Mets and Brooklyn but set the scouting world abuzz with 86 strikeouts and a WHIP securely beneath 1.000 overall. Then, injury seemed on the horizon and his 2017 season was held to under 30 innings in the South Atlantic League. The innings were quality, especially when you consider that he was essentially rehabbing for them but, in hindsight, he should have gotten the surgery sooner.
Thanks to the decision to delay Tommy John surgery, he missed all of 2018 and is coming into 2019 where he will play at the age of 23 having never pitched more than 52 innings in the minors. All of this would be fine for most teams because Szapucki, a 5th round pick, wouldn’t have exceptionally high expectations. The Mets are not most teams.
Last year the Mets watched the former superstar prospect, Matt Harvey, walk away after turning into a shell of his former self. This offseason we got news that Franklyn Kilome would need surgery, then that Justin Dunn had been traded to Seattle and all of a sudden, Szapucki became quite an integral piece in the Met’s plan.
So, what does his 2019 season have in store for us? Well, for one thing, it’ll be accelerated. The Mets don’t have the luxury of giving him a long adjustment period in Low-A Columbia, they need Szapucki to get into and prove himself in Advanced A right away. Yet, that’s where expectations end. The season could look like Steven Matz’s return from injury, in which he took the minors by storm or we could see Szapucki fade away into obscurity.
The velocity, which was already markedly better than that which scouts projected, should be fine. Most pitchers who return from Tommy John see a small up-tick in velocity. The question for the Met lefty will be spin. If Szapucki hasn’t lost his spin and can keep up with his new, accelerated, timetable you can expect him to wind up in the Top 5 prospects for 2020.
Similarly, the Mets will also look to the season of Jordan Humphreys for hope. Humphreys has both pitched more innings and at higher levels than Szapucki but where Szapucki has looked exceptional in Kingsport, Brooklyn and Columbia, Humphreys has only shone brightly in 69.2 innings at the SAL.
Between the two the Mets are banking on one of these pitchers holding onto their rankings in the Top 10 prospects for the team.