With pitchers and catchers having reported to spring training in Port St. Lucie, Florida last week, the time-honored tradition of minor league players wearing numbers in the 70s and 80s showing up in Grapefruit League Exhibition games is right around the corner. As a baseball-starved kid growing up in the early-2000s, my favorite early-February tradition was looking at the Mets’ non-roster invitee list, scouring for familiar names and ones I had never heard of. I was a strange kid.
To an extent I still do this, but now instead of just looking at the names I try to learn a little about each player – especially the minor league guys. With that in mind I’ve collected a mental list of a handful of pitchers worth following this Spring Training. Some – like Mets No. 10 prospect David Peterson – even a casual fan has probably heard of, but many are known only to hardcore Mets minors junkies, but could emerge as important players for the Mets in 2020.
For the purposes of ease, I’ve broken down the pitchers into two broad categories – veterans and minor leaguers. Some players who fit into the “minor leaguers” category will have some minimal MLB service time (i.e. – Stephen Nogosek). Within those categories players are simply listed within alphabetical order, not necessarily the order in which they are most or least likely to impress. The Mets have 11 non-roster invitee pitchers this spring training, and I have selected two veterans and three minor leaguers.
Nick Rumbelow – The Mets acquired the former New York Yankee prospect Rumbelow late in 2019 when they purchased his contract from the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League. The 28-year-old right-hander was a 7th-round pick of the Yankees in 2013, and has spent small chunks of the past three seasons as a “Quad-A” reliever – shuffling between MLB and Triple-A. He is 1-1 career with a 5.97 ERA in 33 major league games with New York and Seattle, and has been fairly hittable in the big leagues despite having above-average stuff.
So why does Rumbelow, a pitcher with underwhelming results in the majors and a 7.39 ERA in Triple-A last year, make the cut? When he is healthy he pairs a mid-to-high 90s fastball with a good breaking ball and split-change. He has the repertoire and is still at an age where it isn’t unthinkable that different coaching from the Pitching Coach/Assistant Pitching Coach tandem of Jeremy Hefner and Jeremy Accardo might finally unlock his potential.
Chasen Shreve – After a strong finish to the 2018 season after being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, Shreve only pitched in three games in the majors last season, spending most of his year in Triple-A with the Memphis Redbirds. The lefty turns 30 in mid-July and with relievers being as fickle as they are, there is reason to believe that 2019 was just a blip on the radar for Shreve and that he could recapture his form from when he posted ERAs- of 68 and 80 while pitching for the Yankees.
Matt Blackham – Blackham was a 29th-round (a round that MLB wants to eliminate) draft pick of Sandy Alderson’s in 2014 out of Middle Tennessee State. Now 27, the righty missed the entire 2016 season after fracturing a bone in his pitching elbow, but has enjoyed a steady rise through the organization since. Blackham split 2019 between Binghamton and Syracuse, and posted a combined 2.60 ERA in 40 games. Impressively he only allowed one home run in Triple-A in 15.2 innings, as home runs were hit in record proportions at that level in 2019, and pitchers freshly called up from Double-A were particularly vulnerable to the new MLB ball. Blackham’s walks are high (more than 4.00 BB/9.0 IP at every level from A-Advanced and above), but he strikes out enough batters to limit the damage that causes.
Stephen Nogosek – To say Nogosek was roughed up in his MLB cup of coffee in 2019 is an understatement. The righty acquired from Boston in the Addison Reed trade posted a 10.80 ERA in seven appearances with the Mets last year. However Nogosek was absolutely dynamite in the minors, posting a ludicrous 1.07 ERA split between Binghamton and Syracuse. Even crazier is that Nogosek did not allow a run in his first 30.1 innings in Triple-A last year, but coughed up four runs in his final appearance as Syracuse blew separate 7-1 and 13-6 leads against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders in a winner-take-all one-game playoff to determine the IL North Division Champion. That performance, along with the lackluster MLB showing could be evidence of him simply running out of steam late in the season. Expect a rested Nogosek to show in Port St. Lucie ready to compete for a spot in the MLB bullpen.
Pedro Payano – Like Nogosek, Payano enters 2020 with a handful of MLB service time via six appearances with the Texas Rangers in 2019. After posting solid numbers as a starter throughout his career in the minors, he debuted to a 5.73 ERA in 22.0 innings with Texas, striking out 17 and walking 15. Payano’s future is probably not as a starting pitcher – he has bullpen/swingman role written all over him. He has a funky arm angle and deception helps drive his success. In the long span of a start, that can hurt, but as a bullpen arm it can be particularly effective. If the Mets use him this way, the 25-year-old can be a dark horse to emerge from the pack this spring.