How long is the leash for Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom?

Jacob deGromAfter losing yet again last night, falling to the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3, the Mets find themselves once again in last place. After a decent start to the season, they were 15-11 on April 29, the Mets have lost 14 of their last 19 games and are now five games under .500, while occupying the NL East basement all to themselves.

Several factors weigh heavily into the Mets recent funk. Notably, the offense has been wretched and even worse has been the performance of the bullpen. Among the factors hindering the Mets thus far this year, starting pitching has been the least of their problems.

However, that’s not to say that the rotation hasn’t been a problem.

Who knew losing Dillon Gee would be so devastating?

At the same time the Mets shifted Jenrry Mejia to the bullpen and Gee going on the DL on May 14, the team has gone 1-6. We have documented the struggles of Bartolo Colon and Zack Wheeler enough already here. So it begs the question, are Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom ready for prime time?

Collectively, they have made four starts, and while three of those have been quality outings, they still have combined to allow 12 earned runs in 23.1 innings pitched while giving up 20 hits and 11 walks. More alarming is the six home runs they have allowed in those 23.1 innings. Between the high number of walks and home runs, it has been an inauspicious start for Montero and deGrom.

Surely, this is a small sample size and they definitely need more time to mature and grow into their roles. Besides, with Gee set to come back sometime next week, one of them is either being demoted or moved to the bullpen. It was supposed to be deGrom that was pushed to the bullpen, but aside from the home run binge on Wednesday night, he has looked the better of the two. Nevertheless, both have shown some holes in their pitching.

Most rookie pitchers will have their usual set of ups and downs and that’s ok, it’s perfectly natural. But can they be able to keep the Mets afloat while the team continues to flounder?

The Mets are on the brink of breaking down completely, and if they don’t show signs of life soon, the season may collapse from beneath them. It should be interesting to see how the team responds and how long of a leash Montero and deGrom get and what exactly their roles will be going forward. Also of note is, when do the Mets bring up the most-heralded prospect on the farm in Noah Syndergaard and make the rotation even more crowded? The Mets at some point this season will have seven quality starters (excluding Daisuke Matsuzaka and Mejia) for five spots.

Obviously, the Mets need to get back the services of Gee and fast. Maybe it will all be for naught, as the Mets may be headed for another losing season. But it should be interesting to see how long Montero and deGrom will last (not to mentioned how they’ll be used) with the Mets while they are up here.

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Jenrry Mejia’s struggles could lead to promotion of Montero and or deGrom

Jenrry Mejia2Like it or not, Jenrry Mejia may be ticketed for the bullpen after all.

Reports are surfacing that the New York Mets are strongly considering the idea of promoting either Rafael Montero and/or Jacob deGrom and using one of them in the rotation while pushing Mejia to the bullpen and possibly grooming him to be the closer. Then again, maybe Montero or deGrom will be used in the bullpen.

At this moment, it’s a very fluid situation and it’s mostly just speculation about who goes where and when. Make no mistake, though, help is probably on the way.

Maybe Mejia belongs in the closer role. He has been sensational to start games, as the first two times through an order he is masterful. It’s when he gets his pitch count up and deep into games that he breaks down-almost predictably.

Sure, Mejia wasn’t a hit in the bullpen when he first went there in 2010, but that was a foolish plan from the start. For a guy who has been around the block for a few years, maybe this is where Mejia finds his stride.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s still a little too early to dictate if he should head to the bullpen. However, if his late-inning troubles persists, the Mets will be left with little choice. Safe to say, he is skating on this ice.

With the Mets having a deep crop of steady pitching especially with Montero, deGrom and Syndergaard only a call away, perhaps it’s time to kill two birds with one stone and call up either Montero (who is more likely to get the call if they need a new rotation member) or deGrom. This way you still put an elite arm in the rotation and upgrade a huge weakness (fortifying the bullpen) in the process.

With such a deep and talented stable of arms (especially young and tantalizing ones), what exactly do you do? If proponents of Mejia want to keep him in the rotation, what do you decide to do with Las Vegas arms? Because, it’s sounding as if they’re ready and why delay it any longer?

I suppose keeping Mejia in the rotation and having him overcome his struggles could up his trade value, so there is some logic there. Even if the Mets do move Mejia to the bullpen, and call up Montero and put him in the rotation, they still basically have (including Daisuke Matsuzaka) eight pitchers that could be part of this year’s staff and 10 (when you include Matt Harvey and Jeremy Hefner) for next year.

With that glut of pitching, you almost certainly have to be thinking trade at some point.

In the meantime, though, this is move that just may have to happen out of necessity.

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Should Mets try experimenting putting Montero and deGrom in the bullpen?

Rafael MonteroJohn Harper of the Daily News had an interesting proposition for the New York Mets the other day in his column, which you can read here, and that was exploring the idea of putting guys like Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom in the bullpen given the current anemic state of the relief corps.

As it is right now, the Mets are playing with fire every time they rely on the bullpen late in games while leaning on retreads like Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth. (Anyone see how the Mets had to sweat it out last night with an amazing tag at the plate by Travis d’Arnaud?). It’s gotten so bad that the Mets are relying on a veteran, who has been a starter all his career, in Daisuke Matsuzaka to pitch in important innings late.

Maybe the Mets could use an injection of youth in the bullpen after all.

As Harper points out, it’s the same approach that pitching-rich clubs like the Braves and, in particular, the Cardinals have took and maybe the Mets should take a page out of the same book.

Now, no one is saying that Montero and deGrom should be groomed to be future relievers, but if the Braves and Cardinals have told us anything, it is that this experiment works. Just look at what it did for guys like Alex Wood and Kris Medlen (injury notwithstanding) for the Braves and Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, etc. for the Cardinals.

When you’re getting late into games, you want guys who can throw hard and that is where Montero and deGrom can help out. This way, you kill two birds with one stone. First, you have them get acclimated to the majors in relief and use their talents to fortify a major weakness in the process. Then come the next year, you can stretch them out in the spring and have them ready to be part of the staff if you want.

The one person, though, the Mets should avoid in regards to this plan, should be Noah Syndergaard, as Harper also points out. He is certainly an ace in the making and he will no doubt be a part of the rotation for years to come. So, obviously, there is no need to tinker with those plans.

With a bullpen full of veterans on their last leg, well, that certainly doesn’t look like a sustainable plan.  The Mets, for all their warts, are not doing a bad job this year and are keeping their heads above water. If they can strengthen their bullpen this way, it could go a long way in making the team a much stronger unit and make the season an exciting one.

Again, no one is suggesting that all pitchers should be treated this way, as this would only be a one-year experiment. See how it works. Considering how long it took Jenrry Mejia to come back to form after constantly being jettisoned back and forth from the staff to the bullpen, well, it’s natural to be be skeptical.

Simply put, though, if you want to utilize Montero and deGrom in 2014, this may be the only way to go. If the Mets’ starters stay healthy (and you can include Matsuzaka for this exercise) and you want to bring up Syndergaard eventually, too, what role can Montero and deGrom have with the big club this year otherwise?

The intention should be to inject some youth and energy to the relief corps and give the Mets the best bullpen it can possibly assemble. Bring up Vic Black and Jack Leathersich while we’re at it.

You have to admit, it’s a tantalizing idea.

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HYPE Files: Rafael Montero

Welcome to the second edition of HYPE Files! As a reminder, these HYPE Files will be a weekly guide to: 1. Shine light on prospects not getting their due respect and 2. Extinguish the hype on some prospects that will probably end up being mentioned in the same breath as Lastings Milledge and Yusmeiro Petit.

Where’s the hype?

Rafael Montero, SP: You may have seen this name towards the bottom of some Mets’ top prospects lists this year, but do not be surprised to see his name on most lists next year, with a few of those featuring him in the top half. It appears that a lot of prospect hounds wanted to list Montero higher this year, but they could not due to his unproven track record. Montero only appeared in 17 games last year (12 starts) – spanning the Dominican Summer League, Gulf Coast League, Appalachian League, and finally the New York Penn League in Brooklyn. In other words, the then 20-year-old Montero did not pitch above short season A-ball.

So what got him on these lists? First, Montero has the beginnings of a nice three-pitch arsenal. His fastball sits around 91-92 and it can be cranked up to 94. Although the velocity on his fastball is not going to blow anyone away, it is his control of it that makes him impressively successful. To go along with that fastball, he has an advanced changeup. It is a nice pitch for him because he is able to induce weak contact with it. His third pitch is a slider that is a work in progress, but is improving and has a chance to be an average pitch in the majors.

Second, while Montero pitched at the lowest levels of the farm system last year, his stats were impressive. In 71 innings, he produced a 2.15 ERA with 66 Ks and only 13 BB. As you can see, his 1.6 BB/9 really stands out. The 8.4 K/9 is impressive, but perhaps not realistic to expect that from Montero in the majors, as he was an older player dominating younger kids in 2011. Still, there is no reason not to expect Montero to have solid K/9 rates as he advances.

These two things made the Mets start Montero out in the South Atlantic League this year, where he was actually more impressive than he was in the lower levels. He started 12 games for in the Sally League and in 71.3 innings he produced a 2.52 ERA with 8 BB and 54 Ks. That was not a typo – he only walked eight batters! The only concerning factor there is his 6.8 K/9. It is not exactly dominating, but with control that good he may not need an ultra-high strikeout rate to succeed.

With his 1.0 BB/9, Montero proved there was nothing that would challenge him in the Sally League. So after the loop’s All-Star game, Montero was rewarded with a promotion to the Hi-A Florida State League. In four starts and 25.1 innings for the St. Lucie Mets, Montero has a 2.49 ERA with 8 BB and 23 Ks. That includes his start last night in which he threw four no-hit innings in an impressive outing.

Four starts is such a small sample size, but it is all we have to work on so far. However, there are pros and cons immediately apparent. His strikeouts are up to almost the tune of an 8.2 K/9, but his walks are up as well. This is a concerns if Montero is to succeed due to his control. Fans should monitor his walk rate the rest of the season in the FSL. Montero is finally being challenged and there will be an adjustment period.

Montero does not have the pure stuff nor the brain of Greg Maddux (who does?) to be an ace when he finally reaches the Mets. However, if he can perfect that slider he has a good shot at being a strong middle-of-the-rotation starter. Can this Mets fan start dreaming of a future rotation of Wheeler, Harvey, Niese, and Montero? How is that for hype?