Jacob deGrom is one of the better stories in the Mets player development system. Drafted in the ninth round in 2010, deGrom missed all of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but quickly made up for lost time, blitzing through all four full-season ball levels in 2012 and 2013 and putting himself on prospect radars. A late convert to pitching, he was a shortstop at Stetson University. He will make his professional debut against the Yankees tonight a month before his 26th birthday. Here is the lowdown.
What he does well right now
deGrom's bread-and-butter offering is a power sinker, and it's a good one. I've had him at 91-94 with the pitch, but he can dial it up higher, and it's a heavy offering with late drop. deGrom has used the pitch to post a 55% groundball rate in a league where fly balls are often trouble. He will also use a four-seam fastball that sits a tick faster and shows some late life up in the zone. He featured it more when I saw him in Double-A, but this year seems to be using it more sparingly as a chase pitch ahead in the count, or on occasion, to change the batter's eye level after a steady diet of sinkers. Infield defense is not exactly a 2014 Mets strong suit, but Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores should get plenty of reps in behind deGrom, for better or worse.
Like Rafael Montero, deGrom has a long professional track record of good control. His fastball command isn't on Montero's level (more on that down below), but he's not going to put a lot of guys on. He's posted above-average walk rates at every stop in the minors.
Let's talk about the breaking ball(s)
This doesn't fit neatly under either of the usual headings. I actually quite like deGrom's slider. It's inconsistent, but will flash solid-to-average with some sharp, late tilt to it. It's best as a chase pitch, but unlike Montero, deGrom can start his in the zone more consistently. Towards the end of the 2013 season, the Mets tried to switch deGrom over to a curveball, sort of. According to Mets pitching coordinator, Ron Romanick, they didn't really change his grip, just the arm action. I got a look at it on MiLB.tv towards the end of last season, and while this offering was more consistent than the slider, the break was quite short, and there wasn't enough velocity on the curve to make up for it.
This year, deGrom is throwing both, I think. It's possible the two breaking balls have begun to blend together some. If in fact he is using the same grip for both, that should almost be expected. I'm not generally opposed to starting pitchers using two separate breaking balls, but the slider is still the far superior offering, and I think deGrom might benefit from scrapping the 'curve' entirely.
What he doesn't do so well right now
Consistently locate the sinker
As mentioned, deGrom's fastball command is not as good as Montero's. He has more success spotting the sinker down in general, than to either side of the plate. Major league hitters, and even a lot of Triple-A hitters, can drop the barrel and drive pitches thigh-high and below if they get too much plate.
Fill me with a ton of confidence that he can go after MLB lefties
deGrom's change is a potentially average pitch, but it is very inconsistent. Neither breaking ball he shows is so good that he can consistently back-foot them to lefties, and the two-seamer is a dangerous pitch to come in with, as it can bleed into that down-and-in sweet spot. I may be overreacting, as deGrom has not shown much of a platoon split in his minor league career, but I am very curious to see how he approaches the Yankees' heavily left-handed line-up.
Another thing to keep an eye on
It's pretty awesome.
What to expect
The gap between Montero and deGrom as present-day pitching prospects isn't quite as large as their minor league statistical records might suggest. Montero is three years younger, and you'd expect him to have more room to improve than the soon-to-be-26-year-old deGrom, but as of May 15th, 2014, both should be able to have at least short-term success in the back of a major league rotation. deGrom's command isn't on the same level of Montero, and he might not be long for the rotation anyway, pending Dillon Gee's recovery from his lat issue, but I expect him to at least hold down the fort. If the change-up makes strides at the major league level, he could still stick as a fourth/fifth starter, but the sinker/slider repertoire should play up in the pen, and I believe that to be his long-term home. In the short term, as long as Murphy and Flores handle the stuff hit in their general vicinity, deGrom should miss enough bats and induce enough groundballs to stay out of too much trouble.