With yesterday's injury to Jerry Blevins, the Mets are calling up Hansel Robles from Triple-A Las Vegas. As he hasn't been featured on many prospect lists, Mets fans may not be terribly familiar with Robles and what he brings to the big league bullpen. Allow us to bring you up to speed.
The New York Mets signed Hansel Robles as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in August 2008, a member of a talented group of international signings that the Mets made that year that included, among others, Luis Cessa, Miller Diaz, Eudy Pina, and Aderlin Rodriguez. The right-hander pitched in the Dominican Summer League in 2009 and 2010, posting a 3.01 ERA in 125.2 innings with solid peripherals (2.1 BB/9, 7.9 K/9). He made his United States debut in 2011, pitching 37 innings with the Kingsport Mets to positive results (2.68 ERA, 3.9 BB/9, 10.2 K/9).
It was in 2012 that Robles began getting noticed by fans and scouts alike. Along with Gabriel Ynoa, Luis Mateo, Luis Cessa, and Rainy Lara (and to a lesser degree Julian Hilario), the Brooklyn Cyclones' starting rotation absolutely dominated the New York-Penn League. The team led the league in ERA (2.62) and was second in walks (158) and strikeouts (650). Robles, specifically, led the league with a microscopic 1.11 ERA, tied teammate Luis Mateo for the league lead in FIP (2.09), was third among starting pitchers in hits allowed per nine innings (5.8 H/9), and was fifth in strikeouts (66), walks allowed (10), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.6) by a starting pitcher.
Robles was not a complete product of his environment, MCU Park, which is generally favorable to pitchers. His numbers took a hit in 2013 when he was promoted to the High-A St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League, but were still solid enough: 3.72 ERA in 84.2 innings with solid peripherals (3.1 BB/9, 7.0 K/9). Robles faced his first real adversity in 2014, when he pitched with the Double-A Binghamton Mets of the Eastern League. He began the season as a starter, but a combination of subpar results (4.97 ERA in 87 innings with batters hitting .277/.349/.464 off of him) and the introduction of other talented pitchers into the Binghamton pitching picture (most notably Steven Matz and Gabriel Ynoa) led to him being shifted to the bullpen in mid-July. Robles's season turned around from that point on, and he posted a 1.90 ERA in 23.2 innings with batters hitting .169/.260/.217 off of him.
In his limited time this season, it appears that the positive developments he made in the second half of the 2014 season are for real. In 7.2 innings pitched in five appearances with the Las Vegas 51s, the right-hander did not allow a run, giving up six hits, walking one, and striking out ten.
Throughout his career, a few red flags have been raised regarding his mechanics. Robles throws from a low three-quarters arm slot and generated most of his velocity by using a quick arm motion with little follow though, resulting in a very visible "arm recoil" that possibly put strain on his shoulder, making him susceptible to injury. During his stride, he landed on his front foot violently, and had difficulty landing in the same spot, altering his release point and lengthening/shortening his arm action, having a negative impact on his command.
He has since refined his mechanics somewhat, though they are still far from perfect. Robles lessened the violence in his arm action, resulting in less "arm recoil" (though it is still visible and still high effort) and lands less stiffly on his leg and has cleaned up just where exactly he is landing, extending his stride.
Robles isn't a particularly big guy, standing 5'11" and weighing roughly 200 pounds, but he has a good fastball for a pitcher his size and stature. Earlier in his career, as a starter, it sat in the low 90s, touching 93-95 MPH at times. Since moving into his current role as a reliever and adjusting his mechanics slightly, his fastball sits in the mid-90s and has been reported as high as 98 MPH.
In addition to speed, his fastball has life, running arm-side to hitters thanks to the angle at which he throws. He has no major problems commanding the pitch, throwing it for strikes or out of the zone at will, and it is an average to above-average offering so long as he is able to maintain the newly found velocity.
Complementing the fastball, Robles primarily throws a slider and a changeup. The slider is generally thrown in the mid-80s, but because of his arm angle it lacks much downward break, behaving more like a cutter than a slider. When he is able to command the pitch and get tilt on it, it can be a weapon, but when he isn't, it is a fringy offering at the MLB level. His changeup is a more effective pitch. It sits in the low-to-mid 80s, giving it a 10-15 MPH speed differential from his fastball. It has good arm action and fade, and Robles is confident enough with the pitch to throw it anywhere in the count, and to double up with it when called. Of the two, the change is his better pitch.
All in all, Hansel Robles should be a solid fit in the Mets' bullpen. His lack of a real, bona fide above-average secondary pitch would seem to prevent him from being a go-to pitcher in high-leverage situations, but if nothing else, Hansel is so hot right now, and could possibly leverage that into a more important role in the bullpen if he is able to consistently get results