After taking a brief detour to select David Thompson in the fourth, the Mets returned to the high school ranks in round five, taking Thomas Szapucki, a talented, 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pound, left-handed pitcher from Palm Beach, Florida. Szapucki was a surprise for me—considering the Mets’ budget limitations and what is considered a fairly strong commitment to the University of Florida, I certainly did not expect the Mets to take him here. If he signs, the consideration will almost certainly be over-slot. Or maybe it’ll be easier than I think: the kid already identifies himself as a Mets pitcher on Twitter.
Szapucki’s best feature is his fastball, a pitch that will reach 95 miles-per-hour but more commonly sits in the 91-93 range. For a lefty, that is above average velocity, bordering on plus. But while the velocity might be just shy of plus, the pitch’s life elevates it over the threshold. Thanks in large part to his low three-quarters arm slot, his heater has excellent tailing action and some sink. All in all, I consider it one of the best prep fastballs in this draft. He does need to work on his command of the pitch, however. The pitch’s life makes it difficult for him to paint a corner with it, and he has some mechanical issues that might be complicating things further. Don’t get me wrong: he’s not wild, he just needs to figure out how to locate better. If he can fix the mechanical stuff, which we’ll detail below, then the rest should come in time.
Szapucki also throws a slider and an alleged changeup, though I don’t know if anyone has really seen the latter, so it’s more or less a total mystery. Pitchers with low arm slots often have difficulty with changeups, so it might take some work before it’s an average offering. The slider, on the other hand, is a very interesting pitch. He’s gotten some publicity for having the best spin rate on a breaking ball in the prep class, according to TrackMan data from last June. That’s a great thing: it means he’s throwing the pitch hard and getting the pitch to move, and the movement comes late. It’s more of a sweeping pitch than a pitch with a big vertical component, which is expected given that he throws almost sidearm, but it does limit its effectiveness somewhat. With more depth, it could be a plus pitch, but even if that never comes it should be above average in time.
The biggest knock on Szapucki right now is his arm action. It’s not good. There’s an awful lot of length to it, as he brings the pitch way down low after separating high, which does forcibly load the scapula to generate velocity. But it also stresses the shoulder and slows his tempo down such that the arm noticeably drags behind the rest of his body. This means that much of his forward momentum has already halted by the time he releases the ball, which means his arm is doing all the work. By shortening the arm action, he could theoretically get the same results with less work from his arm. It also might have a beneficial impact on his command, which might also benefit from a smoother landing during his stride.
The good news is that while there are mechanical deficiencies, there are also ways in which he can improve to meet his potential. Sometimes, you take kids who look perfect and the results aren’t there, and you more or less have to trust the kid to figure things out on their own. So in a way it’s nice to have something clear to try. Unfortunately, I’ve found that arm actions are very difficult to change, and you never know how a kid will take to coaching. Even if you do successfully alter it, it could have poor results--specifically reduced fastball velocity.
Because of the arm action, and the two-pitch arsenal, and the low arm angle which will give righties a good look at the ball leaving his hands, right now it’s easier to see Szapucki as a reliever than a starter. He reminds me a lot of Kodi Medeiros who went early in the first round last year with very similar stuff. Szapucki isn’t quite as good right now, but the ceiling is similar: a potential number two starter if everything (and I mean everything) works out, but a big league setup guy with closer potential is a much more likely scenario in my eyes. Of course, getting him to sign is the first step, and Szapucki is the sort of guy who could do very, very well pitching for a great program in college and earn himself a large payday in three years’ time.