3. Thomas Szapucki, LHP
Height: 6’2” Weight: 205 lbs.
DOB: 6/12/1996 (20)
Acquired: 5th round, 2015 Draft (William T. Dwyer High School, Florida)
2016: Kingsport (Rookie): 5 G (5 GS), 29.0 IP, 16 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 9 BB, 47 K / Brooklyn (Short-A): 4 G (4 GS), 23.0 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 11 BB, 39 K
The Thomas Szapucki who reported to camp in 2016 was a very different young man from the person that the Mets drafted a few months earlier. Szapucki, who coaches around the system found a little immature and lacking in work ethic, came to camp all business, humble, and ready to work. From the moment he first toed the rubber for the Kingsport Mets to his last inning with the Brooklyn Cyclones, those gains were on full display. The southpaw carved through the Appalachian League with little difficulty and handled the New York-Penn League with equal ease when promoted to the Brooklyn almost a month later.
Key to his success in 2016 was his fastball, a pitch that sat 92-95, topping out at 97 MPH—with plus movement. Plus velocity and movement from the left-side is difficult enough for Rookie and Short-A players, but Szapucki’s low 3/4, almost sidearm delivery made the pitch especially difficult to pick up on. He complements his fastball with a sweeping curveball that sits 76-81 MPH and a changeup that sits 81-84. His curveball famously was one of the best in the 2015 high school draft class, possessing the highest average spin rate among all prep players, according to TrackMan data. The pitch is still coming along, but it flashes plus. Coming into the season, his changeup was fringy and not thrown all that much, but after working with minor league pitching coordinator Ron Romanick, Szapucki changed the grip he used and turned the pitch into an effective one against right-hand hitters.
As good as he was in 2016, the left-hander is still 20 years old and has all of 54.1 short-season innings under his belt, meaning there is still a lot he has to work on. He does not pitch inside very much, preferring to mostly pitch down and away to both left-handers and right-handers. His pitches lose their crispness out of the stretch and as he goes deeper into games. He looks visibly uncomfortable fielding his position. A lower back issue ended his season prematurely, and the long arm action in his delivery that causes it to drag behind his body raises injury concerns, but as long as Szapucki is able to stay on the mound and get his work in, the southpaw has the potential to be a special player.
Szapuck features a mid-90s fastball from the left side, a curveball that flashes plus, and a changeup that has average potential. Take those ingredients, sprinkle in a dash of Warthen, and you have a top-of-the-rotation starter. At least that’s how it’s gone over the past several years. Szapucki has the potential to be a number two starter provided he stays healthy and develops some consistency in his secondaries.
I’m trying to contain my excitement for Sazpucki. That’s tough to do when he’s striking out two out of every five batters he faces. The secondaries still need improvement, and Szapucki has yet to even approach 100 innings in a season. All the ingredients are there for a front-line, power-lefty starter, but there’s a still a long way to go.
While I liked the higher selections of Desmond Lindsay, David Thompson, and Max Wotell in 2015, I have a bias towards left-handed pitchers and liked the Szapucki pick the most among the Mets’ early picks. One year later, the southpaw has been better than anyone could have expected. In years past, I might’ve felt strange ranking a guy so low in the system with so few innings so high on the list, but there’s so much projection in Szapucki. Combined with how well he did over the course of the season, it’s hard to justify ranking him any lower.