Pitcher of the Week
2018 Season: 7 G (6 GS), 40.2 IP, 30 H, 15 R, 10 ER (2.21 ERA), 14 BB, 44 K
Week: 1 G (1 GS), 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K
In his first start of the 2018 season, Joe Cavallaro set a professional high with eight strikeouts. Six starts later, he set a new career high, striking out nine batters. The 22-year-old right-hander has been striking players out in bunches over the first two months of the season. With 44 strikeouts, he is averaging 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings. This comes as something of a surprise, as he was used primarily as a starter in his freshman and sophomore years at the University of South Florida and wasn’t exactly overpowering.
The biggest knock on the 22-year-old is his fastball velocity. It sits in the mid-to-high 80s to low 90s, about 86-91 MPH. What makes Cavallaro effective is that he throws sidearm, with plenty of rotational torque in his whippy motion. His arm slot and his leg kick really hide the ball, making it extremely hard for batters to pick up on. Sliders work well with arm slots like that, and Cavallaro throws a particularly good one. It sits in the low-80s with sharp break, though he sometimes gets too under the pitch and it gets too sweepy. He also throws a changeup that sits in the low-80s. The slider is his primary weapon against right-handed batters, while the changeup is his primary weapon to left-handed batters.
It is highly unlikely that Cavallaro keeps up this run of success for the rest of his professional career, but the right-hander does look like he might have major league upside. With his delivery and slider, Cavallaro might have a future in a major league bullpen as a right-handed specialist, as his fastball and slider combination is tough on right-handers
Hitter of the Week
2018 Season: 35 G, 137 AB, .328/.403/.715, 45 H, 11 2B, 3 3B, 12 HR, 31 RBI, 13 BB, 16 K, 1/1 SB
Week: 7 G, 33 AB, .455/.455/1.030, 15 H, 2 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 0 BB, 2 K, 0/0 SB
This is the second time that McNeil has been Hitter of the Week, the second time that there has been a repeat performer but the first time that there has been a repeat performer hitter.
When McNeil was hitter of the week two weeks ago, McNeil was hitting a pretty robust .284/.384/.662. with 6 home runs, 9 walks, and 10 strikeouts. At the time, I said that McNeil needed to start separating himself from the pack of middle infielders in the upper minors if he wanted to earn himself a shot at getting playing time at the MLB level. In the two weeks since then, he has done just that, hitting a tremendous .381/.426/.778, hitting for the first cycle in Binghamton Rumble Ponies history, and being named Eastern League Player of the Week.
The Mets’ current 40-man roster includes the following players that can play middle infield: Asdrubal Cabrera, Gavin Cecchini, Phil Evans, Wilmer Flores, Luis Guillorme, Jose Reyes, T.J. Rivera, and Amed Rosario. Cabrera, Flores and Rosario are all important cogs to the major league club and are not going anywhere barring injury or an unforeseen trade. Rivera is on the 60-day DL recovering from Tommy John surgery that he underwent last September, meaning that he won’t be able to get back on the field until the end of the season, if at all. That leaves Cecchini, Evans, Guillorme, and Reyes as the players that McNeil would be competing with for playing time and a spot on the 40-man roster.
Is McNeil more valuable to the Mets than Cecchini? The organization seems to be down on Cecchini, but at the same time, there has not been too much buzz around McNeil, even taking into account his torrid start to the season. After adjusting his swing in 2016 and hitting a solid .325/.390/.448 with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s, Cecchini had a down year in 2017, hitting only .267/.329/.380. After reviewing video over the winter, he began eliminating the bad habits that he developed and retooled his swing to more closely resemble his swing from 2016. The season is young, but the 24-year-old is hitting .294/.342/.468 through 30 games. Given his defensive limitations, it is imperative for the 2012 first-round draft pick to continue hitting. Given the fact that McNeil is hitting for average, like Cecchini, and for power, it would seem that he is more valuable at the present.
Is McNeil more valuable to the Mets than Evans? Coming off three seasons in 2013, 2014, and 2015 in which he hit .250 or below, shortstop Phil Evans has bounced back in a major way in 2016, hitting .335/.374/.485 and winning the Eastern League batting title. In 2017, he hit .279/.341/.418 with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s and .303/.395/.364 in limited at-bats at the major league level. The numbers were not an illusion, as Evans began spraying the ball all over the field and exhibiting power on his pull side. McNeil and Evans profile very similarly, as they both have been hitting for average, can hit for power, are older prospects, and have similar defensive profiles.
Is McNeil more valuable to the Mets than Guillorme? The Venezuelan shortstop made his debut as a pinch runner on May 11, but got his first at-bat a few days later, logging his very first major league hit. A few days later, he logged his second hit. And then his third. And then his fourth. While it’s a short sample size in an extremely limited number of at-bats, Guillorme is not missing a beat with the bat after starting out the season hitting a cool .300 with the Las Vegas 51s. Hit hits aren’t coming off of nobodies, either. His three singles came off of J.A. Happ, Deck McGuire, and Aaron Nola, and his double came off of Archie Bradley. Guillorme isn’t going to continue hitting .400, but he is showing that he can hang with major leaguers. Given how superlative his defense is, that is all the 23-year-old needs to do.
Is McNeil more valuable to the Mets than Reyes? As of Monday the 21st, Reyes is hitting. I was excited when Reyes returned to the team, and for parts of the 2016 and 2017 seasons, it looked like the former batting champ had found his old mojo, but through 53 at-bats, he looks toast. He was re-signed this past winter partially after Amed Rosario lobbied for his return, citing their friendship and his view that the elder statesman is something of a mentor to the youngster. At what point does the ambiguous value of mentoring a younger player get washed away by the fact that the player is not producing positive value on the field?