17. Stephen Villines, RHP
Height: 6’2”, Weight: 175 lbs.
DOB: 7/15/95 (23)
Acquired: 10th round, 2017 Draft (University of Kansas)
24 G (0 GS), 33.1 IP, 33 H, 21 R, 18 ER (4.86 ERA), 5 BB, 54 K, .425 BABIP (Low-A)
16 G (0 GS), 22.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER (0.41 ERA), 6 BB, 25 K, .152 BABIP (High-A)
7 G (0 GS), 11.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER (3.18 ERA), 2 BB, 17 K, .227 BABIP (Double-A)
Stephen Villines was a four-year letter-winner for the El Toro Bulls, his high school team, but he generated very little buzz. With no MLB clubs calling, and no Division I NCAA colleges showing any interest in the high school reliever, he all but finalized arrangements to enroll at Saddleback Community College. A friend of a friend happened to know Coach Price of the University of Kansas, and put the two in contact. Price liked what he saw of Villines, and offered him a baseball scholarship to attend. Villines agreed, and the right-hander went on to attend the University of Kansas instead. In his first season in a Jawhawk uniform, the freshman was immediately thrust into a position of importance. Villines was given the closer role when injuries forced Coach Price to juggle his pitching staff around, and the right-hander took the bull by the horns, saving eight games and ending the season with a 1.50 ERA in 48.0 innings, the sixth best single-season ERA in the history of the baseball program at the University of Kansas. He would pitch there for three more years, going undrafted in his junior year in 2017, and ended up posting cumulative 2.45 ERA in 194.1 innings, allowing 179 hits, walking 40, and striking out 180. His 40 saves set a new all-time saves record at the University of Kansas, and were just one shy of the Big-12 conference record of 41 set by Huston Street. The Mets drafted Villines in the 10th round of the 2017 MLB Draft and signed him for $10,000, well below the $132,300 slot value.
The right-hander began his professional career with the Kingsport Mets but was quickly promoted to the Brooklyn Cyclones after a handful of games. Villines was utterly dominant in Brooklyn, posting a 1.89 ERA in 19.0 innings, allowing 13 hits, walking 1, and striking out 30. He began the 2018 season with the Columbia Fireflies, but by the end of the year was knocking on the door of the major leagues, pitching for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. For the year, he posted a 3.11 ERA in 66.2 innings, allowing 46 hits, walking 13, and striking out 96.
The lanky right-hander throws from a distinct low slot, lower than traditional sidearmers but higher than traditional submariners. The unconventional angle makes it difficult for hitters to pick up on the ball. His fastball velocity is well below average for a right-hander, sitting in the mid-to-upper 80s, but it gets significant arm side run thanks to his arm slot. His slider, which sits in the low-to-mid-70s, has sharp bite, and his change-up fades down and in to right-handed hitters. All three of his pitches elicit plenty of swings and misses and cause poor contact, resulting in weak ground balls. Despite the unconventional mechanics, Villines is able to throw all of his pitches with almost pinpoint control; in 94.0 professional innings, he has walked 14 batters.
Steve Sypa says:
Stephen Villines continues to excel when he shouldn’t, pitching his way up to Double-A while continuing to post the sterling numbers that made him a Mets prospect last season. The Mets clearly did their due diligence, because a guy that should’ve been a throw away pick in the 10th round to save money has become one of their best minor league reliever prospects. The MLB is a very different beast from the minors, but there have been plenty of weird-angle side-armers to have succeeded at the top, and hopefully Villines’ name will be right there with them.
Lukas Vlahos says:
Yeah, I ranked Villines in the top-10, and I don’t regret it. Fight me. Simply put, Villines’s results were ridiculous last season. The lowest strikeout rate he posted (10.23 K/9) was in St. Lucie where he ran a 0.41 ERA. No, that’s not a typo. That was sandwiched between 14.58 K/9 at Columbia and a 13.5 K/9 at Binghamton. It’s a very unusual profile, with a mid-to-upper 80s fastball that dominates thanks to his odd arm slot. The only reason he didn’t get an extended major league look last season is the Mets’ laughably slow development track for college draft picks- this will become a theme. While this ranking is objectively insane, I’m irrationally convinced Villines will be a stud reliever in the Chad Bradford model and am excited to see him reach the majors in 2019.
Kenneth Lavin says:
Stephen Villines is an odd pitcher. He struck out more than 30% of the hitters he’s faced at every stop he’s made in the minors so far and has done a remarkable job limiting walks. He’s done all of this with a well-below average fastball that sits in the mid-80s, a slider with sharp movement that sits in the mid-70s, and a change-up with decent fade. While his velocity is well-below average, his whole arsenal plays up due to his low arm slot and deceptive mechanics.