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The 11 best Mets minor league pitchers I saw this year: 11, Josh Hejka

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Counting down the best minor league pitchers I saw in 2018.

Josh Hejka
Steve Sypa

DISCLAIMER: This is a ranking of the best players that I saw during the 2019 season. I saw a wide cross-section of teams, attending Kingsport Mets, Brooklyn Cyclones, Columbia Fireflies, and Binghamton Rumble Ponies games, but I did not see the GCL Mets, St. Lucie Mets, or Syracuse Mets, nor did I attend every single game of the teams that I did see. As such, this is not a comprehensive Mets prospect list. If a player is not on the list, I either did not see him, or considered the listed players better.

Name: Josh Hejka

Team: Kingsport Mets/Brooklyn Cyclones

Position: RHP

Born: 5/20/97 (22)

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 175 lbs.

Bats/Throws: R/R

Acquired: 2019 Undrafted Free Agent

2019 Season: 22 G (0 GS), 20.1 IP, 17 H, 5 R, 3 ER (1.33 ERA), 5 BB, 24 K, 2 HBP, 0 BLK, 1 WP, .298 BABIP (Rookie/Short-A)

Date(s) Seen: September 1 (1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K)

The Man

Josh Hejka attended Divine Child High School in Dearborn, Michigan. While there, he helped lead the team to a district championship in his sophomore year, the conference semifinals in his junior year, and the finals in his senior year, winning All-City, All-District, All-Region, All-Academic and All-State honors in the latter two. He enrolled at Johns Hopkins University, studying computer science, after graduating. In 2016, his first year as Johns Hopkins Blue Jays, he appeared in a team-high 21 games, posting a 4.09 ERA in 22.0 innings, allowing 25 hits, walking 6, and striking out 22. He was even more successful in his sophomore year, posting a 2.04 ERA in 35.1 innings, allowing 30 hits, walking 8, and striking out 29. In 2018, he posted a 2.53 ERA in 32.0 innings, allowing 32 hits, walking 9, and striking out 27. He went undrafted in the 2018 MLB Draft and returned to Johns Hopkin in 2019 to finish up his degree. Setting the Johns Hopkins University record with 25 appearances, Hejka helped lead the Blue Jays to the Div III College World Series, posting a 2.91 ERA in 77.1 innings, allowing 75 hits, walking 8, and striking out 60. All in all, he posted a 2.81 ERA, the sixth lowest in program history. In addition, he set the school record with 15 saves.

He went undrafted for a second time, but was signed as a minor league free agent in late June, making him the first Johns Hopkins player to sign with a major league team since Andrew Pevsner, who was by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 16th round of the 2010 MLB Draft and spent two years in their system. Initially assigned to the Kingsport Mets, he spent about equal time with them and the Brooklyn Cyclones in two stints apiece, posting a 0.00 ERA in 8.1 innings in the Appalachian League and a 2.25 ERA in 12.0 innings in the New York-Penn League.

The Pitcher

Most notable about Hejka, and the primary reason for the success that he has had in his collegiate and professional career, are his pitching mechanics. He drops down as if he were a submarine pitcher, though his release point is much higher than submariners; from the angle his arm is to his body, he is throwing more sidearm than submarine. The unusual delivery and arm slot makes his pitchers harder for batters to pick up on and recognize.

His fastball sits 84-86 MPH, topping out at 88 MPH. The features a lot of arm side movement, and because of its high spin rate, has late downward action. He is able to command it to both sides of the plate. He pairs his fastball with a slider and changeup, the latter of which is the better pitch. It sits 72-75 MPH and features a lot of frisbee-like movement thanks to his arm slot. His changeup lags behind his slide in its development because, being a reliever for most of his career, it was never necessary. It sits 75-78 MPH and features late fade. He is able to consistently hit his spots with both pitches.

Hejka works fast and has experience pitching in high leverage situations. Because of how he was used at Johns Hopkins, he is durable and can pitch for multiple innings and in back-to-back nights. The right-hander is cognizant of his limits as a pitcher and has a high pitching IQ as a result. His lack of premium stuff has also prompted him to turn to analytics to improve the limited stuff that he does possess.

Looking to 2020

Hejka has very little high-end experience under his belt. He spent the majority of his collegiate career as a reliever throwing limited innings, and in addition, Johns Hopkins is a Div III NCAA school, meaning the level of competition is fairly low. His lack of high-end talent is actually a boon, as it prompted him to develop his atypical style of pitching, which can still be effective against better professional competition. The continued development of his changeup will be important, as it tunnels well with his fastball and slider thanks to his arm slot, and will give him a third weapon against hitter, especially left-handers. Though he ended his season in Brooklyn, I would not be surprised if he repeated there in 2020 given his level of talent and the limited innings he threw in 2019.