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The 11 best Mets minor league pitchers I saw this year: 4, Thomas Szapucki

Counting down the best minor league pitchers I saw in 2019.

Thomas Szapucki
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: Thomas Szapucki

Team: Columbia Fireflies/St. Lucie Mets/Binghamton Rumble Ponies

Position: LHP

Born: 9/12/96 (23)

Height: 6’2”

Weight: 180 lbs.

Bats/Throws: R/L

Acquired: 2015 MLB Draft, 5th Round

2019 Season: 21 G (18 GS), 60.2 IP, 49 H, 24 R, 18 ER (2.63 ERA), 26 BB, 72 K, 7 HBP, 0 BLK, 5 WP, .301 BABIP (Low-A/High-A/Double-A)

Date(s) Seen: June 11 (2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K)

The Man

Born in Toms River, New Jersey, Thomas Szapucki’s family relocated to Florida when he was entering middle school in order to give him the best chance possible at excelling in baseball that he possibly could. He eventually enrolled at William T. Dwyer High School, where he developed into one of the premier left-handed talents in the Palm Beach area. Thanks to a combination of stuff and polish uncommon for a high school senior and a commitment to the University of Florida, he dropped in the 2015 MLB Draft despite being considered by some a first-round talent. The Mets took a gamble and selected Thomas Szapucki with their fifth-round pick during the 2015 MLB Draft, but the two sides were able to quickly come to terms, as the southpaw saw the ability to become a professional a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He signed for $375,000, just $20,000 over slot value, and was assigned to the GCL Mets, where he made a handful of appearances. After reporting to spring training in 2016 with a much-improved attitude and work ethic, Szapucki became one of the Mets’ hottest minor league players. 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. For the season, Szapucki posting a 1.37 ERA in 52.0 combined innings, allowing 26 hits, walking 20, and striking out 86. A lower back injury ended his 2016 season prematurely, and a shoulder impingement delayed the start of his 2017 campaign, but when he finally got back on the field, it looked like he would continuing where he left. In 6 starts for the Columbia Fireflies, Szapucki posted a 2.79 ERA, allowing 24 hits, walking 10, and striking out 27. Out of nowhere, on July 6, the southpaw felt tightness in his pitching forearm and was removed from his start after recording just two outs. He was placed on the seven-day disabled list and wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery. After missing the entire 2018 season, the left-hander returned to the field on April 8, pitching an inning for the Columbia Fireflies. His pitch count and innings load was carefully managed for the entire year, but the southpaw ended up posting a 2.63 ERA in 61.2 innings thrown with the Columbia Fireflies, St. Lucie Mets, and Binghamton Rumble Ponies, allowing 49 hits, walking 26, and striking out 72.

The Pitcher

Szapucki throws from a low 3/4 arm slot with a long arm action, imparting movement and deception in his pitches. He is an athletic 6’2”, 180 pounds, and while he has yet to rack up innings due to the myriad of injuries, he has the frame to shoulder a considerable workload in the future. He can locate his pitches to all four quadrants, but generally pitches away rather than in.

Before his injury, his fastball ranged from 90-97, generally sitting 93-94 MPH with plenty of tailing and sinking movement thanks to his low 3/4, almost sidearm delivery. The pitch was a bit rusty when he first returned to the field, sitting in the high-80s and barely scraping 90 MPH, but by the time the season ended arrived, he was sitting 91-93 MPH, touching 94 MPH. Only time will tell whether or not he will be able to touch the 96, 97 MPH that he used to be able to top out at.

In addition to his fastball, the southpaw also throws a curveball and changeup. His curveball, which featured one of the best spin-rates of the entire 2015 MLB Draft class, sits in the high-70s and features big, sweepy break. Throughout the 2019 season, he was guiding the pitch more often than not, but the curveball sometimes takes time to return after Tommy John surgery, and as such, more time is needed for the pitch to fully return. His changeup, which sits in the mid-80s, was relatively recently developed, and as such, still lags far behind as a third pitch. It was an effective weapon against right-handed hitters in the past, but like his curveball, was rusty varied in effectiveness throughout the season.

Looking to 2020

Because of his age and the fact that his UCL tore at an inopportune time, the southpaw lost a lot of critical developmental time. Already 23-years-this season and turning 24 next June, he only has 145.0 professional innings under his belt and two pitches. It may be in both Szapucki and the Mets’ best interest to fast track his development by converting him into a reliever. Likely to be assigned to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies to start the season, Szapucki will have to be added to the Mets’ 40-man roster in order to protect him in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, and as such could conceivably throw major league innings at some point.

The List

5: Ryley Gilliam

6: Mickey Jannis

7: Bryce Hutchinson

8: Garrison Bryant

9: Tylor Megill

10: Nick MacDonald

11: Josh Hejka