After David Peterson made his Grapefruit League debut in the beginning of spring training, manager Mickey Callaway stated that there was “definitely a chance” that the former first-round pick could have a role with the major league team at some point this season. At first glance, that may seem like an optimistic outlook for a minor league pitcher who has not pitched above High-A ball and who did not even perform particularly well at that level, as evidenced by his 4.33 ERA in 11 starts. While it wouldn’t be the most egregious instance of a prospect being rushed to the major leagues, one would think that 2020 may be a more realistic ETA for him.
Still, it is understandable why the Mets would be hoping that Peterson could be a factor for the major league team this season. A lot of ink has been spilled about the team’s relative lack of strong starting pitching depth right now, and that problem is exacerbated by the state of the team’s farm system. Because Justin Dunn got traded away and Franklyn Kilome went down to Tommy John surgery, there is now an absence of quality pitching prospects at the upper minor league levels in the organization. And it is often those upper-level prospects who can provide the most effective depth to a major league rotation; anybody who needs a reminder of that can look back to 2016, when the Mets survived a number of injuries to their starting pitchers thanks to the strong debuts of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Without the stability that those two provided to the starting rotation, the Mets probably don’t win the wild card that season. If the team finds themselves in a similar position late in the season where they desperately need a starting pitcher replacement, it would be nice to have a high-upside prospect to turn to, and it’s at least possible that Peterson could be that guy.
Peterson, who came in at number four on Amazin’ Avenue’s 2019 top prospect list, was drafted out of the University of Oregon with the 20th pick in the first round of the 2017 draft. The 6’6” left-handed starting pitcher’s first full season of professional play came last year, and it was something of a mixed bag. He started the season in the Class A South Atlantic League—a relatively conservative placement for a top college prospect—and pitched incredibly well, posting a 1.82 ERA, a 2.53 FIP, and 57 strikeouts in 59.1 innings over nine starts.
That performance earned him a promotion to St. Lucie, where things took a turn for the worse. He went through an absolutely brutal five-game stretch in which he gave up five or more runs in four of the five games, and his final numbers—a 4.33 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 68.2 innings over 13 starts—are not indicative of a pitcher who is ready to move onto the next level. However, his performance also correlated to a 2.98 FIP during that time, so there may have been some amount of bad luck involved in those uneven numbers. One must also take into consideration the way Peterson finished the season; in his final five starts, he rebounded to the tune of a 0.62 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 29 innings. Anybody who is looking for reasons to feel optimistic about his chances of reaching the major leagues in 2019 can point to the positive aspects of his 2018 season and hope that his incredibly bad stretch in St. Lucie is not predictive of future struggles.
His strong finish may make it more likely that the Mets will decide to start Peterson in Binghamton instead of having him repeat High-A, in which case he would perhaps be in a better position to be ready for the major leagues by the end of the year. One can envision a scenario where he starts the seaason in Double-A, moves to Triple-A in the middle of the season, and then gets the call to the big leagues sometime in August or September.
But a lot of this also depends on how aggressive Brodie Van Wagenen will be in handing out minor league promotions in general; the previous front office tended to be fairly conservative in that department, and it remains to be seen if this new one will follow in their footsteps or if they will more vigorously challenge their top prospects. Another element of that question is how willing Van Wagenen will be to promote prospects straight from Double A; if he is willing to do so, then it would also be possible for Peterson to start the season in St. Lucie, receive a relatively quick promotion to Binghamton, and then get promoted to the Mets straight from there after a couple months. So there are a few potential paths to Callaway’s proclamation proving itself to be true.
Of course, the biggest deciding factor in all of this will be Peterson himself. If he wants to be an option for the major league team in 2019, then he will have to force the issue by breaking out and reaching his potential this season. As a first-round pick out of college in his second full season of professional ball, he is in a position where it’s reasonable for the Mets to hope/expect him to take a step forward this year. If that step forward is large enough, then he should be able to move quickly through the remaining minor league levels and help the team at the end of the year as they are—ideally—making a push for the playoffs.
If he can perform well in that showcase, that would also pay dividends for the team’s plans moving forward, as they may well find themselves with two open spots in the rotation after 2019 with the impending free agencies of Zack Wheeler and Jason Vargas. If Peterson can prove himself capable of filling one of those two roles, then that would be one less thing the Mets would have to worry about next offseason.