Name: Thomas Szapucki
Weight: 180 lbs.
Acquired: 2015 MLB Draft, 5th Round (William T. Dwyer High School)
- 11 G (8 GS), 21.2 IP, 14 H, 7 R, 5 ER (2.08), 10 BB, 26 K, 1 HBP, 0 BLK, 1 WP, BABIP (Low-A)
- 9 G (9 GS), 36.0 IP, 33 H, 16 R, 13 ER (3.25 ERA), 15 BB, 42 K, 4 HBP, 0 BLK, 4 WP (High-A)
- 1 G (1 GS), 4.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER (0.00 ERA), 1 BB, 4 K, 2 HBP, 0 BLK, 0 WP, (Double-A)
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.
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, regularly touching 94 MPH, and reportedly occasionally touching 95 MPH.
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 curveballs sometimes take time to return to form after Tommy John surgery, and as such, more time is needed to see if Szapucki’s is going to return to pre-surgery levels. 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.
On the heels of Marcos Molina losing his dynamic stuff thanks to Tommy John surgery, hearing the early reports of Thomas Szapucki sitting in the high-80s, barely topping out at 90 MPH was extremely worrisome. By the end of the year, the fastball was a much more solid low-to-mid-90s, but the secondaries were still a shadow of their former selves, with no one knowing to what degree they’d return. There’s still a lot of risk in Szapucki, and the upside that he flashed when he first broke out is almost undoubtedly gone, but odds are, the southpaw has enough left in the tank to make it to the majors in some capacity.
I never get off the Thomas Szapucki hype train after the absurd numbers he posted in 2015 and 2016, and that train seems to be chugging along again now. He missed most of two seasons recovering from Tommy John and definitely wasn’t right for at least part of 2019, but Szapucki got back on the mound and was at least a reasonable approximation of his former self. The fastball wasn’t as explosive, the breaker not as sharp, but the strikeouts were still there in droves. Already 23 and with obvious durability concerns, I’d like to see the Mets move Szapucki to the bullpen full time and develop him in a similar manner to the recently traded Blake Taylor; multi-inning relief outings where the value of his two-pitch arsenal and limited stamina can be maximized. If that’s the way the Mets choose to go, I expect Szapucki to move quickly through the upper levels of the minors and get a chance in the major league bullpen in the upcoming season.
Statistically 2019 was a successful return season for Szapucki, who pitched his way across three levels and managed to stay mostly healthy despite a few trips to the disabled list peppered throughout the season. While it initially looked like the stuff had diminished a bit when he first appeared with Columbia, the velocity and stuff improved as he continued to work his way back and got more innings under his belt. It still may not have made it all the way back to where it was pre-surgery, but Szapucki did manage to throw a career high 61.2 innings, and, as we said about Anthony Kay heading into last season, just making it back onto the field after nearly two years missed to injury made 2019 an automatic success for the left-hander. Given the injury history, and the fact that he turns 24 next season and has only made one start above Single-A, it may be time to think about converting Szapucki into a reliever, which could allow him to make an impact on the big league team sooner rather than later.
Szapucki is at this spot on the list for two reasons – his upside and the lack of talent in the system. He has shown flashes of huge promise, but injuries have not been kind to him. He has a grand total of 145 innings pitched in his career, and he was drafted in 2015. Due to the Tommy John Surgery and subsequent recovery, he simply has not been on the field. He has always performed when he has pitched, even this year – he had a solid 2.63 ERA across High-A, Single-A, and Double-A in 2019. His stuff, however, did not look the same as it did, as his fastball did not reach the velocity it used to, and his change is still behind his other pitches. While the door is not closed on him, time is beginning to not be on his side. He may end up a reliever due to the injuries, but he’s more of an unknown more than anything as we sit here this winter.