Name: Ryley Gilliam
Weight: 170 lbs.
Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft, 5th Round (Clemson University)
7 G (0 GS), 10.2 IP, 3 R, 3 ER (2.53 ERA), 8 H, 2 BB, 16 K, 0 HBP, 0 BLK, 0 WP, .333 BABIP (High-A)
12 G (0 GS), 18.2 IP, 9 R, 9 ER (4.34 ERA), 15 H, 7 BB, 28 K, 1 HBP, 0 BLK, 1 WP, .350 BABIP (Double-A)
10 G (0 GS), 9.1 IP, 14 R, 14 ER (13.50 ERA), 19 H, 9 BB, 12 K, 0 HBP, 0 BLK, 1 WP, .516 BABIP (Triple-A)
Ryley Gilliam lettered four times while playing baseball at Kennesaw Mountain High School, but went undrafted, partially due to his size and partially because of his commitment to Clemson University. He attended Clemson and made their baseball team, pitching as a starter and reliever as a freshman. In his first year there, he was fairly unimpressive, posting a 6.10 ERA in 31.0 innings, allowing 26 hits, walking 18, and striking out 16. He pitched completely out of the bullpen as a sophomore and his numbers got dramatically better. In 35.0 innings, Gilliam posted a 2.57 ERA, allowing 29 hits, walking 14, and striking out 50, notching 4 saves in the process. By his junior year, the right-hander had a firm grasp of the Tigers’ closer position. In 2018, he proved to be one of the best closers in all of college baseball. Through 36.0 innings, he posted a 1.41 ERA, allowing 22 hits, walking 22, and striking out 54, notching 11 saves in the process. He was selected by the Mets in the 5th round in the 2018 MLB Draft and the two sides agreed to a $550,000 signing bonus. He was assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones for the remainder of the 2018 season and posted a 2.08 ERA in 17.0 innings there, allowing 11 hits, walking 13, and striking out 31. He began the 2019 season with the St. Lucie Mets, but by the time the season ended, was pitching with the Syracuse Mets. He was effective in High-A, was less effective in Double-A, and was shelled in limited innings in Triple-A. All in all, he posted a 6.05 ERA in 38.2 innings at all three levels, allowing 42 hits, walking 18, and striking out 56.
Gilliam is only 5’10”, leading to concerns about durability on a per appearance and entire season basis. He is athletic, but his delivery is violent and high-energy. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot, generating velocity from a compact, electric arm. The high-tempo delivery generates velocity, but it comes at the expense of command, as Gilliam often has trouble throwing strikes, though he generally is able to more often than not.
Throwing from a high-three-quarters arm slot, Gilliam’s fastball hovers in the low-to-mid 90s, sitting 91-94 MPH. It has some arm-side life to it owing to his arm slot, but because of his own size, the pitch does not have much plane to it. He has better command of the pitch out of the stretch than in the windup, as the abbreviated mechanics help cut down on ways he can become unbalanced and lose his release point.
Gilliam’s so-to secondary pitch is his curveball. It is an above-average, borderline plus pitch, sitting in the high-70s-to-low-80s with 12-6 break. The pitch has tight rotation and plenty of late break, eliciting plenty of swing-and-misses. He is confident with the pitch, and regularly doubles or even triples down on the pitch when he sees the need to, using it as a chase pitch to get batters fishing. A holdover from his days as a starter, his changeup is also an semi-effective pitch, as is the cutter that he began using in 2018, but he does not throw either pitch much, instead sticking with his fastball/curveball combination.
I was the high man on Gilliam last year, but after seeing him in Binghamton, I came away with mixed feelings. Ironically, when my list started taking form, not only did he appear more or less where he appeared last year when I was higher on him, but I was one of the high men on him on this year’s list yet again. I do believe that Gilliam has the tools to be an effective MLB reliever, maybe even a high-leverage one, but I think it’s going to be a very tight rope to walk without much margin for error- making him a perfect fit for the Mets’ 2020 bullpen.
A college reliever who dominated his way up the ladder until hitting Triple-A, 2019 didn’t provide a ton of information on Gilliam. His fastball/high-spin curveball arsenal dominated lesser competition, but his most likely point-of-failure was always going to come once he faced major-league caliber hitters. Expect Gilliam to get a major league shot in 2020, where his aesthetically pleasing arsenal will hopefully work as a setup man at the highest level.
Gilliam’s 2019 was filled with extreme highs that saw him pitch his way into two promotions and the periphery of the Mets’ active roster, and extreme lows that saw him get absolutely shelled in Triple-A. After managing his innings carefully coming off of a long college season in 2018, the Mets decided to push Gilliam to the Florida State League to start his first full professional season. He dominated across 10.2 innings out of the bullpen for the St. Lucie Mets, striking out an eye-popping 13.50 batters per nine innings, and posting a 2.53 ERA and 0.87 FIP before his promotion to Binghamton. He managed to maintain the elite strikeout rate across 18.2 innings pitched in the Eastern League, although his walk rate did rise by more than a batter and a half per nine innings after the promotion. With success in Double-A came chatter about a potential call-up later in the season, and Gilliam was promoted to Triple-A in the middle of June. His season began trending downward from there, as Gilliam posted an unsightly 13.50 ERA in 9.1 innings pitched for the Syracuse Mets, and while he still managed to strikeout out an excellent 11.57 batters per nine innings in Triple-A. With all of the runs came a huge spike in his walk rate, which ballooned to an extremely high 8.68 batters per nine innings during his time in Syracuse. It’s easy to see why a pitcher like Gilliam would have trouble in Triple-A, given the ball the International League uses and his particular vulnerability to the longball, and his underwhelming stuff. His fastball sits in the mid-nineties at max effort and lacks plain because of his small stature for a pitcher. The breaking ball is very good, and has been since his days closing games for Clemson, but he is going to have to learn to command the pitch well enough to lean on it heavily if he is going to end up as more than an up-and-down reliever that bounces back and forth between the majors and Triple-A. Regardless of what role he ends up filling once he gets there, Gilliam projects to be in the Mets general bullpen plans in 2020, and will probably earn big league service time at some point during the season when the Mets need a fresh arm to pitch in middle relief.
Gilliam hit his first professional bumps this season, both of which came at the higher levels of the Mets organization. He picked up where he left off in High-A, putting together seven strong appearances there before quickly getting promoted to Double-A. He did not dominate Double-A like he did the lower levels, but the real struggles came when he hit Triple-A. He had a 13.50 ERA in ten games at the highest level of the minors, which is, well, not what you want. The strikeouts where still there in Triple-A, but he walked an incredible 8.7 per nine, which just helped compound the struggles. The story is not yet written for Gilliam, but it calls into question his upside as he gets to face tougher and tougher competition.