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Corey Oswalt’s path to the majors is more complicated in 2021

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Oswalt has taken quite the tumble down the totem pole.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Atlanta Braves Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Going into last season, the Mets had subpar pitching depth, to put it mildly. But in the offseason, they’ve made several additions through free agency and trades to bolster that depth. Now, a lot of the guys who were the next man up last year find themselves way down in the pecking order, with no guarantee that they will see substantial major league playing time, if any at all.

One of those pitchers is longtime Mets prospect Corey Oswalt. Last season, Oswalt pitched in four games for the Mets, with one of those appearances being a start. As recently as 2018, he made 12 starts for the Mets at the major league level. But this season, with the rotation strengthened and important depth pieces such as Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto in the fold, Corey Oswalt found himself designated for assignment and off the 40-man roster entirely. He is set to begin the year with Triple-A Syracuse.

Oswalt’s Mets journey began when he was drafted by the organization in the seventh round in 2012. He spent the next five seasons rising through the system, maintaining good-not-great numbers the whole way through. He started the 2018 season with the Las Vegas 51s, the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate at the time. But he was quickly called up to the major league team early in the season.

With various starting pitching injury issues and a rotation in flux, Oswalt found himself starting games with some regularity for the Mets during the 2018 season. Those appearances were less than impressive. In 64.2 innings, he had a 5.85 ERA and 5.70 FIP and was worth -0.3 fWAR. His 153 ERA- put him well below average as a pitcher, as the metric adjusts for league and ballpark, with 100 being league average.

In 2019, Oswalt spent the majority of his time in Triple-A, making only two appearances with the major league team and pitching only 6.2 innings. That brief time did not go well, as he had a 12.15 ERA and 6.36 FIP and was worth -0.1 fWAR. In Triple-A, he was much better, posting a 2.91 ERA and a 3.74 FIP in 86.2 innings pitched over the course of 16 starts. Oswalt’s ability to get major league starts was stymied by the fact that the Mets rotation was unusually healthy that year. Only eight starts that season were made by non-rotation starters, and those starts were by and large given Mets legends Walker Lockett and Wilmer Font.

Oswalt found his way into a few more games than last year, appearing in four games with the Mets and logging 13 innings. His numbers were much better than the previous season, with a 4.85 ERA, 5.19 FIP, and a career-best 0.0 fWAR. Obviously, it’s a small sample size, but he had a 114 ERA-, which is also the best he’s looked at the major league level. Hopefully, if he’s needed in a major league game this season, this is the direction he’s trending in.

The ZiPS projection system seems to believe this is the case. It has projected for a 4.90 ERA, a 5.05 FIP, and 0.4 fWAR in 93 innings of work. The bigger issue is he may not get the chance to prove himself this season. Assuming David Peterson gets the fifth slot in the rotation, the Mets would have Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Yamamoto, Sam McWilliams, and Sean Reid-Foley behind him, with Noah Syndergaard currently on track to return as early as sometime in June.

Oswalt is currently a non-roster invitee to spring training, and it’s possible that he could impress enough to break camp with the team. But given the roster movies that would have to occur, it seems much more likely that he will pitching in Syracuse. If he gets called up for any major league innings, maybe he’ll continue the slight improvement from last year’s small sample.