The 2020 season was supposed to be an important one for Thomas Szapucki. Having undergone Tommy John surgery in July 2017, the left-handed Mets pitching prospect returned to the mound in 2019 and showed the obvious signs of rustiness that generally come with such a prolonged absence from the mound. His durability didn’t seem all there. His fastball took time to get its velocity back, and even then, he did not recover it fully. His secondary pitches were not as sharp and crisp as they had been prior to going under the knife.
Another year removed from the surgery and reacclimated to the mound, the 2020 season was going to be a big test for the southpaw, a chance to show us the kind of pitcher he was going to be post-surgery and fully recovered. Instead, the 2020 season never happened, and the same questions remain.
Prior to his injury, Szapucki was an exciting prospect, peaking as high as number three on our 2017 Mets Top 25 Prospects list. His fastball sat 90-97, generally sitting 93-94 MPH with plenty of tailing and sinking movement thanks to his low 3/4, almost sidearm delivery. Complementing the fastball was a plus curveball with big, sweepy break and a newly developed changeup that was turning into an effective weapon against right-handers. Back on the mound in 2019, the fastball took some time to return to its pre-Tommy John band, backing up into the high-80s early on but eventually settling into the low-to-mid-90s in the summer. The curveball and the changeup never regained their crispness, guiding the former more often than not and barely throwing the latter.
While this is far from uncommon in pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery, as the same happened with former top prospect Anthony Kay, a 2020 would’ve given us a clearer picture as to the kind of pitcher Szapucki was going to be going forward. Compounding matters, scouts and evaluators came away unimpressed by the southpaw during his time on the mound at the alternate training site at Coney Island during 2020 and then during Fall instructs. The same questions from last Spring remain, except he is now 24-turning-25 in June instead of 23-turning-24.
With the Mets having gone on a trading and spending spree this winter, the team has built enough pitching depth to all but guarantee that Szapucki does not get major league starts in 2021 barring a crippling amount of injuries to the pitchers in front of him on the depth chart or an unforeseen dominance that forces the Mets to respond to his brilliance. Alternatively, given his advanced age, limited innings, and lack of a refined third pitch, a transition to the bullpen remains a possibility. Regardless of where and how he pitches, the 2021 season will be extremely important to Thomas Szapucki’s future.