The Mets made a number of low-risk, high-reward moves over the offseason to attempt, for the first time in recent memory, to build real organizational depth. Specifically, the team acquired a handful of starting pitchers who are likely to fall somewhere in the fifth through eighth starter role throughout the season, likely splitting time between Triple-A Syracuse and Queens. Among that group, Jordan Yamamoto hopes to stand out and establish himself, limiting his time Upstate.
Yamamoto came over in an early February trade with the Marlins, following an absolutely disastrous 2020 season. While Yamamoto’s 2019 rookie season wasn’t exactly deGrom-esque, he saw decent success, striking out more than a batter per inning and limiting hitters to a .191./.292/.355 line. While he walked over 4 batters per nine innings, the results were more or less there, and it was easy to dream on what he may become with a little more finesse.
In 2020, Yamamoto made three starts and never made it into the fifth inning for any of them. In 11.1 total innings, he gave up eight home runs, including four in a dreadful September relief appearance, which saw him tagged for 12 earned runs in 2.2 innings pitched. His barrels rate jumped from 5.9% to 21.3%, and his hard hit rate nearly climbed to 61.7%, a steep climb from 2019’s 39.4%.
While these are clearly not encouraging signs, the small sample size caveat must be invoked, as must the ‘2020 was a weird season’ clause. The trade was interesting on the Marlins side, as he still had a minor league option available. Stashing him in Triple-A to see what is left in the tank would’ve cost the Marlins nothing, but their shortsightedness is, hopefully, the Mets’ gain.
Yamamoto is not overpowering, with a low-90s fastball mixed in with a slider, cutter, curveball, and occasional change-ups and sinkers. His slider is his best secondary offering, with a 37.5% whiff rate and limiting batters to a .082 batting average on the pitch. But his lack of command has been an issue in the past, and without a high velocity fastball, command is all that is going to keep him in the game.
This spring, Yamamoto has impressed and, if Carlos Carrasco isn’t quite ready for Opening Day, Yamamoto has an excellent chance at cracking the rotation. Even if Carrasco is fine, Yamamoto has a chance at winning the fifth starter’s role, especially as his limited minor league options allow for less flexibility than with someone like David Peterson.