One of the small joys about the 162-game baseball season is that you’ll almost certainly see someone you know nothing about play for your team, even when you’re paying very close attention and your team wins over 100 games. Bryce Montes de Oca was, quite understandably, that player for a lot of Mets fans last year.
Drafted in the ninth round back in 2018, Montes de Oca didn’t make any professional appearances in the organization until 2021—partly because of multiple surgeries and partly because the minor league season didn’t happen in 2020 because of the pandemic. And even in that debut year as a professional, he racked up a 4.50 ERA with a somewhat staggering 47 strikeouts and 27 walks in 34.0 innings in High-A and Double-A ball.
Last year, however, Montes de Oca put up a 3.12 ERA in 17.1 innings in Binghamton and a 3.44 ERA in 34.0 innings in Triple-A Syracuse. His strikeout and walk rates both remained high, but those results earned him a cup of coffee with the big league club. He only made three appearances for a total of three-and-one-third innings of work and got roughed up to the tune of a 10.80 ERA in that tiny sample. But considering he began the year with absolutely no prospect hype, getting major league innings was a significant accomplishment.
While the Mets invested heavily in their bullpen over the offseason, the team has emphasized its desire to have multiple relievers with options in the mix for the final spots in its major league bullpen. And coming into spring training, Montes de Oca was one of several intriguing pitchers who fit that description. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it to the end of spring training healthy, as he has a stress reaction in his right elbow and was shut down from throwing.
There’s no specific timetable for his return yet, but assuming he is able to make it back to the mound sometime this year, Montes de Oca will likely pitch in the minors both to build back up to being game-ready and to be on standby should the Mets need a fresh arm at some point during the season. Projection systems should not be taken too seriously for a pitcher whose body of major league work is so thin, but for what it’s worth, every major projection on FanGraphs sees Montes de Oca as a pitcher who will land in the mid-to-high threes in ERA this year.
There are quite a few other pitchers who will have a shot at those innings, too, and it’s entirely possible that the Mets find their top dozen or so arms are better than Montes de Oca. But pitchers get hurt, and opportunities arise, even on very, very good teams.