Week: 6 G, 19 AB, .579/.636/.737, 11 H, 3 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 2 BB, 1 K, 1/1 SB (Double-A)
2023 Season: 36 G, 135 AB, .304/.365/.437, 41 H, 10 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 10 BB, 26 K, 2/2 SB, .364 BABIP (Double-A)
A four-year letter winner in baseball and two-year letter winner in basketball at Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach, California, JT (Jason Thomas) Schwartz hit a cumulative .326/.455/.573 and was considered a high priority follow by scouts and evaluators. Had he signaled he might be willing to sign, he would have likely been drafted by a professional team, on the power of junior and senior seasons that saw him hit .459/.520/.729 and .326/.458/.697 respectively, but Schwartz had a strong commitment to the University of California, Los Angeles and was determined to attend, prompting him to go undrafted in the 2018 MLB Draft.
Schwartz redshirted in his first year at UCLA, unable to crack the Bruins roster, but made up for that by playing in the West Coast League prior to his freshman year and in the Northwoods League after it. He made the team in 2020 and was afforded playing time by coach John Savage, helping the team go 13-2 by hitting .328/.380/.391 while getting the bulk of the Bruins’ playing time at first base, but the coronavirus pandemic cut the season short. Schwartz returned in 2021 and played in 44 of UCLA’s 57 games, missing some time due to a shoulder injury. The injury did not have an impact on his production on the field, as the first baseman hit .396/.514/.628 with 8 home runs, 1 stolen base, and 37 walks to 28 strikeouts. He led the team in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, and his batting average led the Pac-12, the first time UCLA had a batting champion since 2001, when outfielder Brian Baron hit .443.
With their 4th round selection in the 2021 MLB Draft, the Mets selected Schwartz. He agreed to a $475,000 signing bonus, saving the Mets roughly $50,000, as the MLB-assigned slot value for the 111th overall pick in 2021 was $522,600. He made his professional debut with the St. Lucie Mets later that summer, but his career began in earnest in 2022. Assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones, Schwartz appeared in 110 games, second most on the team, and hit .273/.356/.400 with 6 home runs, 3 stolen bases, and 46 walks to 89 strikeouts, good for a 109 wRC+. He was promoted to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies earlier this season and began the year as their primary first baseman, occasionally getting time in left field and right field, but had his season come to a sudden halt due to an injury in mid-May.
After missing roughly two months, he began rehab assignments with the FCL and St. Lucie Mets in mid-July, he returned to Binghamton at the end of the month. Since returning, Schwartz is hitting .516/.571/.645 with four consecutive three-hit games (one of which was a 4-4 night) between July 30 and August 3. With 41 total hits on the season, he has accumulated nearly 40% of his hits on the entire season in the last week-plus.
The 6’4”, 215-pound first baseman looks like a slugger but his in-game strategy is more oriented towards making contact and putting the ball in play. When he was drafted, the Mets had him make alterations to his swing mechanics to unlock some additional in-game power. Initially, he stood tall at the plate with a slightly open stance, leaning the barrel of the bat on his shoulder reminiscent of Braves first baseman Matt Olsen. The Mets had the first baseman alter his mechanics to have a larger load and quieter hands, in an attempt to make his bat quicker and his swing more compact and efficient. His left-handed stroke is direct to the ball, and while he has struggled against elite velocity as a professional, he still makes a great deal of contact with breaking balls.
He uses the entire field, pulling the ball a bit more this season as opposed to going back up the middle and going to the opposite field, but in his professional career, he uses all three almost equally, with a 35.8%/24.8/35.0% spray chart between his time in Brooklyn and his time in Binghamton. The majority of his home run power is to his pull side, while he is able to spray line drives for extra bases all over the field.
Prior to the 2023 season, Schwartz was strictly a first baseman, hip and knee problems earlier in his life limiting him to the position. At first, he will make all of the routine plays and occasionally more, but still shows below-average mobility and his footwork around the bag and ability to pick the ball are still developing. This season, he began adding left field to his repertoire in order to get more playing time, but his actions and movements out there are wooden and taxed, with below-average range, a below-average arm, and very rudimentary reads off the bat and routes to the ball.
Week: 1 G (1 GS), 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K (Double-A)
2023 Season: 14 G (14 GS), 75.2 IP, 56 H, 14 R, 13 ER (1.55 ERA), 23 BB, 84 K, .204 BABIP (High-A)/4 G (4 GS), 25.0 IP, 22 H, 6 R, 6 ER (2.16 ERA), 6 BB, 15 K, .244 BABIP (Double-A)
Stuart faced tough competition this week, but narrowly edged out the other Mets minor league pitchers in the running. His 74 Game Score- the second highest of his career, trailing only his June 22 game against the Hudson Valley Renegades earlier this season- narrowly edged out Dominic Hamel’s 73 (6.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K) against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats last Tuesday and Jordany Ventura’s 73 (7.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9 K) against the Jersey Shore BlueClaws last Wednesday.
With his seven scoreless innings, the big right-hander lowered his ERA to 1.70 on the season, the lowest among all qualified pitchers not just in the Eastern League or in Double-A baseball, but in all of affiliated minor league baseball, period. Baltimore Oriole right-hander Alex Pham has the next best ERA (2.20), followed by San Diego Padre left-hander Austin Krob (2.32), Chicago Cubs right-hander Brandon Birdsell (2.36), and Los Angeles Angels right-hander Jorge Marcheco (2.53).
Earlier in the season, I wasn’t sure how much of Stuart’s success was derived from him pitching in Brooklyn, or the South Atlantic League in general. An extreme pitcher’s park, the right-hander had allowed 7 total earned runs in 43.1 innings at Maimonides Park, a 1.45 ERA with 14 walks and 50 strikeouts, and 6 earned runs in 27.1 in games on the road, a 1.98 ERA, with 9 walks and 34 strikeouts. A slight difference that is more favorable at home, but certainly not enough to attribute his success to pitching in Brooklyn, a stadium known to suppress offense.
Since his promotion to Double-A, a more challenging environment with a more run-neutral home ballpark, he has allowed 6 earned runs in 25.0 innings, a 2.16 ERA, with 6 walks and 15 strikeouts.
While his strikeouts numbers are down considerably, the more concerning number are his batted ball outcome numbers. With Brooklyn, he had a 49.5% ground ball rate and a 26.1% fly ball rate. In his limited time with Binghamton so far, those numbers have almost flip-flopped, with a 37.7% ground ball rate and a 42.9% fly ball rate. What is going on?
The right-hander has never thrown this many innings before- he is at 100.2 innings total, more than double the amount he threw last season at Southern Mississippi and then in the Mets organization combined- is he starting to tire? Developmentally, Stuart is a little behind most 23-year-old former collegiate draftees, as he spent virtually all of his time in the Golden Eagle bullpen. His fastball is an average offering, his slider an above-average offering, and his changeup a fringy offering. Is his stuff hittable to Double-A hitters?
We don’t have answers and will likely need the rest of the season to get a clearer picture, but either way, Stuart has done a great deal to boost his stock this season and has gone from a name to be aware of to one of the Mets’ top pitching prospects.