Monday, January 28, 2013

Ten Best Starting Pitchers of 2012

    Starting pitching is easily the biggest strength in the Mets' system this year, so picking the ten best starters was a challenge. But this list includes 10 pitchers that simply dominated the competition.


10. Michael Fulmer

Michael Fulmer’s April assignment to full-season Savannah in his first full professional campaign raised some eyebrows, and Fulmer proved his worth immediately.

Just one year removed from high school, Michael went 7-6 with an ERA of 2.74, posting a K/BB ratio of close to three and striking out batter a batter per inning.

Fulmer hit his stride in the dog days of summer, giving up just nine earned runs in eight starts in June and July. That’s good for a 1.71 ERA over those two months.

The first-round pick out of Oklahoma is likely to begin 2013 in St. Lucie as he continues his ascent through the system as a top prospect. 

Michael Fulmer

9. Steven Matz

Three years after being drafted in the first round in 2009 and one Tommy John surgery later, Steven Matz made his professional debut at age 21 this June.

Matz indeed looked like a 21-year-old first round pick, dominating the teenagers that populate Appalachian League.

The lefty from Long Island led every starting pitcher in the entire Mets organization in H/9 and K/9 if you make him eligible having only pitched 29 innings.

In six starts, Matz gave up just 16 hits. Yes, that would be less than three hits per start. Opponents batted just .158 against him.

The sample size is small, but the results are extremely promising. After two years of rehab, the Ward Melville H.S. grad has his velocity back up into the mid-90s.

While many experts may wait to see his 2013 season before calling Matz a prospect again, I will not hesitate to put him on my list.

Steven Matz

8. Jacob DeGrom

While we’re on the topic of Tommy John rehab, I introduce Jacob DeGrom. DeGrom missed a year and a half while recovering from his elbow surgery, only to return to the Minors with a bang.

The lanky righty from Stetson took a perfect game into the fifth inning in his 2012 season debut, allowing only one hit over six and two-thirds.

Jacob proceeded to dominate the South Atlantic League, going 6-3 with a 2.51 ERA over 15 starts before being promoted to High-A St. Lucie.

DeGrom had his way at the next level, too. He allowed just five runs in four starts, pitching in his home state of Florida.

DeGrom’s arm has been called the most talented outside of Queens. His 6-foot-4 inch frame and mid-90s fastball should serve him well as he continues to improve his slider and changeup.

As debilitating as Tommy John surgery is supposed to be, both Matz and DeGrom have not just recovered nicely, they’ve come back as better pitchers with even more velocity.

7. Rafael Montero

Talk about late bloomers, Rafael Montero signed with the Mets as an international free agent in in 2011 at 21-years-old and is already approaching Double-A in just his second professional season.

The man dominated A-ball with his devastating changeup and pinpoint control, allowing just 19 walks in 122 innings between Savannah and St. Lucie. That’s an unheralded 1.40 BB/9 rate.
He didn’t give up many hits either, with a H/9 rate of 7.08. All that equates to is the best ERA and WHIP of any full-season Mets starter.

With his breakout season in 2012, Montero has surfaced in the top-10 of almost every Mets prospect list, and could continue to progress quickly because of his advanced arsenal.

Rafael Montero

6. Matt Harvey

We all saw what Matt Harvey did at the Major League level, making some very capable sluggers look foolish on his way to an ERA of 2.73 in his rookie season.

Matt’s AAA numbers weren’t as good, but when you consider that he led the entire system in strikeouts and posted a K/9 rate of close to 10, Harvey was extremely effective.

His fastball touched 98 and lived in the mid-90s con\sistently. If he continues to work on his changeup and can continue to snap off those knee-buckling hooks, there’s no reason the U.N.C. grad can’t be a perennial All-Star.

Matt Harvey

5. Gabriel Ynoa

The 19-year-old Dominican dazzled the New York-Penn League in 2012. He pumps the zone with a low-90s fastball and lives on the corners.

He’s a true strike-thrower who was still able to maintain a WHIP below one and only give up 61 hits in 76 and two-thirds innings. So you know his stuff is good.

The key for Gabriel is his advanced changeup, which he disguises well to keep hitters off-balanced. His frame should allow for him to grow as a pitcher and athlete.

When you consider that he’s just 19-years old, weighs only 158 pounds and already shows great command at the professional level, Ynoa could become a front-line prospect within the next couple years.

4. Zack Wheeler

When it comes to effectiveness and the raw ability to make hitters miss, it’s hard to top super-prospect Zack Wheeler.

His ERA numbers won’t jump out at you like the other guys on this list, but Wheeler’s 3.27 mark in his first battle with AAA is strong.

Wheeler’s stuff left AA hitters overmatched early in the year before being promoted to AAA-Buffalo in early August, right after Matt Harvey reached the Bigs.

His numbers held consistent in Triple-A, striking out 31 batters in 33 innings and finishing the season strong with a 2-hit outing against Lehigh Valley, the Phillies’ affiliate.

If Wheeler can get his walk rate down (3.56 BB/9) and overflow the strike zone, his stuff is good enough to induce weak contact and get him even deeper into games.

Zack Wheeler

3. Luis Mateo

Like Ynoa, Luis Mateo was equally as dominant in all statistical categories. The one column Mateo proved superior was in strikeouts. He utilized his mid-90s fastball and devastating slider to post a 10.44 K/9 ratio, the best of any Mets pitcher to throw at least 30 innings.

Baseball America projects Mateo as a potential Major League closer down the road. His high velocity and two-pitch prominence may just fit that mold.

I’m interested to see how long the Mets keep Mateo as a starter, considering they have the pleasant problem of having too many starting pitchers worthy of a rotation spot coming into 2013.

2. Hansel Robles

Robles found success at every level in his four-year Minor League career, but no season was more fruitful than 2012.

He headed up a staff of Latinos that opened up a can of you-know-what on the NYPL. Two others also made the top five of this list.

Robles’ numbers are a thing of beauty: 72.2 IP, 47 hits allowed, a 6-1 record, an ERA of 1.11, an opponent average of .184.

He led the league in ERA and opponent’s average and has turned his smaller frame into an advantage, firing off of a strong base with sound mechanics. He has a full arsenal of weapons and could progress quickly as a reliever.

1. Jon Niese

Niese made major strides in 2012, asserting himself as a front-end of the rotation pitcher. He had career highs in WHIP (1.17), ERA (3.40), innings (190), strikeouts (155) and wins (13).

The low WHIP and development of his cutter allowed Niese to get deep into games. He gave up just 8.2 hits per nine innings and has induced weaker and weaker contact each season.

My favorite stat about Niese is that he pitched at least six innings in his final 20 starts of 2012. He would have easily broke 200 innings had the Mets stuck with a 5-man rotation.

If Niese can carry over his success into 2013, he could be among the league leaders in innings pitched, proving to be a true work horse.

With R.A. Dickey gone, I think it’s safe to say that Jonathon Niese is not only the most productive pitcher from 2012, but the best pitcher in the Mets organization.

The Best Pitcher in the System Returning in 2013

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