Who’s Next? The Top Pitching Prospects Left in the System, #1 - Michael Fulmer | Astromets Mind

Friday, July 3, 2015

Who’s Next? The Top Pitching Prospects Left in the System, #1 - Michael Fulmer

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Re-ranking the Top starting pitchers within the Mets farm system now that Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard have graduated.

            Coming into the 2015 season, the Mets farm system was a consensus Top-5 system in the majors thanks to some high-end talent at the top, but they’ve graduated several top prospects, including their top-2 starting pitching prospects, and figure to take a hit in those rankings this offseason. That’s not a bad thing though, because it means that the Mets are starting to improve from within, which is the purpose of a farm system. Also, it means that the door is open for the next crop of prospects to emerge, and the Mets still have some starting pitching prospects with major league upside worth keeping an eye on.

            For this list, I have limited myself to full-season starters, because we still know relatively little about the short-season pitchers, and those guys are far from helping away. Notably absent from this list is Marcos Molina, because he’s too much of an unknown at this point. He would easily rank among the top 2-3 starters left if healthy, and he’d probably be #1 if he could pitch like he did last year in Brooklyn without the scary mechanics – everyone who saw him last year said the same two things: he has great stuff, but his mechanics are big red flags. But, he’s not pitching right now because of a forearm strain, and he’s not having Tommy John surgery either, so what are the Mets getting when he returns? Will he have the same mechanics? If so, why should we expect him to stay healthy? If not, will his stuff be as good? Either way, this is looking like a lost season for Molina, and we still have to wait-and-see if this injury carries over to next season.

Michael Fulmer

            Fulmer was going to be near the top of this list anyway, but his recent performance pushed him to the top in my eyes – of course, this is the problem with mid-season rankings, things could look different with another month’s worth of starts. Fulmer has the best fastball left in the upper levels of the Mets system, probably the best slider in the system, and I think his fastball/slider combo could be effective in a major league pen right now. He’s been mid-90’s with his fastball all year, topping out at 96/97 MPH, and mid-to-high 80’s with his slider. Fulmer also has a curveball in his arsenal that got a 50/60 grade from Fangraphs this past offseason, but he said that he’s trying to throw it less this year to reduce arm stress. Finally, he throws a mid-to-high 80’s changeup that he’s been gaining more confidence in this season.
            Fulmer has always enticed with his potential, but he’s had trouble staying healthy since the Mets drafted him. After ending last year on the DL again, he stayed back in XST for a few weeks this year to make sure he started the season as close to 100% as possible, and it would appear like that was a great decision. After proving himself ready with one very strong start for St. Lucie in April, Fulmer was promoted back to AA (where he made one start last year), where he’s been lights out: he’s allowed 1 ER or less in 7 of 10 starts with Binghamton. While he was effective from the start, he’s been dominant lately: 0.37 ERA over his last 4 starts (24.1 IP), with 15 hits and 4 walks allowed against 26 SO, a .478 OPS allowed, and a 16% swinging strike rate (!) – for comparison, Chris Sale’s 16% swinging strike rate is currently best in the majors.
            As you can see in Table 1 below, one big improvement for Fulmer this year has been his success against lefties, which likely goes back to his growing confidence in the changeup. Per this radio interview, Fulmer has tried several changeup grips throughout the years, but he’s been perfecting this one since 2012, and starting to look to use it in some important situations, although he stressed in that interview from 6/20 that the slider is still his go-to pitch.

Table 1 – Michael Fulmer’s L/R splits over the past 2 seasons

K%: BB%
2014 vs. L
14.4%: 8%
2015 vs. L
17.4%: 5.5%
2014 vs. R
25%: 6.9%
2015 vs. R
25.3%: 8%

            Overall, there is a lot to like here, and I should remind you that Fulmer just turned 22 during Spring Training. If you compare his AA stats with recent starters who have graduated to the Mets, his overall numbers match up pretty well with what Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz did at AA, and Fulmer is the same age as Harvey and Wheeler were when they played with the B-Mets. I’m not suggesting he’s another ace to join the Mets deck, but I think his recent dominance with 2 plus pitches and an improving changeup suggests that he has a real chance to be a solid #2/3 starter in the majors.

From 2015 (with GIFs): May 9, May 15, May 22, May 29, June 5, June 12, June 18, June 24, June 29

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