The Tyler Pill Call-up and The Mets Upper Level Starting Depth | Astromets Mind

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Tyler Pill Call-up and The Mets Upper Level Starting Depth

Reviewing whether Pill was the best call-up option and who else is available at Las Vegas and Binghamton

            If you know nothing else about Tyler Pill, you’re probably pretty excited by the fact the Mets are calling up a 26-year old 4th round pick from 2011 who is currently leading the offensively charged PCL with a 1.96 ERA. If you know his basic four-pitch repertoire is considered average, at best, across the board and his fastball tops out at 89, you’re probably keeping expectations tempered. If you know his career PCL ERA is at 5.58 even after this recent seven-start stretch, you’re probably scratching your head that this is the Mets best internal option for a start in mid-May, and wondering how the season ever got to this point. That second part would take a long post and some alcohol to answer, and it would probably just boil down to injuries. However, I’d like to quickly review the first part, and look to see whether the Mets had a better starting option in the upper minors, before previewing Tyler Pill.
            The rotations in Las Vegas and Binghamton this year are a mix of veteran journeyman with limited major league experience (Wilfredo Boscan, Blake Beavan, Donovan Hand, Adam Wilk for awhile), guys who have already struggled with the Mets this year (Sean Gilmartin, Rafael Montero), a few backend starter prospects getting their first taste of upper minors (Ricky Knapp, P.J. Conlon, and Corey Oswalt), a pair of former indy-ball starters who have never pitched above Double-A (Casey Delgado and knuckleballer Mickey Jannis), and Tyler Pill. Although the Mets rotation depth looked great on paper coming into 2017, they didn’t do much to stock the upper levels, which is another reason the season has reached this point. The 51s just faced Texas’ Triple-A affiliate Round Rock, where Dillon Gee and Anthony Bass (had a 95 MPH heater, 88 MPH slider) are looking like strong depth options right now, and both were signed to minor league deals late this past winter.
            Of the guys mentioned not named Tyler Pill, Boscan, Knapp, Conlon, and Oswalt are the only ones who have pitched well enough to be in the discussion for a promotion right now.

       -       Boscan has allowed one run or fewer in five of seven appearances this year, but 11 runs on 16 H over 5.1 IP in his other two appearances. One of those bad appearances came after 16 days off with a knee problem (per radio man Russ Langer), but he followed that up with six scoreless innings in New Orleans. He throws the fastest fastball of the group, mixes in a curve and change, and gets groundballs at a high rate. He was decent during a 5 game cup of coffee out of the Pirates pen last year and then got lit up in a spot start later in the season. He became a decent strikeout pitcher when Texas used him mostly as a reliever in Double-A during the 2012 season, but has otherwise been below average by strikeout rate. From what I’ve seen, I’d have no problem with the Mets calling him up for a shot, but ideally that chance would come as a reliever.
       -       After striking out a batter per inning last year in the EL, Knapp is struggling to miss bats in the PCL right now, but the high elevation environments are notoriously rough on his best weapon, a nasty curve, which is a better pitch than anything Pill throws. Like Pill, his fastball velocity is below average but he doesn’t give up a lot of homer’s. He’s shown an ability to go deep into games (163.2 IP in 24 starts last year averages out to more than 6.2 IP per start), but it’s starting to look like he may be most valuable as a fastball/curveball bullpen arm at the highest level (lefties have a 1.005 OPS against him this year).
       -       After posting sub-2 ERA’s in the SAL and FSL last year and then starting this year strong in Double-A, P.J. Conlon has the most helium of anyone in this group. He’s improved his strikeout rate to nearly 23% this year, while keeping his walk rate down to a crazy low 3.3% (1.17 BB/9). On the down side, he’s already allowed five homers in 2017 after allowing just five throughout all of 2016, and his fastball is said to be sitting 85-88 this year – weather could be a factor (EL is notoriously cold and wet early in the season), but reports had him touching 90 last year. His changeup is a plus pitch and his best secondary, but he also mixes in a slider and curve, they just haven’t always been consistent from start-to-start. I think he’s a major league arm, but the limited velocity as a starter gives pause to his upside – he apparently sat 92 out of the Brooklyn bullpen in 2015, which is a significant bump. Ultimately, I think he’ll spend most of his career as a starter, but that he’s not yet ready for the show. Performance time isn’t everything, but he does have just 53.2 IP at the Double-A level, and he’s been hit around pretty good in three of his nine starts – those would’ve gone much worse against a major league lineup. Assuming injuries don’t keep getting worse, I think he’s going to have to prove himself at Triple-A some before he gets a major league chance to start.
       -       Still just 23 (only a couple months older than Conlon), Oswalt has been in the Mets system since they took him in the 7th round of the 2012 draft, and he’s off to a fine start for Binghamton. He fits the typical backend starter/long relief mold: average fastball speed and solid command of a three-pitch mix but no standout pitch. I’ve been cautiously optimistic about Oswalt since I saw him with Savannah in 2015, but plenty of Mets righty starters have had Double-A success before flopping in Triple-A.

Speaking of guys who had tons of initial success at Double-A before struggling in Triple-A, Tyler Pill posted a higher strikeout rate in his first full season with Binghamton than Conlon or Oswalt, a lower walk rate than Knapp or Oswalt, and he’s always kept his homerun rate down in Double-A. Pill is finally keeping his homerun rate down in Triple-A this year (0.39 HR/9 in 2017 compared to 1.5+ HR/9 previously), so it’s not surprising his run prevention has improved so much.
Pill has actually allowed seven unearned runs in Triple-A this year (3.33 RA), but five of those came in the 2nd inning of one start, and he gave up nothing else over six innings that day. That inning snowballed a little after the potential third out turned into an error, but the 51s were able to save their pen and come back for a win because he put up four scoreless after that frame. That’s the type of starter he’s been this year for Las Vegas, and it’s the same workhorse style starter he’s been for Binghamton the past few seasons. That's what a #5 starter does, it's not always good, but they find a way to give you some length and keep the game within reach. The Mets could use that.
            Fun facts: Tyler Pill is the Binghamton franchise leader in career wins with 26, 2nd with 269 strikeouts, tied for fourth with 55 starts, and third with 327.1 IP. Guys with that kind of track record and no major league experience tend to throw in the towel right about now, but instead Pill has suddenly put it all together at the next level, which has him on his way to the majors.
            If you read this piece from Betsy Helfand of the Las Vegas Review Journal, you can get an idea of what’s different for Pill at Triple-A this year. It may seem too simple or cliché, but manager Pedro Lopez (who managed him in Binghamton the past few years) and pitching coach Frank Viola (who was his pitching coach in Vegas the past few years and in Savannah before that) say it’s as simple as Pill attacking the zone and looking for early contact instead of trying to be too fine and falling behind in counts.
Not trying to take a knock at former 51s Manager Wally Backman, but I’ve wondered if pitching for a Manager who knows how successful he can be has helped Pill feel more comfortable pitching at this level. Per the above article, Lopez said, “He’s pitching the same way that he’s pitched the last four years for me in Binghamton… That goes to show you he did something right.”
Pill may also be benefiting on the mound from some offseason work with his brother, former major league first baseman for the Giants Brett Pill (who had plenty of success as a hitter in the PCL). I wonder if he works on hitting with his brother too, because like Brett, Tyler has been a good hitter in the minors: 28-79 with 6 2B, 1 HR, 10 RBI, and 9 K: 3 BB in 91 PA, good for a 0.842 OPS. If nothing else, the Mets bench will be a little stronger for a few days.

            When comparing Pill to these other options, the thing that sticks out to me most is readiness. Pill is as ready as he’s going to get, while Knapp, Conlon, and Oswalt will benefit from more time in the minors. Boscan isn’t going to change as a pitcher at this point, but Pill’s been more successful and hasn’t missed time with an ailment this year. Are you going to hurt a prospects development by giving him a few chances to fail in the majors? Probably not, but why risk that instead of rewarding the guy who’s been working hard in the org. for years and having a better season (by ERA) in a tougher league? That’s a morale booster. The Mets wouldn't be making this move if they didn't think he could be successful, which is part of the reason they sent Travis d'Arnaud to Las Vegas to catch him first-hand and get his report.
            I realize I didn't preview his stuff too much in this piece, but as previously mentioned, he throws the basic four-pitch mix: 87-89 MPH fastball, change, slider, and his curve is probably his best secondary. I never compiled all my 2016 GIF's into one page for any prospect, but you can preview him with this 12 strikeout start or this collection of lower quality GIF's from 2014Pill isn’t likely to impact the pitching staff like Seth Lugo did last year, but I think he can provide more than Tommy Milone did in his last two starts, which could be huge for this club (although, Milone did leave a low bar).  If not, the Mets better hope Steven Matz and Seth Lugo figure things out quickly so they can cut the rehab short and head up to the big’s, because, as you see, there aren’t many other internal options ready.

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