The Mets announced Thursday that 15 non 40-man roster players will be invited to participate in big league spring training. Some of the players are new to the organization, such as 2011 Rays first round pick Jake Hager, and a few others with some big-league experience in RHP Pedro Payano and OF Ryan Cordell, who I believe will provide some necessary depth in Triple-A Syracuse.
The Mets also invited some prospects to spring training that I think you should keep an eye on since they have a good shot of contributing in the majors in 2020.
Five of the prospects to watch are highlighted below...
LHP David Peterson
Peterson was the Mets' first round selection out of the University of Oregon in the 2017 MLB Draft, when he was known as a control artist who also missed a lot of bats in his final season, including a 20 strikeout game.
Since turning pro, Peterson has kept his quality control but up until 2019 was struggling to consistently miss bats. 2019 is the first full professional season that Peterson struck out more than a batter per inning.
Coming out of the draft I had heard some comparisons to former White Sox left hander Mark Buehrle, but I think at this point it's fair to consider him a back-end type starter with the build and durability to eat innings. His fastball will reside in the 89-92 range, but he can reach back and hit 94 or 95 mph if he needs to. His slider is his main put-away pitch, but in 2019 he put an extreme focus on throwing his circle changeup more and got some good results out of it.
While that may not appear too exciting, it clearly holds legitimate value as you can see with how some back-end starters were paid in free agency this winter.
Peterson will begin 2020 with Triple-A Syracuse and with the Mets having limited starting pitching depth that they trust beyond Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha, Peterson could be a big league injury or two away from making his Mets debut.
RHP Ryley Gilliam
When the Mets selected Gilliam in the fifth round out of Clemson in the 2018 MLB Draft, myself and a lot of draft experts were very high on him. He had been the closer for Clemson as well as collegiate Team USA. I don't know that anyone thought that Gilliam would be a big league closer necessarily, but the expectation was that he might end up being the first player selected in the 2018 MLB Draft to make his major league debut.
Gilliam was clearly on the fast track in 2019, as in his first full season of pro ball he started in High-A St Lucie and made it to Triple-A Syracuse, where he unfortunately suffered an injury that shut him down until the Arizona Fall League. In the AFL, which is littered with big time prospects, Gilliam worked 9.1 innings, allowing only one earned run, two walks and striking out 11. Most importantly, he showed he was healthy.
When healthy, Gilliam has a fastball that he will throw in the 94-96 mph range with a big time curveball that has excellent spin rate which induces a lot of swing and misses. Gilliam projects as a reliable middle reliever who misses bats and perhaps could end up as a set-up type of reliever. In 2020, Gilliam will get to start the year in Syracuse. Not unlike Peterson, I see no reason to think he won't make his big league debut this year if he stays healthy.
LHP Kevin Smith
The Mets drafted Smith in the seventh round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of the University of Georgia, where he bounced back and forth between starting and relieving to fill whatever the need was at the moment with the Bulldogs. He is another arm who progressed quickly in his first pro season, making it to Double-A Binghamton. Smith was also named the Mets minor league pitcher of the year in 2019.
Smith is not going to blow you away with any of his stuff on the mound. He will top out around 92 mph on his fastball, but he has a well above average slider that he throws from a low ¾ arm slot that left-handed hitters batted .207 against this past season. Smith also made strides on a changeup which in spring training of 2018 really was a distant third pitch for him. By the end of the season it was considered to be an average big league offering.
Smith will start in Syracuse and the development of his changeup will determine if he is a back-end starter or a bullpen arm who will use deceptiveness and spin on his pitches to get hitters out. An appearance in the big leagues by the second half of 2020 should not surprise anyone.
C Patrick Mazeika
The Mets drafted Mazeika in the eighth round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of Stetson University as an offensive first catcher who also spent some time at first base. Mazeika posted OPS' of .816 and .805 in 2016 and 2017 but has hit for much less of an average the last couple of years. In 2019 he found his power stroke, hitting a career high 16 home runs and worked hard behind the plate to the point where he doesn't have to completely move off the position.
Mazeika was highlighted routinely as a prospect who would merit consideration in last month's Rule 5 Draft due to his left-handed power bat and improved actions behind the plate.
With big league rosters expanding to 26 starting in 2020, Mazeika -- who also has some flexibility to play first base and hit for power -- has potential to be a third catcher and power bat off the bench. I believe the Mets will give him a chance to start the season in Syracuse, and we will likely see him in Queens at some point in 2020 due to the lack of catching depth in the organization.
Right-Handed Pitcher Matt Blackham
I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Blackham when I made a trip to Syracuse this past August. If you want to talk about a story of perseverance and hard work, this is one you will root for. You can check out my Q+A with Blackham here.
The Mets selected Blackham in the 29th round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of Middle Tennessee State, where he was an inconsistent hard thrower who fluctuated between a few different roles on the staff. Blackham is a prospect who has always put up good strikeout numbers and has not given up a lot of hits at every level that he's pitched in. He has had a lot of setbacks with different elbow injuries and also an issue with his ulnar nerve.
In 2019, he had a pretty healthy year, appearing in 40 games split between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Syracuse, posting a 2.60 ERA and allowing only 31 hits in 55.1 innings while striking out 70 batters. Blackham has always walked a higher amount of batters, but that trended in the right direction in 2019 -- and he credited Mets assistant pitching coach Jeremy Accardo with working with him on his mechanics.
Blackham sports a mid-90s fastball and an above average breaking ball which leads to a lot of swings and misses. His injury history and size gives you pause, but he has the stuff to pitch in the big leagues. Blackham had success in Syracuse in 2019, but he probably won't make the Mets out of spring training. But the invite suggests he is now on the radar.