Mets prospect Thomas Szapucki is working his way back from Tommy John surgery as one of the top arms in the team's farm system.
Weight: 181 lbs
MLB Pipeline Mets Prospect Ranking: 8
2019 Statistics: 2.05 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 0-0 record in 22 innings pitched over 12 appearances (9 starts) while allowing 14 hits, 10 walks and striking out 26
Thomas Szapucki was born in Toms River, New Jersey, also the home of current Mets third baseman Todd Frazier. When Szapucki was 10 years old his family decided to relocate to Florida in part because they were sick of the cold, but also to give Szapucki the best chance to succeed at baseball.
The move proved out to be a wise one. While attending William T. Dwyer High School, Szapucki had a lot of success and was an All-American who participated in the 2014 Perfect Game All American Classic. He committed to the University of Florida and was ranked as the 92nd best prospect in the 2015 draft by Baseball America, and the 97th best prospect by MLB Pipeline.
Szapucki might have been a higher ranked prospect in the draft if not for his delivery, which had a lot of effort, and him throwing from a lower slot had some believing the left-hander was a future reliever. His stuff was undeniable though, sitting in the low 90s and getting up to 95 mph on his fastball. He also had a curveball that had the best spin rate of any breaking ball at the Perfect Game National showcase.
When the 2015 MLB Draft started and Szapucki didn't go in the top 3 rounds, the thought was there was a good chance he was going to end up at Florida. The Mets decided to draft him with their fifth round choice, No. 149 overall, and they agreed to a $375,000 signing bonus -- a mere $20,000 over slot value.
With The Mets
Due to throwing a lot of innings in high school, the Mets limited Szapucki to three relief appearances in 2015 where he allowed four runs in 2.1 innings. He really made his jump into pro ball in 2016, splitting the season between Rookie League level Kingsport and Brooklyn. He put up almost video game-type numbers in his five starts for Kingsport, posting a 0.62 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 29 innings. He allowed only 16 hits, walked nine and struck out 47. He continued his success carving up the older competition in Brooklyn with a 2.35 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in 23 innings. He only allowed 10 hits and struck out 39. He did have a little more issue with control, walking 11 batters with Brooklyn.
The Mets were very excited with Szapucki's progress on the field and his growth maturing off the field. He had made strides with his changeup and calmed down his delivery some with help from pitching coordinator Ron Romanick. Before the 2017 season, Szapucki got his first top 100 prospect ranking from Baseball Prospectus who ranked him as the 67th best prospect in baseball. At this point he was probably the most exciting arm in the Mets system and he was assigned to Low-A Columbia to start the 2017 season. He was pitching well in his first six starts in Columbia, posting a 2.79 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP across 29 innings. Szapucki then had tightness in his left forearm and after tests it was found that he had a torn ulnar collateral ligament and would require Tommy John surgery. He would miss the remainder of the 2017 season and the entire 2018 season.
In 2019, the Mets have been cautious due to the time that Szapucki missed. He has been limited to shorter outings and they started him back at Columbia before promoting him to High-A St. Lucie just a few days ago where he threw only 0.1 innings before a rain delay ended his day. He appeared in 11 games (8 starts) for Columbia, throwing 21.2 innings and allowed 14 hits and 10 walks while striking out 26. The Mets' intention is for 2019 to be the year he builds back arm strength and likely will be on strict pitch counts for the whole summer.
Prior to getting Tommy John surgery, Szapucki had made progress with two plus pitches -- his fastball that had reportedly hit 97 mph, and his curveball that will sit around the 80-82 mph range with a very high spin rate. Szapucki had made a lot of strides with his changeup to where it was flashing above average with some good fade away from right-handed hitters. He had improved his delivery and cleaned up his arm action to the point people were wondering if he was a future No. 2 starter.
Since returning from Tommy John he is still building up arm strength and his velocity is down a bit in 2019, sitting more 89-91 and touching 93 mph. The Mets are not worried and believe he is building back up and will be back to where he was pre-injury in the 2020 season. Missing a year-and-a half due to Tommy John has certainly pushed back Szapucki's path to the big leagues, but if everything comes back the Mets still possess an exciting left-handed power arm who could end up a mid-rotation starter with an upside to be a No. 2, or worst case -- a big time power arm out of the pen.