Mets RH reliever prospect Stephen Villines hasn't given up a run yet in 2019 . Here's a deep dive on Villines, who could potentially help in the big league bullpen this season ...
Weight: 175 lbs
MLB Pipeline Mets Prospect Ranking: 22
2019 Statistics: 0.00 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 0-0 record with 3 saves in 17.2 innings pitched over 11 relief appearances while allowing 11 hits, seven walks and striking out 19.
Villines was born in Irvine, California. He has a brother and sister and three dogs who are now called the kids at his mother and father's home. His brother and sister were both involved in baseball and softball, thus Villines always wanted to play. Baseball is the only organized sport that he has participated in during his life.
He played all over the diamond as a kid but had the natural ability to throw strikes so in high school he became a full-time pitcher. Villines had a great mentor in his high school coach, Mike Gonzalez with the El Toro Bulls, who had a lot of confidence in Villines' abilities.
Throughout high school, Villines threw from a ¾ arm slot which isn't too uncommon amongst pitchers. He was not pursued by MLB teams or recruited by any Division 1 colleges out of high school, but he was able to get connected to Coach Ritch Price at Kansas University and got an opportunity to walk on to the baseball team.
Once at Kansas, Villines started toying around with dropping down a bit as a side-armer and found a release point that felt comfortable and natural to him. After deciding he was going to try to be a side-armer going forward, he started studying some of the very good side-armers in recent history such as Steve Cishek and former Mets Joe Smith and Chad Bradford. As a walk-on he still was able to not only throw for the Jayhawks as a freshman, but even notched eight saves as the closer while posting a 1.50 ERA.
In his sophomore year, he posted a 3.40 ERA and 13 saves. The big difference between his freshman and sophomore year was he started to miss more bats, as his strikeouts per 9 inning rate jumped from 4.3 to 9.5. Villines started garnering pro interest during his junior campaign but decided with his advisor and his family that it was best for him to return for his senior year.
He completed his college career with a Kansas University record 40 saves. He had some contact with the Mets a couple weeks out from the 2017 MLB Draft and did not hear anything until the second day of the Draft. He was hanging out in his living room eating tacos -- his favorite food -- when he was called and told the Mets were going to draft him the 10th round.
With the Mets
After signing with the Mets, Villines split his first summer in pro ball between Rookie level Kingsport and Short-Season A ball in Brooklyn. He posted a 1.65 ERA and struck out 41 batters while only walking one in 27.1 innings pitched.
In 2018 he ended up pitching in three levels of the Mets minor league system. He started in Single-A Columbia where he had some rough outings early but had a streak of consistency -- especially with his strikeout to walk ratio of 10.8, which got him called up to High-A St Lucie. In St Lucie he was pretty much untouchable as he allowed only seven hits in 22 innings and posted a 0.41 ERA. The Mets rewarded that performance by having him appear for Double-A Binghamton for a few games at the end of the season.
In 2019, Villines got his first taste of major league spring training when he was a non-roster invite to camp. He spent a lot of time observing the veterans in the Mets bullpen to just see how big leaguers work. After not making the major league team he was sent back to Double-A and threw 12.2 scoreless innings before the Mets promoted him to Triple-A Syracuse. After another scoreless inning Wednesday night, he now has 5.0 scoreless innings with five strikeouts thus far in Syracuse. Over 17.2 innings in 2019 between Binghamton and Syracuse he has a 0.00 ERA while allowing 11 hits and 7 walks while striking out 19.
Repertoire and Future
Villines really stands out as a guy who has had a career 12.6 strikeout per 9 inning rate in the minor leagues despite being a side-armer who doesn't throw particularly hard. He really prospers at throwing multiple pitches and messing with the hitters eye level to go with his unconventional delivery.
He throws a four-seam fastball and a sinker which typically sit in the mid-80's on the radar gun and on occasion he can get it up to 88 mph. With his delivery and the fact that hitters don't pick up the ball until late, it appears faster than it is to the hitters. His go-to secondary pitch is his changeup that has a lot of fade to it to get swings and misses. His fourth pitch is a slider that he's willing to throw in any count and it's especially effective against right-handed hitters.
I think Villines has the potential to have a lengthy career very similar to the likes of Bradford and Joe Smith due to his ability to keep hitters off balance. And the unconventional delivery is a change of pace from the typical fireballers that make up major league bullpens nowadays.
With the way Villines is pitching this year, the Mets will only be able to hold him down in the minor leagues for so much longer. I would be very surprised if he didn't get an opportunity to come up and pitch for the Mets this summer and it could be the beginning of a lengthy big league career.