Last week, an old friend now in scouting with an AL team called to ask me if there was any hype from the Mets about pitcher Walker Lockett, who I admittedly knew little about at the time he was acquired.
"He's always had the build, arm strength and makeup to be a stable, back-of-the-rotation innings eater," the scout said, all of which was news to me. "I liked him back in San Diego the first time I saw his sinker-slider combo and ¾ arm slot."
Lockett was drafted out of high school by the Padres in the fourth round in 2012.
Following six full seasons in the minor leagues, Lockett made his big league debut for San Diego roughly one year ago. He never appeared on a published top prospect list.
This past winter, Brodie Van Wagenen acquired Lockett and Sam Haggerty from the Indians for catcher Kevin Plawecki, who had once been a promising prospect, but had since wound uip in a backup role. The Indians had acquired Lockett a few months earlier from the Padres.
By the way, Plawecki, 28, has performed for the Indians similar to how he performed for the Mets, serving as a backup to Cleveland's everyday catcher, 30-year-old Roberto Perez.
In his first two starts for the Mets after being promoted on June 20, Lockett was roughed up for six runs at Wrigley Field and allowed four earned on two home runs to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Most recently, though, after not starting for the Mets in nearly a month, Lockett held the Giants to one run in five innings at Oracle Park.
Lockett stands 6' 5" at 230 pounds, which is few inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than the average big league pitcher.
"He's a big, solid kid, and similarly strong to Tim Redding, or Adam Eaton if you remember him, those kind of guys. He stays in the strike zone; gets ground balls; he changes eye levels very well -- and at different speeds -- and he isn't afraid to bust it inside," the former scout, now area director explained. "He already has a nice change up, but he needs to get it looking more like his breaking ball and fastballs."
The initial scouting reports on Lockett in 2012 made a similar assessment, according to an NL East pitching instructor that had once worked in scouting for an NL West team.
He said Lockett still has a similarly long and loose delivery to when he first joined the Padres. He recalls being impressed by how the imposing, young pitcher used his size to his advantage by remaining upright with a slow and long follow through and strong, lumbering momentum toward home plate.
"Yes," he said when I asked if Lockett has the potential to be a sleeper candidate for Van Wagenen's rotation next season. "He'll have to compete for a spot, I'm sure. But, he is tunneling better and is showing enough control and tail and sink on his two seamer to stick here."
I see what the above talent evaluators see, though my hunch is Lockett will spend much of his time with the Mets bouncing between the rotation and bullpen.
He often reminds me of Robert Gsellman, who similarly must keep his pitches consistent, heavy and in the bottom third of the strike zone. However, as we often saw from Bartolo Colon and frequently see from Gsellman, if Lockett is a hair off in his execution, his pitches get hit hard, especially when facing left-handed hitters.
His size and arm strength are encouraging, though. He has improved the past few seasons on repeating his delivery and making his pitches look more alike longer in flight. He's also more relaxed and seemingly better skilled at commanding each situation and inning than he did in San Diego.
Lockett should be on Van Wagenen's 25-man roster this and next season. He is already a useful spot starter, which is a role he can easily succeed at during his career. However, at 24 years old, he has plenty of time to make the needed slight improvements to his off-speed pitches. And if he does so, much like the above scouts said, he has the potential as soon as next year to be a full-season, reliable, No. 4 or No. 5 pitcher capable of consistently lasting beyond the sixth inning.
Lockett is almost certainly never going to win a Cy Young Award or garner league-wide attention for his ability. However, just as rare these days are guys that throw 200 innings and make 30 starts in consecutive seasons. If Lockett can quickly develop and simply be that pitcher, it would be a big win for Van Wagenen...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!