Everyone likes a pitcher who strikes batters out in high numbers. Don’t get me wrong, watching a finesse pitcher like Greg Maddux control a game is a thing of beauty, but watching Randy Johnson chase 20 strikeouts in every performance is exhilarating.
That’s why the New York Mets prospect Thomas Szapucki caught my attention.
10, 11, 10. Three games in a row Szapucki took the mound in the NYPL and three games in a row, he notched double-digit strikeouts. So who is Szapucki?
(Point of information: Unfortunately, I have not seen Szapucki live, so this is more of a profile than a scouting report. Reading up on the 20-year old lefty and watching video, there is certainly a lot to like.)
Szapucki grew up in New Jersey, but his family moved him to Florida at the age of ten to pursue a future in baseball. He went to high school in West Palm Beach, Florida and the Mets liked what they saw in the 6-foot-2, 205 pound left-hander, that they selected him in the fifth round in last year’s MLB Draft.
Committed to his home state University of Florida, the Mets signed Szapucki for $375,000, roughly $50,000 more than the average slot bonus of his selection. He pitched an uninspiring 2.1 innings in the Gulf Coast League, getting hit hard in his first third of an inning, but then settling down in his next two appearances.
This season, he has been impressive at two levels. He dominated the Appy League right from the get go, hurling six shutout innings and striking out 13 and walking none in his 2016 debut. His next game out saw 4.2 more shutout innings, but saw part of the issue with Szapucki. He has an awkward delivery — spending this season honing his mechanics — which often leads to command issues. In this outing he walked four batters over those 4.2 innings.
Overall, Szapucki was more or less untouchable in Kingston, leading the league in ERA (0.62) and strikeouts (47) while walking just nine over 29 innings. It is interesting to point out that he had a 2.40 FIP, stranding 90 percent of his runners, but still showed exciting stuff. He earned a promotion to Brooklyn and has been striking out NYPL opponents ever since.
He has made four starts at the next level, striking out 39, including double digits in the last three. He’s been a bit more wild, walking seven in his last two starts, both of which he only got one out into the sixth, but he has been landing over 65 percent of his pitches for strikes. He has posted a nice 2.35 ERA and this time around his FIP is a much improved 1.59.
Szapucki has a nice fastball, that has seen a big jump in velocity since becoming a pro. He was drafted with a low-90s pitch that topped out at 94, but now reports are that he consistently hits in the mid-90s, reaching 97 at its highest. Another transition is in his breaking ball, which has transformed itself from a slider, slurvy type of offering to a full out curve ball. It is an above average pitch and he uses it successfully as an out pitch. The change up has improved from average to efficient, but still needs some work.
You can see where the issues arise, as he is somewhere between an overhand and sidearm pitcher. Using an odd arm slot and upper torso delivery, Szapucki does repeat the odd delivery rather well in his defense.
Szapucki clearly needs to refine his delivery and harness his command, but it’s safe to say he has a tremendous amount of upside. John gave him a C with higher potential entering the season, and he certainly has shown signs of said potential in his recent outings. Most have him in the Mets top ten prospects, so it will definitely be interesting to see how he grows and handles the next level.