New York Mets: Young Guns And The Element Of Surprise
Brad Penner, USATSI

The New York Mets have had injuries ravage their rotation. However, an unexpected wave of rookies could lead the way through September. 

It’s the first week in April. The New York Mets’ starting rotation looks to impose dominance on the National League over the course of 162 games. Fresh off a World Series appearance, it was time for the young aces to establish themselves as the game’s best.

Today is Friday, September 2. Matt Harvey is gone. Zack Wheeler never made it back. Steven Matz may not return before season’s end. Three of the five starters the Mets had counted on to make an impact in 2016 aren’t available for September’s stretch run, leaving the team to turn to rookies Seth Lugo, Rafael Montero, and Robert Gsellman.

Beginning the day just two games out of a playoff spot, hope remains for a team decimated by injuries. There’s no question that Yoenis Cespedes will be required to do the heavy lifting for the Mets. However, it’s the rookie pitchers who could make the biggest impact.

Between the bullpen and the starting rotation, Seth Lugo has provided a spark over the past month. He’ll have to continue his fine form as the pressure heightens. The 26-year-old righty has pitched to a 2.60 ERA, maintaining an impressive 28:11 K/BB ratio over 34.2 innings.

Somewhat similar to Jacob deGrom, Lugo has emerged at an older age (deGrom debuted at age 25, Lugo at 26). This isn’t saying Lugo will follow a similar path to success, but his big league arrival has been impressive.

His fastball touches the mid-90s, while his slider bites late with good downward tilt. His curveball isn’t as devastating, but it’s nearly 20 mph slower than his heater, creating an impressive differential. The former 34th round draft pick isn’t well known around the league, which could work to his advantage over the season’s final month.

Lugo has certainly impressed, but the Mets will need contributions from others, like Rafael Montero.

Once a highly regarded prospect, Montero has struggled in AAA Las Vegas and battled injuries over the past year. Now healthy, he has another chance to prove himself at the big league level.

Montero delivered five scoreless innings in a victory over Miami on Tuesday night. He may not dominate at the big league level, but his stuff is good enough to stick in a big league rotation. Given the injuries the Mets have sustained, he’ll share the spotlight over the season’s final month.

Montero’s fastball sits in the low to mid-nineties, while his change-up remains his best secondary offering. After injuries and inconsistency have slowed his progress, he’ll get his shot to make his presence felt at the most crucial part of the season. While he may not turn out to be Nolan Ryan, you’d much rather roll with Montero in a playoff race than say, Brian Lawrence in 2007?

Remember the soft tossers the Mets had to throw out during the ’07 disaster? The aforementioned Lawrence, Aaron Sele, David Williams, Mike Pelfrey, among others, were all easily forgettable. The young guns this New York Mets team possesses may lack experience in a pennant race, but they aren’t short on talent.

In addition to Lugo and Montero, Robert Gsellman will have to step up. The 23-year-old righty was enduring a rough season in AAA Las Vegas (5.73 ERA), but that’s not uncommon in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

Gsellman’s 6’4″ frame and good sinker should allow him to generate many ground balls and keep his team in the game.

MLB.com ranked him as the club’s 14th best prospect noting, “Gsellman features a really good sinking fastball, one that touches 94 mph and sits in the 91-92 mph range. It’s not an elite-level sinker, but the right-hander does elicit a fair share of ground-ball outs, throwing it downhill from his 6-foot-4 frame.”

Yes, these three pitchers are inexperienced. They have never endured a playoff push in September at the big league level. However, the talent is evident and the league hasn’t seen much of them just yet.

After this weekend’s series against Washington, the schedule softens for the Mets. Outside of a trip to D.C., the rookies will pitch in environments without hostile crowds (Cincinnati, Atlanta, Philadelphia). They won’t face elite lineups, which could allow them to find success through the end of the season.

Harvey, Wheeler, and Matz may be on the shelf, but another wave of young guns could propel the New York Mets to October.

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