In the second round, the New York Mets took a gamble on a high upside prep pitcher. They’re hoping Josh Wolf pays off.
The New York Mets turned to the state of Texas for a second straight pick in 2019. This is also the second-straight year the Mets selected a projectable prep pitcher from Texas in the second round. Last year, it was Simeon Woods Richardson, who’s had a promising season in Columbia despite what his high ERA might indicate
This year, the team selected Josh Wolf, a right-handed pitcher from Houston. Wolf had a commitment to Texas A&M, but the Mets got him to sign for $2.1 million. That is around $800,000 over the allotted slot amount for the 53rd selection.
Wolf stands at 6-foot-2, 165 pounds and he leaves a lot of room for projection. He is a full year older than Woods-Richardson was last year at 18 years old. Wolf will turn 19 in September, 26 days before Woods-Richardson’s 19th birthday.
Wolf being a year older does give him a slight advantage in some areas. Most notably Wolf is a more polished prospect and overall looks readier for professional baseball than Woods-Richardson did a year ago. Wolf’s raw stuff is exciting, but he does have some question marks.
20 – Awful
30 – Well Below Average
40 – Below Average
45 – Fringe Average
50 – Average
55 – Above Average
60 – Plus
65 – Plus-Plus
70 – Well Above Average
80 – Elite
Fastball – 60
Prior to his senior season, Wolf’s fastball was topping out in the low 90s, which led many scouts to rank him as a developmental prospect. They thought he would be someone who might stay around until the second or third round due to his talent. Wolf proved all of those scouts wrong in his senior year. He came in and made major adjustments to his game. He changed his mechanics, moving from a high three-quarter arm slot to a three-quarter arm slot. Wolf also put on about 10 pounds of muscle prior to the season.
Those changes improved his velocity in a major way, as he spent most of the season sitting in the mid-90s and hitting as high as 97 on the radar gun. The pitch has late life to it making it hard for prep players to barrel it up. The increase in velocity and the late life on the pitch caught the attention of scouts this spring, with most grading him out as a first-round prospect. Questions over his signability and a new found reluctance to take prep pitchers high in the draft led to his fall.
As Wolf’s body continues to fill out his fastball should continue to see improved velocity. It’s likely that when all is said and done Wolf could be sitting in the 95-97 range topping out close to 100. It would play up in bullpen sitting even higher, with the potential to sit close to 100 in the future.
Curveball – 60
While it was Wolf’s fastball that turned heads, it was his curveball that led to his projection as a first-round prospect. Wolf has two distinct curveballs, both of which are devastating against right-handed hitters. He throws a power curve that sits in the high-70s to the low-80s that has a two-plane break.
This is Wolf’s preferred curveball and his strikeout pitch against both righties and lefties. Wolf also throws a sweeping curveball that sits in the mid-70s, which he uses primarily as a secondary weapon versus righties. That pitch needs work, but if Wolf can figure both of them out his curveball could be a dominant pitch at the major league level.
Like with his fastball you can expect Wolf’s curveball to get faster as his body fills out. It should also gain more break as he learns better mechanics from professional coaches. If Wolf does eventually move to the bullpen, his fastball and curveball combo are more than enough reason to believe that he could end up in the backend as a high leverage reliever.
Whether that’s as a closer or setup man is up to how well he might handle the possible transition. For now, though he will be used as a starter, and this two pitch combo is a promising start to a growing arsenal.
Changeup – 45
This is the pitch that will determine Wolf’s future. Wolf’s changeup is not a good pitch. When it’s on, it has good arm side fade, but too often it’s just flat. It’s also an awkward fit as a change-of-pace pitch since it sits in the low-80s. That means both versions of his curveball sit just a bit slower than his changeup making an awkward fit.
A lot of Wolf’s early development is going to be about figuring out the best way to use his pitches, and his changeup is the puzzle piece that his coaches will try to figure out. In modern baseball, it’s tough to survive as a starter without at least three pitches. Wolf has two plus pitches and if his changeup can be average he’ll have a bright future. Right now, though Wolf’s changeup is the one thing holding him back. He has a chance to become a mid-rotation starter if his changeup develops.
If he can get the pitch to above average without much development of his curveball, then he could be a No. 2. Best case, his curveball continues to develop into two distinct pitches and he gets his changeup to above-average. In that case, he has a chance to be an ace.
Worst case, the changeup doesn’t develop the way it needs to and Wolf is likely to be relegated to the bullpen. If he is forced into the bullpen he has a real chance to thrive there.
However, it would be quite the disappointment if a pitcher with front-line starting potential ends up in the bullpen. The most likely scenario is that Wolf ends up in the bullpen until he proves he can succeed as a starter. He’ll start that pursuit in earnest next season.
Control – 50
Wolf’s control is advanced for a player his age. He has control to all four quadrants of the strike zone, but like many his age, struggles to hit the corners. As it stands, Wolf has good control over his fastball and curveball, but his control over his changeup is still lacking. Wolf’s mechanics aren’t clean, but they are easily repeatable, so it isn’t an issue with control.
Wolf does, however, have to worry about putting too much stress on his arm due to his mechanics. Wolf hasn’t had any prior injury issues, but when pitchers use mechanics similar to Wolf’s, there’s always a fear of them coming up. Control is a tricky thing to project as pitchers change mechanics all the time. They try to pick up new pitches or change strategies as they develop.
For instance, Simeon Woods Richardson was said to have fringe-average control when he was drafted last year. He proved that wrong this year as he has walked only 2.25 batters per nine innings. Control is a tool that is always developing and changing. The good thing here is that the Mets farm system has consistently churned out players who throw strikes.