Zack Wheeler’s consistent success in Philadelphia has annoyed the Mets, who let him go as a free agent and now must watch the righty star pitch in their own division.
But Wheeler also represents something more troubling: The 33-year-old is the most recent, lasting success story as a starting pitcher who graduated from the Mets’ minor leagues.
Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard were not fully developed by the Mets, as both were acquired through trade, but they ascended out of the system and excelled alongside the homegrown Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, all of whom made their debuts from 2012-15.
Since the Fab Five days, the well has gone dry.
David Peterson and Tylor Megill have shown flashes, and prospects such as J.T. Ginn and Anthony Kay have been used to secure short-term rotation solutions.
Otherwise, the Mets have relied recently upon owner Steve Cohen’s money to purchase a rotation, which did not work this year.
As the Mets have given up on the 2023 club, the hope is their system will be better equipped to help restock the major league club in all areas, particularly starting pitching.
The Mets opened their version of a pitching lab in Port St. Lucie last year, at which they test pitchers (and hitters as well) metrically in the hopes of maximizing their arms.
“There’s no shortage of new technology, on new ways to find objective information that will help you develop players,” farm director Kevin Howard said recently. “Five years ago, this organization — I don’t even think that [technology] would be a thought in anybody’s mind.”
Quality development systems are able to capitalize on high-draft picks, take a fringe prospect and grow him into something more and integrate new weapons into a repertoire that help a pitcher bounce back.
In pitchers Blade Tidwell, Tyler Stuart and Christian Scott, there are now at least signs of hope coming from the Mets’ system.
First, the name.
His mother chose his first name (Janzen) and his father his middle name (Blade).
Apparently Dad won out, and Blade Tidwell was among the last to learn his true first name.
“I never knew I was named Janzen probably until I was 5 or 6 years old,” said Tidwell, who starred at the University of Tennessee in his native state before the Mets drafted him in the second round last year.
The righty has been a fast riser.
He is already up to Double-A Binghamton, but with a different arsenal than the one that originally enticed the Mets.
His hard fastball — 93-95 mph that has touched 98 mph — is the same, but his slider (more sweep), curveball (“more of a slurve”) and changeup (“it’s super weird,” with plenty of depth that makes it akin to a splitter) have been success stories within the system.
“Stuff-wise, I’ve gotten a little bit better metrically and analytically,” Tidwell said this week from TD Bank Ballpark, where his club has been playing Double-A Somerset.
His adjustments were grip-based.
He learned the changeup in Brooklyn and the slider in Port St. Lucie thanks to assistant pitching coordinator Kyle Driscoll, while the curveball “was kind of my thing,” he said.
The healthy pitch mix and improving stuff have helped the righty rise from High-A Brooklyn to Binghamton — and to miss plenty of bats, with 121 strikeouts in 93 ¹/₃ innings this season.
The drawback of his improving stuff is he has missed location, too, and has allowed 50 walks this season.
“I’m trying to limit them, but I don’t think it’s necessarily an adjustment,” said the 22-year-old, whom MLB Pipeline ranks as the Mets system’s eighth-best prospect (and best pitcher).
“I think sometimes with all the new pitches and things like that, they’re a little bit harder to control because they have better movement.”
Tidwell, a high pick, was supposed to be moving quickly.
The ascension of Stuart, a sixth-round pick last year, has been a surprise.
“Came out of nowhere this year,” Tidwell said of his rotation-mate. “He’s been the best pitcher in the minor leagues.”
He isn’t exaggerating.
Among pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched, Stuart’s 1.70 ERA is the lowest in all of the minors.
The Mets found the 6-foot-9, fastball-heavy reliever at Southern Mississippi last year and hoped a bigger arsenal could enable Stuart to start. Thus far, it has worked.
“I went into the offseason telling myself I need to develop a slider, I need to develop a really good one,” said Stuart, who worked on the slider with the organization’s pitching minds during spring training. “[The staff] knew exactly the shape, with all the analytics they tell you: ‘This one’s more depth-y, we want more sweep.’”
With a more horizontally breaking slider, he has successfully been landing for strikes, along with a sinker, a four-seamer and a developing changeup, Stuart was all-but unhittable against High-A competition (1.55 ERA in 14 starts) and nearly as excellent with Binghamton (2.16 ERA in four outings).
His next goal is to become more overpowering.
His fastball has averaged around 94 mph this season, and the strong, tall righty hopes an offseason of strength work can bring it to 96 mph.
“If I can be touching upper-90s at some point, I think that would allow me to have some more success,” said Stuart, who is ranked 16th in the organization.
The righty did not have a deep enough mix of pitches to be part of the University of Florida’s rotation, and the Mets took a chance on the reliever in the fifth round in 2021.
His first professional season was middling.
He bounced between the rotation and bullpen with Low-A St. Lucie and High-A Brooklyn and posted a 4.45 ERA in 18 games.
He went to the Arizona Fall League and “got hit around a little bit,” he acknowledged, with a 10.38 ERA in four games.
To find himself, he found a third pitch.
“The changeup has been the biggest tool for me to use,” said Scott, who discovered the pitch while pitching in the Fall League. “I’ve never really had a changeup throughout my career. I was really a two-pitch guy at Florida, a two-pitch guy last year.
“Being able to really have that to be able to use it in all counts has been huge for me.”
The results have been huge, too, with a 2.93 ERA in 16 starts between St. Lucie, Brooklyn and Binghamton.
“It’s almost like a split-change,” said the 24-year-old, who has advanced control and only has walked 12 in 76 ²/₃ innings. “It’s got a little bit more horizontal [movement], so I’m able to throw it to righties and lefties.”
The new weapon has especially helped against righties, who hit him hard last season (.834 OPS) and struggled against him this year (.559 OPS).
𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆: nypost.com
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
𝗣𝗹𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘂𝘀 𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗹 𝗮𝘁 email@example.com