The Mets currently have the best of problems in that they have too many above-average starting pitchers to cram into a 5-man rotation. With four of those spots locked up by Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz, three young arms were left to compete for the fifth spot. As spring training is winding down, a front runner seems to have emerged.
In an effort to limit Zack Wheeler‘s innings in the beginning of the season, he will most likely stay in extended spring training and not be on the Opening Day roster. Furthermore, even when he does return to Flushing, he might see some time out of the bullpen to further limit his workload. The idea is to curtail his innings now so when the Mets make the playoffs in October, he doesn’t need to be shut down due to an innings limit.
Seth Lugo is another possibility for the fifth spot in the rotation, however he is a bit of a long shot. He has pitched phenomenally in the World Baseball Classic for the Puerto Rican team, starting two games. He has gone 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings, striking out five batters and pitching to a pristine 0.64 WHIP. Puerto Rico is to face the Netherlands in a semi-final game, and if they win they will face the winner of USA vs Japan in the Championship game. He will probably be counted on to pitch in one or both of those games as he has been their most effective pitcher by far.
Lugo, 27, pitched well after his call-up last season going 5-2 with a 2.67 ERA and 4.33 FIP, striking out 45 batters in 64 innings and pitching to a 1.094 WHIP. While his numbers certainly warrant an extended look in the rotation, the Mets starting pitching surplus makes him the #6 option behind his Rookie counterpart Robert Gsellman.
Because of injuries to the starting rotation in 2016, Gsellman was called up to the Show and impressed just about everyone. Despite having posted a 3.99 ERA and striking out 88 batters in 115 minor league innings before his promotion, he put those numbers behind him and went 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA, 2.63 FIP, and 42 strikeouts in 44 Major League innings.
Gsellman has a good shot at the National League Rookie of the Year award as he maintains his rookie status after pitching less than 50 innings last year. At this point, despite his superb pitching in the WBC, Lugo only has an outside chance of making the Major League bullpen, let alone the rotation. All signs point to Lugo beginning the season in Triple-A Las Vegas where he will start and continue to hone his skills.
If or when something happens to one of the Mets starters, Seth Lugo will probably be called on to fill the gap in the rotation unless it is late enough in the season that Zack Wheeler is ready. As I explored recently, Gsellman might actually be better than Wheeler, so it will be interesting to see what happens if Wheeler is ready to come back but the rotation is still fully healthy.
In the meantime, however, it is a foregone conclusion that Gsellman has sewed up the fifth spot in the rotation and, in my opinion, has a great chance of being the 2017 National League Rookie of the Year.