Prospect Pulse: Familia Answers Critics

Over the last two weeks I have seen my fill of criticism about Jeurys Familia. For some reason it seems as if Mets fans and bloggers want this guy to fail. Either that, or they are just trying to make themselves look smart by pointing out his short-comings, and predicting limited success for him as a major league prospect. The negative sooth-sayers are predicting at-best that Family will have to be moved to the bullpen, due to a lack of quality secondary offerings. At-worst they are saying that he is “greatly over-rated” by people such as myself, and is not nearly the prospect that I/we have made him out to be.

NEWS FLASH: There has been a “Familia sighting” over Syracuse, NY, and the specter was not a welcome sight for International League opponents of the Bisons. Familia, pitching game one of Sunday’s double-header, did not even resemble the pitcher who had made three starts so far this year while wearing number 28 for Buffalo. The guy wearing number 28 on Sunday was dominant and unpredictable, and drove the Chiefs line-up to distraction while trying to figure him out.

In five innings of work in a 6-1 Bison victory, he only allowed one serious hit, to some guy by the name of Bryce Harper. Harper, the number one prospect in the minor leagues, drilled his first AAA homer on a 3-2 pitch to deep right-center field in the 4th inning. Other than that Family had the Chiefs by the baseballs. His line on the day: 5 IP, 4 hits, 1 run, 3 BB’s, 8 K’s, while improving his record to 2-1.

After having struggled mightily in his first three starts to consistently throw strikes, Family only had one or two brief stints of wildness on Sunday, most notably right after Harper’s home run, when he walked the next batter on four straight pitches. But he worked through it each time and was able to get himself back on-track. For the day he threw 93 pitches and 56 of them were for strikes.

Familia worked off his two and four-seam fastballs, while mixing in an effective off-speed pitch that locked up hitters for called third strikes on more than one occasion. His four-seamer was thrown about 93 mph, and topped out at 95 with a little arm side run. The two-seamer was his most effective pitch by far, thrown in the 92-93 mph range, with significant sink and arm-side break.

The breaking ball he used the most appeared to be a curve-ball at around 80-82 mph. It was uneven in it’s break, and he left a couple of them elevated, but for the most part the pitch was effective at keeping the hitters off-balance. The fact that he was able to get his off-speed stuff over for strikes meant that the hitters couldn’t just sit on the fastball. I believe I saw him throw a couple of change-ups too. They were at around the same speed as his off-speed pitches, around 82 mph, but showed some late fade and arm-side run.

One of the most impressive things about Familia’s performance on Sunday, was the way he changed speeds and location from pitch to pitch. He was very hard to predict and had the hitters guessing, and guessing wrong. No two pitches in a row were the same speed, or the same eye level, or the same part of the zone.

At one point in the game, when Familia was striking out six-out-of-seven hitters, he seemed completely untouchable. Batters were going down on three pitches left and right, some barely waving at the ball. It was just a glimpse at this guy’s potential, and believe me the future looks bright for the 6’4″ 230 lb. 22-year-old.

No doubt, the breaking ball still needs work, and he must be able to command the pitch better. Actually command is the name-of-the-game for all his pitches right now, but when one considers how far he has come in that regard over the last several years, then one can imagine how much more he will progress with a full year at AAA.

The idea of banishing him to the bullpen in the near future, is completely asinine. He has a promising and expanding repertoire of pitches, and should definitely improve his breaking stuff enough to be able to compete in a big-league rotation. Additionally the kid is a horse, very strong, with a powerful core and lower-half. He should prove to be very durable as a starter, with good stamina, and could one day become a workhorse in the rotation. When he fine tunes a put-away pitch, enabling him to be more economical, it will help him last longer into games.

In the meantime, he’s only 22, and pitching in his first season at AAA. It’s April right now, and this year is going to be huge for his development. So before we decide that he’ll never make it as a big-league starting pitcher, could we at least see what happens with him this year? And perhaps with continued development on his part, we’ll see him making starts for the Mets in September, and then we can all judge what we’ve got in Familia, with our own eyes.