Change is the only constant for a minor league baseball fan. Rosters come and rosters go as the needs of the major league club are tended to. Just when a minor league fan gets familiar and comfortable with their team’s roster, they arrive at the park to discover key personnel have been elevated. It’s a way of life in the minor league game.
In Binghamton, recent minor league seasons have been a pitching bonanza. Every season a different Mets phenom has anchored the B-Mets rotation. Matt Harvey in 2011. Zack Wheeler in 2012. Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard in 2013. Steven Matz in 2014. And even though he is no longer in the Met system, the Eastern League’s Pitcher of the Year, Michael Fulmer in 2015.
In fact, 2015 was a banner year for Binghamton pitchers. The B-Met staff finished 4th out of 12 Eastern League teams in ERA, 3rd in WHIP, tied for 2nd in saves, 4th in strikeouts and they allowed the 4th fewest hits. In Binghamton’s Pedro Lopez era, B-Met fans have come to expect their pitching to rank towards the top of the league every season.
With all that B-Met pitching excellence as a backdrop, I ventured to Binghamton’s Welcome Back Dinner last week filled with a sense of foreboding that the 2016 staff would simply pale in comparison against the mound work we have come to expect in recent seasons. I left the dinner pleasantly surprised that at least for the first part of the season, pitching once again should be a Binghamton strong point.
I found myself smiling in the autograph line to see Jacob deGrom’s ‘hair apparent’ sitting with the pitchers signing baseballs. Robert Gsellman had returned to Binghamton as the ace of the B-Met staff.
Pedro Lopez handed Gsellman the ball on Opening Night and the big right-hander showed why media reports have projected him as a future back of the rotation starter in the major leagues. Gsellman retired the first seven batters he faced, three with swinging strikeouts, before New Hampshire’s Melky Mesa lifted a solo home run to right-center field. That was the only nick in Gsellman’s armor with the B-Met ace going 5.2 innings allowing 2 hits and striking out 7 while walking two.
Historically, Gsellman is more noted for enticing batters to ground out than strike out. Gsellman’s combined ground ball rate last season pitching at St. Lucie and Binghamton topped 50 percent. At 6’4” and with an over the top pitching delivery. Gsellman’s 91-93 mph fastball arrives at home plate on a downward plane making it more likely batters will hit the ball on the ground.
Rainy Lara, another right-hander returns to Binghamton. Facing elimination in a 2014, opening play-off round in Portland, Lara earned a win, to keep the B-Mets season alive, a season when they would win an Eastern League championship. Last season, Lara had a steady hand in the B-Met rotation going 9-5 on the year.
One of my favorite B-Mets Tyler Pill is starting the new season again in Binghamton. Pill compiled 15 consecutive victories over the course of two seasons in the B-Met starting rotation. A two-way college starter at Cal State Fullerton, Pill outsmarts, not overpowers batters. After going 9-5 as a B-Met and winning his final nine decisions in 2014, Pill rejoined the team once again during last season’s pennant race and won all six of his decisions finishing toward the top of the Eastern League in several pitching categories.
Pill, who batted .354 with 7 home runs and a .535 slugging percentage in 2010 at Cal State credits much of his pitching success to the lessons he learned in the batter’s box. And, Pill can still hit going 19-45 at the plate during his minor league career good for a .422 batting average. And, get this, 5 of those 19 hits have been for extra bases with Pill holding an eye popping 1.004 OPS.
Rounding out the starting rotation, Pedro Lopez is expected to use veteran knuckleballer Mickey Jannis, 6’8” left-handed free agent Andrew Barboas, and right-hander Logan Taylor. Taylor pitched an inning of relief during Friday’s B-Met opener to pick up the save.
Lopez has to be excited about his options in the bullpen beginning with the athletically gifted Akeel Morris. Morris, 23, made one appearance with the Mets last season and struck out 81 batters in just over 61 innings at two levels of the minor leagues while registering a 2.05 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP.
Another right-hander, Luis Mateo has racked up big strikeout totals over his minor league career fanning 212 batters in 181 innings pitched. At 6’6” right-hander Mike Hepple paints an imposing picture on the pitcher’s mound. In his first two seasons of professional baseball Hepple’s ERA is a stingy 2.34. Opposing batters hit only average .227 against the new B-Met right-hander.
Lopez can call on a trio of left-handers; Kelly Secrest, who has never allowed a home run in 82 innings of work, David Rosebloom with a career 9.9 strikeout rate per 9 innings, and Kyle Regnault who saved 7 games last year for St. Lucie in 8 chances. Right-hander Beck Wheeler, 5-1 last season in Binghamton, is back hoping his nasty curveball will mean more pitching success.
Weather permitting, the B-Mets are itching to get back to work squaring off against New Hampshire again on Sunday.