Tyler Bashlor, the New York Mets hard throwing right-handed relief prospect, encountered quite the setback to his young career.
Selected in the 11th-round of the 2013 MLB Draft, Bashlor was given a $550,000 signing bonus, which was $450,000 over-slot in order to keep him from continuing his college career at a four-year institution.
Following his brief 2013 performance, in which Bashlor appeared in 13 games while posting a 5.74 ERA with nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (18), he underwent Tommy John surgery on May 13, 2014.
While Bashlor was working his way back, pitching in extended spring training in 2015, he was met with setbacks.
Around the one year mark, Bashlor said he was throwing a bullpen session when he felt a ‘pop’ in his elbow. Fearful that he had torn the ligament once again, he was assured that it wasn’t the case. Instead, Bashlor dealt with scar tissue, which sidelined the young righty for all of 2015.
Bashlor was able to alleviate some of his worries when he had the chance to speak with another member of the Mets who underwent his own Tommy John surgery and required a longer than normal time table to get back into action: Steven Matz.
Frustration and an eagerness to get back onto the diamond, Bashlor was cleared and ready to pitch in 2016, hoping to finally show the Mets organization the promise they saw in signing him to an over-slot bonus back in ’13.
He began the season in the South Atlantic League, pitching for the Columbia Fireflies. Getting off to a fast start was imperative for Bashlor, and he lived up to the hype. Over his first 14 games, Bashlor posted a 1.09 ERA, striking out 28 batters over 24.2 innings pitched, while holding the opposition to a .172 batting average.
Among Columbia pitchers in 2016, Bashlor had the third best strikeout rate (31.5 percent), third best swinging strike rate (16.2 percent) and the fifth best FIP (3.18).
In 2017, Bashlor opened the season with the St. Luice Mets in the Florida State League, after making a brief appearance with the club in four games during the ’16 season. Over his first 20 appearances, Bashlor allowed an earned run in just three of those games, holding opposing batters to a .188 average with 40 strikeouts in just 22.2 innings pitched.
His strong relief efforts awarded him his first All-Star Game appearance of any kind, appearing with four of his St. Lucie Mets teammates. Bashlor entered the FSL All Star Game in the fifth, pitching two thirds of an inning with two strikeouts.
His performance with St. Lucie led to a promotion with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies near the end of July, as the Rumble Ponies were battling for a postseason spot. Bashlor appeared in 12 games and did not allow an earned run over 14.2 innings. He threw 68 percent of his pitches for strikes, and continued to strikeout opponents at a high rate, with 23 punch-outs to just four walks.
His repertoire consists of a mid-90s fastball that can top out close to triple-digits, a sharp curveball and a change-up. Among minor league pitchers with a minimum of 40 innings pitched in 2017, Bashlor led in strikeouts-per-nine (15.22) and was tied for 13th in FIP (1.80).
After solid back-to-back seasons for Bashlor, the Mets had some tough decisions to make. Being in the minor leagues for four seasons, he needed to be added to the club’s 40-man roster, in order to protect him from exposure to the Rule 5 draft. The soon to be 25-year-old righty admitted that the looming roster decisions were on his mind all off-season, and felt a sense of security once he was added to the 40-man roster.
With an off-season consisting of bullpens, working out, and spending six weeks with Mike Barwis in Florida, Bashlor is ready for another strong season. With his high octane fastball and sizzling strikeout totals, he is certainly an intriguing arm to keep any eye on, as he could very well make his major league debut some time in 2018.
I had the privilege of interviewing Bashlor early on in Spring Training, where we discussed his transition to pitching, undergoing Tommy John surgery, and his reactions to being added to the 40-man roster this past off-season.
MMO: Who were some of your favorite players growing up?
Bashlor: I never really had any favorite players, to be honest. I didn’t really watch any sports, I do from time-to-time but I don’t go out of my way to watch any.
MMO: Who introduced you to the game early on?
Bashlor: My parents. I was into every sport, baseball, basketball and football. They introduced me, and my two older brothers played so I was just following them.
MMO: I read that you were primarily a catcher and third baseman in high school, and didn’t start to pitch until you played in Connecticut at the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. Can you talk a little about that?
Bashlor: I was a third baseman and catcher in high school. When I went to college my freshman year I was catcher/third baseman, but they moved me to the outfield, like the first day of practice. Then that summer, going into my sophomore year in college, I went up to the Collegiate League in Connecticut as a pitcher. I never pitched before and I went up there and kind of got my name on the board.
MMO: Were you scouted by teams as a catcher, third baseman, and/or outfielder as well?
Bashlor: Yeah, I got some looks my freshman year in the outfield.
MMO: Leading up the 2013 MLB Draft, did you have any conversations with the Mets about potentially getting drafted by the club?
Bashlor: I talked to the Mets once, maybe. They were one of the teams that I had talked to. So I had kind of an idea I would get drafted.
MMO: You underwent Tommy John surgery in May of 2014, and didn’t come back to pitch until the 2016 season. How difficult was that time period for you, and what kind of setbacks did you have that made you lose two seasons?
Bashlor: It was hard for me just sitting there watching all of my teammates and friends pass me by. So I struggled with that a little bit. Everything was good until 11 or 12 months out, maybe 13. I was throwing a bullpen and I felt a ‘pop’ I guess in my elbow, and I thought I re-tore it. It was just scar tissue breaking up and I dealt with that for a whole other year.
MMO: Did the doctors say the scar tissue was something that could occur in pitchers who underwent Tommy John?
Bashlor: Yeah, they said that it was normal. Steven Matz was down there rehabbing for a little bit while I was down there. I kind of just talked to him a lot because he kind of went through the same thing, it took him two years and he said it was scar tissue for him. So I wasn’t too worried, but I was a little worried at the same time.
MMO: You opened the ’16 season with the Columbia Fireflies, and got off to a great start. Through your first 14 games you posted a minuscule 1.09 ERA with 28 strikeouts and an opposing batting average of just .172. What did it mean for you to start the season off strong?
Bashlor: Oh dude, I was ready to get back. I wanted to make a statement when I came back and I just wanted to be back healthy. Even going to Columbia, I was still having scar tissue problems the first month of that season. And finally it just stopped, and I got back to normal.
MMO: Did the Mets lay out any specific plan for you in 2016, in terms of games and or pitch counts to ease you back into action?
Bashlor: No, they were just trying to get me back on the field. I had been out the last two years, I mean, they really hadn’t gotten their money’s worth, you know?
MMO: What was your experience like being named a Florida State League All Star in 2017 while pitching for St. Lucie?
Bashlor: Oh, it was awesome. Being picked for something like that is always cool, and getting to throw in an All-Star Game. I’ve never been in an All-Star Game anywhere, but it was awesome, a cool experience.
MMO: You were promoted to Double-A Binghamton in late July of 2017. Were there major differences you saw between the Florida State League and the Eastern League?
Bashlor: Difference in me? Yeah, I noticed a big difference in me. Talent wise, no. Hitters are a little bit more patient up there, but getting called up to Binghamton was probably my favorite memory of playing pro ball so far.
MMO: Was there anything specific you worked on this off-season in preparation for the 2018 season?
Bashlor: Did the same thing, man. I worked out at a small gym back home that I go to. Worked out every day. I threw to my dad, he’s my throwing partner every year, and he catches all my bullpens. The last half of the off-season, the last six weeks I spent with (Mike) Barwis down in Port St. Lucie.
MMO: What type of work did you do with Barwis?
Bashlor: It’s not a whole lot of weight lifting like I usually do. It was a lot of teaching how to run, a lot of explosive stuff with your lower half. So it was a nice way to change things up.
MMO: You were added to the 40-man roster this past winter, was that something you had been thinking about throughout the season?
Bashlor: Oh yeah. I thought about that the whole off-season to be honest.
MMO: What were your thoughts as soon as you found out you had been added to the Mets 40-man?
Bashlor: It was great. I called my parents right away because they were out of town. Called them right away and let them know, let my family know. It was an awesome feeling.
MMO: You’re participating in your first big league spring training, how’s it been going so far?
Bashlor: Dude, it is awesome. Way better than minor league spring training, that’s for sure.
MMO: To you, what are the major differences between a big league spring training and a minor league one?
Bashlor: Obviously being around big league players but the No. 1 thing for me was the food. Way better spread! But being able to be around these big league guys who’ve put in the time is awesome, being able to learn from them.
MMO: Are there any pitchers that you try to emulate on the mound?
Bashlor: Craig Kimbrel.
MMO: I appreciate your time today, Tyler. Hope you have a great spring and looking forward to watching your progression.
Bashlor: Alright man, thanks.
Follow Tyler Bashlor on Twitter, @TylerBashlor