New York Mets pitching prospect P.J. Conlon will have the honor of being the first Irish-born to play in the Major Leagues since pitcher Joe Cleary with the Washington Senators in 1945 when he starts tonight against the Cincinnati Reds.
Conlon will also become the first native of Belfast to play in the majors since Henry “Irish” McIlveen who played from 1906, 1908-1909 with Pittsburgh and the New York Highlanders
He will be added to the 40-man roster and make the start for Jacob deGrom (hyperextended right elbow) as the Mets decide to be cautious with their ace.
The soft-tossing left-hander was born in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland before moving to California as a kid so his family could escape the conflict there. His Irish father Patrick and Scottish mother Susan met in California before they moved back to Belfast and had P.J.
Patrick Joshua Conlon would go on to pitch at the University of San Diego where he started his career as a reliever, just like he would with the Mets organization.
His final season at San Diego he had a 2.17 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 6.31 H/9 and allowed only one home run in 91 innings spanning 14 starts and one relief appearance.
The Mets decided to take Conlon with their 13th round pick of the 2016 draft. He found immediate success in their system when he was sent to the Brooklyn Cyclones bullpen to begin in pro career. He pitched 17 innings in which he had 25 strikeouts compared to only two walks, eight hits and didn’t allow an earned run.
Conlon, 24, continued his dominance the next season starting with the Low-A Columbia Fireflies including a game when he pitched 10 innings allowing only an unearned run. After posting a 2.18 ERA in 12 starts for Columbia the Mets promoted Conlon to the Advanced-A St. Lucie Mets.
The funky lefty was even better for St. Lucie with a 1.41 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 6.6 H/9, 2.0 BB/9 and 7.2 K/9 in 63.2 innings for the Mets. Accolades were a plenty for Conlon in 2016 as he was a South Atlantic League mid-season All-Star, SAL Pitcher of the Week for June 5, Mets Minor League Pitcher of the Year and MiLB.com’s Fan Choice for Best Starting Pitcher.
Conlon would be sent to Double-A Binghamton for the 2017. There he had a respectable 3.38 ERA (6th in EL), 1.24 WHIP and held opponents to a .249 average. He did see a slight drop in K/9 (7.21 in 2016 to 7.15 in 2017) and small increase in his walk rate (1.98 BB/9 in 2016 to 2.51 in 2017).
He would finish the 2017 season in the bullpen for Binghamton as he had a career-high 22 starts and set a career-high with 136 innings.
The Mets invited Conlon to Major League camp this spring and he was expected to be moved to the bullpen full-time for the 2018 season. His final outing in Major League camp came on March 24 against the St. Louis Cardinals as the starting pitcher when he threw four scoreless innings allowing only one hit (double to Marcell Ozuna) with two strikeouts.
Conlon has been in Triple-A Las Vegas this year for the 51s in the hitters haven of the Pacific Coast League and has made five starts. The 6.75 ERA and 1.58 WHIP look bad though he’s allowed only one homer in 24 innings and has posted a solid 2.6 BB/9 while his 7.9 K/9 is the highest since his time in Brooklyn.
Let’s jump to what you should expect to see from Conlon as a pitcher on Monday night against the Cincinnati Reds. The first thing you notice about Conlon is his funky delivery that allows him to hide the ball well from the hitter and is a big reason for his minor league success despite having a fastball that is mostly 86-88 mph.
His best pitch is a changeup which is a definite 60 (of 80) on the scouting scale and is absolutely a Major League pitch. He gets enough movement on the pitch at times that it can look like a splitter. He also throws a solid slow curve and a slider that he uses as a cutter to try and bust hitters in. Another reason for his minor league success is great control of his pitches (career 2.0 BB/9).
Given his lack of fastball it will be interesting to see how he fares after the first time through the order. His start today could be an audition to pitch out of the Mets bullpen later in the year as they’ve used just Jerry Blevins as a lefty this season. Prior the 2018 season (.929 OPS) he had handled lefties very well holding them to .631 OPS in 2017, .555 OPS in 2016 and .222 OPS in 2015.
All in all, Conlon is a pitcher with a ton of success in the minor leagues and him making to the big leagues is a great story in itself. Now the Mets just need him to help stop a brutal six-game losing streak.