After the Mets announced their minor league deal with Pedro Feliciano last month, he looked to be the favorite to join Josh Edgin as the two left-handed relievers in New York’s bullpen this season. Now that he’ll be shut down for at least two weeks while he wears a heart monitor, Terry Collins and Dan Warthen are forced to look at other southpaw options to fill that spot in the ‘pen.
Adam Rubin of ESPN New York mentions the Mets could break camp with just Edgin as the only left-hander in the bullpen, but they need to bring more than one lefty north, especially with plenty of options to choose from and the lack of MLB experience for Edgin (25.2 IP with NYM last season). So, with Perpetual Pedro on the shelf, the remaining options in camp for the Mets to evaluate are Scott Rice, Darin Gorski, Robert Carson, and Aaron Laffey.
Of these remaining options, Collins has the opportunity to choose from two veterans and two young arms. However, those “veterans” don’t come with a lot of Major League service time, either. Let’s take a brief look at each of these relievers to see what they could potentially offer the Mets in 2013.
Scott Rice is a 31-year-old career minor leaguer, who has spent 11 seasons without getting a taste of what life is like in the Big Leagues. He’s obviously hungry for a chance to make it to the Show, and there is no doubt he’s gracious to have the opportunity to come into camp for an open audition to make the team. He hasn’t gotten the chance to showcase what he can do in a game yet, but there is plenty of time for him to show the organization what he’s capable of.
Unless Rice puts together an insane spring, he would not be on the top of my wish list to be part of the left-handed duo in the ‘pen. He’s been in professional baseball for over a decade, but I’d rather have someone with some more upside and one that is more proven than him to take control of this competition. I think Rice will likely end up in Triple-A Las Vegas and be a good insurance plan for the organization.
Laffey is an interesting option because he’s young (27-years-old) and has been used as both a starter and reliever in recent years. So, he could be a valuable chip for Collins throughout the year, as he could use him for a spot start, while also leveraging him in late-game situations. He made his first apparance of the spring yesterday against the Astros, throwing two scoreless innings, allowing two hitts, one walk, while striking out one.
He should be used primarily as a reliever, as he’s had a lack of success as a starter, which I would attribute to him being mainly a two-pitch pitcher (fastball-change-up). Also, as a soft-tosser (86mph avg fastball), he could be a good compliment to Edgin, who averaged a fastball speed of 93 mph in 2012.
Before pitchers and catchers reported, we heard Gorski was going to get a look in camp as a reliever, although his chances of making the team were slim. Now that Feliciano could be out of the picture, those odds may not be so bleak afterall. Through four professional seasons, the 24-year-old has put together a 29-23 record, with a 3.68 ERA in 90 appearances (74 starts).
Even if Gorski has a tremendous spring, it wouldn’t be prudent of the Mets to send him to Flushing because he’s simply not ready yet. Not only has he primarly been a starter during his time in the organization, but he hasn’t pitched higher than the Double-A level. Doing this would remind me of Jenrry Mejia making the team in 2010 because they didn’t have many options in relief. In Gorski’s case, there are plenty of other options for the Mets, and it would be best for him to transition to being a full-time reliever in the minors this season to see how he handles it, if that’s the road the organization wants him to take. There is certainly no rush to get him to the Majors.
Coincidentally enough, Carson is only 24-years-old, but he’s near the top of this list when it comes to Big League experience. He threw 13.1 innings last season for New York, and despite his 4.73 ERA, he showed a lot of promise for the years ahead. The fastball-slider pitcher complimented Edgin well, as he pumped his heater in at an average of almost 95mph. He hasn’t made an appearance in a game yet, but I think he’ll get the longest look of all these options, as he’s already showcased what he could do at the highest level, in tight situations.
This decision becomes more interesting with Tim Byrdak possibly being ready to return to action by July, which would give Sandy Alderson the veteran presence from the left side he desires. If he continues to rehab ahead of schedule, New York may only need someone to fill that void for a few months.
Out of the options listed above, I think either Laffey or Carson will end up winning this roster spot. However, for Laffey, there will be other things that need to fall into place for him to break camp in the Bigs. His roster spot could depend on how Jeremy Hefner fares during camp (who can also be a spot starter and reliever), as I feel he’d be a more effective option for that job with his strike-throwing reputation.
It would be preferred to have a veteran take the spot next to Edgin, but I really like the combination of Edgin and Carson in the ‘pen. Having two power arms that are southpaws can be a huge advantage when getting into the late innings, especially when the NL East is full of impact left-handed bats.
So, if he performs well enough during camp, I’d rather see this young duo in the bullpen on Opening Day. It would be nice to have a veteran lefty, but if some of the older right-handers perform and make the team, there will be enough of an influence in the ‘pen this season. For now, let’s go with the youth, allow these two to continue maturing at the Major League level, and see what the organization has to work with for the years to come.