On the Bullpen and Jeurys Familia


As the makeup of the Mets’ 2013 bullpen starts to come into focus, it appears that there are four locks at the moment: Bobby Parnell, Josh Edgin, Scott Atchison, and Brandon Lyon.  In recent days, both Adam Rubin of ESPN and Andrew Keh of the New York Times have noted that LaTroy Hawkins is also close to a lock to be in the pen on opening day.  I find it a bit ridiculous that Hawkins has a spot all but assured at this point since he’s pitched a grand total of one inning, but that’s an article for another day.

March 04, 2013; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jeurys Familia (27) throws during the spring training game against the Atlanta Braves at Tradition Field. Atlanta defeated the New York 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

If the five relievers mentioned above do indeed make the club, that leaves two spots.  If the Mets are intent on carrying two lefties, one of those spots would likely go to either Pedro Feliciano or Scott Rice – presumably leaving Jeurys Familia and recently converted sidearmer Greg Burke to battle it out for the last remaining slot in the bullpen.  If it were up to me, I’d carry both Familia and Burke instead of taking Feliciano (who can’t top 83 MPH) or Rice (a career minor leaguer).  Of course, it isn’t up to me.  It’s up to Sandy Alderson.

Back on January 17th, Alderson had the following to say regarding the 2013 bullpen:

"We’ve got a lot more young guys that are candidates for the pen than in recent years.  We’re not gonna get locked into some low ceiling, stop gap possibilities.  If guys are not performing we want to be in a position to move them out.  At the same time, we think we have some talented young guys that are on the cusp."

That quote is fair enough.  They don’t want to get “locked in” to “low ceiling, stop gap possibilities.”  Alderson was careful with his words, so he could technically take low-ceiling, stop gap types north while shunning the “young guys that are on the cusp.”  He could then quickly cut the low ceiling stop gaps if/when they don’t perform.

It seems silly, though, to reward those who may not deserve it simply because of their track record (as both Dan Warthen and Terry Collins advocated in Keh’s piece that’s linked above).  If LaTroy Hawkins isn’t durable enough to be an asset in 2013, why do his 2003 stats matter?  If Pedro Feliciano has no bullets left in his arm, why would any team even consider carrying him?  In a year that will likely be one of transition, it makes even less sense to carry relievers like LaTroy Hawkins and/or Pedro Feliciano, especially if it comes at the expense of a high ceiling arm that’s ready to contribute.  That’s where Jeurys Familia comes in.

Familia, 23, is a 6’4″, 230 pound right-hander who was signed by the Mets as a non-drafted free agent in July of 2007.  He’s a high upside, power arm.  His numbers as a starter in the minors were quite good in 2008 and 2009 (ERA’s of 2.79 and 2.69 respectively), but he faltered in 2010, sporting an ERA of 5.58 to go along with an insane number of walks (74 in 121 innings pitched).  In 2011, he rebounded, posting an ERA of 2.90 while significantly reducing his walk rate (43 in 124 innings pitched).  Last year, in his first taste of AAA, Familia struggled mightily with his control once again (walking 73 in 137 innings), and had an ERA of 4.73.

After Familia’s 2012 minor league season ended,  his lack of command and absence of a third plus offering led to the Mets’ decision to start using him primarily in a relief role.  The decision wasn’t unexpected, since it’s long been a possibility that Familia’s ultimate destination was the bullpen.  The Mets gave him a brief look in the major league bullpen late last season, and Familia showed flashes while continuing to struggle with his command.

According to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.Com, Familia enters the 2013 season as the Mets’ fifth best prospect .  Here’s what Mayo had to say regarding Familia:

"There has never been any question about Familia’s arm strength and his ability to generate swings and misses, with his strikeout rate of nearly a batter per inning throughout his Minor League career. He can maintain his mid-90s velocity throughout his starts with good sink. His slider with short bite gives him a very good breaking ball to complement his fastball, and it has a cutter-type action. He shows some feel for a sinking changeup, though he doesn’t throw it much, especially when he’s coming out of the bullpen. His lack of command and the lack of a consistent third pitch makes most think a relief role makes the most sense, with the potential to be a future closer."

As Mayo notes above, Familia had no trouble keeping his velocity up as a starter.  As someone who will now be coming out of the pen, his fastball should play up even better.  He’s the type of high upside arm who could be a late inning shutdown reliever for the Mets for years to come.

Familia gave up two runs in his first appearance this spring.  Since then, he’s been nearly untouchable.  In his last five appearances (an inning apiece), he hasn’t surrendered a run.  Overall, he’s given up four hits this spring in his six innings of work, walked three, and struck out four.  Spring stats of course have to be taken with a grain of salt, which is why it’s important that Familia’s stuff has matched his results.  Before this spring, I don’t recall watching an outing where Familia didn’t struggle with his control.  This spring, however, he’s had command of the strike zone during pretty much every appearance he’s made.

Aside from his improved command, impressive velocity, and ability to get hitters to swing and miss, Familia has been great at generating weak ground outs this spring by using his two seam fastball.  Out of the pitchers who are locks for the bullpen and the pitchers who are still competing for spots, Familia has the best stuff.  As of now, he’s showing the ability to harness that stuff.  If he maintains his high level of performance throughout the remainder of spring training, there’s no reason why the Mets should even have to consider whether or not to take him north on April 1st.  His inclusion on the roster should be a formality.  With veterans like Hawkins and Feliciano still lurking, whether or not Familia’s inclusion will indeed be a formality at that point remains to be seen.

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