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Matt Harvey Less Than Impressive in Double-A, Melky Mesa Improving



By Joseph Delgrippo ~ August 14th, 2011. Filed under: Digest Contributors, Mets Minors, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Yanks Minors.

There is no better way for a major league baseball organization to improve its future than to develop some high impact arms. A group of power armed starting pitchers can quickly transform a sub.-500 team into a playoff contender or even a World Series winner. Teams with generally weak lineups can win primarily based upon their pitching staffs.

Perfect examples are teams like the 2008-2011 Tampa Bay Rays and last season’s San Francisco Giants.

The New York Mets’ new hierarchy is following that same track, by drafting and developing power arms like Michael Fulmer this season and pushing 2010 first round draft pick Matt Harvey to Double-A in his first pro season.

I saw Harvey throw last Wednesday night against a very hitting challenged Trenton Thunder team. Without injured “sluggers” Austin Romine and Bradley Suttle, no Thunder regular had an average over .275, and only one, Corban Joseph, slugged better than .400, and that was only a robust .408.

Still, the weak Thunder lineup generated six hits and scored three runs off Harvey.

Reports on Harvey referred to great command of three pitches, a popping fastball, sharp slider and improving changeup. Besides the consistent 94-95 MPH fastball, with the couple 97s in the fourth inning, very little of the great command which was written about was ever shown.

Sorry Met fans, but I was not that impressed.

Harvey has a smooth delivery, reminiscent to fellow North Carolina alum Adam Warren, who currently pitches for the Triple-A Scranton Yankees. He has good arm action, but lands on a somewhat stiff front leg. I would also like to see Harvey get out a little further in his stride.

Harvey did show a very hard fastball, but it was mostly over the middle and appeared very hittable. The Thunder strung together three straight hits to lead off the second inning, scoring two runs. The toolsy Melky Mesa (more on him later) led off with a hard single up the middle on a 3-2 pitch, and advanced to second on a bullet line drive by Zoilo Almonte which struck Harvey and caromed over to the third baseman. Damon Sublett followed with a deep double to left center. Although Harvey did not walk anyone, he ran the count deep several times and had to come in with a meaty fastball to get the ball across.

This was because Harvey had no feel for his breaking pitches. He left the slider (82-85 MPH) up quite a bit in the first three innings, with almost no bite, but the pitch got a little better in the 4th and 5th innings where he generated a few swings and misses. Credit him (and the catcher) for continuing to go to it, as it sometimes takes hard throwers a little while to get their breaking balls working.

Harvey’s curveball had a rinky-dink break due to his much too early release point, but his changeup, although thrown very infrequently, had a nice, short tail to it.

I am not one to believe that peripheral’s or “stuff” make or break a pitchers performance. There is quite a bit more to pitching than missing bats or having projection or “upside.” Harvey has one good pitch in a hard fastball, but at this level, and against this team, he can get away with overpowering weaker hitters.

I read a recent piece where Mets GM Sandy Alderson stated, “Once a guy gets to Double-A, anything can happen…I think 2012 at some point is conceivable. I think definitely 2013 would be an expectation on our part.

This means absolutely nothing. It is general knowledge that if a prospect is a Double-A All-Star, he will likely get to the majors at some point. As a former Top-10 pick the fact that Harvey will make the major leagues is a foregone conclusion.

But unless Harvey becomes much more consistent with his secondary offerings, including getting on top of his curveball, tightening up his slider and throwing his changeup more often, he will not be the top of the rotation savior Mets fans are expecting.

***

Last summer I traveled to see the Yankees High-A Tampa Yankees team to see Manny Banuelos pitch a couple games. The eventual 2010 Florida State Player of the Year, Melky Mesa, was the centerfielder and middle of the order hitter.

Mesa showed a great speed on the bases, great range in the outfield, a tremendous throwing arm, good bat speed and really good power with the bat. In one game, I witnessed Mesa hit a towering home run with great back spin, then line a double down the left field line which saw him get to second base about the same time the left fielder was throwing the ball in.

He appeared to be a second coming of Austin Jackson, both of who floundered for a few seasons before finally putting everything together once they began playing in Tampa.

Only problem was that Mesa could not recognize a breaking pitch to save his life, and struck out a 129 times in 507 plate appearances. While not terrible considering the power potential, this was against High-A pitching. What would happen if Mesa began facing better pitchers with better breaking balls at the higher levels? During a radio appearance from the Arizona Fall League last season, I predicted that playing a full season at Double-A in 2011, Mesa could conceivably strike out close to 200 times, with 175 whiffs was a virtual lock.

Mesa made my prediction look good early in his first taste of Double-A baseball, whiffing 54 times in 175 PA through the end of May with only three home runs. A lower back injury caused Mesa to miss most of June.

In the two games last week, I saw a different Melky Mesa. In the past, Mesa had lots of weight on his front foot during his stance, similar to the Cubs’ Alfonso Soriano (another guy who can’t recognize a decent breaking ball). But now, Mesa was more balanced in the box and in both games he avoided swinging at quite a few sliders low and away.

On Tuesday night during his first PA against Collin McHugh, Mesa laid off a good 1-2 slider before grounding out. In his 3rd PA, he avoided two consecutive down and away sliders before drawing a walk.

Against Harvey, Mesa received much of the same, a mix of early fastballs then a quantity of breaking pitches. In his first PA, he was behind 0-2, laid off an away slider before working the count full. He then nailed a 3-2 fastball up the middle for a single. His second PA saw him taking a few early breaking pitches before another full count saw him line a slider to semi-deep right field.

He stayed in well on all these breaking pitches, and all pitches thrown to him by low three-quarter slot right-handed reliever Rhiner Cruz.

While Mesa continues to strike out in just over 30% of his PA’s, the improved recognition on breaking pitches is a welcome relief and if this improvement continues, it could help him reach the majors since many of the other skills (speed, defensive play, throwing arm) are major league ready now.

OTHER NOTABLES

Left-handed hitter Reese Havens showed good plate discipline, quick hands and hips plus a short stroke. He used the entire field, getting hits down the right field line, left field line and up the middle. Defensive range was a question for Reese a converted shortstop. He did not move his feet at all on a routine ground ball, content to play it off the backhand side, resulting in a predictable error.

Havens’ only major issues has been injuries, but since his bat will play well in the majors, if he stays relatively free of injury, Havens could compete as early as next spring for the Mets very wide open second base job.

Matt den Dekker did not show much except good range in the outfield, but on one play he ran down a ball in right center before dropping the deep drive.

Former first round pick (for the San Diego Padres) Allan Dykstra whiffed four times Tuesday night, not unpredictable since he has a long and off-balance swing plus moves his feet quite a bit in the batter’s box.

Thunder reliever Chase Whitley was 91 consistently with a decent 83-84 slider, but throws WAY across his body and did not have great command. His changeup was often very up in the zone.

Thunder second baseman Corban Joseph is a hitter I liked in Tampa last year, showing good bat speed, strong plate discipline and surprising power. He is best when trying to hit the ball up the middle. Now he has begun to pull off the ball and takes way too many pitches down the middle of the plate, both early and late in the count.

It is never positive to take pitches for the sake of taking pitches, especially hittable fastballs early in the count. While he lays off most pitches outside the zone and draws quite a few walks, he would be best served to attack those hittable strikes. Good plate discipline should not be measured solely by drawing walks. He also is a not real good defensively at second base.

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Joseph Delgrippo is an aspiring sportswriter and TV baseball analyst. He played NCAA baseball, at tiny Marietta (OH) College, participating in the Division 3 World Series. In addition, he's coached baseball at the high school level. His knowledge of this game goes far beyond what is shown on television.

4 Responses to Matt Harvey Less Than Impressive in Double-A, Melky Mesa Improving

  1. Tommy2cat

    Gee, Joe, you make yourself sound almost like a real expert. You extract so much from such a small sample.

  2. holmer

    Joe, you sound like a “glass half empty” guy.

  3. Joseph DelGrippo

    Then I guess the positive comments on Reese Havens and Melky Mesa were the half full part?

    I just call ‘em like I see ‘em.

    Read my piece from last week on Jordany Valdespin which links my articles from the Arizona Fall League.

    Here, I will help you:

    http://josephdelgrippo.wordpress.com/2010/11/

    Lots of positive stuff in them about young prospects. It’s just not alot of them were NY Mets.

    Notice, however, that I wrote a positive comment on Josh Collmenter (pitcher #4 in the article) of the Diamondbacks, who now has come out of nowhere to win seven games with a 3.51 ERA and WHIP just over 1 for the 1st poalce D’Backs.

  4. Josh

    You’re kidding right? Harvey has more strikeouts than innings in Double-A and only 13 walks. You’re using one game as your evaluation? And Melky Mesa is a 24 year old getting killed in Double-A. He’s hitting .236, not a lot of pop, 110 K’s to 33 walks, and 17 steals and 12 caught stealing. And you’re praising him? You sound like a Yankee fan that should have no business commenting on Mets prospects.

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