The 2014 New York Mets have their share of weaknesses, but the most evident of those may be their bullpen.
Right-hander Vic Black was sent to minor league camp today, ensuring he will begin the season with Triple-A Las Vegas. The 26 year-old was considered by many fans to be the favorite to set up closer Bobby Parnell this year, and for good reason.
The hard-throwing righty was one of Pittsburgh’s top relief prospects. After arriving in New York as part of the trade that sent outfielder Marlon Byrd to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Black pitched very well for the Mets. In 15 appearances, he had a 3.46 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and an 8.3 SO/9 ratio. In addition, he only walked four batters.
This spring, Black’s velocity was down from the mid-90s to the low-90s, and most of all he walked far too many hitters. His control had been an issue for him in the minor leagues, where he walked an average of 4.5 batters per nine innings. He will attempt to regain his command in Vegas, and the Mets hope he will do so quickly.
Heading into Opening Day, the Mets’ bullpen looks parchment-paper thin. Parnell is still building up strength following last year’s neck surgery and will have to figure out how to close games without his triple-digit fastball. He has no clear setup man, but the Mets will probably rely on veteran Jose Valverde to handle the eighth inning. Papa Grande has had a good spring, but he’s not the same guy he was a couple of years ago when he saved 49 games in 2011 and 35 in 2012 with the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers lost faith in Valverde in the 2012 playoffs when he lost his effectiveness. Last year, he saved nine games and had a 5.59 ERA in 20 appearances.
The rest of the bullpen is made up of hard-throwing youngsters and veteran lefties. Right-hander Jeurys Familia and his mid-high 90s sinker offers the most potential, but like Black, he has to learn to find the strike zone consistently. Gonzalez Germen will take Black’s place on the roster. He’s never been considered a major prospect but pitched well in limited action last year for New York. He too needs to control his walk rate. Veteran long man Carlos Torres was great for the Mets last year, and lefty Scott Rice held left-handed batters to a .468 OPS in his rookie season. But can they keep up their success this season?
It’s hard to predict how any relief pitcher will fare from year to year, but usually teams have a couple of bullpen arms they feel they can rely on. With the 2014 Mets, the bullpen is a question mark from top to bottom. Relief pitching has been a sore point for the Mets each of the last three years or so. Unless someone steps up, this year looks like it may be more of the same.