Though the Mets are playing some of the worst baseball of late that we’ve seen in recent years, there’s rarely a dull moment in Metsville these days. On Friday, the topic du-jour was the team’s decision to send Collin McHugh back to Triple-A after the rookie righthander pitched seven dominant innings on Thursday afternoon against the Rockies.
What some failed to realize — I’m not really sure how exactly — is that McHugh’s stay in Buffalo this time around will be fairly short. MLB rosters expand to 40 on September 1st and McHugh will be eligible to return to New York on September 3 after Triple-A Buffalo ends its season. So essentially, McHugh will make one start at Buffalo — Tuesday against Rochester — then get time to pack and return to New York for the entire month of September. I wouldn’t say he’s a victim here and I’m sure he wouldn’t either.
While McHugh is a shoe-in to be called-up in September, he won’t be alone. The Mets can call in as many as 15 players to round out the roster and with the team playing as listlessly as it has of late, I suggest they make use of as many of those spots as they can.
Don’t expect to see Zack Wheeler in a Mets uniform this September.
One guy who I don’t believe will be called up is top prospect Zack Wheeler. Wheeler made his fifth start for Buffalo on Sunday, tossing seven shutout innings of three-hit ball with seven strikeouts, and has at most one more start left before the end of the AAA season. His first five starts at Triple-A have been a mixed bag, with Sunday’s complete game being an obvious high point.
In most of his AAA starts, Wheeler has started pretty well but tailed off late, losing command of his fastball. That was the case again in the late innings Sunday, but Wheeler worked through it to finish Rochester. Still, I believe this lack of command late in games is a sign of fatigue. He’s also walking more batters in Buffalo than he did at any point in Binghamton, another telltale sign of fatigue.
Wheeler has already pitched more innings this season than any other in his life. In six more innings he will reach the 150-inning plateau for the season, one that the organization has begun to note as a spot to shut young pitchers down when they reach it for the first time. Add in the fact that Wheeler is not currently on the Mets’ 40-man roster and you have a slew of reasons to believe he won’t join the big club next month.
Among others who I don’t believe will join the Mets roster in September are a couple of players who are on the 40-man. Infielder Wilmer Flores was only recently promoted to Double-A Binghamton so he won’t see Flushing this year. Neither will St. Lucie outfielder Cesar Puello, who hasn’t progressed in his second year at high-A and may be exposed to the Rule-5 draft this winter.
The Mets’ 40-man roster currently contains only 39 players and three players currently on the 15-day DL —Tim Byrdak, Rob Johnson and Johan Santana — can be moved to the 60-day DL to make room. In addition Kirk Nieuwenhuis — out for the season with a partially torn plantar fascia in his right foot — isn’t currently on the big-league DL and could be added to the 60-day to open up another 40-man slot. That’s five spots the team has to play with, which, despite the injuries that caused them, is a great thing.
There are several candidates on and off the 40-man with a chance to be called up next week, I’ve divided them into three categories: No Brainers, Bring ‘Em Up and Long Shots.
McHugh earned a return to the Mets in September, but he won’t be coming back alone.
Collin McHugh – As mentioned above, McHugh earned a spot on the big league roster with his performance against the Rockies on Thursday. He was merely the victim of a roster crunch and the team’s desire to have one more man in the bullpen for a week. He will return, though his role is in question after Jeremy Hefner pitched so well on Sunday.
Jordany Valdespin – Valdespin was also the victim of a roster crunch, though he wasn’t altogether undeserving of a demotion. After a red-hot July it seems teams figured Valdy out and the 24-year-old was hitting just .163 in 49 August at-bats at the time of his demotion on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how much playing time he gets when rosters expand.
Jenrry Mejia – Mejia returned from Tommy John surgery this year to Buffalo’s rotation and was yanked around yet again by the organization, first he was a starter, then he was transitioned to the pen for a few weeks and then he went back to the rotation. But it seems Mejia knows what he wants to do and that’s start. As a starter at Buffalo this year, the 22-year-old has allowed just five earned runs in 40.1 innings. As a reliever he allowed 13 earned in 21.1 innings. The Mets supposedly want to get him a few starts down the stretch, but like McHugh, whose starts he takes is unclear.
Elvin Ramirez – Ramirez will almost certainly get his fourth call-up of the year once the AAA season ends, if for no other reason than to add another live arm to the pen. He should get some relief chances too as the Mets need to see if he fits in as a member of the bullpen in 2013.
Mike Nickeas – Nickeas will get the call because teammates seem to like him and he’s on the 40-man roster. But with Kelly Shoppach auditioning for a role on the team in 2013, there’s no reason to believe that Nickeas will get any playing time.
BRING EM UP:
Former Pirate, Tiger, Yankee, Red, Astro, Cardinal, Ranger, Brave, Twin, National and yes, Met, CJ Nitkowski, could return the majors for the first time sine 2005 after reinventing himself and pitching well at two different minor league levels.
CJ Nitkowski – Unlike the five men mentioned above, Nitkowski is not on the Mets’ 40-man roster, but in my eyes he’s the best candidate to take the spot that’s currently available. The 39-year-old lefty, who did not play at all in 2011, seems to have reinvented himself and has allowed just three runs in 14.1 minor league innings this season. The Mets need to see if this reclamation project can stick, and if so could have a cheap relief option for next season.
Fred Lewis – Of the many guys who have toiled at Triple-A Buffalo this year but have yet to get a big league shot, Lewis interests me the most. A six-year major league veteran, Lewis won’t be anything special, but if he can play center field, he might have some value as a lefty to platoon with Andres Torres for a month. He would need to be added to the 40-man roster to get the call.
Zach Lutz – A 26-year-old in his second season of Triple-A, Lutz has always had potential, but has never been able to stay healthy, in fact, he’s played more than 80 games in a season just once — in 2009. Still when he is healthy, Lutz is a consistent hitter and he’s hit in the .280-.290 range at every level. He’s healthy now and already on the 40-man, and with Ike Davis still struggling to hit lefties, there might be some AB’s for him at first base. Time to see if he can hit big league pitching.
Josh Satin – At 27, Satin isn’t a prospect, but he is another right-handed option. He reminds me a lot of Justin Turner in that he has a lot of position flexibility (first, second and third base), but isn’t great at any one. He is, however, a solid hitter, although his splits seem to say he’s much better against righties, which could hurt his cause. Worst case, Satin could add a nice bat to the bench for a month, but unlike Lutz he will need to be added to the 40-man in order to be recalled.
Chris Schwinden – My distaste for him aside, Schwinden is a very likely to be added to the 40-man (again) next month. Since bouncing around to three different teams and returning to the Mets in July, Schwinden has been typically average at Buffalo. He’ll be brought back as a guy that can eat innings in a mop up spot, nothing more.
Familia has been a disappointment this year and remains a ways away from helping the Mets.
Jeurys Familia – Much like Wheeler, I think the Mets would be better off shutting Familia down after his final AAA start than bringing him up and placing expectations on him. Familia will be have logged around 135 innings at Buffalo by season’s end and did not dominate the level by any means. If anything, he regressed, showing poor command with 72 walks. I believe his transition to the bullpen begins next spring.
Juan Lagares – The only reason Lagares is even a long shot is that he’s on the 40-man roster. Still, he’s just completing his first full season at AA and though it was a solid one, it wasn’t the type of light the world on fire year that gets you promoted from AA to the big leagues.
Reese Havens – Havens is in pretty much the same boat as the aforementioned Lutz. Both are on the 40-man and mostly solid when healthy, but remaining consistently healthy has been an issue. The difference is Havens is still at AA and struggling there, with an average below .220. One positive: if Havens plays each of the final eight games for Binghamton, he’ll hit the 100-game plateau for the first time in his pro career!
Matt den Dekker – Promoting Den Dekker would be a thoroughly outside the box move for the Mets as he’s struggled mightily at AAA since being promoted in June. However, he’s been better in August and there is a need for a lefty center fielder to platoon with Torres, so there’s an outside shot he gets the call. He would, however, need to be added to the 40-man roster.
Brad Emaus – Hey lookie there, it’s our 2011 Opening Day second baseman! How’d he get here? Well, Emaus was signed as a minor league free agent by the Mets back in April and has played 69 games for Buffalo at second base. However, the results have been poor. Really poor. .218/.300/.326 poor. The only chance Emaus stands to return to the Mets is if Sandy Alderson is feeling nostalgic.