By Ed Coleman
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Even though veteran relievers like Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth are in Mets camp and have a solid shot at cracking the Mets’ bullpen, there’s no doubt that the organization would love to see one or several of their young power arms step forward, make the cut and head north with the team come April.
Noah Syndergaard is in a class by himself — he’s on the Matt Harvey-Zack Wheeler midseason (think July) promotion track. Rafael Montero — who made 16 starts at Triple-A Las Vegas comprising close to 90 innings — and Jenrry Mejia are both vying for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. You can include Jacob deGrom as well, a college shortstop who didn’t pitch until 2010 and who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011. deGrom started games at three different levels for the Mets last season, ending up at Las Vegas. Two Double-A Binghamton pitchers, Cory Mazzoni and Logan Verrett, are also under consideration.
All of the above are right-handers. And then there’s Jack Leathersich. The hard-throwing lefty led all of baseball in strikeouts/nine innings (15.7) in 2013. For his career, Leathersich has struck out a ridiculous 15.2 batters per nine innings — but has also given up five walks per nine innings pitched. Reducing those bases on balls is a point of emphasis for Leathersich this spring.
While throwing a bullpen here in Port St. Lucie, Leathersich was interrupted about halfway through by pitching coach Dan Warthen after several errant throws. Warthen was asked what message he delivered to the young southpaw.
Much of Leathersich’s progress will be gauged on the adjustments that he makes, so how was the instruction received?
Former standout closer Billy Wagner was short in stature, but he packed a lot of power in a small frame, due largely to strong legs and massive thighs. Leathersich is listed (generously) at 5-foot-11, and he was asked where he generates his power from.
When one possesses a lights-out fastball like Leathersich, a good changeup is most effective. Triple-A pitching coach Frank Viola has worked with Leathersich on his, and it’s a strong component in his arsenal.
Despite the gaudy strikeout totals, Leathersich has work to do and adjustments to make. He was also third overall in baseball in issuing walks –almost seven per nine innings. He also gave up almost eight hits per nine innings. Nevertheless, Warthen was asked if Leathersich reminded him of any other pitcher.
Matt Harvey has been cleared by Dr. David Altchek to begin his throwing program, and Warthen confirmed that he will do so in the next few days. A good bet might be Saturday — also the day of the first full-squad workout — because that would be four months to the day (October 22) from when Harvey underwent Tommy John surgery.
Jeremy Hefner, who had Tommy John surgery six months ago, recently made 20 throws from 60 feet here in Florida.
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