Is Jacob deGrom’s Future In the Bullpen Or As A Starter?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

The Mets are loaded with young pitching prospects. While Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero garner most of the attention, there are plenty of other arms primed to make an impact in the Majors, possibly as soon as 2014.

Take Jacob deGrom, for instance, a 2010 first round draft pick out of Stetson University. deGrom maneuvered through the Pacific Coast League with much success, owning a 2.58 ERA and 1.28 WHIP through seven starts of 2014, before thriving in his Major League debut.

The question is, should fantasy owners really care? He owns a career 7.4 K/9, nothing that’s going to excite us. He also hasn’t done a tremendous job generating groundballs, with a 44.4% mark since 2011. So far, not so great…

However, his groundball rate has spiked to 55.4% this season and he also owns a career 2.3 BB/9. Those numbers have to grab our attention, though as we read scouting reports you have to wonder if a future relief role is in his future?

Baseball America, who ranked him as the Mets’ 10th best prospect prior to the season, described his arsenal as saying:

“DeGrom succeeds by pounding the zone and showing a clean arm action and bulldog mentality. He threw nearly two-thirds of his pitches for strikes last season, though he would benefit form expanding the zone and getting batters to chase when he gets ahead in the count. He sits at 92-94 mph with plus sinking life, and he can rear back for 98 when he needs it. DeGrom made progress with a straight changeup this season, giving him a good weapon against lefties, though he misses more bats against righties with a fastball and slurvy breaking ball. He’s working on improving the rotation of his breaking ball.”

That type of fastball velocity is what teams thirst for in the bullpen, so if he can hit that type of number in short spurts he already has to have our attention. However, it’s not the only good thing that’s there. John Demarzo of the New York Post recently published an article with quotes from Las Begas pitching coach Tom Signore (click here for the article).

“He’s very good when he’s ahead in the count, at making a pitch no matter what, especially his slider going from being a strike to ball. He gets a lot of swings on pitches that are out of the zone.”

In regards to deGrom’s change-up, which was one of the biggest questions entering 2014:

“[It] has made him viable,” he said. “Same rotation as the fastball, turns over very nicely, natural arm-side action, get some strength that way. [But] he needs to use it more. It’s a great pitch and it looks just like his two-seam fastball. I would love to see him throw right behind [the fastball], to give the hitter the same perception but 12 miles per hour slower.”

The improvement there could help to justify the significantly better strikeout rate and could help him stick in the rotation. However, there are only five rotation spots and the Mets already have Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and Zack Wheeler locked in (barring injury or trade). Throw in Syndergaard, Montero and Jenrry Mejia (who will likely end up in the bullpen) and the numbers don’t work in deGrom’s favor…

Or do they? With the ability to hit 98 in short spurts, coupled with the improvement of his secondary pitches, you have to think deGrom has the potential to thrive out of the bullpen. Considering the issues the team has had there, especially at the tail end of games, would it really be a surprise if he not only gets a chance but could quickly factor into the closers role?

It’s a bit of a leap of faith (especially with Jenrry Mejia currently getting a tryout there), but if you are in a dynasty league it’s one worth taking. He can sit in a minor league slot, for now, and see what happens. We could be looking at the future closer in New York, as unlikely as that seems.

And if he sticks starting? Well, there clearly is potential value there anyways.

Sources – Baseball Reference, Minor League Central, Baseball America, New York Daily News

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