Friday, August 12, 2005

Pitching Prospects - Past and Present

With Philip Humber's recent "Tommy John" surgery, another prime pitching prospect now faces a questionable future. This led me to recall some of the Mets' other top pitching prospects who fell far short of expectations. Of course, developing pitching has been the Mets' strength throughout their history with the likes of Seaver, Koosman, Ryan, Matlack and Gooden coming up through the system But there have been many other highly touted young arms who stalled somewhere along the line, whether in Rookie ball like Kirk Presley or in the big leagues like Les Rohr.

Going back to the pre-amateur draft era, there was a strange rule in the Major Leagues for a couple of years that required teams to keep FIRST-YEAR minor league players on the Major league 25-man roster all of the following year or risk losing them through a first-year $8,000 player draft or on "first-year waivers" for the same price. Expansion teams like the Mets and Houston loaded up with their own teenage prospects (Rusty Staub, John Bateman, Ed Kranepool, Ron Swoboda) as well as those they drafted as first-year players (Jimmy Wynn by Houston from Cincinnati, Jerry Hinsley by the Mets from Pittsburgh). In 1964 and 1965, 3 teenage pitchers with no more than rookie league experience were brought to the big leagues and became the Mets' first crop of organization-developed young pitchers. The 3 were Jim Bethke, a righthander, and 2 lefties, Ron Locke and Tug McGraw. First-year draftee Jerry Hinsley from the Pirates also was touted as a "great" prospect who was kept around all season. All were in need of more experience (a lot more) but the Mets didn't want to lose them, and besides, the team clearly needed a dose of young talent.

Of the four, Locke was probably considered most ready to help at the big league level. He had a dominant season in the New York-Penn league and showed poise rare for a youngster. Hinsley was viewed as a future star. McGraw was an engaging lefty who was signed as an afterthought (the Mets were more interested in his older brother, Hank, a catcher who never quite made it), but had pitched extremely well in the Florida Rookie League. Bethke was probably the best of the bunch for the Mets that year, but didn't project as anything more than a middle reliever.

McGraw emerged as a genuine star, both with the Mets and beyond, and became one of the most dominant and popular relievers of the era. The other three seemed to just disappear, although I recall Hinsley having a pretty good year in AA ball and trying to make the big league team again, unsuccessfully, a few years later. Locke and Bethke returned to the minors after their required big-league shot, and I don't even remember their names even coming up again in the Mets' plans.

Next, I'll look at Dennis Musgraves, one of the Mets' most highly regarded prospects before the amateur draft, and Les Rohr, their very first number one draft pick and the consensus best pitching prospect in the nation in 1965.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Folks comment endlessly regarding Swoboda's defensive liabilities, but there are many stories about the great and memorable catches he made thru the years. Noy just October 1969.

I did some statistical digging, and the stats do not identify Swoboda as an out and out liability.

During 1969, Swoboda had about the same ratio of putouts per inning in right field as the defensive whiz Rod Gaspar in RF. 0.199 for Ron during 639.2 innings, 0.200 for Rod during 299.1 innings. Suggests that Ron could go and catch flyballs and line drives as good as Gaspar, doesn't it.

In LF, Jones had a ratio of 0.228 while Swoboda had 0.198. So Ron wasn't the Mets best in LF, but he performed admirably in RF.

Interestingly enuff, during hist first seaon in the bigs, 1965, Swoboda had the best ratio of PO/INNING for Mets right fielders with at least 100 innings in that position, and he also led the Mets centerfielders in that ratio. While he may have misplayed some balls at the worst time, he also appears to have chased down and caught more than others in the field.

Stats can lie, but they also can suggest that Swoboda's memorable catches in RF were more common than we think.

10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must note the source of the data for the calculations in my previous e-mail on Swoboda's fielding capability. The base numbers were taken were on the, and my calculations are based on the advanced fielding stats which were provided by Retrosheet.

The following credit is required for the base numbers used in the calculation of putouts/inning by position:

'The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at "".

5:15 AM  

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