Today I traveled to the spring training home of the Detroit Tigers – Joker Marchant Stadium – in Lakeland, Florida. The Tigers were taking on the visiting New York Mets and former Blue Jays prospect Noah Syndergaard got the start for the Mets. Syndergaard was traded along with catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, John Buck and Wiulmer Becerra for RA Dickey, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas.
The lanky Syndergaard is rated highly by most prospect prognosticators, mostly due to the fact he possesses an upper 90s fastball and above average breaking stuff. ESPN’s Keith Law rated Syndergaard as #24 on his top 100 prospects list. From that same list:
Syndergaard had an awesome 2013 season from start to finish, improving in multiple ways as the season went on while putting up superb numbers as a 20-year-old in high Class A and Double-A, and still has room for further improvement.
He already has the build of a workhorse starter, with velocity up to 98 mph that’s easy like Sunday morning and the ability to get downhill plane on it when he stays on top of the ball. His changeup is comfortably plus already, but his curveball, a grade-40ish pitch in high school and early in his pro career, is already solid average, and plays up because he gets on top of the ball and releases so close to the plate; hitters swing and miss at it like it’s a sharper, harder pitch.
It’s very unusual to have a pitcher this young show this kind of athleticism, present command and pure stuff and even if Syndergaard doesn’t improve further, he’s at least a quality third starter who can handle 200-inning workloads, but the curveball could get a little tighter and push him up to a No. 2 or better.
The Syndergaard I saw today topped out at 96mph with his fastball and sat at 93-94 throughout his three innings of work. He’s a big boy, and like Law says, he benefits a great deal from generating downward plane from his tall frame. I didn’t have a great angle to appropriately assess his curveball, but it appeared to be effective against the Tigers predominantly minor league lineup. Syndergaard was his own worst enemy: he struggled with command and issued back-to-back walks to Don Kelly and Josh Fields. Both came around to score on a Steve Lombardozzi base hit to right field. Here’s Syndergaard striking out Ezequiel Carrera:
and here he is warming up:
As I said, I wasn’t able to appropriately assess Syndergaard’s curve because of where I was seating nor was I able to even get any really good footage of Noah because the Tigers ushers were extremely militant. Even worse than those at the SkyDome, if you can believe it. Whether Noah’s secondary stuff was good enough or not didn’t seem to be an issue today as Tigers hitters were largely laying off and sitting on the fastball. It’s worth noting that Syndergaard grooved a 96mph heater that Victor Martinez pulled deep over the right-field wall, although foul. It was absolutely crushed.
I wasn’t really able to get a feel for the kind of pitcher Syndergaard really is based on three innings of spring work, but it was fun to see the prospect I followed for years finally in the flesh. However, it didn’t help to focus my hindsight glasses to decide whether I would have made the Dickey trade or not.
All images © Callum Hughson / mopupduty.com