Q&A: Noah Syndergaard, Mets Pitching Prospect

Noah Syndergaard made his Double-A debut for the Binghamton Mets this past Sunday. In six innings against Erie, he allowed two runs on five hits, he walked one and fanned seven. How did the right-hander look? According to a scout who was at the game: “The kid is 20, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s pitching in New York next season. He‘s a horse.”

The 6-foot-6 prospect joined the Mets’ stable last December as part of the R.A. Dickey deal. Drafted 38th overall in 2010 out of Legacy High School in Mansfield, Texas, Syndergaard (pronounced SIN-der-guard) came into this season rated the team’s No. 3 prospect, behind Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud. Prior to his promotion, he logged a 3.11 ERA in 12 starts for High-A St. Lucie.

Syndergaard discussed Sunday’s outing — as well as his repertoire and a recent mechanical adjustment — prior to Monday’s game in Portland, Maine.


Syndergaard on his repertoire: “I throw a fastball, a curveball, a slider and a changeup. I primarily throw four-seam fastballs, although I’ll mix in a few sinkers. Yesterday, in the first three innings, I was sitting 97 and touching 98. My best secondary pitch is probably my curveball. Last year is when it really started to develop. Something just clicked to where I was able to maintain my arm speed and get max revolutions on the ball. Now I’m anywhere from 78 to 82 mph with it. My changeup is a four-seam circle

“The slider is something the Blue Jays toyed with a bit last year, but more [as] a hard cutter — that‘s what they were trying to do. Now I just kind of grip it a certain way and cut it at the very last moment. I consider it a slider, though. The wrist action is pretty much the same, just not as drastic. It ranges from 84 to 87-88.

On his mechanical changes: “I changed my arm angle a little bit before my last start in St. Lucie. My velocity was about the same as last night; I was topping out at 98. I’m using my core a lot more, and also my legs. [St. Lucie pitching coach] Phil Regan has kind of toyed with my mechanics a little bit. When he first got a hold of me, I was kind of on my heels and not using my legs as much as I should. He got me more on my toes and driving toward home plate. Instead of falling off the pitch, I was driving through the pitch. And instead of my arm being directly over the top, I dropped it down just a little bit. I’m more three-quarters than over the top now. I have a little more velocity, and a little more run on the ball.

“The whole back side of my body is shot today. It’s pretty sore. I have good muscle soreness, which means I was using my legs quite a bit; I was using my body to the fullest advantage. You don’t gain velocity from your shoulder. You get it from your legs and your core. You’ve got to have a strong base.

“I only threw two bullpens in spring training — that’s because I pulled my lat — so they didn’t get a good feel for my mechanics down there. It was maybe the second-to-last day of spring training that I threw in a game. From there I went to full-season ball, and Phil Regan and I started working together. He and I were in constant contract throughout the course of my starts. One day we’d do touch-and-feel, where we’d work on my delivery, and the next day would be my side work. He really harped on me using my legs more.

“When a team has runners on base is when they get to me the most. When I’m out of the windup, I have one thing in mind, and that’s the catcher. Having a runner on first base kind of takes away from my focus to home plate. My stuff can be different [out of the stretch]. With a runner on first, sometimes I’ll be a little too quick to home plate, and that will sacrifice either velocity of location. That’s something I need to work on.”

On his Double-A debut: “They sent me up on Saturday, and I traveled all day, so I didn’t really have a lot of time to think about the game. I didn’t have a lot of time to be nervous. I pretty much woke up and went to the park. I didn’t really get into my own head and feel nervous. Or maybe I was so nervous that I just tuned it out.

“We went over the hitters, but it was the first time I had faced any of them, except for the Suarez kid [Eugenio Suarez]. I had played against him last year in the Midwest League. I just went out with the mindset of locating my fastball to both sides of the plate, working in my changeup from there, and then, second time through the order, starting to mixing in my curveball and slider. I basically trusted Blake [Forsythe]. I had never thrown to him before, but he and I were on the same page the entire game. I didn’t shake him off once.

“I gave up a single to the first hitter. The pitch was near the middle of the plate, although it was down. He then stole second. I think we could have gotten him, I just didn’t make that great of a pitch. I was pretty quick to home plate — I checked later and my time was 1.2 [seconds]– but I kind of pulled the pitch to Blake’s right side and he didn’t have a good chance to get him from that angle.

“After that, I kind of got into a groove. I ended the inning by striking out [James McCann] with a slider. We started him off slider, which he swung at. Again, I was just trusting Blake, because he knows the hitters a lot better than I do. I don’t remember the entire sequence, but I know we started slider and finished slider. Both were out of the strike zone, but they were good enough pitches that he chased.

“I had a good second inning, but I don’t know if I can remember too many details. I think the two strikeouts came on fastballs. I had a little longer inning in the third, where I gave up a couple runs. I got ahead of [Luis Castillo] 0-2 or 1-2 and threw him a curveball, and he poked it down the line for a triple.

“The first three innings I was working up in the zone more than I’d like, but in the next three I settled down and started locating fastballs at the knees. The first few innings, the umpire was giving me the higher strikes. Their hitting coach obviously thought they were too high, because the umpire tossed him from the bench. I think that happened right after the triple, but I wasn’t really paying much attention.

“I deserved the runs I gave up that inning. On the triple, he just hit it where no one was, and it rolled all the way down the line. It was a decent pitch, although I probably shouldn’t have thrown a curveball in that situation. Then there was another base hit, on a changeup. After that there was a double, but I got out of the inning okay. I got a ground ball to third base, then a fly ball where the runner tagged and got thrown out. That was a really clutch play.

“I felt relieved to get out of it. Last year, I had trouble when I started to accumulate a lot of pitches in an inning. The Blue Jays were kind of tight on how many pitches you could throw in an inning. Twenty-five and you were done. You can kind of feel the pressure when you see someone warming up in the bullpen. You know you’ve thrown a lot of pitches, so you  kind of start pressing a little bit.

“In certain situations, I’ll pitch to contact. When there’s nobody on base, I’m just trying to locate my pitches, and if I happen to strike the guy out, that’s fine. If I have a runner on first base, I’ll throw a sinker away to try to get a ground ball double play. In the fifth inning, with a runner on first, I got a ground ball to second base. That’s exactly what I was going for. It was one of the pitches I executed well.”

We hoped you liked reading Q&A: Noah Syndergaard, Mets Pitching Prospect by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Setting a limit on pitches-per-inning is an interesting take on workload by the Jays. It definitely seems like there’s wide variation in how franchises try to protect their pitching prospects from overwork (whereas MLB teams seem to use innings limits in more similar ways). I recently read that the Rockies are limiting 2013 Futures Game invitee Eddie Butler to 5IP per start, even when he’s pitching efficiently, as a way of managing his workload.

How common are unusual workarounds like a ceiling of 25 pitches/inning in minor-league systems?