In 2009, the Savannah Sand Gnats boasted the best starting staff across the New York Mets organization. With Historic Grayson Stadium within walking distance, I scouted 50 or so of their games that season which included starts by each of their starting pitchers. Among the pitchers i saw was Chris Schwinden, who is scheduled to debut Thursday for the Mets.
On that staff, I nicknamed one pitcher “family night” and took the night off from scouting whenever he pitched. That player was Chris Schwinden, who was considered a non-prospect by not only me, but by contacts I spoke to who watched him in person.
The top prospect on that staff was Jeurys Familia. Nineteen at the time, he combined a 92-94 MPH fastball with excellent movement and improving slurve to finish the season as a top 10 prospect in the organization. Although he stumbled in 2010, Familia is now considered one of the top three pitching prospects in the organization and in the midst of a breakout season. But he has yet to toe the rubber at Citi Field.
A close number two to Familia was Kyle Allen whose 90-93 MPH fastball with sink and feel for a changeup also earned him a top 10 organizational ranking as a teenager prior to 2010. A back injury derailed his prospect status and he has spent most of 2011 battling inconsistency at the high-A level. His career is a bit in flux at the moment.
Lefty Robert Carson completed the trifecta of teenage power arms in Savannah as a big-bodied thrower capable of touching 94 MPH. Now 22, he seems to have hit a wall at double-A having allowed a whopping 222 hits in only 177 innings at the level. Should he ever contribute at the big league level, it’s likely to be as an “adrenaline lefty” out of the pen to maximize his velocity in short spurts.
Even Eric Beaulac was considered a better prospect than Chris Schwinden at the time. With impressive height, a fastball up to 93 MPH and a hard, boring slider, Beaulac profiled as a big league middle reliever. And while that may not sound like much, more than 95% of players at the South Atlantic League level never enjoy even a cup of coffee at the big league level.
Bringing up the rear was Chris Schwinden, a classic Omar Minaya era draft pick as a fringe velocity, small college right-hander drafted in the 22nd round. With an 86-88 MPH fastball, mid-70’s curveball and changeup, Schwinden painted the black with average to a bit below stuff en route to a 2.87 FIP as an older prospect at the level. He was the type of organizational pitcher a scout sees at least 100 times in any given season. Schwinden was an innings-eating placeholder so that the “legit” prospects do not have their throwing schedules affected in any way. At the time, the cutter he reportedly works off of now was non-existent.
Schwinden was promoted Port St. Lucie late in the 2009 season and returned there in 2010 before finishing the season in double-A where he posted a far more impressive FIP than ERA at the level.
Back in Binghamton to begin the 2011 season, Schwinden received a surprise promotion to Buffalo in mid-April and never looked back. And while his season totals shine considering Schwinden essentially came out of nowhere, his second half numbers have fizzled to the point where one is forced to wonder whether his Cinderella story is rapidly coming to an end.
Regardless of the outcome Thursday, the fact Chris “Family Night” Schwinden will have “New York Mets pitcher” on his resume when he wakes up Friday morning is a remarkable development considering his humble beginnings in the organization. And should Schwinden’s career path wind up similar to Dillon Gee, expect a number of other minor league development staff’s to begin incorporating the cutter into the repertoire’s of their soft-tossing organizational arms with a feel for pitching as well.