Sarah Langs, Intern & Special Contributor
In the most recent edition of the Mostly Mets podcast, presented by Caesars AC, hosts Toby Hyde and Rob Brender took an auditory look back at Jacob deGrom’s career with the Mets organization. Here are a few of the highlights…
DeGrom didn’t actually become a pitcher until more than halfway through college.
“My junior year at Stetson is when I really started pitching,” deGrom said in 2012, the day after his first start for Single-A Savannah. “I started out short and was going to be a closer, and then about halfway through the year I got converted into a starter. … So that’s where it all started.”
As a college shortstop in 2008, he hit .243. The following season, again primarily as a shortstop, he hit .258, but made one appearance out of the bullpen throwing a scoreless eighth inning. DeGrom struck out one batter and allowed no baserunners for a perfect inning. He started at shortstop that day, going 1-4 with a run scored.
Then, in 2010, his junior year, he made 12 starts and 17 appearances overall. He went 4-5, also notching two saves, with a 4.48 ERA. Though it’s high for MLB standards, he actually led the team in ERA with that number. He threw 82.1 innings in 2010, second-most on his team, and struck out 56 batters — also second-most. DeGrom also hit .263 that year with one home run.
The Mets drafted deGrom in 2010. He pitched in a few games that year, but then underwent Tommy John surgery. He resumed his career in 2012 after recovery…
“Big, tall righthander with ¾ delivery plus fastball,”Ron Romanick said of deGrom in 2012. “Really good changeup. And got a lot of movement. And a nice little slider for a breaking ball. He’s very athletic, and, again, a converted shortstop, he’s just kind of getting his pitching career underway. But again, I’m expecting good things out of him, wanted to get him out in the long-season club and he’s done really well in extended. And he certainly earned a promotion to here.”
There’s mention of his fastball, changeup, and slider. A curveball — which he now throws, too — was part of his development as a pitcher, but more on that later…
On June 23, 2012, the day after his eighth start with Savannah, when he gave up a run over 6 innings, he spoke more about his adjustment to pitching in Single-A.
“I’ve just really learned that I’ve got to trust my stuff and just locate and try to get ahead of people and just trust what I have,” he said.
DeGrom finished 2012 with a 2.43 ERA in 19 starts in Savannah and Advanced-A St. Lucie.
He started 2013 where he left off the year before, in Advanced-A St. Lucie. However, he quickly moved through Double-A to Triple-A Las Vegas.
In Spring Training of that year, Frank Viola, at the time the Savannah pitching coach, spoke about deGrom’s development as a pitcher.
“His makeup is incredible,” Viola said. “His gift from god with his arm, is incredible. And now he’s putting his delivery and everything together. With the fastball, learning the slider, trying to get better with the changeup, and all of a sudden this kid went from a non-prospect nobody knew about to one of the top twelve prospects in the Mets’ organization.”
Romanick’s 2012 report on deGrom was hopeful, but, with a year of professional pitching then under his belt, these words from Viola really show belief that the righty could become the major league pitcher we see today.
DeGrom learned the curveball, which was absent from his early repertoire, while working with Johan Santana, who was rehabbing from shoulder surgery in St. Lucie.
“I talked to Johan a bit about the grip that he had on his two-seam one day, and he showed it to me and I started messing with it,” deGrom said of the former ace’s influence.
The development of that pitch has been crucial to deGrom’s maturation into a fully-capable starting pitcher. In August 2013, Romanick talked about the mechanics of the pitch, which had become an important part of the righty’s game.
“You have a curveball grip, but you throw everything like a fastball,” Romanick said. “And a lot of the guys that throw curveballs, when they try to throw like curveballs, it has that high school that loop in it. And that’s the wrong mentality and that’s one of the things that you talk about. It’s not how much it breaks, it’s about how late it breaks . And a true curveball, the grip will produce the rotation too.”
Earlier this season, now up with the big league club, deGrom talked about his arsenal of pitches, comparing the majors to Triple-A.
“The changeup’s been a really good pitch for me,” he said. “And then last year, at the end of the year, I started throwing a curveball, too, which I throw a lot more up here than I did in Triple-A. And I worked with Dan [Warthen] on it and that’s become a really good pitch for me, too.”
From a college shortstop to a major league pitcher, deGrom’s game has changed a lot, but some things have remained constant. While his focus is now on every fifth day instead of every single game, he’s kept up his hitting. He was never a power hitter — he hit one home run in his three years in college — but he consistently finished seasons with averages around .250. His .242 average this year fits right in, and it’s been against major league pitching, thus no small task to maintain.
It’s important to keep in mind that players do quite often change positions between college baseball and the pros. The Oakland A’s closer this year, Sean Doolittle, was drafted as a first baseman in 2007, but had also pitched at University of Virginia. He converted back to pitching in 2011, after multiple injuries.
Just because others have done it, though, doesn’t mean that becoming someone who a major league team relies on for multiple innings and 90+ MPH fastballs is easy. How did deGrom handle arriving in the minor leagues essentially to learn to be a pitcher, with one year of experience?
“Boy, he’s a real competitor,” Triple-A manager Wally Backman said earlier this year. “He does not like to lose games. He likes to win. He competes, his stuff is plenty good enough to pitch in the big leagues, he’s 93 to 95 at times. Locates his fastball, it’s got a good sink on it. His changeup is fantastic. He throws all three of his pitches for strikes, at any time in the count…We got just a brief look at him last year, he was only supposed to come here for one start last year and Jake ended up being able to stay the rest of the year because of the way he pitched the first game. But he’s really moved rapidly through the system, and well-deserving, I think.”
Attitude, perseverance and that ‘god’s gift’ of an arm Viola mentioned have paved the way for deGrom over these last few years.