Jacob deGrom’s ascension from college shortstop to valuable Major League Baseball pitcher has been thoroughly written about. There is good reason for that, as the specific set of skills and talents required to pitch do not necessarily align with the abilities needed to hit and play the field. As part of that transformation, another change occurred, wherein deGrom made his way from mediocre minor league pitcher to National League Rookie of the Month winner for the New York Mets. DeGrom has shown growth as a player this season, and he is proving himself a worthy addition to a strong pitching staff.
Most people were sleeping on deGrom as a prospect coming into the year, and with good reason. The slim righty had a 3.75 ERA in the minor leagues before 2014, and came into the year as a 25-year-old with one major arm surgery under his belt already and only 285 professional innings pitched. Then things began to come together for deGrom. His ERA at Triple-A Las Vegas dropped nearly two full runs from where it was there in 2013. His WHIP dropped and his strikeout to walk ration improved. Between his age and his new found success, there was no reason not to give deGrom a chance at the major league level when the pitching staff of the Mets was bombarded by injuries.
When deGrom was in college, he did not have the chance to climb the mound regularly until his junior year. While one year of not-exactly-impressive pitching would not seem to be enough to get a player on the draft radar, deGrom was still chosen in the ninth round of the 2010 draft. His athletic ability, easy delivery, and arm strength were enough to draw attention in a short period of time.
The late start to his pitching career, particularly when considering that deGrom lost his 2011 season to Tommy John surgery, meant that he had to work on an accelerated lesson plan. The Mets put that plan to practice in 2013. After deGrom was able to prove his health in two levels of Single-A ball in 2012, he pitched his way from High-A to Triple-A last season. DeGrom was not necessarily showing dominance, but he was showing the ability to adjust well to each level, finding some measure of success and improving in a variety of ways. He is now on pace to have an increase in his innings pitched in three consecutive seasons, and over the past year, he has developed a new pitch that has helped him find his greatest success.
DeGrom’s name was nowhere to be found on early season prospect lists. In fact, even on Mets-specific lists, deGrom was not listed anywhere near the top. There were things to like, particularly his ability to get groundballs. A few bright minds had him pegged as a future major leaguer, though more likely as a bullpen arm and occasional starter. However, this year, deGrom has demonstrated what is perhaps the biggest difference between starters and relievers. That is, the ability to get out opposite-handed batters. Most pitchers who end up pinned to the bullpen are there because they lack a pitch to get outs when the matchup favors the batter.
DeGrom has a variety of fastballs he throws to pound the strike zone, and a slider and curve he can use to draw swing-and-misses from right-handed hitters. This season, his ability to use a changeup against left-handed batters has been what has pushed deGrom to reach his potential. The young pitcher learned the change in college, but it is something that can take a long time to develop a feel for. While injured, he learned a new grip and the nuances of the pitch from Johan Santana, who threw one of the best changeups in baseball as a Cy Young Award winner for the Minnesota Twins and an All-Star for Mets. The changeup has been thrown sparingly, but it was a necessity for deGrom to be able to regularly get out batters on both sides of the plate.
Now deGrom, an overlooked rookie who did not make the roster on opening day, is the Mets’ best pitcher at the moment. He is a front runner for National League Rookie of the Year. He has come a long way in a short period of time learning an impossibly difficult position. DeGrom may have proven he belongs in the majors, but he will have to continue show that he can evolve and improve as teams see him multiple times. With all that he has learned in a short period of time, that seems inevitable.
Commentary by Brian Moore