Several pitching prospects made their Major League debuts in 2012 by walking through a bullpen door. Some have been relievers since the inception of their professional careers, others transitioned to the bullpen in the minors while many made that adjustment when they got their first call to the show. Paths of development aside, all bullpen prospects are likely to serve as relief pitchers for their parent clubs in 2013 and beyond. Here is a look at how Jeurys Familia did during his brief 2012 stint with the Mets and what his initial performances might tell us about his future.
During an extended rain delay in Flushing, Queens on September 8, 2012, I was eating a slice of pizza in the runway between the Mets bullpen and their clubhouse. While taking refuge from the rain, I watched the Mets bullpen empty out as pitcher after pitcher walked through the tunnel towards their clubhouse. When Jeurys Familia walked by, I immediately noticed his impressive height and build. At 6’4” and 230 pounds, Familia’s physical makeup should allow Familia to sustain velocity as he matures.
Jeurys Familia was developed in the Mets farm system as a starting pitcher up until his promotion to Queens in September of 2012. Familia’s relatively limited pitching repertoire, command issues, and minor league struggles as a starter all were indications that he might be best suited for a relief role. His debut with the Mets came in St. Louis. The first batter he faced was Lance Berkman whom he blew away with a 97 miles-per-hour four-seam fastball up in the zone. During his debut appearance, Ron Darling referred to Familia’s delivery as “strong” and “compact.” While Familia would sometimes struggle to find the strike zone, in five of his eight appearances Familia did not walk a single batter. During the twelve and a third innings of work in his first stint with New York, Familia allowed only one extra-base hit that would have been a single were it not for an ill-advised dive by Fred Lewis in left field.
Although Familia’s fastball was consistently clocked between 94 and 97 miles-per-hour, the most impressive facet of Familia’s pitching was the movement on his two-seam fastball. This pitch sinks and sometimes incorporates an armside tilt as well. Familia executed this pitch perfectly to induce a third strike swing and miss by Juan Francisco with no one out and the bases loaded. His sinking fastball got double play grounders off the bats of left handed hitters Matt Carpenter and Alex Presley. Familia’s second best pitch is his slider. As with the fastball, Familia struggled to control his breaking pitches, which sat between 83 and 86. His breaking pitches broke either gloveside, downward, or even slightly armside. Facing Giancarlo Stanton in a four-inning start in October, Familia struck out Stanton twice relying heavily on a slider that broke away from the slugger. Familia also struck out Aramis Ramirez with a breaking pitch that broke straight down. Facing the left-handed batting Travis Snyder, Familia employed an armside slider effectively for a called strike setting up his fastball on his next offering. His advanced stuff allowed Familia to come back in counts and innings to get outs and keep runs off the board.
Unless Familia vastly improves his change up, a pitch that flashed as mediocre, he seems destined to relieve. However, given the elite velocity and movement on his fastball and his solid slider, one might be mistaken to completely write off the idea of starting him at some point. The most recent reports have indicated that the Mets plan on utilizing Familia out of the pen going into 2013. Pitching in relief, Familia’s ability to keep hitters from barreling up his pitches could catapult him to an important role in the bullpen. Given the lack of well defined roles in the Mets relief corps, there might be an opportunity for Familia to pitch in high leverage situations with a chance to even close by the end of 2013 or in 2014.