Over the years my preferences for what I like in a pitcher has adapted and changed. But if you have followed me for a while you know that I like projection, I like left handers, and I like players with feel for a changeup. One pitcher checked all these boxes and was my first real prospect crush, Yoel Mecias.
Mecias broke out in the spring of 2013 when he showed a fastball in the low 90s touching 94 and a devastating changeup (3.9 BB/9 11.1 K/9). Mecias dueled Pirates top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow in a pair of great starts. But then that July his UCL blew out and he had to have Tommy John surgery. He was ranked high that winter based on the small sample size dominance, and the thought of what he could be post Tommy John surgery because he was still very young at the time (he would turn 20 that offseason). He returned to the mound last summer and the Phillies worked him back slowly. The velocity came back in a couple of starts (87-91 T92), but he also had starts where he didn’t crack 90. The changeup flashed in some starts, but in others it was a poor pitch. Those that saw him didn’t love the arm action, the word mechanical was used a couple of times in descriptions. This offseason many of us ranked him highly. We saw flashes of a dominant pitcher who had just had Tommy John, I personally just returned all of his previous projections and began dreaming again.
This spring Mecias returned to the mound with many of us primed to see him breakout. But the velocity wasn’t (87-89 out of the rotation and 88-90 T91 in relief) and his secondary pitches just weren’t anything special. There were rumors of shoulder soreness and injury. His delivery was stiff and a bit mechanical and he lacked sharpness. The Phillies first started working him back out of the bullpen for Clearwater and there were early indications that the organization had begun to move on from him. But they gave him Ricardo Pinto’s spot in the Lakewood rotation on a pitch count and he had one bad start and one disaster start. During his bad start ESPN’s Keith Law noted that Mecias was 87-90. The Phillies then cut him with Joe Jordan having this to say about it (to Phoulballz’s Jay Floyd):
Well, it’s unfortunate because two years ago we was someone we were very excited about. We just felt like he didn’t come back and execute and perform, post-injury and post-surgery, the way that we had hoped. And our talent level has gotten better. It was a tough decision to make, but he was the one that we took off the roster for Shane.
It’s easy to forget what you once thought of guys, but that’s- as our talent gets better and our rosters become stronger, we have to make more of these types of decisions. It’s sad, but it’s also a positive in the sense that I do think that we’re headed in that direction.
So Why Release Him?
The simple answer is there was no room for him. You can’t DL a pitcher who isn’t hurt, even if you think he is going to become hurt if he pitches. Even if you do DL him, at some point you have to bump someone to rehab him. You can’t start him because he has proven he can’t start, you could put him in relief, but that requires believing in the future. In this case the internal evaluations of Mecias were that his velocity wasn’t there, he was a health risk, and he lacked his old secondary pitches. Does that pitcher have more upside than someone like Denton Keys who pitches in same velo band (with projection for more), and doesn’t have a track record of injuries? Probably not. It is a really tough decision for an org that clearly liked the player going back into the past, but as Jordan said, you can’t hang on to a player going forward that you no longer believe in, especially if you are a system like the Phillies that has more starters than starting spots.
What Can We Learn?
Tommy John surgery is not a 100% fix all and it isn’t a way for pitchers to magically get better. Pitchers can come back throwing harder with better stuff because they have 12+ months of incredibly grueling rehab building themselves back to where they once were. Jon Roegele (@MLBPlayerAnalys) keeps track of all Tommy John surgeries and has the return rate for major league pitchers at 79% since 1974, with those numbers actually slightly down in recent years (above 75%). But this is still cutting into an elbow, replacing a piece, and then spending months and months building back to something that is incredibly stressful and injury causing to begin with. Some guys don’t make it back, and some guys make it back to a mound, but without what made them great. For Mecias his profile was a projectable frame, feel for command, and feel for an amazing changeup, he didn’t have feel and velocity to lose and still be a great pitcher.
Pitchers get hurt. We have no way of telling 100% which pitchers will stay healthy and which pitchers will get hurt. This is the overwhelming truth. This leaves us not wanting to trust pitchers, however due to injuries there are fewer healthy, dominant pitchers so you can’t just give up. It is just a part of baseball at this point.
What Happens Now?
We cry, we mourn, we move on, we maybe mourn some more later. It is sad, not because our favorite baseball team lost one of its most promising prospects, but because a young man lost a promising future because a little ligament in his elbow snapped. Maybe he never would have made it, maybe something else would have happened along the way, what we do know is that his journey with the Phillies is over. He was talented enough that another team may give him a shot, see if they can get more out of him, maybe some time away allows more to heal. For his sake I hope it happens and he gets another shot at it. But this was the right decision from the Phillies’ management, and is just a sad end to a once happy beginning.