Ten on the Comeback Trail

Rustich needs innings but health is a concern

The New York Mets farm system has made big strides over the past two seasons as quality drafts and strong free agent signings have added needed depth at all levels. In recent days, InsidePitchMagazine.com broke down the depth chart for numerous positions and now offers a look at those who need comeback seasons to help their stock and make a push up the ranks.

Feel free to take any of your questions, comments or discussion to the premium board

Brant Rustich: Whether the organization plans to use Rustich as a starter or reliever is yet to be determined, but no matter the role, Rustich simply needs to stay healthy and eat up innings in 2009. That is easier said then done given the questions surrounding the health of his right arm. His season was cut short by two weeks after a stress fracture—that he had unknowingly pitched with all year—was finally diagnosed. Later examinations of his arm and elbow revealed a possible labrum tear and ligament damage in his elbow.

If so, that would be a very bitter pill to swallow for the 2007 second round pick who went 3-4 with a 3.62 ERA in 49 2/3 innings last season. Despite the injuries and having to throw no breaking pitches because of the pain, Rustich was quite impressive down the stretch as he allowed just five earned runs over his final 32 2/3 innings. The 6-foot-6 hurler has one of the nastiest repertoires in the system and the only thing keeping him down is his battle with injuries. His dynamic fastball/slider/changeup combination gives him the tools to start, but has enough movement to be a dominant reliever. For now, Rustich remains a total wild card who just needs to stay healthy.

Nick Carr: The 21-year-old right-hander is a gunslinger with a live right arm, a big-league fastball at 92-95 MPH and a real tough slider but will spend 2009 fighting back from one of the ugliest pitching lines in the minors last season. At 3-12 with a 5.22 ERA, Carr is out to show those numbers can be an aberration as he becomes more consistent with his mechanics and brings a more level temperament to the mound.

The biggest factor to Carr's success is timing as his high leg kick and long arm action can cause his motion to fall out of sync. The early season struggles effected Carr's confidence and mound demeanor, but after going down to Savannah in June and correcting his mechanics, he returned to the Florida State League a more confident and capable pitcher who closed the year with his best efforts.

His power fastball/slider combination makes him an intriguing option for the bullpen and that could ultimately decide where begins the season. He turns 22 in April and while his numbers would make one believe a return to St. Lucie is necessary, if he shifts to a relief role, Binghamton should be the place. As long as Carr's mechanics are in order, he has the stuff to be successful out of the bullpen in Double-A.

Stephen Clyne: A spring arm injury and early ineffectiveness prevented the 2007 third round pick from ever settling in during his time with St. Lucie last season. He totaled 27 appearances in High-A moving in and out of the closers role, but lacked consistency with his slider which is a vital tandem pitch off his sinking low-90s fastball. He returned to Brooklyn for the final two months where he had a rocky start before finding a rhythm thanks to stabilized mechanics and a return to concentration on the lower third of the strike zone.

He was sitting 88-90 MPH on his fastball earlier in the season but regained a few ticks on his heater when he returned to his more over the top release point. His top two pitches could make him a quick mover which made last year's setback rather disappointing. Now the question remains if can he do it at the higher levels.

Sean McCraw: McCraw's fast drop-off was very surprising following the growth he showed with Savannah and later on St. Lucie in 2007. His total line from 2007 [.268, 5 HR, 36 RBI] was not overly impressive, but he demonstrated very sound growth particularly with his opposite field stroke and growing power the other way. That all disappeared upon starting last season in St. Lucie. In 28 games, he hit .143 and drove in only two runs before going back to Savannah. The Sally League was marginally kinder as he improved to a .266 clip over 38 games and drove in 12 runs.

McCraw became a full-time designated hitter in Savannah as Francisco Pena was entrenched behind the plate. The maneuver was done to have him simply focus on his bat and get things going but there were minimal advances. McCraw has the defensive skills to catch at higher levels—including arguably the strongest throwing arm in the system—but if he cannot heat up his bat, his stock will continue to slide.

Hector Pellot: A hip injury sidelined Pellot [who will turn 22 on Sunday] for over 120 games last season after a very consistent, multi-faceted season with Savannah in 2007. When healthy, he provides good on-base skills with speed and dependable defense at second base but he faces an uphill battle to recapture previous success after missing such a pivotal season. His 2009 starting spot is of intrigue as Greg Veloz' spot in St. Lucie is all but assured. A possible log jam on the depth chart could send Pellot off to Binghamton in a challenging push following just 85 at-bats in High-A ball.

Zach Lutz: The promise of Lutz' tools is there. He has shown the ability to drive the ball to all fields with emerging home run power. Defensively, he has very good instincts and strong arm, completing a package that keeps his stock high and the projection of a big league contributor. However, his rash of ankle and leg injuries over his first two seasons has raised many red flags and there are growing concerns his injuries could stay with him over the long haul. Nonetheless, Lutz will have the opportunity to once again restart his career. If he can stay on the field, it should not take long for his talent to shine.

Shawn Bowman: Like Lutz, Bowman is another third baseman who had to battle his way back from years of injury. He appeared in 55 total games last season and registered 210 at-bats, but Bowman was essentially rehabbing in live action while simultaneously moving up the system. For the 24-year-old, this season will be the most important in his career as he finally enters as healthy as he has been in nearly five years. He has the power, the defense and the makeup that an impact season could finally push him onto the 40-man roster. Additionally, do not be surprised to see him gain more experience at first base. Bowman looks locked into a return to Binghamton.

Ike Davis: The 2008 top overall pick should not come out guns blazing in 2009 to prove that his rookie season was a fluke. Instead, Davis merely needs to improve steps at a time and not try to overcompensate. Florida State League pitching will provide enough challenges without him trying to do too much as he did with Brooklyn last summer. Recent sources have mentioned Davis could receive a non-roster invite to big league camp. How that effects Davis, whether he uses it as a learning experience or otherwise, should come to fruition early in the season.

Phillips Orta: Orta had momentum behind him after a strong showing in 2007 during which he was predominately used as a starter and ended the year in Savannah. It was expected he would spend the entire 2008 season in Low-A ball, however, he underwent a shift in roles and spent the season pitching in relief in Kingsport.

He ultimately made five starts out of his 16 appearances and totaled just 54 innings, down 13 frames from the previous year's total. Orta has a strong fastball/curveball combination but struggles with his changeup which will likely reinforce the organization's desire to leave him in the bullpen. Even with the shift, Orta needs to accelerate his movement and comeback from a rather stagnant season as it pertains to progression, despite strong numbers with the K-Mets.

Salvador Aguilar: Aguilar was in the midst of a career season and was gaining the trust of many as a reliable organizational pitcher before succumbing to Tommy John surgery last August. He was 10-3 with a 3.14 ERA and was an Eastern League All-Star last season before the surgery to repair the UCL in his elbow [the same ligament raising concern in Brant Rustich] and now faces an uncertain future as it relates to his future in the organization. Aguilar, who is on the smaller side at 6-feet, 190-pounds, has a deep repertoire and earned success thanks to a rapidly improved slider in 2008 but is still in the early to middle stages of his rehab.

InsidePitchMagazine.com Recommended Stories