MESA, Ariz.–Mets righthander Mike Pelfrey is currently having an awakening of sorts in the Arizona Fall League.
The book on Pelfrey for much of his first full season, after signing late as New York’™s first-rounder (and ninth overall) in 2005, was big fastball velocity and command, with below-average secondary pitches.
Pelfrey has made strides–along with some alterations–with his offspeed stuff over the last three weeks. He scrapped his hard curveball for the equivalent of a slider. It’s a sharp, late-breaking offering that has shown flashes of having good depth and tilt.
“You can see he struggles with it at times,” a scout from an American League club said, “but when he stays on top of it and stays easy in his arm action, it has the makings of a plus pitch.”
It’s something Pelfrey needed, but with his fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s, adding an 85-87 mph slider is only half the battle. He didn’t have good command of his changeup for much of 2006 either, but has worked extensively on controlling his arm speed and tinkered with his grip slightly to have an effective third pitch–especially against lefthanded hitters.
“I quit throwing the curveball and picked up on this slider a little while back, and I think it’s right where it needs to be right now,” Pelfrey said. “I think it’s going to complement my style a little bit better and be a good pitch for me once I get more consistent with it.
“With the changeup, I’m starting to command it a little bit better and it has some sink on the end. I think I just got more comfortable with the grip we’re using now and I’m throwing it more than I had in the past, so the confidence is starting to get there too.”
Pelfrey went a combined 7-3, 2.43 with 109 strikeouts in 96 innings between high Class A St. Lucie, Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Norfolk, with a brief promotion to New York mixed in. In the AFL, the 6-foot-7 righthander has allowed one hit in four innings, facing a total of 13 batters for Mesa.
“It’™s 60-feet, six inches for everybody else, but for Pelfrey it’s more like 50 feet–total,” Solar Sox righthander Kevin Slowey (Twins) said. “He gets such good extension, he’s very free and easy and the ball just explodes out of his hand. And with that height advantage, the ball’s on top of hitters a heck of a lot quicker than a lot of other guys out here. Add in that velocity and he’s dirty . . . just plain filthy.”
Pelfrey dominated the Florida State League in 2006, but allowed 13 runs in his first five starts at Double-A. So the Mets brought in veteran catcher Mike DeFelice to Binghamton to give their prized prospect some kind of comfort level. With DeFelice behind the plate, Pelfrey went on a tear, reeling off 3-1, 2.32 numbers with 35 strikeouts in 31 innings in June.
“I even told the Mets that he was the one who turned my season around,” Pelfrey said. “He was just a guy I felt like I could talk to–someone who’s been (in the big leagues), somebody who’s had that experience. He taught me more about attacking hitters in mixing in my breaking ball and make it more useable, because honestly it’s never been great. But he put me in situations where I could use it and have success and gain confidence in myself. He was a big reason I was able to do what I did.”
Pelfrey has plenty of aggressiveness and nasty pure stuff, but he knows keeping hitters off the pace of his fastball is what it takes to have any kind of success at the next level.
“I just have to keep using the slider and the changeup to where I’m comfortable throwing either one at any time and know I can command and locate it where I want it,” Pelfrey said. “I’m happy with where things are right now, but I know I still have a lot of work to do to get them where they need to be.”
MULLING MULVEY: The Mets didn’t have a first-round pick in the 2006 draft, selecting Villanova righthander Kevin Mulvey as their top choice in the second round.
So far, Mulvey been holding his own. The New Jersey native jumped to Double-A in his debut where he went 0-1, 1.35 in 13 innings.
Mulvey has been just as impressive in the AFL, despite allowing five runs over his eight innings of work.
“He’s got good command of three pitches,” a scout from an American League club said. “Good velocity on the fastball–90-93 (mph)–and a nice mix of secondary pitches with a pretty darned good feel for his changeup.”
Mulvey was a 34th-round pick of the Cardinals out of high school but opted to head to Villanova, and the move paid off after three seasons as he emerged as a second-round talent. The Phillies were heavily linked to Mulvey heading into the draft, but he wound up going to his favorite team–and the team his parents were watching while his mother Carole was going through labor.
“I just found this out recently, but apparently they were watching the Mets-Cubs game on TV in the hospital,” Mulvey said. “All I know is Doc Gooden was pitching, so it makes everything that’™s happened a little more special.”
MUY CALIENTE, FERNANDO: Mets outfielder Fernando Martinez is the youngest player in the history of the AFL, turning 18 on the Fall League’s Opening Day, but even facing players five to six years older, Martinez has shown tools worthy of his $1.4 million bonus.
Martinez is hitting just .233 (10-for-43) for Mesa, but that includes a 1-for-18 start. He has shown excellent bat speed, instincts and the ability to use the whole field in a prospect-laden showcase.
“He’s still so young, but the ball just jumps off his bat,” Solar Sox manager Pat Listach said. “He’s a tough kid with tremendous natural ability. He’s hit some balls I’m just amazed by, to be honest. The first day of batting practice, he’s out there hitting opposite-field home runs. I know it’s BP, but for a 17-year-old to be out there taking balls out the other way, it’s just very impressive.”
Martinez was expected to play all three outfield spots in Arizona, but has played exclusively center for Mesa. And while the tools are there offensively, his defense is still a work in progress.
“He still needs some time on routes, jumps, those types of things that will only get better with more experience,” Listach said. “This is a real test for him and he’s responded.”
SLEEPER OF THE DAY: A 2004 16th-round pick out of Mississippi, Twins infielder Matt Tolbert hit a combined .275/.349/.400 between high Class A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain during the regular season.
Tolbert, 24, played second, shortstop and some third base in the Twins system in 2006, adding more outfield work to the mix in the AFL.
“He could be a super utility guy in the big leagues for a long time,” a scout from a National League club said. “He works counts, gets on base, has a knack for making solid contact–and in that utility-type role, he does all the little things right offensively and defensively.
“There’s not a plus tool in there, but he can do a little bit of everything pretty much wherever you need it and still give you quality ABs.”
Tolbert was a four-year starter at Mississippi and hit just .288 (in 791 career at-bats) with 11 career home runs. As a pro, however, he’s hit .275 with 13 homers in 924 at-bats.
• Scottsdale third baseman Ryan Braun (Brewers) took sole possession of the AFL home run lead with five, and now leads the league in RBIs (20) as well. Braun left Wednesday’™s game at Mesa after one at-bat as the DH. “If you don’t crowd him inside with a good heater you better duck or pitch with an L-screen in front of you,” a scout from an American League club said. “He’s strong and the bat is fast.” . . . Mesa outfielder Hunter Pence (Astros) has been on a tear, hitting two homers in a 3-for-4 performance on Tuesday. He went hitless against the Scorpions on Wednesday, but is still hitting .340 (18-for-53). Not especially known for his defensive prowess, Pence has been playing a solid center field for the Solar Sox as well. “He’s the guy that jumps out at me the most right now,” Listach said. “He can really run for a big guy. He’s strong, he’s disciplined, he keeps his head in the game all the time. He’s shown both pull and oppo power. He doesn’t have a textbook approach at the plate, but he just gets it done.” . . . Devil Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes was impressive, but so was everyone else in Phoenix’s lineup on Wedensday as the Desert Dogs blasted the Peoria Javelinas, 23-9. Dukes collected three of Phoenix’s 24 hits with Tampa Bay vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman in the house at the Peoria Sports Complex. Curtis Thigpen (Blue Jays) went 3-for-5, homered and drove in six . . . Cubs third baseman Scott Moore has also been improving his versatility after filling in at first base in a brief callup to Chicago near the end of the year. Moore, the eighth overall pick in 2002, has been seeing time at both short and left field this fall . . . Amaury Marti officially wants to be known as Amaury Cazana-Marti. The Peoria Saguaros outfielder and Cardinals’ 2006 18th-round pick might be the biggest enigma in the AFL this season. A Cuban defector, he claims to have all the documents that prove he’™s 28, even though multiple sources from his career in Cuba’s Serie Nacional document him as having a 1974 birthday, making him 32. Cazana-Marti knows very little English, but since he defected last year, he’™s been studying cartoons in the States to learn the language–most notably the bilingual Dora The Explorer. “Dora is my teacher,” Cazana-Marti said. “I know that sounds funny and maybe a little crazy, but it’s true. Everything on that show is said in English and repeated in Spanish or the other way around, so it helps me very much.”