Rule 5 Pick Kyle Dowdy Opens Eyes At Mets Camp Amid Velocity Bump

Image credit: Kyle Dowdy (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The first time the scoreboard radar gun said “99,” Kyle Dowdy didn’t believe it.

Dowdy knew his velocity had been ticking up, but going from 89-94 mph to touching 99 mph in a matter of months seemed a bit rich. Pitching for Double-A Akron that night in Altoona, Pa., the righthander went into the dugout convinced it was a mistake.

“I was like, ‘No, I don’t believe that. This gun’s gotta be hot—that’s not possible,” Dowdy said. “I felt different, but I just couldn’t believe it.

“Of course the next day, they confirmed it. It was like, ‘Wow. OK, that’s my new stuff.’ I didn’t know what that was like, but it explains why my fastball is missing barrels now.”

Dowdy, 26, is in the midst of a meteoric rise in velocity and has made a strong early impression in Mets’ camp after they picked him in the Rule 5 draft last winter. Dowdy has been sitting 95-96 mph with late cutting action on his fastball in the Grapefruit League, while also locating both his mid-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball for strikes.

While it’s too early to make any declarations about Dowdy sticking in the Mets’ bullpen, he’s quickly seized the attention of the coaching staff.

“It’s a very small sample, but he has a really good feel for pitching—really good idea of what he wants to do,” Mets pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “Obviously he’s got a plus arm, good breaking ball, changeup, so everything is there. He doesn’t have a whole lot of experience at the upper levels obviously, but I’m very impressed. Very impressed with his physical ability, the way he handles and carries himself and kind of the knowledge he has of pitching.”

A 12th-round draft pick of the Tigers in 2015 after a circuitous college route that took him from Hawaii to Orange Coast (Calif.) JC to Houston and included a Tommy John surgery, Dowdy entered last year known as a pitchability righthander with unspectacular stuff.

At the start of the year, he began making some tweaks, namely to his arm action using a weighted ball. Pretty quickly, he saw an uptick in velocity.

“The whole theory behind weighted ball use is that it has to clean up your arm action, or else you’re not going to be efficient and it’s going to hurt your arm,” he said. “So when you’re efficient with your arm, that lets your lower body create more push, and that in turn creates more velo.”

That increase in velocity made him an attractive trade piece, and in July the Indians acquired him with Leonys Martin in exchange for shortstop prospect Willi Castro.

After the Indians made an adjustment to his back leg, the velocity started creeping up even more. He began sitting 93-97 mph and touching 99 mph, when three months earlier he had never before topped 95 mph.

The velocity came before Dowdy had time to adjust. At times, he still found himself working as a pitchability righthander.

“I actually had two starts in a row with Akron last year (when), finally, it took kind of an intervention moment from the coaching staff,” Dowdy said. “They’re like, ‘Look, your profile has changed. You’re not a pitch backwards guy anymore. You’re going to let it rip, and you’re going to attack people.’ It was a little shift I had, mindset-wise, where I’m on the attack at all times.”

Attack is what Dowdy started to do, with his mid- to upper-90s fastball getting swings and misses and his curveball and changeup still advanced from his days when he had to rely on them more often. He finished the year with his best start, tossing six scoreless innings with three hits allowed and nine strikeouts.

The Indians left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft to his surprise, and the Mets quickly scooped took him with the 10th pick when draft day came at the Winter Meetings.

“Obviously (the Indians) felt I hadn’t shown enough,” Dowdy said. “That was fine. That’s their decision, their prerogative. I’m not worried about that. Luckily, the Mets saw me at a really good point, like, ‘OK, this is the new Kyle Dowdy. Forget what happened in the past. This is who he is now.’ Hopefully I can prove them right here.”

Dowdy is on the right track so far. The Mets’ bullpen projects to be crowded with the offseason additions of Edwin DiazJeurys FamiliaJustin Wilson and Luis Avilan, leaving a difficult road ahead for Dowdy to stick as a Rule 5 pick.

But he’s putting himself in the conversation with his stuff—and that in and of itself is an accomplishment.

“He can throw three pitches, which is what you want, so he’s ahead of the curve there,” Eiland said. “He’s a very interesting guy we’re going to give a long look to this spring.”

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