Could Mets prospect Nathan Lavender help the bullpen now?

Citi Field Mets

The Mets knew managing their bullpen would be a bit of a puzzle once Edwin Diaz tore his patellar tendon at the World Baseball Classic. Two months into the season, that has played out exactly as expected. 

While they’ve gotten some strong individual performances so far this season, the bullpen as a whole ranks 19th in baseball with a 4.11 ERA. Despite saving the fifth-most games in the league, they have allowed the fourth-most home runs of any bullpen in baseball and rank 16th in strikeouts. 

The Mets have gotten stellar work from David Robertson, who has a 1.75 ERA and a 31.7% strikeout rate in 25.2 innings. Brooks Raley, another new Mets reliever, has also been tremendous in 19.2 innings with a 2.75 ERA and 26.2% strikeout rate, but the rest of the bullpen has been inconsistent. Adam Ottavino has a 3.91 ERA, Drew Smith has a 3.48 ERA but an 11.4% walk rate, and Jeff Brigham has a 3.80 ERA and allows a team-high 2.11 HR/9. 

But there’s possibly some bullpen relief for the Mets down at Triple-A Syracuse.

So far this season, 23-year-old Nathan Lavender has posted a 2.66 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 20.1 innings, striking out 34 batters. He also went viral on Twitter for striking out Cincinnati Reds phenom prospect Elly De La Cruz three times in the same game in late May. 

A former starting pitcher back at the University of Illinois, Lavender posted a 4.11 ERA in 57 innings during his final season in college, allowing 55 hits, walking 15, and striking out 79. The Mets made the quick decision to move him to the bullpen after selecting him in the 14th round of the 2021 draft.

Nathan Lavender Mets
Mets prospects Nathan Lavender pitching for Illinois in 2021 (wikimedia commons)

Since then he has posted a 1.93 career minor-league ERA, so his success is nothing new. Despite throwing just 90-92 mph from the left side, Lavender has also struck out 113 batters in his 74.2 career professional innings. 

Lavender started the year in Double-A but was quickly promoted after pitching to a 1.74 ERA over 10.1 innings with 19 strikeouts. 

Part of the reason Lavender is so effective despite not pumping heat on his fastball is that he releases the pitch from a three-quarters arm slot. Given that he’s also 6’8″, he gets tremendous extension on his release and above-average vertical break, which makes the pitch seem to rise as it approaches the hitter. 

He rounds out his arsenal with a curveball, slider, and changeup. The slider is more of a sweeper with just five inches of vertical drop and 12 inches of lateral movement, while his curveball has more vertical drop and is about 10 mph slower than the slider, coming in the low 70s. Lavender’s changeup sits in the low 80s and has typical arm side run and fade. 

The total package comes together as being more impactful than the individual parts might appear to be. 

“His ceiling is he could be a really good left-handed reliever in the big leagues,” Mets farm director Kevin Howard told MLB.com in April. “He’s fearless…He’s the right guy to throw into a pressure situation because he’s just got a really slow heartbeat and a really nice confidence in himself.”

The Mets saw that firsthand over the spring when manager Buck Showalter often threw Lavender in high-leverage situations during spring training. Despite, obviously, not making the team out of camp, Lavender threw 4.1 innings while recording one save and not allowing a hit, which was about as good an audition as you can have in front of the big league manager. 

With the Mets clearly having a need for more consistency at the end of games, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lavender get his shot this summer. 

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