1:31 pm Jul. 23, 2012
On Wednesday afternoon, the New York Mets will face Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals, a first-round pick and a sensation from the moment he was summoned by the Nationals in 2010 to begin his major league career.
On Thursday night in Arizona, the Mets will answer with Matt Harvey, their 2010 first-round pick, who will be making his major league debut.
Please manage your expectations.
Harvey is very promising, but he probably isn't ready to pitch at the major league level with the kind of effectiveness the Mets ultimately hope they'll get out of him.
But when the alternatives were exhausted—and starting Miguel Batista on Saturday rather than promoting Harvey is about as exhausted as it gets—Harvey was all that was left for the Mets, however it affects his development as a player.
That said, Harvey probably will exceed what they Mets would have received from Batista, succeeding because the bar has been set so low. For one thing, he knows how to strike people out. Not quite at the level of a Strasburg, who struck out 10.6 per nine in the minor leagues before getting promoted, but Harvey's 9.2 per nine in 110 Triple-A innings this year suggests he'll get his share of swings and misses at the major league level.
Mike Pelfrey struck out just over 10 batters per nine in 96 1/3 innings spread over three levels in 2006 before the Mets promoted him. The results, over the final half of 2006 and start of 2007, were ugly: a 5.55 E.R.A. in 94 innings, and a demotion back to Triple-A.
But Pelfrey had been undeniably rushed even more than Harvey, with those minor league innings serving as his entire apprenticeship. A better comparison is Paul Wilson, the top overall pick in the 1994 draft by the Mets.
Wilson was part of the pitching prospects known as Generation K in the mid-1990s for the Mets, along with Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher. But Wilson was supposed to be the best of the bunch. After a solid debut at lower levels in 1994, Wilson easily passed the Double-A test, and dominated at Triple-A as well.
Wilson struck out 9.4 per nine in 186 2/3 innings in 1995, spread between Double-A and Triple-A. He pitched almost the same number of minor league innings before his callup, 237, as Harvey has, 245 2/3. Wilson's control, however, was much better, with a walk rate roughly half of Harvey's, 2.1 per nine to Harvey's 3.9 per nine.
Despite all of that, Wilson's 1996 was a disaster. He pitched to a 5.38 E.R.A. in 26 starts.
This is not to suggest that Harvey is doomed to a career like Wilson's. Ultimately, injuries prevented Wilson from developing further. But the pitchers who come up and pitch like they belong as soon as they are promoted are very few and far between, even among the most gifted prospects. And those that do tend to dominate at Triple-A, which Harvey certainly hasn't done yet.
Harvey, 23, at least offers hope for the future. But he'll need time.