There are still questions as to who will begin the 2017 season as the 5th starter for the Mets rotation. The Mets have a decision to make between Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman. The Mets can’t go wrong with whichever one they choose.
Wheeler has shown signs of the hype around him when he was ranked as the 11th best prospect in all of baseball after the 2012 season by Baseball America. While he was a little wild early in his career, Wheeler began to show more command of his pitches by the middle of the 2014 season. Wheeler established himself as a pitcher with a lot of talent and potential at the major league level on June 19th, 2014, exactly a year and a day after he made his MLB debut. On this day, Wheeler threw a complete game 3-hit shutout against the Marlins, facing only one over the minimum. Going into that game, Wheeler had been struggling, with a 2-7 record and an ERA well over 4.00. From this game on, Wheeler rebounded and dominated for the rest of the season, finishing his first full season with a record of 11-11 and an ERA of 3.54. The concern with Wheeler going into 2017 is that he hasn’t pitched in a major league game since 2014, due to Tommy John surgery shortly before the start of the 2015 season and suffering multiple setbacks while attempting to come back in 2016 before being shut down. The Mets coaching staff will likely be keeping a close eye on him when spring training starts. Depending on how he looks during spring training and where his velocity and command are, Wheeler will likely either start the 2017 season in the bullpen or be inserted into the role of the 5th starter. Even if Wheeler ends up starting the season in the bullpen, he may end up returning to the rotation when he shakes off his rust and returns to looking like the stud pitcher he was in the second half of the 2014 season.
With Lugo and Gsellman, it’s a coin flip for the Mets as far as who starts and who goes to the bullpen. Assuming Wheeler starts out in the bullpen, the Mets may choose to insert the pitcher that pitched better in spring training into the 5th starter’s role, while putting the other one in the bullpen. Going by what I saw from Lugo and Gsellman last season, I would choose to have Lugo in as the 5th starter because I thought he was better at keeping his pitch count low while also staying effective late into ballgames. I also feel that Lugo has better off-speed pitches than Gsellman, especially his curveball, which has so much rotation on it that it set a statcast record at 3,498 rpm. Gsellman can still be very useful out of the bullpen, either as a long man or a 7th or 8th inning man. The same can also be said about Zack Wheeler.
The way that Lugo, Gsellman, and Wheeler perform in spring training will likely determine what role each of the pitchers will begin the season at. In the case of Lugo and Gsellman, they need to prove to the other players and coaches around the league that their 2016 seasons weren’t flukes. If they can establish themselves in the same way that Jacob DeGrom did in 2014, than the Mets may have one of the most dominant rotations and bullpens in major league baseball in 2017, as long as the rotation and bullpen stays healthy and consistent.