Right-hander Rob Whalen learned the importance of utilizing a changeup while facing advanced hitters in the Arizona Fall League. He has honed that pitch this season with Class A St. Lucie.
Whalen, a lifelong New York Mets fan, is 2-2 with a 2.38 ERA in seven starts with the Florida State League club in 2015. Because of lack of run support, he went winless until May 15, despite boasting one of the organization's top ERAs.
"It's just always trying to get ahead of guys. First-pitch strikes are important," said Whalen, a 12th-round pick out of Haines City (Florida) High School in 2012. "And then I'm really trying to establish my changeup. I'm trying to make an emphasis on throwing that more often.
"I've talked to Phil Regan, the pitching coach, and our pitching coordinator, Ron Romanick. I think my last start I threw, I want to say, 22 changeups. That's the most I've ever thrown. I only gave up two hits. I wasn't commanding it too well, but it was effective, and I was keeping guys off-balance."
Whalen, who had never pitched above low-A Savannah until this season, had a 6.87 ERA in the AFL.
"It's like an all-star game out there," said Whalen, 21. "I started to figure it out a little bit out there. Coming into the season, I had a little confidence.
"As you get older, the hitters are more advanced. A fastball and breaking ball, they're going to hit that. You've got to have something with some contrast that's going to keep them off-balance. Going out there I learned I really needed to have a good changeup. I came to spring training early. I was here like the first week in February really trying to work on changeups. It's been a struggle. It's been a process. But it's now really starting to come along."
Whalen's parents are from Queens, although he grew up in the Poconos. His father frequently would take him to Mets games.
Once his sisters had graduated from high school, the family moved to Florida in part so that Whalen's baseball career could have the best chance to succeed. Whalen had made Team USA as a 14-year-old. The family had lost its house in the Poconos anyway because of financial difficulty and decided to uproot itself.
"We just kind of winged it, picked a spot on the map," Whalen said. "It's all worked out so far."
One of Whalen's favorite childhood memories is Mets-related.
"I was 8 years old and I went to a Mets Baseball Academy camp, I want to say in Great Neck or Little Neck, New York," Whalen said. "I don't think they do it anymore. I remember meeting Mookie Wilson out there, playing catch with Scott Strickland and younger guys. I won, it was called, the Tom Seaver Most Outstanding Pitcher award. I was the only guy who got it that year. I wasn't even a pitcher then. I just could throw really hard for being 8 years old. It's a cool memory. And I still have that little medal."
Whalen primarily throws a sinker in the 89-91 mph range, although he can dial his four-seam fastball up to 92 or 93, and even an occasional 94 when required. He also throws a curveball, slider and the emerging changeup.
"I just try to pound the zone with the sinker," Whalen said. "I can take some off, just like Bartolo [Colon] does if you watch him. It's just working off that fastball and trying to get early contact."
Average: Jeff McNeil, St. Lucie, .348; T.J. Rivera, Vegas, .344; Darrell Ceciliani, Vegas, .336; Travis Taijeron, Vegas, .328; Luis Guillorme, Savannah, .320; Jayce Boyd, Binghamton, .310; Josh Rodriguez, Binghamton, .309; Colton Plaia, St. Lucie, .299; Maikis De La Cruz, St. Lucie, .297; Brandon Nimmo, Binghamton, .297.
Homers: Alex Castellanos, Vegas, 9; Josh Rodriguez, Binghamton, 9; Travis Taijeron, Vegas, 7; Michael Conforto, St. Lucie, 7.
RBIs: Alex Castellanos, Vegas, 31; Josh Rodriguez, Binghamton, 28; Michael Conforto, St. Lucie, 27; Matt Reynolds, Vegas, 27; Brandon Allen, Vegas, 23.
Steals: Champ Stuart, St. Lucie, 11; Wilfredo Tovar, Vegas, 11; Jonathan Johnson, Savannah, 9; Patrick Biondi, Savannah, 8.
ERA: Robert Gsellman, St. Lucie, 1.76; Casey Meisner, Savannah, 1.93; Steven Matz, Vegas, 1.99; Duane Below, Vegas, 2.18; Rob Whalen, St. Lucie, 2.38; Seth Lugo, Binghamton, 2.56; Brad Wieck, Savannah, 3.09; Miller Diaz, St. Lucie, 3.32; Martires Arias, Savannah, 3.51; Rainy Lara, Binghamton, 3.57.
Wins: Robert Gsellman, St. Lucie, 6; Steven Matz, Vegas, 6; Duane Below, Vegas, 4.
Saves: Jon Velasquez, Vegas, 10; Paul Sewald, Binghamton, 7; Akeel Morris, St. Lucie, 7; Chasen Bradford, Vegas, 5; David Roseboom, Savannah, 3.
Strikeouts: Steven Matz, Vegas, 68; Brad Wieck, Savannah, 58; Casey Meisner, Savannah, 41; Corey Oswalt, Savannah, 41; Seth Lugo, Binghamton, 38.
Left-hander Duane Below earned the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the week award after tossing a four-hit shutout at Tacoma last Tuesday that required 98 pitches. Below, 29, followed up that performance on Monday with his second straight complete game. He limited Colorado Springs to two runs (one earned) on seven hits in a 97-pitch effort. Below is the first Las Vegas pitcher to toss consecutive complete games since Carlos Torres on June 3 and 9, 2013. Torres was promoted to the Mets after those starts.
Recently signed Cuban catcher Lednier Ricardo has secured a visa and has arrived at the Mets' complex in Port St. Lucie. He is expected to be assigned to a team in the upper minors in the not-too-distant future.
Second baseman L.J. Mazzilli is eligible to return on Monday from a season-opening 50-game suspension for a drug of abuse. Mazzilli has been tuning up in extended spring training games. He initially is due to appear with St. Lucie, but should move to Binghamton shortly thereafter.
2014 first-round pick Michael Conforto was named the Florida State League player of the week on Tuesday. Conforto went 11-for-30 with three doubles, one homer and four RBIs in seven games. Conforto also received the FSL's first honor of the season, for the period of April 9-19.
Right-hander Marcos Molina, 20, is being evaluated for the need for Tommy John surgery. He made six starts for St. Lucie before being shut down with elbow difficulty.
First baseman David Cooper's tenure with the organization did not last long. Signed out of independent ball, the former Toronto Blue Jays first-round pick requested and was granted his release. Cooper, 28, hit .143 (5-for-35) in 10 games with Binghamton.
The Mets' South Atlantic League affiliate is moving from Savannah, Georgia, to Columbia, South Carolina, for the 2016 season. Mets farmhands also played in Columbia from 1983 through 2004. A new ballpark is scheduled to open next March.
Mets officials are pleased with shortstop Gavin Cecchini's performance with the B-Mets. Through 36 games, Cecchini is hitting .291 (39-for-134) with four homers and 20 RBIs. He also has 11 errors, although a team official labeled it "youth errors" from not understanding the speed -- not mechanical deficiencies.