Hall of Fame scout Roland Johnson has now signed two generations of pitchers from the same family. A faulty appliance had a role to play in that happening.
“It’s kind of a crazy story,” said Binghamton Mets reliever Mike Hepple, a Connecticut native. “My dad fixes appliances. He owns an appliance company. At the time I was playing independent ball. Roland called him to fix his dryer or something like that. And my dad was over there and was like, ‘Hey, my son plays independent ball. You should just take a look at him.’ Roland was like, ‘Sure, yeah, I’ll look at him.’ He came to see me throw over in Hartford, at Baseball City, and then came back with video and another guy and wanted to see me again. I ended up working out for the Mets and they signed me in January 2014.”
Hepple’s father, Peter, a left-handed pitcher, had been signed by Johnson with the Cardinals, although the elder Hepple never appeared in an official minor-league game.
The 25-year-old Hepple -- a right-handed pitcher -- graduated from Newington High School, then Eastern Connecticut State University with a degree in sports management. He went undrafted.
“I wanted to stay baseball,” Hepple said. “It’s kind of a weird story there, too. I ended up completing my internship for graduation out in California, with this guy Ron Perkins, helping out at his academy. He ended up having some connections to get me in front of some scouts -- like a Blue Jays scout, White Sox. They didn’t want to sign me, but they put me in touch with an independent team. They said they’d follow me there. So that’s how the independent career got started.”
Hepple played for four independent teams between the Frontier League and American Association in 2013 alone, posting a combined 5.60 ERA.
Now, though, he has represented the Mets in the Arizona Fall League -- a sign the organization views him as a prospect. This season, he is 2-1 with a 0.93 ERA in 9 2/3 innings spanning seven relief appearances with Double-A Binghamton. He has allowed only four hits, but has walked 11 (one intentional), hit a batter and issued two wild pitches.
“Every year I come back I feel stronger. This year I’m coming in with a two-seamer. It’s almost a new pitch for me,” said Hepple, whose fastball sits in the low-90s. “And my slider is sharper. I just feel good. As long as I’m getting better every year, I feel like I still have a shot.”
Average: T.J. Rivera, Vegas, .367; Vinny Siena, Columbia, .356; Tomas Nido, St. Lucie, .327; Amed Rosario, St. Lucie, .321; Niuman Romero, Binghamton, .305; David Thompson, Columbia, .304; Dash Winningham, Columbia, .302; Derrik Gibson, Binghamton, .290; Travis Taijeron, Vegas, .288; Matt Reynolds, Vegas, .288.
Homers: Amed Rosario, St. Lucie, 3; Matt Reynolds, Vegas, 2; Travis Taijeron, Vegas, 2; Xorge Carrillo, Binghamton, 2; Victor Cruzado, Binghamton, 2; Jeff Diehl, Columbia, 2; J.C. Rodriguez, Columbia, 2; Ivan Wilson, Columbia, 2.
RBIs: David Thompson, Columbia, 21; Amed Rosario, St. Lucie, 13; Dominic Smith, Binghamton, 13; T.J Rivera, Vegas, 12; Travis Taijeron, Vegas, 10.
Steals: Champ Stuart, St. Lucie, 8; Roger Bernadina, Vegas, 7; Amed Rosario, St. Lucie, 5; Matt Reynolds, Vegas, 4.
ERA: P.J. Conlon, Columbia, 1.08; Gabriel Ynoa, Vegas, 1.48; Sean Gilmartin, Vegas, 1.62; Ricky Knapp, St. Lucie, 1.65; Casey Delgado, St. Lucie, 1.71; Robert Gsellman, Binghamton, 2.19; Chase Ingram, Columbia, 2.45; Joe Shaw, Columbia, 2.81; Andrew Barbosa, Binghamton, 3.12.
Wins: Casey Delgado, St. Lucie, 3; Ricky Knapp, St. Lucie, 3.
Saves: Ty Bashlor, Columbia, 2; Johnny Magliozzi, Columbia, 2; Kevin McGowan, St. Lucie, 2; Corey Taylor, St. Lucie, 2.
Strikeouts: Chase Ingram, Columbia, 28; Andrew Barbosa, Binghamton, 21; Joe Shaw, Columbia, 21; Sean Gilmartin, Vegas, 20; Robert Gsellman, Binghamton, 20.
There have been mixed results for the Mets’ top prospects as April nears its close. With St. Lucie, 20-year-old shortstop Amed Rosario has enjoyed a torrid week at the plate. On Saturday and then again on Tuesday, Rosario produced a homer and four RBIs in a game. He is hitting .321 with three homers, a league-best five triples, three homers and 13 RBIs in 78 at-bats -- signaling he merits consideration for a promotion to Binghamton, even if the Mets were inclined to leave him in the Florida State League for the first half. No other player in the Florida State League has more than two triples. However, former first-round picks Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini are off to slow starts with Las Vegas. Nimmo is hitting .206/.275./.238 through 63 at-bats. Cecchini is hitting .207/.333/.276 through 58 at-bats, although he did produce his first Triple-A homer on Tuesday.
T.J. Rivera, who can play all four infield positions, started in left field for the first time in his professional career on Monday. Vegas has a lot of infielders, and the increased versatility is valuable anyway. Rivera, a Bronx native who was undrafted out of Troy University, is hitting .367 with one homer and 12 RBIs in 49 at-bats with Las Vegas.
Rafael Montero has returned to Vegas’ rotation after a week-long stint in the major league bullpen. Montero allowed two runs on six hits and two walks in four innings on Sunday against Albuquerque. He struck out four and threw 88 pitches.
Three players of significance landed on the disabled list: Jeff McNeil and Stefan Sabol due to short-term leg injuries with Binghamton, and Kevin Kaczmarski with a quadriceps injury with Columbia.
UConn product Vinny Siena has reached base safely in all 19 games this season with Columbia. The only other players in professional baseball with longer streaks are Minnesota’s Joe Mauer at 21 and Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer at 20.
Akeel Morris received a National League championship ring from Jeff Wilpon and Sandy Alderson in a presentation before Tuesday’s Binghamton game. The B-Mets’ coaching staff also received rings. Of course, Morris’ lone 2015 appearance with the Mets did not go well. In his major league debut, Morris allowed five runs on three hits and three walks while recording only two outs in Toronto. That leaves him with a 67.50 career ERA.
David Thompson, a fourth-round pick out of the University of Miami last year, is hitting .304 with one homer and a league-leading 21 RBIs in 69 at-bats for Columbia. Thompson, a third baseman, hit only .218 with Brooklyn last year after the draft. But Mets officials believe he was tired after a long college season.
“Farm Report” appears on Wednesdays during the regular season