Shocked by the Call Up of Chris Schwinden

In 2009, the Savannah Sand Gnats boasted the best starting staff across the New York Mets organization. With Historic Grayson Stadium within walking distance, I scouted 50 or so of their games that season which included starts by each of their starting pitchers. Among the pitchers i saw was Chris Schwinden, who is scheduled to debut Thursday for the Mets.

On that staff, I nicknamed one pitcher “family night” and took the night off from scouting whenever he pitched. That player was Chris Schwinden, who was considered a non-prospect by not only me, but by contacts I spoke to who watched him in person.

The top prospect on that staff was Jeurys Familia. Nineteen at the time, he combined a 92-94 MPH fastball with excellent movement and improving slurve to finish the season as a top 10 prospect in the organization. Although he stumbled in 2010, Familia is now considered one of the top three pitching prospects in the organization and in the midst of a breakout season. But he has yet to toe the rubber at Citi Field.

A close number two to Familia was Kyle Allen whose 90-93 MPH fastball with sink and feel for a changeup also earned him a top 10 organizational ranking as a teenager prior to 2010. A back injury derailed his prospect status and he has spent most of 2011 battling inconsistency at the high-A level. His career is a bit in flux at the moment.

Lefty Robert Carson completed the trifecta of teenage power arms in Savannah as a big-bodied thrower capable of touching 94 MPH. Now 22, he seems to have hit a wall at double-A having allowed a whopping 222 hits in only 177 innings at the level. Should he ever contribute at the big league level, it’s likely to be as an “adrenaline lefty” out of the pen to maximize his velocity in short spurts.

Even Eric Beaulac was considered a better prospect than Chris Schwinden at the time. With impressive height, a fastball up to 93 MPH and a hard, boring slider, Beaulac profiled as a big league middle reliever. And while that may not sound like much, more than 95% of players at the South Atlantic League level never enjoy even a cup of coffee at the big league level.

Bringing up the rear was Chris Schwinden, a classic Omar Minaya era draft pick as a fringe velocity, small college right-hander drafted in the 22nd round. With an 86-88 MPH fastball, mid-70’s curveball and changeup, Schwinden painted the black with average to a bit below stuff en route to a 2.87 FIP as an older prospect at the level. He was the type of organizational pitcher a scout sees at least 100 times in any given season. Schwinden was an innings-eating placeholder so that the “legit” prospects do not have their throwing schedules affected in any way. At the time, the cutter he reportedly works off of now was non-existent.

Schwinden was promoted Port St. Lucie late in the 2009 season and returned there in 2010 before finishing the season in double-A where he posted a far more impressive FIP than ERA at the level.

Back in Binghamton to begin the 2011 season, Schwinden received a surprise promotion to Buffalo in mid-April and never looked back. And while his season totals shine considering Schwinden essentially came out of nowhere, his second half numbers have fizzled to the point where one is forced to wonder whether his Cinderella story is rapidly coming to an end.

Regardless of the outcome Thursday, the fact Chris “Family Night” Schwinden will have “New York Mets pitcher” on his resume when he wakes up Friday morning is a remarkable development considering his humble beginnings in the organization. And should Schwinden’s career path wind up similar to Dillon Gee, expect a number of other minor league development staff’s to begin incorporating the cutter into the repertoire’s of their soft-tossing organizational arms with a feel for pitching as well.

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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.

16 Responses to “Shocked by the Call Up of Chris Schwinden”

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  1. Corvelay says:

    Maybe you’re just not a very good scout.

    I joke, I joke. I would like to see Schwinden stick around just on the merits of having ‘Family Night’ as his nickname.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      You know Corvelay, you might be onto something. I’m sure a number of scouts working in organizations this morning picked up the phone, called a friend in the industry, and said, “do you remember this Schwinden kid?”

      If you look at the Mets organization this season, a number of pitchers previously considered non-prospects including Schwinden, Gorski, McHugh, etc. are having excellent seasons. If learning a cutter has allowed these pitchers to take huge leaps forward as command/control guys, it’s definitely worth noting.

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  2. Brad Johnson says:

    “expect a number of other minor league development staff’s to begin incorporating the cutter into the repertoire’s of their soft-tossing organizational arms with a feel for pitching as well.”

    With the success the pitch is having at the major league level and the ease with which is taught and mastered, I would expect that to have happened long ago. I’ve was baffled growing up why more pitchers didn’t use the cutter, it’s devastating.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      I’m actually quite curious about the cutter. It has been blamed for a drop in velocity for legit guys like Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey who teams invest high draft picks and substantial signing bonuses in.

      For late round command/control college picks who sign for a twelve pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, organizations can churn and burn these guys through cutter use and it really doesn’t matter. The arms are expendable.

      For these players, a handful of years as an up-and-down guy or middle/long reliever is worth millions and the potential for injury is well worth the time and money being in the show provides.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        I’d be interested in seeing some empirical evidence that cutter use can lead to a loss of velocity with other fastballs.

        Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels all added cutters as major leaguers. Hamels velocity jumped last year along with his cutter use, and Lee’s seen modest gains in his fastball velocity even as he uses his cutter more and more frequently.

        I think what we have here is a red herring. Or for us statistically inclined types, correlation without causation.

        It deserves some study, but I can’t see how the argument that learning a cutter decreases fastball velocity can pass the smell test.

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      • Franco says:

        I don’t have a strong opinion either way, but I’m curious to know why a cutter would cut down on someone’s velocity? It doesn’t seem like an especially awkward movement.

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      • Mike Newman says:

        It would make for a good study for sure. Maybe you can talk one of the more statistically inclined guys to look into it.

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  3. Chris Blessing says:

    Family Night!!! ROFL! Love it! Can’t wait for your breakdown on Josh Satin.

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  4. jts5 says:

    didn’t pitch all that great today. oh well, maybe he’ll get another start.

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  5. Paul says:

    Love your stuff on Scouting The Sally, Mike. I never, ever praise pieces on here because I figure if somebody is writing for public consumption they know they are a good writer, what they need is thoughtful criticism. This piece is an exception. Well crafted, great story, great info, even some nice dramatic tension. I hope there are many more of these to come on FG.

    Your report on Jose Altuve last December at Scouting the Sally should stand as perhaps the best example of why that site should be part of every baseball fan’s regular stops.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Thank you Paul for reading the piece, your response to the post, and for supporting Scouting The Sally. This Schwinden piece is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for quite awhile, but didn’t know if he would ever receive the call. One of the things about scouting is that it’s such an inexact science, there’s always something new to learn. Contacts I speak with actually get more out of the prospect misses I write about than the guys like Altuve who I wind up being a bit more bullish on than others. In Schwinden’s case, ignoring him (and pitchers like him) is something I should probably consider doing as I’m starting to think a feel for a changeup/breaking ball, even if they are average on a GREAT day, is enough to make me wonder if prospect Q could be something if he developed a cutter?

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