Hard to believe it now, but once upon a time, Mike Pelfrey was one heck of a pitching prospect in the New York Mets organization. Before that, the Rays actually had first crack at him.
Pelfrey attended Wichita Heights High School in Kansas and was drafted in the 15th round of the 2002 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He did not sign, and after three years at Wichita State University, he was selected with the 9th overall pick of the 2005 Draft by the Mets. That may have cost him millions of dollars.
The Mets rushed Pelfrey to the big leagues. In his first pro season in 2006, Pelfrey made 18 minor league starts, including just 2 at Triple-A, before finishing the season in the big leagues, where he posted a 5.48 ERA and a 13-12 strikeouts to walk ratio in 4 starts and 21.1 innings. He made 15 more minor league starts in 2007, 14 of which at Triple-A, and he was mediocre. He went 3-6 with a 3.94 ERA, a 6.5 K/9, a 3.3 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 15 starts and 80 IP. His FIP was just 4.28. Nevertheless, the Mets brought him to the big leagues, and he struggled again, managing a 5.57 ERA and a 5.06 FIP. In the five seasons since, Pelfrey, who was supposed to have frontline starter potential, has never managed an ERA lower than 3.66 or a FIP lower than 3.82, and his career record stands at 50-54, his career ERA at 4.36, and his career FIP at 4.20. And after just 2 starts in 2012, Pelfrey had to undergo Tommy John Surgery that will sideline him the rest of this season.
If Pelfrey comes into the pro ranks out of high school, especially with the Rays organization, things could have turned out better. We know how much the D-Rays liked to rush their high picks, but they would have had to be careful with Pelfrey coming out of high school. And other than the fact that he was rushed, Pelfrey was messed up by the nature of his arsenal. Pelfrey throws a low-to-mid 90’s sinker that by all accounts should be a great pitch, and it has forced a 2.73 groundball to flyball ratio over the course of Pelfrey’s career (according to Brooks Baseball). But his secondary pitches have never gotten up to par. His slider forces some groundballs, but no swings-and-misses. His splitter is a decent pitch, but nothing special. The secondary pitch of Pelfrey’s that might have had the most potential is his 11-to-5 curveball, but he scrapped it because it didn’t work well with his sinker. The result is that Pelfrey had managed to strike out just 5.1 batters per 9 innings over the course of his big league career despite an electric fastball.
If Pelfrey goes up in the Rays organization, I don’t think he ever learns a sinker or a splitter and instead he would have honed his four-seam fastball and paired it with his curveball, maybe a cutter, and a changeup- a pitch that Pelfrey still doesn’t throw. Maybe Pelfrey’s flames out in the minors in the D-Rays system. But if he had made it to the major leagues, he could have been much better off.
Pelfrey was not going to sign with the Devil Rays as a 15th round pick in 2002 unless they offered him quite a bit of money, something the D-Rays were not exactly known for doing. It’s funny, though, to think how Pelfrey’s career path could have been completely different had he ended up with the Rays.