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In this era of information overload, the major league debut of Tylor Megill offered a reminder of how much scouting still matters in baseball, especially when it comes to picking players in the draft.
Analytics are part of the equation even for amateur players these days, but as an 8th round selection in 2018, Megill was chosen perhaps as much on hunch and feel as anything else.
That is, Mets director of amateur scouting Marc Tramuta, who traverses the country observing hundreds of players in the months before the draft, saw Megill make one appearance as the closer for the University of Arizona that spring and came away wanting to take a chance on him as a potential starting pitcher.
“Sometimes you just think you see something,” Tramuta recalls.
At the time, Megill, the breakout prospect for the Mets this season who made a solid first start against the Braves Wednesday night, was not a hot commodity. After an underwhelming junior season at Arizona, he wasn’t even drafted, and his numbers as a senior were better but not great.
For that matter, Tramuta made the trip to Arizona for a weekend series against Stanford that spring primarily to scout Cardinal right-hander Kris Bubic, a first-round pick by Kansas City that year who is now starting for the Royals.
The Mets’ west coast scouts wanted Tramuta to see Megill as well, but as a reliever the game circumstances would dictate if he pitched.
“Fortunately he pitched multiple innings in the one game he got into,” Tramuta said by phone on Thursday, “so I got a look. Sometimes you need to get lucky that way. And something about him told me he could be a starter. His size (6-foot-7) and physicality were part of it. And I liked his delivery -- he wasn’t out of control, he wasn’t max effort on every pitch.
“As scouts we tend to see more starters who we think will end up as relievers, but you’re always looking for relievers who might be starters. He had starter traits that you could project, and though I only saw him once I walked out of there thinking he was worth a shot. I remember telling Tommy (Tanous, the Mets’ VP of scouting), 'I really like this guy. I want to take him.’"
Tramuta was telling me all of this only because I’d ask about the process of identifying an eighth-round pick like Megill, and he was quick to say it was a team effort, noting that area scout Brian Reid in Arizona and west coast crosschecker Drew Toussaint filed favorable reports that brought Megill to his attention, while Chris Pang in the analytics department got on board as well after running some numbers.
In fact, on Wednesday Tramuta had declared Megill’s big league promotion as something of an organizational holiday, tweeting congratulations to those three colleagues.
“It’s the most exciting part of this job,” Tramuta said. “First and second-round picks are great because so many people in all areas of the organization are involved, but when a lower-round pick like Tylor gets called up, that’s what it’s all about for the scouts. As a group we work mostly in anonymity, especially the area scouts, so it’s great when they can get some recognition. These are group picks and there’s a story behind every one of them.”
Even so, as the No. 2 man under Tanous in the scouting department, Tramuta’s word carries weight, and his instant projection of Megill as a potential starter changed everything because the Mets weren’t going to take a relatively undistinguished reliever as high as the eighth round.
For that matter, Megill wasn’t all that effective in the one outing Tramuta saw, giving up five runs (four earned) on four hits and three walks in 2 1/3 innings, but he did rack up five strikeouts. And though he was primarily a two-pitch reliever -- fastball and slider -- Megill broke out his changeup when he got into trouble, and that too helped convince Tramuta.
“I graded it as an above-average college pitch,” the scout said. “That told me, ‘OK, he has some feel.’ That helped me project him as a starter as well. And that’s when one look could be critical.
“That was only a few years ago but we didn’t have the video system that everybody has these days, where you can go back and look at as many appearances as you want from a pitcher.
“So that day was important. And it was just as important that we had a good feel for his makeup. Brian (Reid) has been in that area for years and he got to know some of the people around Tylor, and Drew (Toussaint) is from Long Beach (Calif.), near where Tylor had played in high school and started out in college (at Loyola Marymount).
“So we’d done our homework on him. Then it was just a matter of where do you take him? In that range it gets tricky: it’s where do you want to take him vs. where do I have to take him (without losing him)? We have players divided into categories and he was someone we saw as an ‘opportunity guy.’
“We got to a point where I told Tommy I thought we should take him and he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ The rest is a credit to the player development department for getting the most out of Tylor, especially making him more of a four-seam fastball guy.”
Yes, in keeping with the trend in baseball these days, the Mets convinced Megill to mostly ditch his two-seam fastball and pitch up in the strike zone with his 94-95 mph four-seamer.
That’s where analytics played a role in Megill’s sudden rise to the big leagues. Coming into 2021 he’d pitched only one full season in the minors, though he did pitch at the Alternate Site in the 2020 Covid year.
Where he goes from here remains to be seen. At age 26 come July, Megill is not exactly a phenom. Yet if he can build on his start against the Braves, he could stick in the Mets’ rotation as they go about replacing Joey Lucchesi, their injured No. 5 starter.
More to the point, he has already rewarded a scout’s vision of the future. Not that scouts are always right in making such projections, as Tramuta will be the first to tell you. But when they get it right with a Tylor Megill, it’s a feel-good moment for the human element in baseball -- something the sport could use more of these days.