No. 16 Christian James
Position: P B/T: R/R Age: 1/20/97(21)
Acquired: Drafted in the 14th round of the 2016 draft
Previous Rank: 14
2018 Stats (Brooklyn, St.Lucie, and Binghamton): 15 G, 15 GS, 4-3, 1.90 ERA, 1.066 WHIP, 6 K/9, 2.3 BB/9.
Two promising pitchers paced the Brooklyn Cyclones’ rotation in 2018. With Jaison Vilera and Christian James fronting the rotation, the Cyclones finished second in the NY-Penn League with a 3.20 ERA. While Vilera is the more heralded player, James turned heads with a season that exceeded expectations. He posted a 1.90 ERA across three levels, eventually settling into the No.2 starter in Brooklyn’s rotation. He finished second in the league in ERA, sixth in WHIP, fifth in innings, third in ground-ball percentage and tied for 11th in BB/9.
Drafted out of high school in the 14th round of the 2016 draft, James has quietly risen up the Mets’ minor-league system.
He excelled in relief for 14 games in his debut year, prompting the Mets to try him out in the rotation in 2017. Although his numbers weren’t pretty, his 3.57 FIP and his 10.1 K/9 painted a rosier picture of his production.
James’s 2018 began with a spot-start for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, where he allowed one run in four innings. As planned, he was then demoted to make a quick spot start for the St.Lucie. Again, against much older competition, he excelled, allowing zero earned runs in five innings. He was then sent to the Brooklyn Cyclones, where he would spend the rest of the season. James became the third youngest Cyclone to receive an Opening Day assignment at 20 years and 22 days. He finished the season on a nice note, pitching to a 1.38 ERA in his final four starts. After his excellent season with the Cyclones, he should begin 2019 with the Columbia Fireflies.
An advantage he holds over the other hurlers is the Mets’ system is his age. Excluding the rookie leagues, where teenagers usually report to after being signed, James was the youngest starter in Mets system. His age allows for time for his frame to grow, which could lead to velocity gains.
The thing that separates James from his peers is his pitch-ability that’s almost unheard of among players his age. His sinking fastball sits in the low 90s, but he can ramp it up to 94-95 mph at times. His low-80s curveball has the potential to develop into a plus pitch while his changeup is a solid third pitch. He is always confident on the mound and mixes his pitches well. However, his cross-body delivery is something that gives scouts pause. As seen in the video below, He turns his back towards the batter and pivots his body to release the ball at a low 3/4 arm slot, which can detract from his command at times.
— Astro (@Astromets31) July 19, 2017
While James won’t be confused for an ace, he should develop into a nice backend starter. He doesn’t strike many out, but he does well to limit the free pass. He’s a ground-ball pitcher, inducing the third highest ground-ball rate in the NY-Penn League. He also manages to keep the ball in the park, as his career 0.4/9 HR shows.
Still, caution should be exercised about James’ future. While he does well to induce tons of weak contact, his lack of an out pitch limits his ceiling. He had a 5.65 K/9 at Brooklyn and the 10.1 K/9 that he posted in 2017 still remains the highest of his career by far. He also posted a 9.1 SwStr%, a number that was the seventh lowest in the league.
While his ability to generate ground-balls remains impressive, his lack of strikeouts at the lower levels of the minors is definitely concerning. We’ve seen pitchers record excellent results in Brooklyn with middling strikeout numbers fail to put it together in the upper minors, (think Merandy Gonzalez, Corey Oswalt and going further, Tyler Badamo).
James was ranked as the eighth best pitcher by MetsMinors.Net and with another strong season, he could find himself much higher on that list. It’s definitely encouraging to see the strides that James made in his third professional season and after his impressive showing in Brooklyn, James should finally get a chance to play an entire year in full-season ball in 2019.
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40-36 Led by Anthony Dirocie
35-31 Led by Ryley Gilliam
30-26 Led by Chris Viall
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24 Ali Sanchez
23 Eric Hanhold
22 Luis Carpio
21 Freddy Valdez
20 Walker Lockett
19 Junior Santos
18 Gavin Cecchini
17 Jordan Humphreys