Mets bet big journeyman Sam McWilliams has makings of a bullpen star

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This wasn’t the type of bidding war the Steve Cohen-led Mets were expected to win.

While Mets fans eagerly await the first splashy free-agent signing under the new deep-pocketed ownership, the addition of career minor-league pitcher Sam McWilliams on a major-league deal worth $750,000 – more than the league minimum – didn’t make waves. He has pitched for five organizations, posted an 8.18 ERA at Triple-A in 2019 and didn’t pitch in a game in the shortened 2020 season.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci detailed how the Mets battled other teams, including those at the top of the analytics game, to sign McWilliams and why he was so in demand.

“To get the player,” Mets president Sandy Alderson told SI, “we went a little beyond where we originally thought we were willing to go.”

McWilliams spent 2020 changing his pitching approach – he cut out his two-seam fastball and refined his slider, for example – at the Tampa Bay Rays’ alternate site and tracking pitch data on his phone, according to the report. He credited work with a former high school teammate who studied biomechanics and physical therapy at George Mason.

“I felt like I made real strides, especially my overall feel in terms of the awareness of my body throughout the delivery and of the strike zone,” McWilliams said. “And how to approach hitters and understand tendencies. One of the benefits for me at the alternate site was I was facing my own teammates. So we’d have a scrimmage, and after it you could sit down next to a guy and talk about what they saw or how the ball was coming out of my hand from their perspective.”

After spending most of his career as a starter averaging seven strikeouts per nine innings, McWilliams’ new repertoire profiles as a potential high swing-and-miss reliever. Exactly what made the Rays’ bullpen so dangerous on the way to the 2020 World Series.

“The Rays in general were great for me, in the sense that getting traded over there after not being exposed to too much [information] before,” McWilliams told SI. “Over the past two or three years there everything just kind of blossomed for me. I developed a much better understanding about pitching, especially what we can’t see with the naked eye.”

Pitching-rich Tampa let McWilliams become a free agent this offseason and he went to the open market with a technological weapon to show what he looked like when he couldn’t be scouted in minor-league games.

“Thankfully, I had a lot of my info saved from my 2020 file on my phone, and that was really good to have,” McWilliams said. “It was good to be able to show them my video and metrics.”

McWilliams had other suitors before the Mets, who he said joined the chase after the ownership change. His younger brother was drafted by the Mets out of high school in 2017 but did not sign and went to college.

“It was the pro scouting staff that identified him and thought he was a guy who could help us,” Alderson said.

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