At some point in March 2010, pitcher Noah Syndergaard took it to another level.
He was the ace for Mansfield Legacy but far from a big-name prospect. In fact, he wasn’t recruited by any colleges. And pro scouts didn’t start flocking to his games until the playoffs in May.
By then, the change on the mound for Syndergaard was in full force. He went from having a fastball in the mid-80s to the mid-90s. It’s a velocity leap that former Legacy coach David Walden still can’t wrap his mind around.
What was the secret?
“I’ve been asked that question a million times and I wish I knew,” said Walden, who is now the head coach at Willis High School, north of Houston. “I think maybe he was holding back and he finally said the heck with it and started going for it. That’s the best guess I can make. He was a little bit cautious about just letting it go. Something happened and we don’t know what it was. I don’t think Noah knows what happened.”
Something happened and we don’t know what it was. I don’t think Noah knows what happened.
Former Mansfield Legacy baseball coach David Walden on Noah Syndergaard’s jump in velocity as a senior
His success as a rookie for the New York Mets has been less surprising. He’s been one of the top minor league prospects the past three seasons after being selected the No. 38 overall pick in the June 2010 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. He was traded to the Mets in December 2012.
Since his major league debut in May, the 23-year-old right-hander has been outstanding. In 24 regular-season starts, he allowed more than three runs just five times, going 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA and 166 strikeouts in 150 innings. He’s been even better in the postseason, which includes two starts and one appearance out of the bullpen. He’ll start Game 3 of the World Series Friday night at Citi Field against the Kansas City Royals with the Mets down 2-0.
More than 70 scouts, including two major league general managers, attended Noah Syndergaard’s start against Birdville in the regional quarterfinals in 2010.
“He’s just an awesome kid who was loaded with talent, loaded with desire, committed to some day being a major league pitcher,” said Walden, who was in his first year at Legacy in 2010. He still talks with Syndergaard, including sending texts of support. Syndergaard made a habit of returning to Legacy during the off-season to work out. A few years out of high school, he even made a run to Whataburger for a hungry Broncos baseball team.
“He’s a very humble and grounded person,” Walden said. “One of the nicest people you’ll ever be around.”
Syndergaard, who is 6-foot-6 and an avid weight-lifter, is routinely clocked in the high-90s. The weight training was something he picked up at Legacy, along with Walden’s advice to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to help fight off soreness.
“He ate those things every night,” said Walden, who has fielded several calls from New York media wanting to know the magic of the PB & J. “It’s just protein, that’s all it is. High school kids don’t eat very well and peanut butter is loaded with protein. Better to eat it than drink it. He bought into the whole thing. We really worked them hard and if they don’t eat right it’s like not putting gas in the car.”
By the time Syndergaard’s high school career was wrapping up, he was like a souped up Ferrari with a full tank. He was no longer an unknown for a playoff start against Birdville in the regional quarterfinals. More than 70 scouts, including two major league general managers and an assistant GM were two deep along the fence watching Syndergaard warm up in the bullpen at Legacy’s baseball field. None of it fazed him. He struck out 18 as the Broncos advanced to the regional semifinals.
“His stuff was absolutely filthy. Our catcher came over and his hand was swollen; he could barely clinch a fist,” Walden said. “It was amazing that a high school kid could even catch that thing.”
Walden never used a velocity gun to monitor Syndergaard. He didn’t want the then 17-year-old senior to “throw to the gun.”
He had other ways of detecting the improved velocity besides the dominant performances.
“We knew our catcher’s hand was hurting and he was busting his mitt a lot,” he said.
His stuff was absolutely filthy. Our catcher came over and his hand was swollen; he could barely clinch a fist.
Former Legacy basebal coach David Walden on Syndergaard’s velocity
Syndergaard’s only scholarship offer came from Dallas Baptist. And they only wanted him as a hitter, not a pitcher.
His high school career ended the next week against Wolfforth Frenship. He had a no-hitter broken up by a blooper with two outs in the seventh in Game 1 before striking out the final batter on consecutive pitches of 96, 97 and 98 mph to end the game. (Frenship won the next two games.)
An Atlanta Braves national cross-checker scout in attendance incredulously approached Walden after the game. He’d never seen it before, a pitcher’s velocity rising on his 93rd and final pitch of the game.
“I just saw something I don’t know if I’ve ever seen before. You reckon that kid’s hit ticked him off,” the scout asked Walden.
“I don’t know,” Walden responded, laughing at the memory. “I didn’t know the kid threw that hard.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760
Noah Syndergaard file
▪ Drafted in June 2010 by Toronto as the 38th selection in the first round.
▪ Traded in December 2012 with Travis d’Arnaud, John Buck and Wuilmer Becerra to the Mets for R.A. Dickey, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas.
▪ Made major league debut for the Mets on May 12, 2015