The Mets are in agreement with reliever Tommy Hunter on a minor league contract, report Ken Rosenthal and Britt Ghiroli of the Athletic (Twitter link). The Athletic adds that the righty will report to the team’s complex in Port St. Lucie this week and is hoping to build into MLB game shape by June.
Ghiroli reported this morning that Hunter recently conducted a showcase in front of scouts. It didn’t take long for him to find a home after demonstrating his current form, as he’ll return to the place where he began the 2021 season. The 6’3″ hurler signed a minor league deal with New York last February, then pitched his way onto the MLB roster by the first week of May. Hunter worked eight scoreless innings across four appearances, punching out six while issuing three walks and allowing four hits.
Unfortunately, Hunter landed on the injured list just two weeks after the Mets called him up. He was nebulously diagnosed with lower back pain, but he was transferred to the 60-day IL not long thereafter. New York traded Hunter to the Rays to offset some money in the teams’ July Rich Hill deal, but he remained on Tampa Bay’s IL all season. The veteran qualified for free agency, and his stay on the open market was quiet until today.
According to Ghiroli, Hunter underwent back surgery at some point last year. He’s now progressed to throwing, and he’ll take the next month-plus to accumulate pitches and build stamina in hopes of making a midseason return to the bullpen. If healthy, the 14-year MLB veteran should have a good shot at landing a middle innings role for skipper Buck Showalter. Since moving from the rotation to the ’pen with Showalter’s Orioles in 2013, Hunter has tossed 402 innings of 3.18 ERA ball, holding opposing hitters to a .238/.285/.370 slash line. Hunter’s velocity has fallen from its 97 MPH peak into the 92-94 range of late, but he has excellent control and has generally induced ground-balls at a better than average clip.
Staying healthy has been an issue for Hunter, who spent some time on the IL in each season between 2016-21 (although his 2020 stint was COVID-related, not due to a physical injury). On a non-roster deal, there’s little risk for the Mets in gauging Hunter’s form over the next few weeks to determine whether to add him back to the big league bullpen.