Noah Syndergaard noticed the change during his first scrimmage of his senior year in high school. He sensed more life in his fastball that afternoon than he ever had before. That season, the feeling never seemed to go away.
"Every game after that, I started picking up more and more velocity,'' said Syndergaard, one of the prospects acquired in the Mets' trade of R.A. Dickey. "And more teams started looking at me.''
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By the playoffs, scouts descended upon his games, their radar guns trained to measure the incredible progression. As a junior at Legacy High School in Mansfield, Texas, the right-hander could barely touch 90 mph. As a senior, he was hitting 95 mph.
Opponents had taken to calling his fastball "The Eliminator.'' And just like that, Syndergaard earned his ticket to pro ball. The Blue Jays chose him 38th overall in the 2010 draft.
"He came from out of nowhere,'' said Allen Davis, a former nine-year minor league pitcher who began giving him lessons when Syndergaard was a freshman. "He really just grew into his body. To me, that was really the difference, because he always had that ability to pitch.''
The Mets used their most valuable trade chip -- the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner -- to place a big bet on that ability. Determined to get more than one top prospect in any trade of Dickey, general manager Sandy Alderson insisted that the 20-year-old Syndergaard be included in the trade package along with elite catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud.
"We believe that he's got tremendous upside potential,'' Alderson said of Syndergaard, who went 8-5 with a 2.60 ERA last season for Class A Lansing.
Scouts rave about Syndergaard's heavy fastball, which he mixes in with a power curveball and a changeup that Davis said might be the righthander's best pitch. All three pitches have gotten tougher to hit as Syndergaard has grown. Though he's listed at 6-5, 200 pounds, Davis said the pitcher has grown closer to 6-7, 220 pounds.
Yet for all of Syndergaard's physical maturity, Davis said he's been more impressed with the pitcher's mental growth. It's what Davis believes will lead Syndergaard to the majors.
"To me, he's not the typical 20-year-old I remember playing with,'' Davis said. "He has a drive and it shows. From the day he got drafted, he's been focused, and he hasn't lost that focus.''