PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Drew Smith and Franklyn Kilome have been Tommy John surgery patients, rehabilitation buddies and, in recent weeks, catch partners. And this spring training they are a pair of potential difference-making wild cards in the Mets’ 2020 pitching plans after being relegated to irrelevancy last season.
The righthanded Kilome, 24, is 16 months removed from his operation. Smith, a 26-year-old righty reliever, is approaching his one-year anniversary next month. They won’t be ready for the start of the season, but somewhere along the way they could carve themselves spots on the major-league roster.
“They can be very impactful. You can already see that,” said manager Luis Rojas, who cautioned that the Mets aren’t saying when they will be back. “We have to see in which situations we are, but we definitely know the value they bring to the team. We’re looking forward for them to finish and to get to that point.”
Smith, the Mets’ return in the July 2017 Lucas Duda trade with the Rays, is closer to making an impact in the big leagues — because he has already been there. He had a 3.54 ERA in 27 games as a rookie in 2018 and was poised to play a role in the bullpen last year until a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow ended his season before it began.
As he toiled in the early phases of his rehab in Florida, Smith watched Mets games — watched the bullpen largely struggle — from afar and lamented his missed opportunity. If only he had been healthy, he would have had a chance to help.
“It felt like I was being tested,” Smith said. “I’m sitting here, I’m watching it happen. I was like, man, I’d love to be a part of that. I’d love to be involved. I saw things that happened that I could’ve stepped in and helped fill the role.
“It was tough to watch. From the sidelines, watching on TV, it was not where I wanted to be. It was a tough year, but hopefully this year I can help contribute again and be back to where I want to be.”
Now, with a repaired elbow — courtesy of a hamstring graft that he said is thicker, bigger and stronger than his original UCL — Smith is five bullpen sessions deep into his return. In a couple of weeks, the plan is to progress to facing hitters in live batting practice.
“I was there for his first side [session],” Rojas said. “He was so amped up that we had to slow him down a little bit.”
Kilome, meanwhile, still is trying to make a first impression on the Mets’ new-ish front office. Aside from a couple of instructional league games at the organization’s complex in the Dominican Republic last October, he hasn’t pitched since general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was hired. He came to the Mets months prior, from the Phillies in exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera in July 2018.
For now Kilome is limited to throwing live BP — Rojas said he isn’t ready for exhibition action — but he said he feels “ready to pitch normally.”
“At the end, [the Mets] decide for me,” he said. “For me, I’m good. Full go.”
Kilome has been a starter throughout his major-league career, but it’s not clear what role he’ll have in the longer term. In the case of 2020 specifically, a temporary bullpen assignment could be an option if the Mets look to limit his workload, which is normal for pitchers in their first season back from Tommy John.
“They haven’t told me yet how it’s going to be, but I’m ready for whatever,” Kilome said. “Starter, reliever, I’m always ready.”
Smith echoed that whatever-the-team-wants sentiment — a common one for a player trying to establish himself as a major-leaguer, amplified by the long wait to get back into games.
“You want to get back so bad that it’s at the point where you don’t care what inning you pitch, what type of leverage situation,” Smith said. “I don’t care if I’m pitching in the second inning, the fifth inning, the eighth. I don’t. I don’t care. I want to be back contributing.”