MINNEAPOLIS -- It was written in pencil, not ink, and Noah Syndergaard knew that long before the season began. Like uber-prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler before him, Syndergaard was expected to blaze through Triple-A, make his Major League debut around midsummer, then bud into a star at the game's highest level. The seams of his development were not supposed to show.
But for Syndergaard, things haven't unfolded in quite that manner. The right-handed starting pitching prospect struggled in Las Vegas, sustained a mild arm injury, then returned and almost immediately hurt his non-throwing shoulder in a play at the plate. His season grew disjointed.
"I kind of was hoping I'd be up by now," Syndergaard said Sunday, before closing out the US Team's 3-2 victory in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Target Field. "But I'm enjoying my time here, just coming to the grips with things in Vegas, improving there as much as I can. Once the Mets feel like I'm ready, then hopefully I'll get that call-up."
At the Futures Game, Syndergaard enjoyed a businesslike ninth, working around a two-out single to preserve a one-run lead. He was joined by his new batterymate at Las Vegas, catcher Kevin Plawecki, who caught five innings for the US Team and plated the game's first run on an RBI groundout.
That performance fit the reputation that Syndergaard has cultivated since coming to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade two winters ago, developing into New York's top prospect and the 10th overall in baseball, according to MLB.com's 2014 Prospect Watch. Powerfully built, his reputation forged in the weight room, Syndergaard tantalized the Mets this spring with his upper-90s fastball and hammer curve.
He believes he has grown as a player ever since.
"I thought last year in Double-A I was a pitcher -- used to throw a curveball or a changeup every once in a while, but I could still survive off my fastball," said Syndergaard, who recently began styling his hair in a tall, blond Mohawk that his mother and girlfriend detest. "But now I'm really trying to realize that I'm going against professional hitters, guys that have been in the big leagues, that want to get back to the big leagues, so they're going up there with a little better approach how to attack me. I feel like my biggest key right now is just becoming unpredictable.
"Sometimes I get a little too fastball-oriented, and forget my off speed pitches. And sooner or later, if a hitter's going to see six fastballs in a row, they're going to time it up every once in a while."
Such is Syndergaard's struggle at Las Vegas, where he has posted a 5.31 ERA in 16 starts. Syndergaard believes he turned a corner in his last outing, when he struck out eight batters over seven shutout innings in Albuquerque. And maybe he did. But the Mets need to see consistent results from him over the course of weeks, if not months, before they even consider promoting him to the big leagues. Once they do, they do not want to have to send him back down for more seasoning like they did with catcher Travis d'Arnaud last month.
"Obviously we still love Noah," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "He's had a couple of injury issues, hasn't performed as consistently this year as he did last year. But that's not a major concern for us at this point."
Things have gone breezier this summer for Plawecki, whose .378 on-base percentage over 58 games at Double-A Binghamton earned him a midyear ticket to Las Vegas. Plawecki has also struggled a bit since his promotion, though his most significant obstacle remains the man ahead of him on the depth chart: d'Arnaud, whose recent big league breakout silenced the rookie's growing legion of critics.
"It's been a good year," Plawecki said. "I don't know what the future holds. None of us do. It's just important to continue to have fun and make it as enjoyable as possible."