The first thing most people notice about Yusmeiro Petit is that he is not, as his surname suggests, petite.
One of his minor league managers compares him with Sid Fernandez, the portly left-hander who spent 10 seasons with the Mets. One of Petit’s coaches has playfully called him “a jumbo shrimp.” One of his teammates said, “I think we’re going to have to get him a new last name.”
Petit (pronounced pe-TEET), a right-hander, is listed at 6 feet and 230 pounds – 3 inches shorter than Mike Piazza and 15 pounds heavier. When Petit reported to his first major league spring training workout Saturday, a couple of Mets assumed he was a young slugger.
Petit is actually considered among the best pitching prospects in minor league baseball, and he is probably one of the biggest. He led the minors last season in strikeouts per nine innings. He played at three different levels and made the Mets temporarily forget about Scott Kazmir, the top-rated pitching prospect they traded to Tampa Bay in July.
Petit, 20, is almost a year younger than Kazmir and posted better statistics in the low minor leagues. He struck out 20 batters in 12 1/3 innings at Class A Brooklyn, recorded 122 strikeouts and just 22 walks at Class A Kingsport and went three consecutive games at Class A St. Lucie with at least 10 strikeouts. As a reward, Petit was promoted to Class AA Binghamton and invited to major league spring training.
“It’s incredible to be here,” Petit, a Venezuelan, said through an interpreter Saturday. “I don’t expect to make the major leagues this season. I’m just very happy the organization has noticed what I have done.”
In the two games Petit pitched for Binghamton last season, catcher Joe Hietpas watched a string of opposing batters whiff on 88-m.p.h. fastballs. Puzzled, Hietpas started to quiz the batters on how hard they thought Petit was throwing. “Everyone guessed 95 miles per hour,” he said. “I can’t explain what he does out there, but guys cannot pick up the ball. They’re completely deceived.”