If there was lingering mystery about what Max Wotell and Thomas Szapucki might be capable of doing after they were high Draft picks a year ago, the left-handed pitchers have erased that in a hurry with the Kingsport Mets.
After rarely pitching in their introductory summer in the Gulf Coast League, they've been stalwarts on the mound in the Appalachian League.
"This is kind of where it's starting," Wotell said.
Szapucki has been dominant, leading the league in ERA (0.62 in five starts) and holding a 14-strikeout edge on any other pitcher. He was so smooth in his last outing that he worked into the eighth inning -- something almost unheard of in this league.
"He's got good poise for his age," Kingsport manager Luis Rivera said. "He has a good idea how to pitch. He follows the plan."
Wotell, 19, was limited to about one inning a week last summer in the Gulf Coast League after a heavy workload in high school. Szapucki, 20, threw only 2 1/3 innings last year.
In some cases this summer, they've been matched up with teams stocked with former college players.
"You've got to learn how to pitch at this level," Wotell said. "There are more experienced hitters, so you have to learn how to pitch a little bit."
Szapucki, who would have been headed to the University of Florida if not for the Mets picking him in the fifth round last year, has reached the six-inning mark in three of five outings. He can throw a 96 mph fastball past some batters, but he knows there's more to it than that.
"I don't try to pitch to contact as much," he said. "But you really have to pitch. That's the big change from high school."
Szapucki said last summer's downtime also allowed him to eliminate discomfort that had developed in his back. That didn't prevent him from putting together a plan.
"I have a plan for each game and a plan for each batter," Szapucki said. "I try to go out there and get ahead of batters."
Wotell, a third-round draftee in 2015, said he understands that the lack of game action last year might have been a blessing.
"I'm just trying to continue to get better," he said. "Work on my mechanics to make them smoother. Coming into pro ball last year, I was everywhere with my mechanics. It's starting to click."
Wotell has topped out at 94 mph, so that made his reduced velocity to around 87 mph on a recent rainy night not as worrisome.
"Some starts you aren't going to feel your best," he said.
Wotell, who was a University of Arizona signee before taking the Mets' offer, said he's staying focused on developing a variety of pitches.
"He doesn't throw that hard, but he locates the ball and he's kind of sneaky with his fastball," Rivera said.
The time the Mets organization spent grooming these pitchers for the past year appears to be working out.
"You see the tools and now you really see them," Rivera said.
Durability matters: Johnson City Cardinals left-hander Ian Oxnevad has worked into at least the sixth inning in every one of his starts, twice reaching the nine-strikeout mark. That has pushed him to a league-leading 31 innings pitched slightly more than one-third of the way through the season.
Double trouble: The Princeton Rays put up a 12-run fourth inning in defeating the Burlington Royals, 12-5, on Tuesday night, doing so with only two extra-base hits. Those were doubles by Eleardo Cabrera and Robbie Tenerowicz, a first-year third baseman out of the University of California who is tied for first on the circuit with 10 doubles.
Let them play: The Bluefield franchise has been involved in two of the longest games in Appalachian League history after Sunday's 5-4 road loss in 20 innings to the Greeneville Astros. The Bluefield Orioles were on the winning side of a 3-2 decision in a 27-inning game against the host Burlington Indians, who've also since changed affiliations, in a game that began June 24, 1988, and continued until almost 3:30 a.m. the next morning.
Bob Sutton is a contributor to MiLB.com.