The ultimate Mets killer — Willie Stargell

Hopefully Jerry Manuel was right.

Believe it or not, in April 2010 he compared his rookie first baseman Ike Davis to Willie Stargell, the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer whose 21-year playing career ended in 1982.

Manuel said, “(Davis) reminds me of (Stargell) in that they have the same hitch (in their swings). There have been some guys that hitched a little too late, or hitched a little too early, but there have been guys who, that has been a great timing mechanism for them.”

If that comparison ever comes true, the Mets would be very happy because there’s no question the one hitter the Mets feared most during their formative years was the Pirates slugger.

During his career, Stargell hit .282, .360, .529 with 475 home runs. He was a seven-time All-Star, two-time home run champ and 1979 regular season (tied with future Mets Keith Hernandez), NLCS and World Seres MVP despite being the oldest ever to win the regular-season award.

“Pops” took over the clubhouse leadership role after the great Roberto Clemente died in 1972 and was the unquestioned leader of the “We are Family” team that won the World Series in 1979.

“They give you a round bat and they throw you a round ball and they tell you to hit it square,” Stargell said about the art of hitting. And Wilver Dornell Stargell did just that against the Mets.

The lefthanded slugger with the windmill windup hit .287, .366, .576 against New York with 60 home runs – 11 more than Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. Stargell had 41 game-wining RBI – also most all-time against the Mets – and had 182 RBI in 249 games.

However, during the Mets’ miracle 1969 season they tamed the Bucs’ bopper during a key September series. New York won the final four games of a five-game set split between the cities, holding Stargell to one hit in 16 at-bats. The wins turned a 3 ½-game deficit in the NL East to a one-half game advantage, and New York never fell out of the lead for the rest of the season.

During his career against the Mets, Stargell didn’t just pick on the slew of terrible or mediocre pitchers the Mets used in the early years, he reached both Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman for seven home runs each.

The only hitter to take Seaver deep more often than Stargell (he homered off the right-hander once after Seaver left the Mets) was Rick Monday, and Hall of Famer Dave Winfield was the only other hitter to reach Koosman for seven homers.

The 6-2 Stargell blossomed into a star during a 1967 season in which he hit .315 with 33 homers and 102 RBI. He had 10 homers and 23 RBI in 13 games against New York alone, homering in four straight games in July and three straight in August. Only Ryan Howard and Hank Aaron have homered in five straight against the Mets.

The native Oklahoman hit in 14 straight games against the Mets in 1970 and collected nine game-winning or game-tying homers from the sixth inning on, including two extra-inning blasts.

Stargell was credited with hitting the first ball out of Shea Stadium in 1964 – he hit 26 there during his career – and also reached a Mets reliever to become the first player to reach the upper deck at Three Rivers Stadium. On Aug. 9, 1970 he drilled a pitch from Ron Taylor over the 70-foot high right-field deck.

Well, Davis hasn’t come close to hitting the ball out of any park, and there is no easy way to compare hitters from past generations, but if he is going to follow Stargell’s path, this will be the season the 25-year-old will need to take a big step.

Stargell drilled 27 homers and drove in 100 runs for the first time in his career during the season he turned 25. That was the second season in the midst of 13 straight campaigns in which No. 8 belted 20 or more home runs.

The Mets can only hope that Davis perfects the hitch.

Mets Minors: End of season wrap-up

The regular season for Mets minor leaguers ended on Labor Day and the Class A St. Lucie Mets were eliminated in the championship series of the Florida State League playoffs and Savannah is one win away from a low Class A title in the South Atlantic League. With the offseason quickly approaching, now is a good time to take a snap shot of the prospects the Mets will be counting on in coming seasons.

The top storyline in the Mets farm system this season has to be Matt Harvey, the 2010 first-rounder who got off to a great start at St. Lucie and ended the season at Class AA Binghamton. He looks on pace to join the Mets late next season and perhaps the rotation full-time by 2013.

Easily the biggest surprise in the organization is 23-year-old shortstop Jordany Valdespin, who hit a combined .294/.333/.460 at Class AA and AAA with 32 doubles, three triples, 17 homers and 37 stolen bases. While the lefthanded hitter played shortstop this season, making 32 errors, he has a lot of experience at second base and could fill the long-lasting void at that position.

However, no matter how pleased the front office could be over Harvey and Valdespin, frustrations must continue to grow over its top pitching and hitting prospect entering the season. The elbow injury suffered by Jenrry Mejia was a huge blow to the organization, stunting the growth of the 21-year-old flamethrower for a second straight season. Now, the Dominican’s estimated return to Citi Park is probably 2013. Top hitting prospect Wilmer Flores had a baffling season at St. Lucie, hitting just .269/.309/.380 – showing no significant improvement over his half season there in ‘10.

But back to the positive – for now.

Harvey wasn’t the only minor leaguer to live up to expectations. Zack Wheeler, acquired from the Giants in the Carlos Beltran deal, looked impressive in the FSL with a mid-90s fastball and improved command, albeit a short sample size. Righthander Jeurys Familia, another 21-year-old with a plus arm and stuff, quickly passed his re-test at St. Lucie and averaged over a strikeout per frame at Binghamton, splitting eight decisions with a 3.49 ERA in 17 starts.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Reese Havens and Zach Lutz, three upper-level hitting talents, produced good results but battled injuries in 2011 – nothing new for Havens and Lutz.

Nieuwenhuis was well on his way to a second-half callup when he went down with a shoulder injury two months into the season. The 23-year-old hit .298/.403/.505 at Class AAA Buffalo. Havens finished strong at Binghamton, batting .289/372/.455, and even better, stayed healthy the second half of the season. Lutz continued to crush the ball, hitting .295/.380/.500 at Buffalo, and could be an option at either infield corner spot down the road.

Among pitching surprises, Class AAA hurlers Josh Stinson, 23 and Chris Schwinden, 24, neither of whom possess the stuff to be prime prospects, had solid seasons, and now the Mets hope they’ve found another Dillon Gee.

Lower down the ladder, lefthander Darin Gorski had a breakout season at St. Lucie, joining the rotation a month in and ending as the staff ace. He was the FSL’s Pitcher of the Year after going 11-3 with a 2.08 ERA. Greg Peavey pitched well at two Class A spots and Armando Rodriguez fanned 74 batters in 75 innings at St. Luice. Lefthanded closer Josh Edgin, who possesses a 92-95-plus mph heater and a good slider, dominated at both Class A stops, posting 27 saves, a WHIP just over 1 and 76 strikeouts in 66 frames.

At Savannah, 23-year-old Taylor Whittenton rode a 1.63 ERA in 12 starts after the All-Star break to a South Atlantic League ERA title. The righthander posted a 2.49 ERA, finished 5-5 in 26 games, including 22 starts, and parlayed his repeat season into an Arizona Fall League invite. He’ll be joined there by another marginal prospect, Collin McHugh, who went 7-0, 1.45 ERA in 10 games after the break at Binghamton.

Among surprising position players was center fielder Matt den Dekker, who continued to impress defensively, and although he struck out 156 times, the 23-year-old showed power with 32 doubles, 11 triples and 17 homers to go along with 24 steals. He hit just .265 between Class A and AA but posted a .797 OPS, and more importantly, demonstrated to the brass that he’s more than just a defensive stalwart.

Twenty-two year-old outfielder Juan Lagares made the organization take note when he hit .349 at Class A and AA. And former Padres first-rounder Allan Dykstra hit .267/.389/.474 with a Binghamton-team best 19 homers after joining the organization in March.

At the Class A level, St. Lucie third baseman Jefry Marte hit .248 and played in the Futures Game but slumped badly after a hot start. Aderlin Rodriguez hit 17 homers as a 19-year-old third baseman in the SAL but hit just .221 with a .265 on-base percentage. Nineteen-year-old catcher Gilbert Gomez showed improved hitting skills to go with his plus defensive skills at a position the Mets sorely lack quality prospects. Short-season Class A shortstop Daniel Muno will get some attention after batting .355/.466/.514 at Brooklyn.

Mejia and Flores weren’t the only disappointments.

Class AAA outfielder Fernando Martinez had another injury-plagued, underwhelming season and toolsy St. Lucie outfielder Cesar Puello, much like Flores, failed to break out. The 20-year-old hit .259 with a .710 OPS and 19 steals. Outfielder Cory Vaughn, 22, got off to blazing starts at both Savannah and St. Lucie but slumped tremendously at both, finishing a combined .255/.362/.402 with 13 homers. Shortstop Robbie Shields also played at both spots and did nothing to help his future utility infield prospect status.

Darrell Ceciliani, who won a New York Penn batting title a season ago, hit just .259 at Savannah, and catcher Blake Forsythe never heated up until blasting two homers in a playoff game. He batted .235 with nine bombs during the regular season. Brandon Nimmo, the first-round pick this summer who never played high school baseball in his Wyoming High School, went 8-for-38 with two homers in his rookie-level pro debut.

Soft-tossing lefthander Mark Cohoon, the Mets’ Pitcher f the Year in 2010, was 5-14, 5.29 ERA at AA and AAA, squashing any hopes Mets fans had of the 23-year-old booming onto the major league scene. Class AA hurlers Brad Holt and Robert Carson solidified themselves as non-prospects with extremely underwhelming seasons at Class AA. Juan Urbina, just 18 and considered the top teen arm, was 4-6 with a 5.95 ERA and a 1.571 WHIP in 12 starts at rookie-level Kingsport.

The offseason top-10
1. Matt Harvey
2. Zack Wheeler
3. Jordany Valdespin
4. Kirk Nieuwenhuis
5. Jeurys Familia
6. Jenrry Mejia
7. Cesar Puello
8. Reese Havens
9. Wilmer Flores
10. Brandon Nimmo

Mets Minors: Wilmer Flores the next David Wright or Fernando Martinez

Although I’m sure the New York Mets’ brain trust won’t admit it, there must be a little concern over Class A shortstop Wilmer Flores, who entered 2010 as the Mets’ finest young hitting prospect and one of the best youngsters in the lower levels.

Flores hit .269/.309/.380, not bad for a kid who just turned 20 in August, especially since he’s playing against players two to three years older on a nightly basis.

His career up to this point has somewhat followed that of two other top Mets hitting prospects in terms of being highly regarded and being challenged at a young age: David Wright and Fernando Martinez.

In 2003 as a 20-year-old at St. Lucie in the Florida State League, Wright hit .270/.369/.459 with 39 doubles, two triples, 15 homers with 72 walks, 19 steals and 98 strikeouts in 133 games and 549 at-bats.

Martinez actually made it to St. Lucie for 119 at-bats in 2006 as a 17-year-old, batting .193, and started the ’07 campaign at Class AA Binghamton, a campaign that kick-started a career of injuries, lack of development and inconsistency.

Wright buzzed through the two highest levels the following season before starting what has turned out to be a very productive major league career. Martinez, who may have been a little older than listed, has never hit .300, has reached 10 homers just once and never had a season with an OPS of .800. Furthermore, he never walked showed a propensity to work the count, showing no improvement over his career.

So where does Flores fit?

Flores, a shortstop who most scouts feel will outgrow his spot and move to the hot corner where Wright played, split the ’10 season between Class A Savannah and St. Lucie, hitting .289/.333/.424 with 36 doubles, 11 homers and 84 RBI with 32 walks and 77 strikeouts in 133 games and 554 at-bats.

It’s a little unsettling that after Flores spent the last 67 games at St. Lucie in ’10, New York felt the Venezuela native wasn’t equipped to make the jump to AA Binghamton at all this summer. And his numbers fell across the board.

The problem with Flores is that it appears he may have plateaued. One thing scouts and front-office people look at is an ability for hitters to make adjustments. Flores had a .688 OPS in the second half this season, after posting a .690 OPS in the first half. And his numbers fell across the board from 2010 even though he had the comfort of returning to a league he spent half of last season..

The 6-3 righthander hit just nine bombs this season after 11 last year – his most over his four years of professional ball. However more concerting to scouts and analysts has been Flores’ inability to command the strike zone. He had just 27 walks over 516 at-bats this year and has just 92 in four years and over 2,000 at-bats.

So where does Flores fall?

It’s fairly obvious now that Flores isn’t tracking like Wright, but will he be a bust like Martinez? On the positive side, Flores has proven to be extremely durable over four seasons, therefore there’s little concern he will be stunted by a plethora of injuries. However, his productivity closely resembles that of Martinez, who has been indifferent statistically in the minors and a disaster in a few major league auditions.

Flores needs to show he gets it as far as his approach at the plate. His bat could play in the major leagues if he can remain at shortstop – he did commit just 20 errors this season – but it won’t play at a corner infield or corner outfield spot.

There have been too many young hitting prospects with physical tools, a projectable body and bat speed that couldn’t master the mental aspect of the craft and fizzle out. Flores won’t fizzle out, but he won’t be anything more than a bit player for the Mets.

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LHP Darin Gorski (11-3, 2.08 ERA), the Florida State League Pitcher of the Year, will start Game One of the playoffs for St. Lucie against Bradenton. “I couldn’t have imagined this, not (during spring training),” Gorski told Bill Whitehead of the TCPalm.com. “I started out in the bullpen, and just to get a chance to start was so exciting for me. One thing led to another, and things went great. It’s been a fun season.” Following Gorski will be Zack Wheeler (2-2, 2.00 ERA) and Greg Peavey (5-4, 3.97 ERA). … In the opening round of the low Class A South Atlantic League playoffs, Savannah plays Augusta in a best-of-three series starting Wednesday. …

AROUND THE MINORS: Binghamton RHP Matt Harvey led the organization with 13 wins. He had his five consecutive winning-starts streak snapped Saturday against Reading, allowing four runs, three hits and four walks in three innings. The 2010 first-rounder finished with a combined record of 13-5 and a 3.19 ERA in 25 starts. He allowed 123 hits in 132 2/3 innings, while striking out 154 batters and walking 43.… RHP Collin McHugh, promoted on May 29 from St. Lucie, won his last seven starts of the season to finish with a record of 8-2 at Binghamton. … OF Juan Lagares, who split the season between St. Lucie and Binghamton, hit .349 – fifth best in the minor leagues. The 22-year-old hit .370 in 38 games at AA.

Mets Minors: Is Reese Havens back?

Don’t look yet, but Reese Havens may finally be back.

The 22nd overall pick in the 2008 draft is in the midst of his best stretch in nearly two seasons, highlighted by a pinch-hit, 12th-inning walkoff homer Saturday for the Binghamton Mets against Altoona.
Coincidentally, Havens was playing next to rehabbing shortstop Jose Reyes, perhaps a glimpse at the future double-play combination in New York.

“Yeah man, for sure,” Havens told Lynn Worthy of the Binghamton Press. “I definitely think that. I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing if I didn’t think that so it’s exciting to think about. It definitely ran through my mind.”

Plagued by injuries just about since the day he was drafted, Havens is batting .366/.452/.620 in August with six doubles, four homers, 15 RBI and 11 walks in 21 games. This stretch has lifted his overall numbers to .298/.380/.468 with six homers and 25 RBI in 52 games.

Havens started the season on the disabled list with soreness in his ribs. Havens also spent three weeks on the disabled list from late June to mid-July after back spasms. He had surgery in December to shave a half inch from one of his ribs on his left side after oblique pain limited Havens to just 32 games last season (14 with Single-A St. Lucie, 18 with Binghamton).

“I’ve felt comfortable the last few weeks,” Havens said. “I think its just repetition that’s made me feel comfortable. I’ve been working with (hitting coach) Luis (Natera) on some minor things. I’m just trying to relax up there and make some things happen at the plate. It’s been a lot of fun coming to the park the last two or three weeks. We’re a little bit too late since the season is almost over, but it has been a lot of fun.”

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Jefry Marte hit a home run to lead off the fifth inning for the only run of the game, as the Class A St. Lucie Mets beat Bradenton 1-0 on Saturday.

Four Mets pitchers combined for the shutout. Starter Zack Wheeler gave up three hits and struck out three in five innings for the win. Wheeler is 2-2 with a 2.16 ERA in his first five starts with just five walks and 26 strikeouts in 25 innings. He has tremendously improved his control since the trade with the San Francisco Giants after reportedly returning to his pitching style form his high school days.

Marte, just 20, started the season batting .321 with four homers and a .920 OPS in April but has slumped since. The third baseman, who played in the Futures Game during All-Star Weekend, has posted OPS’s of .674, .653, .451 and .622 in the following months. He has two homers this month after hitting just one from May-July.

AROUND THE MINORS: Binghamton OF Juan Lagares is batting .400 during a current 18-game hitting streak. The 22-year-old is batting .394 with 19 RBI in 31 games since joining the club from Class-A St. Lucie where he hit .338 in 82 games. The native of the Dominican Republic hadn’t hit better than .279 in any of his first five seasons since signing as a 17-year-old. … Buffalo SS Jordany Valdespin is batting .381 with a 1.109 OPS in his last 10 games recovering from a slow start after his promotion from Binghamton. He’s hitting .289 with two homers but 17 strikeouts in 83 at-bats. … Binghamton RHP Matt Harvey, selected the top pitching prospect in the Class A Florida State League by Baseball America, has won five straight starts. The 2010 first-rounder has allowed nine earned runs and 22 hits in 27 innings with nine walks and 24 strikeouts.

Mets Minors: Brandon Nimmo the next Josh Hamilton?

Although it went down to the Monday, Aug. 15 midnight deadline the New York Mets signed first-round pick Brandon Nimmo, a high school outfielder from East High School in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The first-ever first-round pick from that particular state agreed to a reported $2.1 million signing bonus.

The 13th overall pick played American Legion ball because his high school doesn’t have high school ball. He hit .551 with 14 homers, 99 RBI and 33 stolen bases this year and helped Post 6 win its third straight state title.

His Legion coach, Tagg Lain, told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post that he sees Nimmo as ultimately becoming a cross between Paul O’Neill and Josh Hamilton and that he compares favorably to 2010 overall No. 1 pick Bryce Harper.

“I’ve coached Bryce Harper in the Tournament of Stars,” says Lain, who has coached 18 years and has won nine of the last 10 American Legion state championships with Post Six. “That’s when I told tournament officials that I’ve got a guy who is that close to Bryce. There is not a huge gap between those two guys.”

Well the 17-year-old has a little work to do. The 6-3 lethanded hitter was just 3-for-15 – all singles – with no walks and five strikeouts in his first three games at the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He’s 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against fellow southpaws.

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Things keep looking up for Matt Harvey. The 2010 first-rounder struck out five over seven scoreless innings Monday as the Class AA Binghamton Mets beat Erie 2-0. He walked two and faced just 24 batters while improving to 4-3 with a 4.35 ERA for the B-Mets.

Harvey has won his last four starts, yielding six earned runs, 18 hits and five walks with 21 strikeouts in 22 innings. He leads the Mets with 12 wins, ranks 13th in the Minors with 151 strikeouts and sports an overall 3.17 ERA with a .251 average against.

AROUND THE MINORS: Highly-regarded 18-year-old Juan Urbina had his best outing of the season last week, pitching six scoreless innings for Kingsport of the rookie-level Appalachian League. The 6-2, 170-pounder, the son of former major leaguer Ugueth Urbina, yielded five hits with two walks and three strikeouts to improve to 3-5, 5.83 ERA for the season. … Class AAA SS Jordany Valdespin hit his first homer for Buffalo, a three-run, go-ahead shot Saturday against rival Columbus. He drove in three runs Monday in a 6-4 win against the Clippers, lifting his average to .236/.259/.364 in 13 games. … 3B-1B Zach Lutz is hitting .378 with four homers and 12 RBI in his last 10 games for the Bisons, lifting his OPS for the season to .936. He’s hitting .341 with runners in scoring position.

Mets Minors: Mark Cohoon and the velocity issue

So much for Mark Cohoon.

By just looking at his numbers, 21-7 with a 2.42 ERA combined and a near 4:1 SO/BB ratio in his first three years, all by the age of 22, fans would think Cohoon is the best prospect in the New York Mets’ organization.

That is, however, until you look at his most important statistic: velocity. That number sits at sub-90 miles-per-hour and brings notice to the old adage in the scout game: Your only as good a prospect as the zip on your fastball.

Scouts’ prospect lists are littered with pitchers who’ve achieved nothing but can throw the heater 95 miles-per-hour. After all, scouts will tell you that a pitcher can be taught a breaking ball or changeup, but you can’t teach them how to throw 95.

Now, nobody will say for certain that pitchers who can’t reach 90 will not be successful – Greg Maddux struggled to reach that mark and is one of the best pitchers of our generation – but the odds are against it.

A quick and crude check of all the 10-game winners in major league baseball this season indicates that 38 of the 46 hurlers have fastballs that average 90 miles per hour or more, according to fangraphs.com. And only two of those eight velocity-challenged hurlers have more than 11 wins.

To further the research, of the fifteen 20-game winners since 2004, only Mike Mussina and Brandon Webb had sub-90 mph fastballs.

And the last homegrown Met to win 10 games with a fastball that averaged less than 90 miles? Dillon Gee has won 11 games this season with an average heater of 89.7 (and we all knew what we thought of him heading into the season) but prior to that the last double-digit winner was likely Bobby Jones in 2000 (no statistics on velocity existed prior to the middle of this decade.)

Despite all of Cohoon’s achievements on the mound in three years, including the Mets’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year award in 2010, the lefthander came into this season ranked as only the Mets’ 10th best pitching prospect by Baseball America.

The 2008 12th-round pick out of North Central Texas JC ranked behind two pitchers who entered 2011 with one career appearance between them (Steve Matz, Erik Goeddel) and a third who had a 5.03 ERA in the rookie-based Gulf Coast League (Juan Urbina).

Why the disrespect? Well, all three throw in the 90s. And it’s no surprise that the other six pitchers who rank ahead of Cohoon all throw harder as well.

And it appears the scouts were right, as lack of velocity is finally catching up to Cohoon.

The Burleson, Texas native is just 3-7 with a 6.49 ERA in 13 starts at Class AAA after starting the season at Class AA 1-3 with a 3.81 ERA in 13 starts. He can no longer rely on his changeup, breaking ball and pin-point control to fool hitters in the upper levels.

“It is a different level but he’s growing and getting better,” Class AAA Buffalo manager Tim Teufel told the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington.

Cohoon also needs to develop another pitch against righthanders, who are clubbing him at a .340 clip at Class AAA.

Even though Cohoon is still young and could make the necessary adjustments down the road, the numbers suggest the odds are against him. And many other pitchers in the Mets’ organization as well.

AROUND THE MINORS: Class AA SS Jordany Valdespin was promoted to Class AAA Buffalo this week. The Eastern League All-Star hit .297/.341./.483 with 24 doubles, 15 homers, 51 RBI and 33 stolen bases. He ranked fifth in stolen bases, sixth in total hits (120) and ninth in batting average (.297) in the Eastern League. Valdespin started 78 games at shortstop for Binghamton and 25 more at second base. He was 4-for-16 with two doubles and two errors in his first four games with Buffalo. … Binghamton RHP Jeurys Familia struck out seven over five shutout innings in a 7-0 win over Richmond on Saturday night. It was his third start since returning from the disabled list. He is 3-3 with a 3.78 ERA in 13 starts for the B-Mets with 27 walks and 77 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings.

Mets Minors: Lost year for Gibson-like Nieuwenhuis

Injuries continue to pile up for the New York Mets with Daniel Murphy lost for the season yesterday with a knee injury and Jose Reyes suffering his second hamstring injury.

Unfortunately 2011 will go do down as a lost season of development for Class AAA center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the player New York manager Terry Collins compared to former National League MVP Kirk Gibson.

The fourth-year pro could be playing right or center field every day for the Mets. However, due to a non-throwing, left shoulder injury suffered back in May that turned out to be more serious than first expected, the just-turned 24-year-old is out for the season, wasting a year of development.

Nieuwenhuis went on the disabled list after a June 9 injury which was thought to be a minor problem and hasn’t been able to hit the field since. He now joins the likes of righthander Jennry Mejia (elbow surgery), second baseman Reese Havens (various), third baseman Zach Lutz (various) and lefthander Eddie Matz (elbow) among those prospects who have suffered through wasted seasons.

It’s too bad for the youngster and the organization. Had the lefthanded hitter been able to stay healthy, four months at AAA would have given him plenty of seasoning to take over full-time for Carlos Beltran and get a two-month trial heading into 2012 for a team that is looking toward the future.

So, instead of having a full year of development, Nieuwenhuis, who has climbed swiftly through the organization and succeeded at every stop, will likely have to head back to Buffalo next spring to start fine-tuning his game all over.

What do we know about Nieuwenhuis?

1) Collins compared him to Kirk Gibson this spring because of his all-out but balls-to-the-walls approach.
2) The NAIA star has average-to-plus skills across the board and has posted a .906 OPS in his career, two years resulting in mid-season All-Star Game appearances and one postseason selection. He can hold his own in center field or slide to a corner spot and have arm enough
3) The top outfield prospect in the organization – at least in the upper levels – had shown the offensive skills rising swiftly through the minor leagues. He got off to a great start at Buffalo, hitting in 16 straight games and batting .298/.505/.908 in 53 games with 17 doubles, six homers and five steals. He also had a healthy dose of 32 walks. However, he does have an unrealistic .407 BAIP this season and well over .300 for his career.
4) Cutting down strikeouts and hitting fellow lefthanders is a concern: he had 59 punchouts in 53 games at Buffalo and has fanned in over 30 percent of his plate appearances over his career; he’s improved his swings against southpaws during his career, hitting them at a .254/.373/.381 clip in ‘11. At AA last season he hit .294/.348/.518 but went 4-for-32 with a .356 OPS after a second-half promotion to Buffalo.

It’s too bad for the Mets and Nieuwenhuis since Beltran is gone and Jason Bay is about to perhaps be kicked to the curb after the season. New York may have to unwind its tightly-wrapped money belt to bring in a veteran hitter next season instead of using the precious payroll on pitching.

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Zack Wheeler’s second Mets start was much better than his first. The 21-year-old tossed six scoreless innings, allowing four hits and no walks with seven strikeouts Sunday for Class A St. Lucie in a 5-2 win against Charlotte.

Wheeler allowed a leadoff triple to start the game but struck out the next three hitters and struck out another batter with a runner on third and one out in the second to help escape that mess.

In his first Florida State League start, the righthander lasted four innings Monday night against Dunedin. He yielded three first-inning runs and four in all on seven hits. The erratic flamethrower did not walk a batter after issuing 45 in 76 games at Class A San Jose.

AROUND THE MINORS: 3B Zach Lutz suffered a second concussion this season after again getting hit in the head with a pitch. He is batting .297/.378/.462 but he has only played in 41 games. … The Mets claimed 1B-OF Mike Baxter off waivers from San Diego. The 25-year-old from Queens is a career .289/.370/.471 hitter in three AAA seasons. He hit .301/.382/.517 with 18 homers last year and was 1-for-8 with the Padres. He has missed most of the season with a thumb injury.

Mets Minors: The other side of Zack Wheeler

What if you heard the New York Mets had acquired a Class A pitcher with a 2-5 record and a 5.92 ERA from the San Francisco Giants for Carlos Beltran? Would you still agree with most of the pundits out there that said the Mets made out very good in the trade? Or would you think New York was taken for a ride.

Well, when you strip away Zack Wheeler’s 5-0, 1.60 ERA in seven home starts at pitcher-friendly Municipal Stadium in San Jose – one of, if not the best, pitchers’ parks in the entire minor leagues – that’s what you have left over.

Granted, Wheeler is a superior arm, the 2009 sixth-overall pick was ranked as the No. 35 prospect in the minor leagues during Baseball America’s midseason ranking after entering the season as No. 2 on the Giants’ list. He also came in at No. 31 on the ESPN midseason list and analyst Keith Law said the Mets “made out like bandits” in the deal.

However, that doesn’t tell the whole story of the Wheeler fellow.

It’s true that the 21-year-old Wheeler has an ideal pitchers’ frame at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds and a lively arm with a fastball that can reach 95 miles per hour. However Giants general manager Brian Sabean said on Mad Dog Radio after the deal that Wheeler’s future might be as a reliever.

Wow! That’s quite a comedown. Sabean might be blowing smoke but he does know something about developing pitchers. Sabean also said that the organization views Class AA lefthander Eric Surkamp (8-3, 2.05 ERA) at Richmond more highly than Wheeler.

Wheeler yielded 26 hits and 20 walks in 39 1/3 innings while striking out 52 at home. However, he yielded 48 hits and 27 walks in 48 2/3 innings with 46 strikeouts on the road.

In addition, Wheeler has been tagged by lefthanders at a .292 clip while righthanders are batting just .189, and Wheeler is just 1-3, 5.60 ERA since the All-Star break. It will be interesting to see how the youngster does in the Florida State League without the advantage of a pitcher-friendly home park.

While it’s true that strikeouts per nine innings is one of the best indicators of future success, it should be noted that Wheeler has walked 47 batters in 88 innings to go along with his 98 strikeouts.

Wheeler was several years younger than that average player in that league, his home/road split provides a better perspective of Wheeler’s season. It may also indicate why Sabean may have made his remarks about Wheeler being better suited as a reliever and perhaps why he was willing to deal the supposed top prospect for a two-month rental.

Wheeler may indeed develop into a No. 2 starter as Law wrote last week, but everybody knows that high school pitchers are the biggest scouting risks in the game. New York did well to pry away a top minor league arm from San Francisco, but he still has a long, steep road ahead.

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Class AA Binghamton RHP Matt Harvey didn’t get a win in his latest start, but the 2010 first-rounder finally had a good start Thursday. The North Carolina product struck out 10 and allowed just a run and four hits runs in seven innings against Harrisburg, an eventual 2-1 loss in 14 frames. Harvey, who is 0-3, 5.76 ERA in six starts, struck out phenom hitting prospect Bryce Harper twice in seven pitches in his first two at-bats. He got Harper on a groundout the third time around.

AROUND THE MINORS: Class AA SS Jordany Valdespin keeps on impressing. The 23-year-old Dominican had a homer and two doubles with four RBI last Monday and is batting .302/.346/.501 with 15 homers, 50 RBI and 31 stolen bases in 101 games …. Class A St. Lucie “toolsy” OF Cesar Puello just wrapped up his best month, batting .297 in July with five of his nine home runs. For the season, the 20-year-old is batting .250/ .303/.394. Teammate OF Cory Vaughn, along with Puello considered the top two young outfield prospects in the system, is in the midst of a slump. The 22-year-old is 4-for-36 with no walks and 13 strikeouts in his last nine games. He’s hitting .254/.336/.426 for St. Lucie.

Mets Minors: Gorski’s record-setting start comes to an end

Matt Harvey left Class A St. Lucie with an 8-2 record and a 2.37 ERA before heading to Class AA Binghamton. Darin Gorski has been even better than the 2010 first-rounder as the “ace” of the St. Lucie rotation.

Gorski set a club record with his 10th straight win July 18 against Clearwater, surpassing the nine straight wins by Pat Strange in 2000. Unfortunately, the lefthander’s streak ended Saturday when, despite a seven-inning complete game against Brevard County, he was beaten 3-2.

Gorski yielded three earned runs and six hits with a walk and four strikeouts, including a wind-aided homer in the seventh that cost him and the Mets the first of two seven-inning games.

“That’s how it goes sometimes,” Gorski told Bill Whitehead of the TCPalm.com. “I didn’t think it was that bad of a pitch. It was a changeup low and he got the bat on it. I didn’t think it was going to make it out.”

For the season, the 23-year-old is 10-1 with a Florida State League-best 2.15 ERA with 25 walks and 111 strikeouts in 104 2/3 innings.

“It’s so much easier pitching with some confidence,” the Kutztown (Pa.) University alum told Whitehead. “The first couple of seasons had some rocky moments, but I had a good spring this year. I came in and pitched with confidence and pounded the strike zone.

Primarily a reliever in the first month, Gorski used a spot start in the nightcap of a doubleheader at Brevard County two months ago to plant himself firmly in the rotation. He is 10-1 with a 2.03 ERA in 15 starts. In his first start on April 27 in Bradenton, he struck out nine Marauders in the first three innings, and had 10 strikeouts in the first 11 outs recorded.

St. Lucie manager Pedro Lopez had Gorski in Brooklyn in 2009 after he was drafted and also last season at Savannah.

“It’s impressive, and I’m happy for him because he’s a hard-working kid. You want to see stories like his, Lopez told TCPalm.com. “He’s a guy who has battled and kept grinding, outing after outing, day after day.”

Meanwhile, Harvey continues to struggle at Class AA.

In his latest outing Saturday against Reading, the Phillies rode a three-run first inning to a 3-2 victory. Of the 18 runs Harvey has allowed with the B-Mets, 10 have come in the first inning. Overall, the 6-4 righthander is 0-3 with a 7.15 ERA and 31 hits allowed in 22 2/3 innings.

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St. Lucie 3B Jefry Marte was the talk of the club in April. The then 19-year-old hit .321 with four homers and 16 RBI in 23 games. However, the third baseman has lost his power touch since, drilling just one in his last 70 games – none in June or July. He has a .553 OPS this month and hasn’t reached .700 since posting a .920 OPS in April.

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Class AAA Buffalo first baseman Val Pascucci leads the International League with 68 RBI in his quest to become just the third player in the franchise’s modern era to lead the league, joining American Association leaders Jeromy Burnitz (1995) and Nigel Wilson (1996). Buffalo has not had the winner of the IL RBI race since Pancho Herrera had 108 in 1962.

The 32-year-old was originally a 15th-round draft pick of the Montreal Expos in 1999. Pascucci is batting .268/.388/.498 with 14 homers and 24 doubles in 89 games. He’s batting .366 with four homers and 17 RBI in his last 10 games.

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Infielder Josh Satin was promoted from Binghamton to Buffalo this week. The 26-year-old was 2-for-13 in his first three games with the Herd after batting .325 with an Eastern League-leading 35 doubles, 11 homers and 60 RBI at Binghamton.

Satin hit a combined .311 last year with 12 homers and 74 RBI at Class A Savannah and Binghamton and then went 16-for-41 in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League. He is a career .306 hitter in 412 minor league games.

“The goal for me coming into this season was to get here because once you’re here if you do well, you never know what can happen,” Satin told Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. “I’m thrilled to be here. I’m going to work my butt off to do everything I can to succeed and help the team. If all goes well, there’s always that chance. It’s great to be here.”

AROUND THE MINORS: Binghamton 2B Reese Havens returned from his latest injury by going 3-for-5 on Wednesday at Portland. He went 1-for-9 in his next three games and is batting .257/.333/.398 in 26 games at Class AA. He had been out since late June. … Teammate CF Matt den Dekker continues his power surge, drilling four homers over three games last week. He has six homers in 33 games for Binghamton and has rebounded after a poor start to hit .234/.315/.461 with 15 extra-base hits (6 homers) in 128 at-bats. The 23-year-old defensive whiz hit .296/.362/.494 at St. Lucie. … Savannah C Albert Cordero snapped a 1-for-11 skid with six RBI, including a two-run homer and a game-tying RBI in the seventh. He had three more hits Sunday to raise his average to .257 – .315 in the second half. … OF Juan Lagares was promoted from High Class A St. Lucie to Binghamton and went 6-for-9 in his first two games. The 22-year-old was leading the Florida State League in hitting at .339/.381/.495 with seven homers and 49 RBI in 81 games.

Mets Minors: Josh Edgin’s unlikely climb to prospectdom

K-Rod is gone, but there’s another closer shining in the New York Mets’ system.

Lefthander Josh Edgin has been outstanding at two Class A stops, combining for 20 saves and a 0.93 ERA.

Edgin didn’t enter the season as a top prospect, and seldom do 24-year-old closers at Class A become major league contributors down the road, but the product of Division II Francis Marion University via Ohio State is at least getting noticed.

After two years in the Buckeyes bullpen, Edgin moved on to the smaller school in Florence, S.C. to become a starter. He was drafted in the 50th round by Atlanta after his junior year, returned to school and was selected in the 30th round in 2010 by New York following a 6-4, 4.07 ERA his senior season.

“I wasn’t expecting to be drafted. I was working the day (the Mets) called me. They said, ‘We drafted you in the 30th round. Do you want to sign?’ I said yes. I didn’t have to report for three more days, so I worked construction the next day,” Edgin told TCPalm.com.

Edgin was 1-0 with 16 saves, a 0.87 ERA and a .135 average against for Savannah in the South Atlantic League. He walked 10 and struck out 41 in 31 innings. He is 1-0 with four saves and a 1.04 ERA in his first 11 outings for St. Lucie.

Edgin had a 2.60 ERA in 20 relief outings last summer in rookie ball with 46 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings and pitched well for Savannah in the South Atlantic League playoffs.

The portly 6-1, 225-pound southpaw throws a fastball in the low 90s and possesses a pretty decent low-80s slider.

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Class AA Binghamton shortstop Jordany Valdespin is having a breakout season. The 23-year-old native of the Dominican Republic is batting .296/.341/.470, including .330 with six homers and 13 steals in June and .344 with three homers and five steals in July.

When talking about tools, manager Wally Backman has mentioned his great speed and ability to hit for average and power. He describes the prospect as a work in progress in a story appearing in the Press & Sun Bulletin.

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It has been a disappointing season for Robert Carson, who was a 14th-round pick out of of high school in the 2007 draft who was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 12 prospect in the New York Mets farm system before this season.

The lefthander is 2-8 with a 4.35 ERA and has just one win since mid-May. In 16 starts this season, Carson has given up 95 hits and 40 earned runs in 82 2/3 innings. He has walked 34 batters and struck out 62.

Backman said the 22-year-old Carson still has time to develop as a pitcher before a move to the bullpen becomes a primary option.

“The thing with Bobby is that everything right now is hard,” Backman told the Press & Sun Bulletin. “On his best night his changeup works pretty good. He threw some sliders that were 87-88 miles per hour. It’s not a complementing pitch to a cut fastball … To me he has got to have something that is softer or else he’s going to end up being a bullpen guy.”

His fastball routinely sits in the 88-91 mph range.

“We’ve been working on holding (the ball) like an egg and staying light with it until I get to the release point and grip it tight,” Carson said of his changeup. “It’s come a long way since the beginning of the season. There was just a time when I didn’t have confidence in it. I wasn’t trusting it. I was too busy thinking too much about it, trying to soften it up and throwing it too hard. The last two starts I’ve started throwing it a lot, and I’m getting confident in it.”

AROUND THE MINORS: Class AAA Buffalo OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis remains sidelined with a strained left shoulder. He has not played since June 9 and progress has been very slow and could require surgery. The 23-year-old is batting .298/.403/.505 with five steals in 53 games. His slow rehab progress surely has cost him a spot in the outfield once New York purges Carlos Beltran and others from its major league club. … St. Lucie SS Robbie Shields returned to the lineup this weekend after missing over two weeks with a back injury. Binghamton 2B Reese Havens has been out since June 23 with a back injury and Binghamton RHP Jeurys Familia was placed on the seven-day disabled list retroactive to July 14 with a right shoulder impingement. The move we deemed “precautionary.”… Savannah won its 11th straight game on July 6 – matching the team’s winning streak in 2000 – believed to be the franchise’s longest since 1993.

Mets Minors: First Half Champions

Vaughn, Peavey, Den Dekker on move in Mets farm system

Both the St. Lucie Mets and Savannah Sand Gnats won first-half crowns but will have to play the second half without several key contributors.

As expected, 2010 first-rounder Matt Harvey was promoted from Class A St. Lucie to Class AA Binghamton and was joined by center fielder Matt den Dekker. The Sand Gnats lost IF Robbie Shields and closer Josh Edgin a few weeks ago. Those two were joined by OF Cory Vaughn and righthander Gregory Peavey this past week.
Harvey finished on the losing end of his Binghamton debut Sunday after allowing four runs and nine hits over 4 2/3 innings in a loss at Bowie. He was 8-2 with a 2.37 ERA and a Florida State League-leading 92 strikeouts in 76 innings at St. Lucie.

“It’s always exciting to start with a new team and see what can happen,” Harvey told the Binghamton Press. “I’m happy I got a chance to be with the St. Lucie team. That was a great experience. Now I’m just happy to be here.

Den Decker, who hit .300 with six home runs and 36 RBI and 12 stolen bases in the FSL, has started slowly. The 23-year-old is just 5-for-26 with no walks and 11 strikeouts in his first six games. Three of his five hits came in one game.
Vaughn, the son of former major league slugger Greg Vaughn, had 14 doubles, two triples, four home runs and 30 RBIs in 68 games for the Sand Gnats, batting .286/.405/.408. The Mets’ fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft was fourth in the SAL in on-base percentage and homered in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game.
Vaughn is 6-for-11 with two homers and five RBI in his first four games with St. Lucie.

Peavey (6-2) was sixth in the SAL with a 3.12 ERA, seventh in innings pitched (78) and ninth in strikeouts (69). The 22-year-old allowed a run and four hits in five innings in his FSL debut, a win over Jupiter on Saturday.
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The wait for highly-regarded pitching prospect Juan Urbina is over.

The just turned 18-year-old, son of former major league pitcher Ugueth Urbina, has been hit hard in his first two starts for Kingsport in the rookie-level Appalachian League. The 6-foot-2 lefthander, ranked the No. 11 prospect in the Mets’ organization by Baseball America, is 0-1 with a 9.35 ERA in his first two starts.

Urbina has been torched for 17 hits in 8 2/3 innings with two walks and seven strikeouts. He was 5-3 with a 5.03 ERA in 11 starts in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2010.

Urbina has a fastball that can reach the low-90s, a changeup he can throw at any time and a young, projectable body, and the Mets have plenty of time to allow the youngster to develop.

AROUND THE MINORS: St. Lucie LHP Darin Gorski may be the next Met on his way to Binghamton. He won his last two starts to improve to 6-0, 1.55 – best in the Florida State League. The 23-year-old beat Bradenton Monday, allowing a run and six hits in seven innings. The 6-4, 210 pounder yielded just a hit over six scoreless frames in his previous start and hasn’t walked a better in two starts. He has yielded just 15 walks against 87 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings, including just three walks in his last six starts. … RHP Matt Harvey and St. Lucie 3B Jefrey Marte were selected to play in the All-Star Futures Game on July 10 in Phoenix. … Binghamton 2B Joshua Satin continued his impressive season, hitting for the cycle Friday against Bowie and then driving in three runs the following night. The 25-year-old is batting .315/.413/.524 with 21 doubles, nine homers and 46 RBI in 69 games. … Buffalo IF Nick Evans has hit in 17 straight games to lift his average to .306/.358/.468.

Mets Minors: Matt Harvey and mid-year promotions

Righthander Matt Harvey is likely on the move.

After helping Class A St. Lucie (36-22) clinch the Florida State League South Division first-half crown Monday with six solid innings, the 2010 first-round pick will probably be headed to Class AA Binghamton later this week.

Harvey yielded two runs or fewer in each of his last five starts and is 8-2 with a 2.44 ERA with 22 walks and a league-high 88 strikeouts in 13 starts covering 70 innings. More impressively, he is 4-0 with a 1.35 ERA and .213 average against in seven road starts.

“He has done a tremendous job for us,” St. Lucie manager Pedro Lopez said. “We had a good feeling coming into tonight’s ballgame. He brings a different presence on the mound. He makes the other team feel like we are going to be in the game no matter what. I’m glad he finished tonight the same way he pitched this season.”

In Binghamton, Harvey will be reunited with righthander Jeurys Familia, who was promoted to the B-Mets in mid-May. With both top righthanders gone, it could be righthander Armando Rodriguez who takes the torch.

Rodriguez, who joined the club in late May after rehabbing from a strained oblique, struck out 10 batters over five innings of a no-decision last Tuesday against Palm Beach. The 23-year-old allowed two runs, four hits and a walk in his fourth start.

The 6-2, 185-pounder is 0-1 with a 2.65 ERA with six walks and 21 strikeouts in 17 innings. He was 8-9 with a 3.08 ERA in 27 starts for low Class-A Savannah last season with 46 walks and 152 strikeouts in 146 innings. He led the South Atlantic League in strikeouts, was second in opponent average (.214) and third in ERA.

Prior to the 2010 season, former GM Omar Minaya compared Rodriguez to Jenrry Mejia. According to Scouting the Sally website, Rodriguez has a powerful build, a fastball that sits in the 91-93 mph range, an improved but average slider and a developing changeup.

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On Wednesday, South Atlantic League All-Stars infielder Robbie Shields and closer Josh Edgin were promoted to St. Lucie. Shields was hitting .274 with two home runs and 26 runs batted in. He was tied for the league lead with 20 doubles. The 23-year-old went 1-for-5 with two RBI in his first two games with St. Lucie.

The 25-year-old Edgin was 1-0 with an 0.87 ERA. He was tied for the league lead with 16 saves in 17 opportunities. He picked up a win in his first Florida State League game, pitching a scoreless inning.

AROUND THE MINORS: Binghamton SS Jordany Valdespin continues to impress. The 23-year-old went 4-for-5 with two homers and four RBI June 16 at Richmond in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak. He was 11-for-31 with eight runs, three homers, eight RBI and five steals during the streak. The lefthanded hitter is batting .279/.332/470 with eight homers and 17 stolen bases in 59 games. … Binghamton 2B Reese Havens is struggling against fellow lefthanded hitters, batting .167/.286/.300 with 13 strikeouts in 30 at-bats. Overall, the 2008 first-rounder is batting .257/.333/.419 in 74 at-bats. … Savannah OF Cory Vaughn is 4-for-37 with 13 strikeouts in his last 10 games dropping his average to .286/.405/.408 in 245 at-bats. He is batting just .154 (10-for-65) in June after hitting over .300 in each of the first two months. … Both Matt den Dekker and Pedro Zapata were 0-for-3 in Saturday’s Florida State League All-Star game. LHP Darin Gorski started for the South Division and yielded two runs – one earned – and two hits in one inning. RHP Scott Moviel was the losing pitcher in the 5-3 loss, yielding two runs in the fifth inning.