It was not so long ago when the Mets had an impressive major league roster but their list of minor league prospects left a lot to be desired. Now, in late 2012 after the trade of R.A. Dickey, the model has been flipped on its head. Despite having two of last year’s top five prospects from my list (Matt Harvey (#1) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (#5)) graduate to the majors, this group is leaps and bounds better than last year’s model.
Before we get to this year’s list, let’s take a second to talk about prospect lists in general and last year’s list in particular. Ranking prospects is tricky and few lists look perfect in hindsight. The biggest issue is how to account for floor versus ceiling. A guy like Vicente Lupo may have a tremendous ceiling but he’s so far away, there’s no way to accurately judge where his floor may be, even taking injuries out of the equation.
A guy who has succeeded in the high minors has to be given extra credit. But it’s silly to pretend that all of the best prospects are in Double-A and Triple-A. So you have to do a balancing act. What follows are my judgments on these, and other, questions. Now, here are some judgments made on last year’s list:
Good – Ranking Harvey first, ranking Wilmer Flores ahead of Cesar Puello, leaving Reese Havens off the list.
Bad – Buying into the Juan Lagares hype, Expecting too much from Puello, leaving off Jordany Valdepsin.
With that as our backdrop, here’s how I see the Top 10 Prospects for the Mets:
10. Darin Gorski, LHP, Double-A, 9-8, 4.00 ERA, 118 Ks in 139.2 IP
Last year I had Gorski ranked eighth after his breakout season in St. Lucie. I doubt anyone else had him ranked that high. Most people were taking a wait-and-see approach with Gorski, took a look at his final 2012 numbers and decided that he’s not one of the club’s top prospects. But a deeper look at his numbers shows a pitcher who passed the Double-A test and remains on track to be a contributor at the major league level.
Bill James invented a stat that he called Game Scores, an attempt to measure each individual start. An average score is around 50. Last year, Dickey had nine of his 34 starts as below average and he ended up winning the Cy Young Award. Of course, Dickey had 14 starts which rated as gems, which goes a long way towards explaining his wonderful season. But the takeaway here is that his nine below-average starts did not define his season.
Gorski made 24 stats last year and had four that rated 34 or lower, including one that garnered a score of 12 and his last start of the year, which scored only 19. On the flip side, he had nine starts ranked 60 or above. It’s not quite Dickeyian in its split, but it goes to show that there were twice as many good starts as bad outings.
While his ERA checked in at 4.00, Gorski was a much better pitcher than that through most of the season. Now, you cannot just dismiss starts that don’t match your point of view but we should recognize that Gorski had 16 Quality Starts, a QS in two-thirds of his starts. By contrast, Zack Wheeler had a QS in 13 of his 25 starts this past year.
Gorski is a southpaw who hits 90 mph, has good control and throws three pitches. That would be a pretty good description of Jonathon Niese. Now, this is not to say that Gorski is the second coming of Niese. In fact, the pitcher I would compare him to would be Mark Redman. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, Redman pitched parts of 10 seasons in the majors and four times reached double digits in Wins. In the 2002-03 seasons, Redman combined for 7.9 fWAR.
There were problems last year with the HR ball – Gorski allowed 12 homers in a stretch of seven starts – but they were mostly solo shots and he went 3-2 with a 3.51 ERA in that span. Las Vegas might be the worst environment possible for him, but let’s focus on his peripherals instead and see if he can maintain his K rate and possibly improve his BB rate.
Do I really think he’s a better prospect than Jeurys Familia? Yes, right now I do. Familia looks like a bullpen arm and while he may develop into some sort of Bobby Parnell-type pitcher, right now Gorski still has a chance to be a SP in the majors. He’s not ready for the majors – he needs at least a full season at Triple-A. But Redman didn’t make the majors until age 25 (12.2 IP) and had his big years at age 28-29. Gorski turned 25 in October.
9. Domingo Tapia, RHP, Low-A, 6-5, 3.98 ERA, 101 Ks in 108.2 IP
The Dominican native lights up radar guns with his fastball, always a great place to start as a pitching prospect. He’s got pretty good control, too. He’s advanced one level at a time and with the Mets’ glut of SP, he’s likely to continue that trend – moving to Hi-A in 2013. The key with Tapia is if he’s able to develop a consistent off-speed pitch. If so, he could remain as a starter as he climbs the org ladder. If not, he’ll still have a relief role to fall back on.
8. Matt Den Dekker, OF, .960 OPS in 269 PA in Double-A, .629 OPS in 317 PA in Triple-A
Den Dekker looked overmatched in Double-A in 2011 and came back and dominated that level last year. It’s amazing what happens to your stats when you add 124 points to your BABIP, like Den Dekker did at Binghamton from 2011 to 2012. In Buffalo last year, Den Dekker saw his BABIP drop to .279 –- 150 points less than he posted in Double-A. He’s not going to post a .429 BABIP but a .279 mark is not to be expected going forward, either.
Offensively, Den Dekker profiles similarly to Kirk Nieuwenhuis. While neither is likely to hit for a high average in the majors, they both have some pop in their bats. They also both strike out way more than you would prefer. The big difference is defense. Nieuwenhuis can play center but is probably better suited as a corner. Den Dekker is supposed to be a top-notch defender.
It’s easier to measure offense than it is defense and that’s doubly true in the minors. This ranking is based on the belief that Den Dekker can be an elite defender in the majors, one capable of challenging for a Gold Glove Award. In 2002, Mike Cameron had a 27.5 K% and a .239 AVG. But thanks to Gold Glove defense and 25 HR, he posted a 5.3 fWAR.
To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever made the cross-racial comparison of Den Dekker to Cameron. And I’m not necessarily making it, either. Rather, it’s just pointing out that a low-AVG, high strikeout player can still be a very valuable property if you combine outstanding defense in CF with HR power.
The knee-jerk reaction is to look at the AVG and the Ks and conclude that Den Dekker is marginal. My take is that it makes his path to success harder than someone with a normal K rate. But remember to focus on what the player CAN do, in addition to what he seemingly cannot. I’ll be watching Den Dekker whenever I can to see him play the outfield. To me, that’s the biggest question about him.
If he truly is a Gold Glove-level defender, Den Dekker can be an asset as a starting CF in the majors. Admittedly, probably not at the 5-WAR level of the Cameron illustration listed above. But after what the Mets trotted out in CF the past two years, a guy who could put up a 2.5 WAR would seem like a godsend. And that’s potentially within reach for Den Dekker.
7. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Rookie ball, .248/.372/.406 in 321 PA
This is the most difficult prospect in the system to rate. He’s a five-tool player but it’s hard to look at his numbers and not be disappointed with both his power and speed production last year. It certainly wasn’t a bad year – his 14.3 BB% and .403 OBP were excellent. Yet I was expecting a bit more. I will not argue with anyone who thinks I have Nimmo rated too low. I still think he’s a potential impact player in the majors and I look forward to seeing him play in a full-season league in 2013.
6. Rafael Montero, RHP, 6-3, 2.52 ERA in Low-A, 5-2, 2.13 ERA in Hi-A
He had 56 Ks in 50.2 IP after his promotion last year. Montero does not throw as hard as Tapia, but he also has a breaking ball and a changeup at his disposal. In his penultimate start of the year, Montero allowed 0 BB and had 14 Ks in 6 IP. His final outing was 7.2 scoreless innings. Montero started 2011 in the Dominican Summer League and to advance to Hi-A two years later is quite an accomplishment.
5. Wilmer Flores, Position Unknown, .799 OPS in 272 PA in Hi-A, .855 OPS in 275 PA in Double-A
Many people were saying coming into the year that Flores was just another overhyped Mets prospect and then he put up a fine season. His best stretch of the year came in August, when he hit safely in 16 out of 17 games and notched 10 multi-hit contests. Flores batted .478 with 9 doubles, a triple and 3 HR in 69 ABs in that span.
But two questions remain about Flores: How much power will he have and can he play anywhere defensively for the Mets? Observers seem convinced that he cannot play the outfield. And given that the Mets have tried Lucas Duda in a corner spot – that’s saying something. His ultimate value for the Mets may be to put up a monster year in Las Vegas and then act as a trade chit to bring in an outfielder.
4. Michael Fulmer, RHP, Low-A, 7-6, 2.74 ERA, 101 Ks in 108.1 IP
Montero has better numbers and finished the year in Hi-A. But Fulmer is two years younger and that should not be discounted easily. Has a solid fastball and already features a strong offspeed pitch with his slider. An encouraging sign was his performance against LHB. In 193 PA against a lefty, Fulmer struck out 46 of them or 24%. By comparison, Montero fanned 21% and Tapia whiffed only 12% of his lefty batters. Fulmer took a nice step forward in 2012 and has time on his side to develop into a nice #2/#3 SP.
3. Travis d’Arnaud, C, Triple-A, .333/.380/.595 in 303 PA
The Mets hope they have solved one of their biggest needs with the acquisition of d’Arnaud, the top catching prospect in the high minors and perhaps all of baseball. The above stat line shows the good and bad of d’Arnaud – he was incredibly productive last year but he did not play a full season. It was the second time in the past three years the young backstop has missed significant time with an injury.
A knee injury felled d’Arnaud last year but the medical reports are all positive and he should be ready to go by the start of Spring Training.
Another thing to keep in mind is that d’Arnaud played last year in Las Vegas, the new Triple-A home of the Mets. His impressive line above translates to a .261/.302/.448 line in the majors with the Mets, according to Jeff Sackman’s MLE calculator.
Still, the Mets have not had their primary catcher post a .750 OPS since 2006, the year they advanced to the NLCS. Last year Josh Thole recorded a .584 OPS so if d’Arnaud can provide that .750 mark, it would be a huge improvement for the club.
2. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Low-A, 8-5, 2.60 ERA, 122 Ks in 103.1 IP
For the Mets, d’Arnaud was much more important as he filled a position of dire need. The Mets have solid pitching at the major league level, several very good pitching prospects and hardly a starting-caliber catcher in sight. But five to seven years from now, I expect Syndergaard to be a more valuable player.
He’s got pretty much everything you’d want in a prospect – high draft pick, pitcher’s build, upper 90s fastball, tons of strikeouts, ground ball pitcher and he keeps the ball in the park. When people want to nitpick – they talk about his command and he had a 2.69 BB/9 last year.
The Blue Jays utilized Syndergaard as both a starter and a reliever in an effort to keep his IP down but he worked more as a starter in the second half of the year. In his last 10 appearances he made nine starts and posted a 1.80 ERA in 45 IP. Overall, he had a 1.47 ERA as a SP and a 6.38 ERA as a reliever. There’s no reason to expect the Mets to use him out of the pen in 2013.
Syndergaard did enjoy a home park advantage last year, with an ERA over twice as high on the road (3.20) compared to at home (1.54). Traditionally, Lansing suppresses HR and Syndergaard did not allow a gopher ball at home all year. But he allowed just 3 HR all season and lifetime has served up just 4 homers in 176 IP.
It’s not all roses for Syndergaard – some scouts don’t like his delivery and like most young pitchers his offspeed stuff needs work – and we need to always remember that There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. But he’s been broken in nicely by Toronto and from his statistical profile it appears that the sky is the limit.
1. Zack Wheeler, RHP, 10-6, 3.26 ERA in Double-A, 2-2, 3.27 ERA in Triple-A
He finished the year with 148 strikeouts in 149 IP.
Coming into 2012, Harvey and Wheeler were the consensus top two prospects in the system. Many ranked Wheeler first due to his fastball, which is supposed to be even better than Harvey’s. Since Mets fans got to see that Harvey’s fastball was plenty good in 10 starts in the majors – it’s hard not to get excited about Wheeler’s being even better.
Wheeler continued to make strides with his command last year. In 2010, he averaged 5.8 BB/9 and in 2011 he cut that to 4.1 BB/9. Last year he shaved another 0.5 off his average, finishing with a 3.6 BB/9. However, it’s important to note that his walk rate was 3.3 in Double-A and 4.4 in Triple-A.
Some fans dream of Wheeler making the staff out of Spring Training but it’s likely he’ll be on a similar path to Harvey, getting an in-season promotion to the majors. Some yahoo will claim this is an attempt to delay his arbitration clock, but Wheeler could certainly benefit from extra seasoning in the minors, working on sharpening up his command. With another drop in his walk rate similar to last year, Wheeler could be a #1 SP.
Top 12 prospects likely to make a future Top Prospects list – Wuilmer Becerra, Gavin Cecchini, Jacob deGrom, Philip Evans, Vicente Lupo, Luis Mateo, Steven Matz, Cory Mazzoni, Kevin Plawecki, Aderlin Rodriguez, German Rosario, Wilfredo Tovar
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