Just as their parent team did in Flushing, the Mets four full-season minor league affiliates got their seasons under way last week and are off to solid starts. With the start of minor league ball, prospects continue to plug away at refining their skills with the hope that a long and fruitful major league career is in their future.
It’s no secret that the Mets outfield is a major weak spot on the team. In fact, all three outfield positions on the major league roster could use an upgrade. Essentially, all three positions are ripe for the taking should one of the team’s outfield prospects bust out in a big way. Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be many of said prospects knocking on the door at the moment.
That being said, an interesting situation has developed in Binghamton. The Mets AA affiliate is carrying the following four outfielders on their roster:
Vaughn is clearly a corner outfielder and will be played as such. Harris, Ceciliani, and Puello (though he is listed as a right fielder on the team’s roster) have all spent significant time in center field, however. As of right now, all three players can man that position. But with all of them on a roster at the same time, the question becomes who plays where and how often?
The Mets signed Puello in 2007 as an undrafted free agent. In 2008, he started his career playing almost exclusively right field but began splitting time there and in center during the 2011 season. He’s a big kid with good speed, but his main problem has been staying healthy. He’s been injured in some form or another during the last three seasons. Puello is a classic case of a toolsy, high-upside prospect who has yet to put it all together, and he’s been steadily dropping on most Mets prospect lists*. The Mets felt it prudent to add him to the 40-man roster in 2011 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, though, so it’s clear that they still believe in his upside.
The Mets drafted Ceciliani in the fourth round of the 2009 draft. He’s not super fast, but plays a good center field nonetheless. He has a below average arm, so it’s either center of left field for him. As with Puello, Ceciliani has had trouble staying on the field. He’s been injured the last two years and has only played 23 games at A+ (St. Lucie), so this promotion seems a tad bit aggressive. He is 23, though, and he has hit well enough when he’s been healthy.
Harris was drafted by the Mets in the 39th round of the 2007 draft as a second basemen. He started seeing significant time in the outfield in 2011 and played 77 games in center field in 2012 for St. Lucie. He actually played so many games in center last year because Puello and Ceciliani were injured. He played the position so well that he stayed in the center field rotation even after they returned. He’s speedy, and over time has done a great job of increasing his walk rate and decreasing his strikeout rate. He’s 24, but because of the position change it’s possible that Harris could be a late bloomer. In fact, Mets VP of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Paul DePodesta referred to Harris’ 2012 as a “breakout year.” I wrote a bit about Harris here (http://mets360.com/?p=15042) in February.
This is the next crop of Mets center field prospects behind Matt den Dekker. Keep an eye on how these players are rotated in center field, as it may give an indication of which one the Mets see as a realistic option moving forward. If Matt den Dekker can’t get himself straight, the next Mets homegrown center fielder may come out of this group.
*Puello also has an odd knack for getting hit by pitches. According to the B-Mets website, he “has been hit by pitches 78 times since making his professional debut in 2008.” Who says getting plunked isn’t a repeatable skill?