A bunch of rookies debuted for the Mets in 2013. While some like Juan Lagares and Zack Wheeler used up their rookie eligibility, plenty of others still qualify for the 2014 top prospect list. Because of that, making a top 10 list is sort of like filling out a Hall of Fame ballot, where there are a bunch of quality candidates but ultimately only 10 spots on the list. Putting together a top 10 list is demanding in the best of times and the Mets’ improving farm system makes it more of a challenge this year.
If you’re looking for a regurgitation of the lists from the big boys, this might be a disappointment. The goal of this list is to examine all of the players in the system and decide which ones are going to have the best careers in the majors. It’s hard enough to determine that if we limit it to guys in full-season leagues. But throw in guys in short-season leagues and it becomes borderline impossible.
How do you compare a guy like Wilmer Flores, who has been playing ball in this country for six seasons, to Jose Medina, who has yet to throw a pitch in this country but who absolutely dominated the Dominican Summer League and put up the lowest ERA (0.35) in minor league baseball among pitchers with at least 50 IP?
It’s more art than science and few lists look perfect five years after they’re published.
My method is to use a combination of scouting reports, draft pick slot/signing bonus, number crunching and gut instinct to come up with the following list. It doesn’t mean that everyone who throws 100 mph or was a first-round pick is going to get extreme preferential treatment. It does mean that those things carry weight. Also, keep in mind that a guy who puts up numbers is going to get a fair shake, even if he wasn’t a high draft pick or heralded international signing.
When people were touting Bradley Holt, I backed Dillon Gee. When Reese Havens was all the rage, Ruben Tejada ranked higher here. To be fair, there was also tons of enthusiasm for Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Cory Vaughn. We all have our blind spots.
Let’s take a look at last year’s list and see what worked and what didn’t.
Good – Rating the Toronto prospects with the pitcher first, solid rankings of the 2011 and 2012 first-round picks, leaving Jeurys Familia off.
Bad – Omitting a couple of Dominican outfielders who had really good years.
With that as our backdrop, here’s how I see the Top 10 Prospects for the Mets:
10. Darin Gorski, LHP, Double-A, 6-1, 1.83 ERA, 67 Ks in 78.2 IP; 6.59 ERA in 132.2 IP in Triple-A
He’s an older guy who’s not overpowering and his delivery will never be held up as a thing of beauty. But in a bottom-line business, Gorski delivers results. In 218.1 IP in Double-A, he has a 3.32 ERA and a 1.127 WHIP. He’s made 37 starts for Binghamton and has turned in 24 Quality Starts. Five of his starts last year netted a Game Score of 70 or above, including two at 78. For a comparison, Wheeler made 30 starts last year, including 17 in the majors, and not once did he crack a Game Score of 70.
Of course there’s a big difference between pitching in Double-A and the majors and so far the Mets have displayed no interest in giving Gorski a shot at the latter. If you guaranteed me he would get that shot, he would rank higher on this list. The fact that he was exposed in the Rule 5 Draft, and no one took him, has to count against him. For Gorski to get a shot, the planets are going to have to align right and he’s going to have to pitch well from the outset. Stranger things have happened.
9. Matt den Dekker, OF, .852 OPS in 202 PA in Triple-A, .546 OPS in 63 PA in the majors
Two things went wrong for den Dekker last year. A Spring Training injury, which came after he started to earn raves for his defensive play, eliminated him from consideration from the Opening Day roster. And then Lagares got a shot and turned out way, way better than anyone expected with the glove.
Lagares’ outstanding season in the field earns him the right for first crack at the job in 2014. But it’s an open question if he’ll hit enough to keep it. It’s one thing to hide a poor bat when you’re having one of the best defensive seasons ever in the UZR era. But if Lagares does not turn into the second coming of Andruw Jones in the field, den Dekker should get a shot. He’s got more power and is more of a threat on the basepaths than Lagares. And if given an extended shot, he’ll show some fine defensive chops of his own.
8. Dilson Herrera, 2B, .750 OPS in 503 PA in Lo-A
He posted 14 HR and 11 SB and did a fine job in the field in his first crack at full-season ball. Managers and coaches in the South Atlantic League voted him as the best defensive second baseman in the league. He will play in the Hi-A Florida State League in 2014 as a 20 year old. All in all, the future looks very bright for Herrera.
The one troubling thing is that he got off to a great start and then was not nearly as impressive. In his final 76 games, covering 321 PA, Herrera put up a .238/.311/.372 line with a .295 BABIP. That’s not awful but it’s enough to keep him in the bottom of this list.
7. Cesar Puello, OF, .950 OPS in 377 PA in Double-A
Here is this year’s winner of the “prospect most difficult to rate.” Puello’s production last year was fantastic. However, he has the black mark of being one of the players caught up in the Biogenesis scandal. The Mets just handed Bartolo Colon a $20 million deal, so it’s not like they drew a line in the sand and said they were not going to tolerate known PED users on their club. So, what’s the trouble with Puello?
On production alone, Puello would rank much higher. But it’s a warning sign when a former tools guy who breaks out does not even rank in the club’s top 10 according to Baseball America. The Mets felt the need to add two free agent outfielders yet someone who plays that position and who posted a .950 OPS in nearly 400 PA in the upper minors isn’t a top prospect? Either the Mets’ system is stacked or something is rotten in Denmark.
As mentioned earlier, numbers matter and Puello’s numbers last year are too good to ignore. But it seems important that a publication like BA, which has direct contact to the movers and shakers in the organization, didn’t rank him. It feels like the right thing to do to keep him on the list but give him a lower spot in the order.
6. Dominic Smith, 1B, .837 OPS in 206 PA in short-season leagues
On Draft Day, the selection of Smith seemed like a “meh” pick. It didn’t provide me with the instant bad reaction, like the club’s 2012 top pick did. But it didn’t make me want to do cartwheels, either. My bias is for first basemen who hit like Paul Goldschmidt not James Loney.
But one of the guiding principles for me is to focus on what a player can do, not just on what he can’t. Okay, Smith is never going to challenge for 40 HR. Now that’s out of the way, what can he do? In his professional debut, Smith showed that he could handle the bat. In his final 35 games, he put up a .356/.455/.508 line over 143 PA. Additionally, he had a 16.1 K% in that span. He hit for average, had an excellent OBP thanks to a 13.3 BB% and made solid contact. Outside of power, it was everything that you wanted to see.
Now comes time for the organization to step up. Good prospects simply do not spend two full seasons in short-season leagues. Smith needs to open 2014 in Savannah and get 475+ PA against live pitching. It will be a major disappointment if he’s in extended spring training, instead.
5. Steven Matz, LHP, 5-6, 2.62 ERA, 121 Ks in 106.1 IP in Lo-A
The Mets’ first pick of the 2009 Draft, Matz made his full-season debut last year and offered a glimpse of the top-shelf pitcher he could still be. Injuries have robbed Matz of most of the previous three seasons but he shook off the rust and did a fine job in the South Atlantic League. Of course it should be pointed out that Matz was old for the league and Savannah is a notorious pitcher’s park. He had a 1.99 ERA and a 1.023 WHIP in home games and a 3.38 ERA and a 1.333 WHIP in road games.
But those road numbers are still solid. We should be able to tell a lot more about Matz this season. He should start in Hi-A and by the end of the year he should be in Double-A. Matz still should be considered an injury risk and his offspeed pitches need a lot of work. But anytime you start out as a LHP who throws in the low 90s with solid control – that’s a pretty encouraging thing.
4. Brandon Nimmo, OF, .756 OPS in 480 PA in Lo-A
There’s a pretty big contingent of Mets fans out there who view the Nimmo pick as a major disappointment. And if you just look at his traditional numbers, it’s easy to understand. But once you factor in the hand injury and account for the poor hitting environment in Savannah, Nimmo had a very encouraging season in 2013.
Before the hand injury, Nimmo had a .322/.421/.433 line with a 22.4 K% in 107 PA. After missing a month, he struggled mightily upon his return. His first 114 PA back, Nimmo posted a .227/.327/.320 line with a 30.7 K%. He improved the rest of the year (.763 OPS over his final 259 PA) but never got back to his initial numbers.
As for playing in Grayson Stadium, Nimmo had a .681 OPS in his home park and an .826 mark in road games. It’s tough to look like a top prospect when your home park cuts 145 points of OPS from your ledger. For some perspective, he had a higher road OPS last year than Flores, without the benefit of playing in Albuquerque, Colorado Springs or Reno.
Everyone knew when the Mets drafted Nimmo that he was going to be a project. It just seems silly to jump off the bandwagon now when he’s going through both the expected growing pains and a power-sapping hand injury. Look for a breakout season from Nimmo in 2014, as he gets further away from the injury, an entire league (or two) away from Grayson Stadium and with the confidence of 845 pro PA under his belt.
3. Travis d’Arnaud, C, 1.041 OPS in 78 PA in Triple-A, .548 OPS in 112 PA in the majors
For the third time in four years, an injury cut short d’Arnaud’s season. Still, he finished the 2013 campaign in the majors and is counted on to be the club’s starting catcher on Opening Day. In his brief stint with the Mets, d’Arnuad showed good patience at the plate but hit for neither average nor power. He’s done both of those things throughout his career in the minors and the expectation is that he’ll be at least a league-average catcher offensively. And that will be a huge upgrade for the Mets.
2. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, 3.11 ERA, 64 Ks in 63.2 IP in Hi-A, 3.00 ERA, 69 Ks in 54 IP in Double-A
It’s safe to say that Syndergaard exceeded expectations in his first season with the Mets. He was very good in the Florida State League and he was even better in the Eastern League. The above line does not do his time in Double-A justice, as he had a 1.59 ERA before getting lit up in his final start of the season, one that came after an extended layoff.
As good as Syndergaard’s numbers are, he’s even better when you add in his scouting profile. He has the prototypical pitcher’s frame, at 6’6, 240 pounds. His fastball is electric, his change is above average and his breaking ball is an acceptable third pitch. Combine that with strong command (2.14 BB/9 last year) and it’s easy to see why he’s the leader on nearly every Mets top prospect list out there.
So why is this one different? Let’s be crystal clear that in no way, shape or form is this a knock on Syndergaard.
Rather it’s a belief that the Mets have two pitchers to be excited about and this list gives the higher ranking to the one who has put up the better numbers, while pitching in a much-harder environment. Meanwhile, Syndergaard has done fantastic and we should expect great things from him in the majors in the near-future.
1. Rafael Montero, RHP, 2.43 ERA, 72 Ks in 66.2 IP in Double-A, 3.05 ERA, 78 Ks in 88.2 IP in Triple-A
In somewhat similar IP at Binghamton as Syndergaard, Montero was the better pitcher. He had a lower ERA, a lower WHIP, a better K/BB ratio, a better HR rate and a better BB rate. Everyone is quick to point out that Syndergaard was hurt by his last start of the year on irregular rest. That’s true enough. It’s also true that he put up a good chunk of his stats in Binghamton on both an innings and pitch count limit. His best run of pitching was a four-start stretch where he did not exceed 71 pitches.
Contrast that with Montero, whose best stretch in Binghamton was his final three starts, where he threw 20 shutout innings, with 311 pitches.
But Montero also had great success in one of the toughest environments for a pitcher. After eight solid starts in the Pacific Coast League, Montero closed the season with seven dominating performances. In that stretch he had a 1.61 ERA, he limited opposing batters to a .557 OPS and he allowed 9 BB and had 44 Ks in 44.2 IP. And four of those seven games were in Las Vegas.
Montero was not a heralded international signing. In fact, while most of his countrymen sign at age 16, Montero was just starting to play the game at that age and did not sign until he was 20. But he’s been making up time ever since. In 2011 Montero was in the Dominican Summer League. In 2013 he was in Triple-A, a simply remarkable progression.
He’s not as big as Syndergaard, he doesn’t throw as hard and he’s two years older. Those are some of the main reasons everyone else favors Syndergaard as the top prospect. But the closer you get to the majors, the more that results matter. And last year Montero blew away hitters in both Double-A and Triple-A, the latter coming in one of the more hitter-friendly places in the minors.
Yet we’re supposed to believe that the guy who toyed with hitters in the top levels of the minors not only doesn’t have the stuff to be an ace, but he might not even stick as a starter!
Only two major league pitchers who qualified for the FanGraphs leaderboards last year averaged 95 or more with their fastball. Only 16 averaged 93 or more. Most scouting reports have Montero in the 91-94 mph range, which is plenty fast enough if he can miss enough bats. Felix Hernandez does quite well for himself with an average fastball of 91.9 mph and he’s just one of many top hurlers not to set the radar guns ablaze.
Batters had a 78.2% contact rate against Montero this year in Las Vegas. Those numbers are not available for Binghamton. Meanwhile, batters had a 79.8% contact rate against both Wheeler and Carlos Torres this year in Las Vegas. In the majors both of these pitchers had nearly identical contact rates compared to what they posted in Triple-A. Wheeler’s was at 79.7% while Torres had a 79.3% rate. So, why should the default assumption be that major league hitters will tee off on Montero when they did not do it to either Torres or Wheeler?
Ranking Montero ahead of Wheeler is an extreme minority position and one that will open me up to a bunch of criticism now and ridicule later if he becomes pedestrian in the majors while Syndergaard turns into an All-Star. And that’s okay. But it’s my firm belief that numbers matter, and the numbers that Montero put up last year simply cannot be ignored.
Top 12 prospects likely to make a future Top Prospects list – Chris Flexen, Michael Fulmer, Robert Gsellman, Dustin Lawley, Medina, Akeel Morris, Kevin Plawecki, Aderlin Rodriguez, Amed Rosario, Domingo Tapia, Robert Whalen, Gabriel Ynoa
Previous Top Prospect Lists