Even with the loss of Jose Reyes, the 2012 Mets will feature a bunch of players who came up through the farm system. Six of the eight projected hitters and three of the five projected starters are homegrown players. Of course, many pundits are predicting the Mets to finish in last place in the NL East, so that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the farm system.
Still, it appears that the system has done a good job of pumping out average or better hitters the past few years. The top prospects currently in the system are pitchers and this list does not include Jenrry Mejia, who used up his rookie eligibility by appearing on the 25-man roster for more than 45 days back in 2010.
The Mets had a productive 2011 Draft and it would not be surprising to see up to four players from Sandy Alderson’s first draft on next year’s Top 10 list. Only five players returned from the 2011 list and there are at least 10 players who can make a strong case to be included this year in spots six thru 10.
Most people acknowledge the depth of the farm system but criticize the Mets for not having more impact players. Alderson swung for the fences with his first-round pick, selecting a raw high school outfielder with tons of upside. It will be curious to see if he follows this same philosophy in 2012. The Mets pick 12th in the first round and will also have pick number 35, the first of two compensation picks for Reyes. Expect at least one of those first two picks to be another high-risk, high-reward player.
Ranking prospects is tricky and few lists look perfect in hindsight. But as of 1/2/12, this is how I see the Top 10 prospects for the Mets:
10. Cory Vaughn, OF, Lo-A/Hi-A, .286/.405/.408 in 297 PA
This is Vaughn’s line in Lo-A. His OPS was 110 points lower in Hi-A in 241 PA but the majority of that dropoff was from BABIP issues. Vaughn posted just a .247 BABIP in Hi-A, a decrease that dwarfed his ISO gains. In Lo-A, Vaughn posted a .122 ISO but in Hi-A he upped that to a .176 mark. And while he showed more power at the advanced level, he also showed virtually no change in his strikeout rate. After fanning 21.5% of the time in Lo-A, Vaughn posted a 22.0% mark in Hi-A. Vaughn played with a heel injury, which possibly caused some of the problems after his promotion. Many wonder if Vaughn has the bat speed necessary to succeed in the majors. He’s not a great speed/defense guy, so he’ll have to hit well to make it.
9. Juan Lagares, OF, Hi-A/Double-A, .338/.380/.494 in 335 PA
This is Lagares’ line in Hi-A. He hit even better in Double-A, with a .903 OPS in 170 PA. But there are two red flags surrounding him in that he doesn’t have much power and his walk rate collapsed when he was promoted. Lagares has a lower ceiling than Vaughn, but his floor is much higher. At this point it would be a surprise if Lagares did not make the majors. He seems like a 4th OF, a guy who could be useful against LHP (.914 OPS overall versus lefties last year) and he could even fake it in CF for brief stretches.
8. Darin Gorski, LHP, Hi-A, 11-3, 2.08 ERA, 140 Ks in 138.2 IP
Most of the major prospect hounds are taking a wait-and-see approach with Gorski. They want to see how he does at Double-A before getting on the bandwagon. Gorski came out of nowhere last year and dominated at St. Lucie, yet he did this as a 23 year old, adding to the doubts. But here’s what Gorski has going for him: He’s a lefty who throws strikes, scouting reports have him at around 90 (Keith Law said 87-91 while Kevin Goldstein said 90-93), he throws three pitches and has outstanding command.
People will immediately bring up Mark Cohoon but Cohoon had a 7.47 K/9 in Low-A (he skipped Hi-A) while Gorski’s was 9.1 last year in Hi-A. I think he has a chance to make it as a 5th SP. Last year he had a .172/.229/.201 line against LHB so even if he struggles against righties at higher levels, he still could make it as a LOOGY.
Nearly everyone will rate the 2011 Draft picks – Michael Fulmer, Cory Mazzoni, Logan Verrett – higher than Gorski. As a Mets fan, I certainly hope that comes true. But those three have a combined 18.1 IP in professional baseball and we need to look no further than Bradley Holt for an example of a high draft pick who did not pan out after some initial success in the minors.
Nothing would please me more than to rank Fulmer, Mazzoni and Verrett higher than Gorski on next year’s list. But I’m going to be conservative with these pitchers and make them prove things to me in 2012. Meanwhile, Gorski did just that in 2011. There’s always a spot in the majors for a lefty who hits 90 with good control. And this is as good as time as any to mention that Baseball America named Gorski as having the best changeup in the system.
7. Cesar Puello, OF, Hi-A, .259/.313/.397 in 488 PA
Last year Puello was ranked fourth on this list due to glowing scouting reports combined with a borderline acceptable walk rate. The scouting reports are still positive, but he posted a dismal 3.8 BB% last season. The only reason his OBP cracked .300 last year was due to being hit by 20 pitches. Puello has made steady progress through the farm system but he could benefit from starting 2012 back in St. Lucie. Last year he had a .670 OPS in road games, 78 points lower than his home mark
6. Wilmer Flores, SS, Hi-A, .269/.309/.380 in 559 PA
Everyone wants to write off Flores but while his stock has dropped considerably it’s way too early to dismiss a guy who played most of last year at age 19. For a comparison, David Wright batted .270 as a 20 year old in St. Lucie. As for Flores’ future, he’s four months younger than Puello, they put up similar-type seasons at the same level and Flores still has a chance to stick in the infield. Everyone is burned out on hearing about Flores, especially given that he hasn’t had a monster year yet in full-season ball. But neither has Puello. Flores will start the season in Double-A and if he fails to put up good numbers in hitter-friendly Binghamton than we’ll know that his ship has passed.
5. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF, Triple-A, .298/.403/.505 in 221 PA
The only thing that held back Nieuwenhuis last year was an injured shoulder. Otherwise, he would have made his major league debut and would be a front runner for a backup outfield position in the majors in 2012. Now, Nieuwenhuis will likely return to Triple-A to prove he is healthy. The strikeouts are a concern and he’ll obviously never post a .407 BABIP in a full season in the majors. But all he’s done in his professional career is produce. Several years ago I compared him to Nate McLouth and I still think that holds. A .250/.350/.450 line seems attainable and that’s pretty valuable for a CF. Of course, Nieuwenhuis is probably better suited for a corner, which makes the McLouth comparison even better.
4. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Rookie ball, .211/.318/.368 in 44 PA
I don’t like ranking players with little to no professional experience. But it’s silly to pretend that Nimmo isn’t one of the club’s top prospects. It would not surprise me if he ended up being the most valuable player currently in the farm system. The strikeouts are certainly a concern from his brief pro debut. But he also hit 2 HR in 29 ABs in the Gulf Coast League, giving some indication of the power he possesses. By now you know that his high school did not have a baseball program, but Nimmo ran track and played football as a prepster, giving hints to his all-around athleticism. There’s talk he will skip the short-season New York-Penn League and open 2012 in full-season ball. If so, this time next year we’ll have 400+ ABs with which to properly evaluate Nimmo.
3. Jeurys Familia, SP, Hi-A/Double-A, 4-4, 3.49 ERA, 96 Ks in 87.2 IP
This is his line in Double-A. After a dismal year in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League in 2010, Familia returned to the same level last year and dominated, as he posted a 1.49 ERA and a 0.798 WHIP in six starts before earning a promotion to Binghamton. The scouting reports have his fastball in the mid-90s, along with a curve and changeup that are best described as works in progress. If those pitches can develop, he’ll stay in the rotation. If not, he becomes a closer candidate. Regardless, if he can avoid a repeat of the shoulder tendinitis that sidelined him for a month last year, Familia will likely pitch in the majors before either of the other two pitchers who rank ahead of him on this list.
2. Zack Wheeler, SP, Hi-A, 9-7, 3.52 ERA, 129 Ks in 115 IP
It’s a coin flip who to rank first and who to put second with the team’s top prospects. Wheeler has the edge with raw stuff but his control is an issue. In 2010, he had a 5.83 BB/9 and last year before being acquired by the Mets he had a 4.81 BB/9. But the Giants had Wheeler deploy a new windup. He went back to his old delivery and in 27 IP with the Mets he had just 5 BB. But are his control issues over or is that just a small sample size illusion? If Wheeler puts up a sub-2.0 BB/9 then he is hands down the top prospect in the system and likely one of the top prospects in baseball. I just want to see him do it over a longer period of time.
1. Matt Harvey, SP, Hi-A/Double-A, 8-2, 2.37 ERA, 92 Ks in 76 IP
This is his line in Hi-A. Harvey made his professional debut in St. Lucie and posted this line over 14 starts before being promoted to Double-A. His ERA took a big hit with the jump to Binghamton, but his peripherals were much better than the 4.53 ERA he posted the second half of the year in 59.2 IP. Harvey had a 3.23 FIP in Double-A. He had a 9.65 K/9 in his stint in Binghamton but was hurt by a 66.3 LOB%. Harvey struggled initially but during the month of August, he was 5-0 with a 2.67 ERA and had 9 BB and 24 Ks in 27 IP.
The fastball, a bit below Wheeler’s, is still plenty good. The scouting reports like his breaking stuff but consider his changeup iffy. Harvey will likely start the year back at Double-A, where the staff could feature all four pitchers who made this Top 10 list. If so, it will be interesting to see who gets the ball on Opening Day.
Honorable Mention/Names to Remember
Robert Carson, Darrell Ceciliani, Matt Den Dekker, Phillip Evans, Michael Fulmer, Reese Havens, Zach Lutz, Jefry Marte, Cory Mazzoni, Collin McHugh, Akeel Morris, Aderlin Rodriguez, Armando Rodriguez, Juan Urbina, Jordany Valdespin