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: 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: Zach Lutz returns

Class AAA Buffalo 3B Zach Lutz returned to the lineup this weekend, going 5-for-13, after missing about two months with a hamstring and finger injury.

He has dealt with a myriad of foot injuries since turning pro in 2009, including missing two months in AA Binghamton last season due to a stress fracture in his left foot.

Lutz is batting .327/.407/.500 in 52 at-bats with six doubles, a homer and six RBI.

“My parents helped me get through a lot of stuff the last couple of years,” he told the Buffalo News. “It’s been the same thing going on and on again and to finally get through all my feet injuries was great and then for something like this to happen it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re back to square one again.’

“A lot of times I’d say, ‘I can’t deal with this anymore, all I want to do is play baseball,’ and all I would do is sit the bench, watch the team play, but I wanted to try and help the team win. They would tell me not to get down and that God has a plan for everything.”

The Bisons got some bad news when CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis was put on the seven-day DL with a left shoulder strain.

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Low Class A Savannah has won five straight games, 17 of its last 21 and is 5 ½ games ahead of the Greenville Drive with seven games remaining and the South Atlantic League’s South Division title.

The Sand Gnats placed six players on the All-Star team: OF Cory Vaughn, IF Robbie Shields and Ps Gregory Peavy, Taylor Whitenton, Chase Huchingson and Josh Edgin.

SS Wilfredo Tovar, 19, has a personal season-best 11-game hitting streak, going 16-for-37 (.432), raising his average from .185 to .228 during the streak.

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Below is a scouting report compiled by Baseball America on Mets first-round pick Brandon Nimmo, a high school outfielder from Cheyenne, Wyo.

“Simply getting drafted out of Wyoming is an accomplishment in itself—the state does not have high school baseball and has produced just two draft picks the past decade.

With a lean, 6-foot-3 frame with projection remaining, he’s a good athlete and one of the best sprinters in the state. He tore his right ACL playing football during his junior year in 2009 and spent most of last summer playing with a brace on his knee.

He’s an above-average runner when he’s healthy, which helps him on the basepaths and in center field, and there’s more to his game than just speed. Nimmo has a pretty, efficient lefthanded swing. He’s short to the ball and has outstanding barrel awareness, consistently squaring balls up and shooting line drives to all fields. He has a good eye at the plate and should be an above-average hitter. As he gets stronger, he could add loft to his swing to turn doubles into home runs.

Nimmo worked out for teams in Arizona this spring and had some tendinitis in his knee. His American Legion team started playing in mid-April and their schedule goes right up to the signing deadline, and he has an Arkansas commitment to fall back on.”

AROUND THE MINORS: Buffalo OF Val Pascucci is batting .302 (31-for-102) in his last 31 games and leads the team with 42 RBI. … Binghamton RHP Jeurys Familia struck out a season-high 11 batters Sunday against Trenton, allowing four runs in 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision. … Binghamton 2B Reese Havens hit his first homer this past week and is hitting .245/.317/.396 with five walks and 17 strikeouts in 53 at-bats. … His double-play partner SS Jordany Valdespin is 11-for-32 with three homers and four steals in his last nine games, pushing his average to .270/.317/.439.

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Mets Card of the Week: 1995 Paul Wilson

1995 TOPPS Paul Wilson

By now everyone knows the Mets took Brandon Nimmo as their first-round pick in the 2011 Draft. Everyone talks about his upside and it’s nice to have a hitter with upside in the system. Now we’re hoping that he turns into the next Darryl Strawberry or David Wright. But those guys had something that I fear Nimmo doesn’t – a ballplayer’s name.

I mean no disrespect, but Brandon Nimmo doesn’t roll off the tongue. It’s far too easy to go sophomoric and imagine that the neighborhood kids called him “Nimrod.”

But the Mets can tell you that a great name doesn’t guarantee greatness. We need to look no further than Paul Wilson for proof of that.

Many of you know the story of Paul Wilson. If you don’t he was the first overall pick in the 1994 Draft and he was going to lead the Mets to glory. If everything had gone according to plan, Wilson would be winding down a Hall of Fame career right about now. Instead he’s been out of baseball for six years.

In 1995, Wilson split his time between Double-A and Triple-A and put up this line in 186.2 IP:

11-6, 2.41 ERA, 148 H, 44 BB, 194 Ks, 8 HR, 1.029 WHIP

It’s hard to look back at those numbers and not feel sad all over again. But pitchers get hurt all of the time and we shouldn’t be surprised that it happened to Wilson. So perhaps it’s good that the Mets spent their first-round pick on a hitter rather than a pitcher.

Just remember that the team also took luminaries such as Rob Stratton, Ryan Jaroncyk, Al Shirley, Alan Zinter, Chris Donnels, Lee May, Shawn Abner, Eddie Williams, Stan Jefferson, Terry Blocker, Billy Beane, John Gibbons, Butch Benton, Rich Puig and Steve Chilcott as hitters in the first round.

So, good luck Nimrod. May it all work out for you better than it did for Wilson.