One of the reasons cited for getting rid of Omar Minaya was that he did not build a strong farm system. Last year, six players who made my top prospect list contributed to the Mets and no longer have rookie eligibility. This includes Jenrry Mejia and Fernando Martinez, both who lost their rookie status because they accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster.
So, it is actually surprising the overall shape of the system. There’s not much at the very top, but there is a lot of depth, a lot of players who could eventually reach the majors. At this time last year, few would have guessed that Mejia, Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada would have used up their eligibility. If those three were still rookies and had turned in strong 2010 seasons in the minors (not an unreasonable assumption), the outlook of the Mets’ farm system would be completely different right now.
As is, there are some hitters who may top out as reserves but who still have time to develop into useful regulars. The top pitchers now in the system are Matt Harvey and Steven Matz; unfortunately, neither one of them has thrown a pitch in professional baseball and ranking them is extremely problematic.
Only four players return from last year’s list. There may only be four people from the 2011 list who show up on the 2012 list, too. But unlike last year, when everyone graduated to the Mets or lost their eligibility, next year’s list might have a lot of turnover just because there are 15-17 people who can make an argument to be on the list right now. With another year of data and scouting reports, people who missed the list this time could easily take a step forward.
10. Reese Havens, 2B, Hi-A/Double-A, .338/.400/.662 in 75 PA
This is Havens’ line in Double-A, where he actually played more than he did in Single-A. And this illustrates both the potential and the problem with Havens. He has an impact bat at second base. But he can’t stay healthy. As Mets fans have seen with Martinez, staying healthy is at least partially a skill. Havens has been injured in each of his three years with the Mets. Most people have Havens ranked higher than this in the system. He’s this low here because until he stays healthy he’s more suspect than prospect. He could be number one on this list next year. Or he could fall off completely.
9. Lucas Duda, OF/1B, Double-A/Triple-A/Majors, .314/.389/.610 in 298 PA
This is Duda’s line in Triple-A, when he had 42 XBH, including 17 HR. Duda saw extensive playing time with the Mets in September. He couldn’t buy a base hit his first two weeks in the majors. But in his final 55 PA, he put up a .314/.345/.647 line with 9 XBH and 4 HR. Duda has big-time power. The issue is: Where is he going to play? He played LF with the Mets in September, but that position is manned by Jason Bay. His best position is 1B, but Davis has a leg up there. Potentially, RF could be his home, but Duda was already stretched defensively in LF. In his brief action in the majors, he was below average in both range and arm. Again, Duda is a player that most others rank higher. My problem is that I just don’t see where he fits on the Mets.
8. Dillon Gee, SP, Triple-A, Majors, 13-8, 4.96 ERA, 165 Ks in 161.1 IP
Last year Gee made my list ahead of Brad Holt and Jeurys Familia. The rationale was that he had less upside but was more likely to pitch in the majors. Right now, Gee is the Mets’ fourth starter. Whether he’s in the rotation on Opening Day or not, Gee is likely to pitch again in the majors in 2011. His stuff is not good enough to be a guy to make 30 starts a year. But he could make it as a swing man or a bullpen arm.
7. Matt Harvey, SP, UNC, 8-3, 3.09 ERA, 102 Ks in 96 IP
The seventh overall pick in the 2010 Draft, Harvey had one of the best fastballs in the draft. The question is if he has anything else. Some compare him to Mike Pelfrey, but Pelfrey had better control than Harvey in college. In an ordinary year, Harvey would probably not make this list. But he clearly has upside, and unlike Matz, is not coming off surgery. We should get a better reading on Harvey after this year and I expect he’ll move up on the list.
6. Darrell Ceciliani, OF, New York-Penn League, .351/.410/.531 in 303 PA
A fourth-round pick in the 2009 Draft out of a Junior College in Washington, Ceciliani rebounded from a poor year in his professional debut in the APPY to put up a very fine last year, especially for a center fielder. In addition to winning the batting title, Ceciliani had 33 XBH in 271 ABs, which broke down to 19 doubles, 12 triples and 2 homers. If he can stay in center field, Ceciliani has a chance. He has little power and not much arm, so he needs to stay in center in order to be a starter. He’s a long way from the majors but he has legitimate tools. We’ll find out how legitimate when he plays in full-season ball this year.
5. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF, Double-A/Triple-A, .289/.337/.510 in 433 PA
This is Nieuwenhuis’ line in Double-A. He struggled in 30 games in Triple-A but it was still a successful season for the former small college star. Nieuwenhuis was leading the Eastern League with 53 XBH when he was promoted. The big issue is if, like Ceciliani, he can stay in center. Last year I compared him to Nate McLouth, a guy stretched to play CF, but one capable of putting up a 20-20 line. There are doubts about Nieuwenhuis because of his NAIA pedigree. But he’s gotten better as he’s moved up the ladder and I’m going to believe in him until he gives me a reason not to.
4. Cesar Puello, OF, South Atlantic League, .292/.375/.359 in 469 PA
The Dominican native was signed by the Mets in 2007. Last year was his third season playing in this country but he was only 19, one of just five teenagers in the SAL. Unlike many Latin players, Puello is willing to take a walk, with 32 BB in 404 AB,. Puello also had 22 HBP, following up on a season where he was hit 14 times in short-season ball. He also has plus speed, as he stole 45 bases in 55 attempts. Puello hit just 1 HR last year, but he draws praise for his approach at the plate and scouts predict he will hit 20 HR by the time he matures.
Despite his speed, Puello is a right fielder. On production, Nieuwenhuis is the better prospect right now. But Puello has a higher ceiling. It is a coin flip for me which one to rank higher and I am tempted to flip the coin again and put Nieuwenhuis in this spot. Ultimately, Puello gets the nod. He should advance to the Florida State League next year, a tough league for youngsters to hit home runs. Puello may not show much improvement in power next season but let’s see if his plate discipline holds at the higher level.
3. Aderlin Rodriguez, 3B, Rookie/Low-A, .312/.352/.556 in 267 PA
This is Rodriguez’ line in the Appalachian League. He got a late call-up to the SAL, where he played in eight games. While he is a year behind Puello, and with only eight games of full-season ball to his credit, Rodriguez is ranked higher due to greater power production and potential, along with his chance to stick in the infield. Rodriguez bounced back from a wrist injury in 2009 to put up 13 HR in 250 ABs in the APPY, which ranked third in the league.
The Dominican native shows a strong arm at the hot corner, but scouts worry about every other defensive tool for Rodriguez. He may have to move to first base but should have the bat for the position. There have been whispers about his work ethic, which is a concern, but let’s see if they follow him to full-season ball before we give them too much weight.
2. Cory Vaughn, OF, New York-Penn League, .307/.396/.557 in 313 PA.
The Mets’ fourth-round pick in the 2010 Draft out of San Diego State, Vaughn is the son of former MLB star Greg Vaughn. The younger Vaughn had a big year in the NYP, hitting for both average and power (14 HR) while also showing the speed to steal 12 bases. While a rookie league, the NYP is the natural spot for many college players and first-round picks. Under the old Mets regime, Vaughn would likely have opened 2011 in Double-A. Now, he’s likely headed to the Hi-A Florida State League, instead.
Vaughn has Type I juvenile diabetes, a condition he has had since he was 11. He tests himself multiple times during a game. So far the condition has not been a hindrance in any way in his baseball development. Vaughn has benefitted from being around the game his entire life. He was in the clubhouse when was his father was in San Diego and a teammate of current SDSU coach Tony Gwynn. He was also a bat boy later on when his father was in Tampa Bay.
Some doubt Vaughn as he did not impress in the Cape Cod League and never hit a lot of HR at SDSU, either. But Vaughn’s showing in the NYP should silence some of the critics. If he again hits for average and power in 2011, expect to see Vaughn’s name on MLB top prospect lists this time next year. But right now this is probably the highest ranking you will see for Vaughn anywhere.
1. Wilmer Flores, SS, Low-A/Hi-A, .278/.342/.433 in 307 PA
These are the numbers for Flores in the South Atlantic League, where he played the first half of 2010. He hit for a better average (.300) in the Florida State League, but with less OBP and SLG. Flores improved upon 2009’s dismal numbers in the SAL but his top prospect status is still built more upon age, as he was 18 for most of last season, than on production.
While listed as a SS, few expect he will play that position in the majors. Flores has good hands, but does not have the range of an MLB-quality shortstop. His likely home is third base. But wherever he winds up defensively, Flores’ value will come from his bat. The Venezuelan native makes good contact (77 Ks in 554 ABs in 2010) and hits the ball to all fields.
Flores is likely to start the year in the FSL, with a mid-year promotion to Double-A. Not many people are capable of playing in the high minors while still a teenager. It is easy to get down on Flores, as his production has yet to match his hype. But no one should be surprised once he starts to put up big numbers. Nor should they be shocked if that happens in 2011.
Honorable Mention/Names to Remember