A look at the Mets’ organizational depth

Keith Law recently ranked the Mets farm system 26th out of 30 teams in MLB. That seems extreme to me. While the system does not have much top-shelf talent, there is an impressive amount of depth. Also, with catcher, first base, third base and two outfield spots already with their long-term answer on the major league level, the farm system does not need to crank out a bunch of starters over the next few years.

Let’s go position by position and see where the Mets are.

Catcher – This is a classic good news/bad news situation. The good news is that our 23-year-old backstop just put up a .750 OPS in his rookie season with the Mets. The bad news is that nobody stands out as a likely challenger for his job. The top catcher in the minors is likely Kai Gronaeur, who hit .291 between two Class-A clubs last year and got an invitation to Spring Training. Bur at age 23 last year, Gronaeur is old for his level and he shows little power.

Other names to keep an eye out on include Juan Centeno, who had a .932 OPS while repeating at Class-A Brooklyn last year as a 20-year old and Camden Maron, who repeated the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League as a 19-year old in 2010, but who put up an .848 OPS. And who knows, maybe this is the year that Francisco Pena puts it all together. He was supposed to have the glove of Pena and the bat of Piazza but so far it’s been the other way around.

First base – Like catcher, the Mets have a promising youngster in the majors at first base without much to challenge him. First base is probably the better position for Lucas Duda, as he seemed stretched in the outfield last year. Nick Evans is still around as is Daniel Murphy, but we’re all hoping he wins the job at second base. Basically, there’s nothing else to see here, so move along, move along.

Second base – Here we have some more interesting prospects in the pipeline. Maybe this is the year that Reese Havens stays healthy and removes all doubt as the long-term solution at second. If Reyes re-ups with the Mets, Ruben Tejada switches over to second base and at the very least gives a strong glove. Justin Turner has his supporters and looks like he can do a bit of everything and not embarrass anyone in the process. Jordanny Valdespin did well in the Florida State League last year but was overmatched in his brief trial at Double-A. But he rebounded to post an .848 OPS in the Arizona Fall League. Second base is a position of need in the majors but there seems to be some options in the minors. And let me say it again – hopefully Murphy wins the position in Spring Training.

Third base – As Murphy can tell you, this is not a good organization to be a third baseman in. The Mets have some interesting options at the position, who may end up at other spots or other organizations due to Mr. Wright. Zach Lutz had a monster year last year with a .951 OPS at four different levels, mostly in Double-A. He hit reasonably well at St. Lucie the year before but he is an older prospect and has some severe splits to overcome. Aderlin Rodriguez is one of the top prospects in the system and he hit for both average and power last year as an 18-year old in the Class-A Appalachian League. But there are questions about his attitude and his ability to field the position.

After being drafted on the 19th round out of Furman University, Brian Harrison raked in the New York-Penn League and is a name to keep in mind. Also worth following is Jefry Marte, who repeated the South Atlantic League last year, but at age 19. And most people expect that Wilmer Flores will move off shortstop to a corner position.

Shortstop – Tejada saw lots of time in the majors last year at second base but the plan is for him to play 2011 in Triple-A at shortstop and take over for Reyes if he is not re-signed. Robbie Shields shook off a disappointing rookie season and performed well in the SAL last year. But the former third-round pick was old for the league and will need to move quick. Flores is still a shortstop for now and catches whatever he gets to, which is a nice way to say his range is not that great. One other name to keep tabs on is Rylan Sandoval, who the Mets signed as a free agent after being unable to come to terms with him when they drafted him back in 2007. Sandoval raked at Brooklyn last year as an older prospect but struggled after his promotion.

Outfield – Duda really took off last year and many view him as the club’s next outfield starter. Fernando Martinez is still around, still hoping for a healthy season. The Mets have three similar prospects in Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Darrell Ceciliani and Matt Den Dekker, three guys who look like they have a shot if they can stay in center field. Nieuwenhis is the closest to the majors and he has an invitation to Spring Training. Cory Vaughn hit for average and power last year at Brooklyn but many remain unconvinced.

After two disappointing years in the Gulf Coast League, Javier Rodriguez, a second-round pick out of Puerto Rico, put up a nice year in the Appy last season, with an .865 OPS as a 20-year old. Scouts are high on Cesar Puello, who stole 45 bases as a 19-year old last season. They expect he will add power as he matures. One name to keep in mind is Pedro Rondon. The 18-year old from Venezuela stole 26 bases in 64 games in the DSL last year.

Pitchers – The insane experiment of using Jenrry Mejia as a reliever is officially over. He did quite well in his handful of starts in the minors and now just needs experience. Brad Holt hopes his career is back on track after a successful stint in the AFL. Jeurys Familia had a 10.19 K/9, which is outstanding, and a 5.58 ERA, which is not. Mark Cohoon came out of nowhere to win the organization’s Pitcher of the Year Award last year and as a lefty will get a long leash, even if he does not have overpowering stuff. Dillon Gee is likely to contribute at the major league level this season.

Zach Dotson, Matt Harvey and Stephen Matz were all highly-touted but have little to no professional experience with which to judge them so far. Kyle Allen and Robert Carson pitched well previously but not so much last season.

*****

To me the farm system is middle of the pack. It’s been hurt by recent graduates to the Mets and down seasons in 2010 by guys who were on the top prospect lists previously. The players who had big years were not heavily regarded coming into the season. We should know a lot more this time next year. Can players like Holt, Familia, Havens and Martinez bounce back to reclaim their luster? Can guys like Duda, Lutz and Cohoon repeat their 2010 success? Can any of the high draft pick pitchers break out this year? Will any of the pseudo-CF show enough to stay at the position?

My feeling is that the answer to quite a few of these will be yes and this time next year people will look at the Mets farm system as much stronger than some analysts see it today.