3 ex-Mets singin’ the swan song

In the past week, former Mets Matt Harvey, Asdrubal Cabrera and Lucas Duda were released by their teams. Harvey’s attempt to resurrect his stalled career with the Angels came up way short as he put up embarrassing numbers. Duda had a similar experience before being cut loose by Kansas City. Cabrera was  slashing a modest .235/.318/.393 when he was released by the Rangers. Everyone’s favorite ex-Met, Curtis Granderson, may be next in line as the veteran has been hitting below the Mendoza line almost all season for the Marlins.

It’s a bit sad really as these players all hold their place in Mets history. For too short a period, Harvey electrified the whole city as the Dark Knight. Though the back of his baseball card may not reflect it – thanks largely to a lack of run support – Harvey had two brilliant seasons for the Mets and a very memorable post-season. At his peak, Harvey had mound presence and swagger to go along with a filthy arsenal of pitches. He can still throw 95 mph, but the extra ticks, the late movement and the trademark two-strike slider are all gone. Harvey is still young enough to attempt a comeback. Maybe with some rest, strength training and the right mentors he can find a second life as a back-of-the-rotation guy or reliever.

Mets fans have a tainted view of Duda as he made one of the most costly errors in the 2015 World Series. He’s also well-remembered for hitting home runs either with a big lead or no one on base. That said, the big guy was a likable, soft-spoken guy with a boyish farmboy charm and you never knew when he might launch one onto Shea Bridge. Plus, he was such a good sport about letting Granderson and others make him the butt of clubhouse gags and social media jokes.

Granderson left an indelible mark on the Mets organization just through his charitable and community efforts. His infectious smile, energy on the field and penchant for the big hit certainly won over his New York fans as well. And who could forget his brilliant catch in the 2016 Wild Card game? This may be Granderson’s last year as a player, but, with his charm, you have to think we’ll be seeing more of him around the game. He’s really well suited as an MLB Network or ESPN personality.

Cabrera, due to his versatility, may well find a new home to finish out the season, and along with several other ex-Mets he’s hoping he might have one more good one left in the tank. Relievers Addison Reed, Fernando Salas and Carlos Torres have all struggled this year either with injuries, effectiveness or both. But with so many bullpens in disarray, a new job is always a phone call away.

When it comes to relievers, the Mets have a lot of ex-players floating around, some better than others – Darren O’Day, Ollie Perez, Hansel Robles, Jon Gant, Joe Smith, Jerry Blevins, Chasen Bradford, Gabriel Ynoa, Tyler Clippard and probably a few more that I missed. Relievers are hard to predict, but there are some ex-Met everyday players still making hay, like Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores, and Neil Walker.  Catcher Travis d’Arnaud is bouncing like a dead cat in Tampa, while his former caddy, Kevin Plawecki, is hanging on as a backup in Cleveland.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I watch for these names in the box scores. They may not be on the Mets anymore, but some of them – like Granderson and Flores – are hard not to continue rooting for, as long as they’re not playing against the Mets.

 

Mets’ All-Star hopefuls reach final push

With the All Star game a little more than two weeks away, prospective Mets’ all-star hopefuls have two more weeks to showcase their skills for the Mid-Summer Classic, which, as you all should know, is being held at Citi Field. The last time the Mets hosted the All-Star game was back in 1964.

Just how cool would it be if—even in this sub-satisfactory season—on July 16, when the NL All-Star team is announced, that the Mets could have the NL’s starting third baseman and starting pitcher?

It’s all but certain, that in some capacity, Matt Harvey and David Wright will at least make the squad for the senior circuit. There is also an outside shot that Bobby Parnell could receive a selection. And after a torrid start, John Buck predictably regressed and has played himself out contention for a spot as back-up catcher.

Considering the game is at the place the Mets call home, this exhibition could provide a nice, little summer respite for some loyal fans.

With the Mets tapping into social media and reaching out to cougar websites among other things, they are making a strong push to make Wright the starting third baseman of the National League.

As of last Sunday, Wright was the leading vote getter at third base. On merit alone, Wright deserves the nod. Consider the numbers.

Among NL third basemen, Wright is tops in OPS (.910) and stolen bases (15) while placing second in home runs (12), RBI’s (41), runs (41), hits (85) and batting average (.305).

When looking at it from a sentimental viewpoint, Wright deserves the nod as well.

Wright has been the face of the franchise for nearly a decade and the six-time all-star and first-time captain deserves to have his name called out in front of all the loyal Mets’ faithful that will be in attendance for the game.

As for Harvey, well, what else is left to be said?

Once again, a splendid Harvey start went down the tubes on Friday night when the bullpen spoiled yet another chance for a Harvey victory.

In seven magnificent innings, Harvey allowed just one run on three hits and no walks while also striking out 11 batters. Just another day at the office for Harvey.

Harvey’s ERA is now a pristine 2.00. Harvey leads the NL in ERA, WHIP (0.85), strikeouts (132) and batting average against (.188). Harvey, who is 7-1, could easily have more wins if not for an anemic offense and pathetic bullpen playing behind him.

So, the fans have to do their part to make sure Wright gets the nod, while Bruce Bochy—who will manage the NL squad—will have to make the call on naming the starting pitcher.

July 16 could be a banner day for the Mets. Yes, the season the Mets are having is less than desirable, but with Wright possibly being rewarded for his contributions to the club over the years and Harvey representing the bright future of the franchise, this day could be a beacon in an otherwise dreary season.

The legend of Matt Harvey grows

Buzz  (bz)

v. buzzed, buzz·ing, buzz·es

v.intr.

1. To make a low droning or vibrating sound like that of a bee.

2.

a. To talk, often excitedly, in low tones.

b. To be abuzz; hum: The department was buzzing with rumors.

3. To move quickly and busily; bustle.

4. To make a signal with a buzzer.

Definition courtesy of thefreedictionary.com

To say that Matt Harvey is creating a buzz in Queens, would be akin to saying that men like beer. At this point it’s an indubitable truth.

The palpable energy and excitement that Harvey brings with each start he makes is starting to envelop the New York sports landscape. Yes, it is an event nowadays, as Charlie Hangley eloquently states.

That was never truer than on Friday night, as the Washington Nationals came to town.

As you probably know, Harvey was being opposed by the National’s whiz kid and uber-pitching sensation Stephen Strasburg. Maybe outside of Knicks’ playoff games, there was no hotter ticket in town than Friday’s matchup between two supremely talented and young pitchers. From all accounts, Citi Field was an electric force field with an unmatched energy that the young park has never been witness to (save for Johan Santana’s no-hitter and R.A. Dickey’s quest for 20 wins last year). Heck, the crowd was so energized they started-which has now become the famous-“Harvey’s better” chant.

And while Strasburg struggled (6 innings, four runs-2 earned), Harvey delivered the goods in the Mets’ 7-1 victory.

Harvey went a strong seven innings while allowing one run on just four hits, although he did issue three walks. Harvey is now 4-0 with a microscopic 0.93 ERA and 0.66 WHIP.  Harvey has also amassed 32 strikeouts in 29 innings.

Harvey is your ultimate gamer and bulldog who just absolutely refuses to lose. That was never more evident than in the 7th inning in Friday’s game, when Harvey ran into his first trouble of the season.

With the Mets up 4-0, Harvey led off the inning by walking Adam LaRoche before Ian Desmond followed with a single to left field.  Chad Tracy would then drive in LaRoche to make it a  4-1 game. At this point Harvey’s pitch count was approaching 100 pitches and many were thinking Harvey was running out of gas. It was a natural assumption, since Harvey was amped from the start and used a lot of energy in the early innings.

Harvey then induced a ground ball to second base which could have conceivably led to a double play, but Daniel Murphy botched the throw to second base while pulling Ruben Tejada off the bag. So that packed the bags loaded with no outs and the Mets clinging to a three-run lead. Suddenly, Harvey and the Mets were vulnerable.

Surely, Harvey would crack under the pressure.

Harvey was determined to get out of the jam, though, and he would not be satisfied until he completed the task. Terry Collins would not dare take Harvey out. Harvey had to get out of this mess himself.

Harvey would promptly strike out Kurt Suzuki in easy fashion. Harvey would then jam Roger Bernadina into popping out to John Buck. Then with two outs, he made Denard Span hit a weak grounder to second. Inning over and Harvey did what he had to do.

Harvey escaped the jam and the collective roar from the Citi Field crowd was heard throughout each borough and surrounding towns. The expression on Harvey’s face after he escaped the jam encapsulated his toughness and competitiveness. It was sheer relief on top of unbridled enthusiasm.

This night, on many fronts, was a test and Harvey aced it.

The hype and buzz will continue to surround Harvey for each start he makes. Harvey seems unfazed by all of the hype. In fact, he seems to thrive on it. So, it may not be hyperbole after all to compare the exploits of Harvey to former Mets’ show-stoppers Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden.

Harvey has been as good as advertised. Actually, he may have been a bit undersold, as Harvey is showing another gear in the majors I don’t think many of us thought was possible.

Yes, the buzz is strong with Harvey and his legend will only continue to grow.

Bill James on Matt Harvey

One of the most influential people for me in my baseball fandom is Bill James. Now an employee of the Boston Red Sox, James started out as a guy who wanted to find out the answers to questions. Is baseball 80 percent pitching? Is a walk as good as a hit? Does a pulled-in infield make a .200 hitter a .300 hitter? If you were a fan, you heard these things repeated all of the time. James was the one who sat down with pen and paper and tried his best to answer them.

James had three things in his favor. First, he was a naturally inquisitive guy. Second, he was a really, really good writer. Finally, not many people were doing what he was doing. It was a perfect confluence of events and James rode his talents to go from a third-shift worker in a warehouse to best-selling author and finally to a respected position within the baseball establishment.

Meanwhile, James doesn’t hold the same magical position he once did because a lot of his stuff is proprietary and, as he would be the first to admit, he does not keep up with the latest advancements in the field. Nowadays, when James publishes something for everyone to read, people still flock to read it but it typically does not contain the ground-breaking work of his stuff from the 20th Century.

To use a baseball expression, James may not have the bat speed he once did.

Regardless, it made me take notice when I saw a “Mailbag Column” of his posted at Baseball Think Factory – especially because it contained a question about Matt Harvey. Here is the relevant Q&A:

Matt Harvey debuted this year and struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings and put up a 2.72 ERA in 60 innings. How likely is a pitcher with a debut like that at the age of 23 to become a great pitcher?

It’s fairly long odds. I identified all pitchers since 1900 who were 22-24 years old, made 5 to 15 starts and less than 25 appearances, had no previous major league history or very limited major league history, and who were at least +10 vs. the league in strikeouts (10 more strikeouts than a league-average pitcher) and positive overall performance. There are only 29 such pitchers in major league history before Harvey (I had expected it to be more) but none of the 29 became a great pitcher. The ten best pitchers in the group were Danny Darwin, Bill Doak, Barry Zito, Schoolboy Rowe, Whitlow Wyatt, Stu Miller, Bob Turley, Denny Lemaster, Eric Hanson, Arthur Rhodes and Dave Righetti (OK, that’s 11)…

Most young pitchers get hurt. Most young pitchers who look like they might be great, aren’t great. Ten starts isn’t enough to get real excited about.

But a commenter named bobm went over to Baseball-Reference and did a search with similar parameters. Only he did it using the first 10 starts of a career. He looked for the most matching games with SO>7 and a Game Score>= 58.

In this age-based comparison, Harvey is tied for second-best with Lynn McGlothen with six performances matching the criteria in his first 10 starts. Only 25 pitchers have done it three or more times, with Jose DeLeon leading the way with seven. But the list is a little more impressive than James’ list, as it includes Michael Pineda, Tim Hudson, Luis Tiant, Tim Lincecum and Johnny Cueto.

The age filter is the big problem as bobm found that if you switch the ages to 20-21, you get Kerry Wood, Herb Score, Stephen Strasburg, Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton. If you make it 19 and under, you get Dwight Gooden, Felix Hernandez, Bert Blyleven and Bob Feller.

Mets fans are understandably excited about Harvey. I still get a bit giddy thinking we finally have a starting pitcher who can consistently throw 95-97 mph. But James’ list is a bucket of cold water and shows that the old refrain – there’s nothing that disappoints like young pitchers – is one to keep in mind. Here’s hoping that Harvey’s first full year is more like 2008 Lincecum than 1954 Turley.

If Mets need a new poster child, is Matt Harvey it?

The buzz on the street is that the Mets, still strapped for cash and likely to bleed money for another season or two might need to part ways with their beloved 3B.  As David Wright would leave Flushing for a new franchise, this Met fan wonders, who the Mets will bill as the great hope of the team?  If not Wright, then who?

Ike Davis seems to be an option.  He’s clean cut, and puts out effort.  Also doesn’t hurt that he hit 32 home runs in 2012.  Perhaps if he can get his numbers on the track they had been before the injury and keep his nose clean the Mets would pick him to represent them as the future of the franchise.  The issue is that Davis has had his highs and lows and should settle somewhere in the medium of those expectations… not above them.

If not Davis, then who?  Ruben TejadaDaniel Murphy?  Surely nobody in the Met outfield…  How about… Matt Harvey?

He’s a North East kid, born in New London, CT and a pitching legend of Fitch High School in Groton, CT.  He went to college in North Carolina and was the Met’s #1 draft pick (7th overall) in the 2010 draft.  All of this sounds good, but can he smile, say the right things and sell an automobile?  Maybe he’s not the most chiseled and handsome bachelor ever to call New York home, but he has seemed to have a grip of reality and a certain comfort with the media.

The next question is harder: Can Matt Harvey lead a team?

He’ll be 24 in 2013 and while he’ll have Johan Santana and Ike Davis sharing some of the burden, you cannot easily look at Matt Harvey to keep this team going strong.  He’s going to go up to Jason Bay after he grounds into another inning ending double play and get in his face for not showing hustle?  (Maybe, I mean… Bay is Canadian… Canadians aren’t that scary) The point is that Matt Harvey may have almost 60 very impressive innings under his belt, but he doesn’t have the gravitas to become the hero of a franchise right away.

So I put it to the people: If not Harvey, then who?

Matt Harvey holding up his end of the bargain

Wouldn’t you know it? The Mets are on a four-game winning streak!

It’s hardly cause for celebration, but winning four games in a row (and in the process two series in a row) is at least a little soothing after all the suffering Mets’ fans have had to endure in the past month or so.

Also helping matters is the way Matt Harvey is holding up his end of the bargain. Ever since he got called up on July 26, Harvey has given the Mets a shot in the arm, which was exactly what they needed. For a staff sans Johan Santana and Dillon Gee, Harvey is bringing stability to the rotation while also restoring faith in a seemingly hopeless fanbase.

Harvey has now made seven starts and has thrown five quality outings in the process. His other two starts were perhaps his best and his worst. Harvey was splendid in his debut in Arizona when he pitched 5.1 shutout innings, allowing only three hits and three walks while striking out 11 batters (a Mets’ team record for a rookie pitcher making his debut). Harvey’s start almost a week later in San Diego was his worst, when he only pitched five innings and allowed five earned runs on eight hits.

Outside of that minor hiccup against the Padres, Harvey has been everything he was pegged to be and then some.

After Harvey shut down the Phillies on Wednesday night, throwing 6.1 innings and giving up just two runs on six hits and two walks, Harvey upped his record to 2-3 while reducing his ERA to 2.76. While Harvey is still a bit wild at times, he still boasts 49 strikeouts to 15 walks. That works out to a solid 3.2 K to walk ratio. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Of course, there will be some bumps along the way as Harvey is far from a finished product, but given the circumstances he was pushed into it is great to see Harvey thriving while the team around him struggles.

With Harvey being such an integral part of the future, he will be handled with kid gloves the rest of the way. With Harvey’s total innings between Buffalo and New York approaching the 160 inning threshold, the Mets (like a certain team in the nation’s capital is doing with a certain pitcher) are planning to shut him down in order to preserve his arm.

I can’t say I disagree with the plan, considering the Mets really have nothing to play for. There is a lot riding on the right, power arm of Harvey. Making sure Harvey is cocked and loaded for a full load next year should be the ultimate goal. Hopefully the Mets will have better parts around Harvey next year so that he can make August and September games meaningful once again.

So, enjoy Harvey and his power arm while you can, cause it’s about to be shut down in a couple of starts. For a season that has left the fans disappointed more times than not, at least Harvey is delivering on his promise.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Progression of Matt Harvey is something to keep fans tuned in

I don’t think I need to remind anyone here about the tumultuous state that the Mets currently find themselves in. Clearly, I don’t have to tell you they have dropped 12 out of their last 13 games.

Obviously, Mets’ fans are at the end of their rope and almost all have thrown in the towel and bemoaning how a great story fizzled with such a devastating crash and burn.

Oh, but there is always hope, isn’t there?

While most Mets’ fans are an inconsolable and cantankerous group at this moment, they should at least be excited about the prospects of Matt Harvey for the rest of the season.

The Harvey watch begins tonight as one of the Mets’ brightest pitching hopes will finally take the mound against the Arizona Diamondbacks. We will finally see what he is really made of and if he can at least pump some life into this lifeless club.

At this point, no is expecting Harvey to be any kind of savior and take the Mets to another level, as that shipped has sailed. So, in essence this a great time for Harvey to make his debut, as the expectations and pressure for him to make a great first impression will be lessened.

Although Harvey got rocked in his last start in Buffalo, he has put up some solid numbers down there as he went 7-5 with a respectable 3.68 ERA and a 9.2 SO/9 ratio. An argument could be made that Harvey may have needed some more seasoning, but the Mets find themselves in a bind after recently losing Johan Santana and Dillon Gee from the rotation with injuries. With Miguel Batista mercifully being released and other options being not so enticing (Chris Schwinden), it was time for Harvey to be given his shot.

With the Mets spiraling out of control, Harvey can just go about his business in a calm, peaceful manner. Pitching on the road will also be beneficial, as he won’t have to worry about all the media hype in New York surrounding his start.

If Harvey underperforms, so what? It’s not like anyone else is lighting the world on fire.

With that being the backdrop to Harvey’s initiation to the major leagues, Harvey will have less pressure put on him and if he flounders, we can at least pin it on the fact that he may have been rushed. If that happens, OK, just learn from it, make adjustments and be ready for a more meaningful impact in 2013.

However, what if he does well?

While the thought of making the playoffs would still be far-fetched (if not dead), if Harvey does his job well he can at least revitalize a struggling staff and bring hope to an aggravated fanbase.

Hope will be the theme for the rest of the 2012 season, and with Harvey finally getting the call, that’s about all we can rest our hats on now.

And before you know it, Zack Wheeler could be called up in September too, giving us even more hope.

It all starts with Harvey, though, and he at least gives us a reason to tune in these days.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Matt Harvey bandwagon one outing away from getting crowded

It is safe to say that most of the fan base is losing/has lost patience with Mike Pelfrey. Me, I made my peace with Pelfrey last year, accepting him as a durable pitcher whose final numbers will depend upon how lucky he is in a given season. Instead, my frustration is with Dillon Gee. Wait, that’s not exactly right. My frustration is with those who think that Gee is the guy who began last year 8-1 instead of the pitcher who finished with a 5.51 ERA over his final 94.2 IP.

Here early in Grapefruit League action those two pitchers have combined for an 8.22 ERA, having surrendered 13 hits in 7.2 IP with just 3 Ks. Contrast that with how well top prospect Matt Harvey has done in his two outings, where he has not allowed an earned run or hit in 4 IP.

Harvey was wild in his first game but settled down and was very effective in his second outing. Meanwhile, Gee was unimpressive in his second outing and Pelfrey was lit up in his only start this Spring. There is still plenty of time for the veteran pitchers to turn things around and for the rookie to implode.

But we are one more solid outing by Harvey away from having a mini controversy on our hands, one that will only be exacerbated if Pelfrey and Gee don’t pitch better ASAP.

The Mets’ brass has made it clear to Harvey and everyone else that they expect the pitcher to open this season in the minors. But how will they react if Harvey again throws up a scoreless outing in his next appearance while Pelfrey and Gee scuffle? The fans are hungry to see the pitching prospects they’ve heard so much about perform in the majors and that sentiment will only grow louder if Harvey keeps up his strong pitching.

It will be easy for Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins to keep with the original plan if Pelfrey and Gee stop giving up home runs and start getting some more outs. It will take considerably more backbone to stay the course if Pelfrey and Gee continue to serve up meatballs while Harvey pounds strikes with his mid-90s heater.

My opinion was that the Mets needed to upgrade from Gee in the offseason. However, my strong preference would be for Harvey to get more innings under his belt in the minors this season. After all, Harvey has just 59.2 IP above A-ball in his career. There’s not any magic number of innings that a prospect has to pitch in the high minors to be ready for the majors. Yet 12 starts in Double-A seems insufficient to me for Harvey. That seems right out of the Tony Bernazard playbook and not a move I am willing to endorse.

Clearly, the highlight of Spring Training has been Johan Santana and how it appears right now that he is on target to take the ball on Opening Day. But in a camp otherwise marred by non-stop oblique injuries, the performance of Harvey has been a welcome breath of fresh air. Still, I am hoping he continues his strong pitching this Spring but finds himself in Buffalo to open the year.

Everyone likes to point to Dwight Gooden and how he was able to come up early and make a big contribution before people felt he was ready. But for every success story like Gooden, we can find a Tim Leary or Jose Rijo – guys who came up early and who were not ready. And the only reason Gooden got a shot was because he had such a strong advocate in Davey Johnson. Harvey does not have a similar ally (at least not yet) in Collins.

Not that such a thing matters to the fans.

Mets Card of the Week: 2011 Matt Harvey

2011 TOPPS HERITAGE MINOR LEAGUE MATT HARVEY

I know I shouldn’t lead with the doom and gloom, but let me just get it out of the way: baseball cards are a dying art.

Card collecting is now largely a pastime pursuit of the middle aged (see: yours truly), who thumb through their cardboard stacks while all around them physical media wither and turn to dust.

And as with many terminal scenarios, the death throes of baseball cards are attended by much nostalgic self-reference…

Topps began creating annual Heritage sets back in 2001. That year, they produced a simulacrum of their iconic 1952 set, utilizing a roster of current players. While they did not print the cards in the larger-scale 1952 format, they did make every effort to replicate the 1952 experience.

The cardboard stock was uncoated and rough, and low-numbered cards were printed with either black or red text backs, as was the case in the first series of the original 1952 issue. High-numbered cards were short printed, in homage to the scarcity of the final 1952 series.

Even the wrappers were reproduced faithfully, although the inserted stick of gum was clothed in plastic to prevent top-card damage.

Topps has released a new Heritage set each season since, moving forward one year on the historical continuum as appropriate. The 2011 Heritage set was done in the style of the 1962 issue, with tint variations and short prints to match the source.

The new wrinkle for 2011 was these Heritage Minor League cards.

Now, I have a natural aversion to minor-league cards, having encountered some of the sketchy sets that were issued back in the ’70s and ’80s in particular. But I have to hand it to Topps here– these cards are extremely well-done.

I mean, with this high quality, and the focus on young, upcoming players like Matt Harvey, one might even think that baseball cards had a future…

*****

Editor’s note: This card was sent to us by friend of the site Grubby Glove. You can check out his site here

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.

************************

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: The other side of Zack Wheeler

What if you heard the New York Mets had acquired a Class A pitcher with a 2-5 record and a 5.92 ERA from the San Francisco Giants for Carlos Beltran? Would you still agree with most of the pundits out there that said the Mets made out very good in the trade? Or would you think New York was taken for a ride.

Well, when you strip away Zack Wheeler’s 5-0, 1.60 ERA in seven home starts at pitcher-friendly Municipal Stadium in San Jose – one of, if not the best, pitchers’ parks in the entire minor leagues – that’s what you have left over.

Granted, Wheeler is a superior arm, the 2009 sixth-overall pick was ranked as the No. 35 prospect in the minor leagues during Baseball America’s midseason ranking after entering the season as No. 2 on the Giants’ list. He also came in at No. 31 on the ESPN midseason list and analyst Keith Law said the Mets “made out like bandits” in the deal.

However, that doesn’t tell the whole story of the Wheeler fellow.

It’s true that the 21-year-old Wheeler has an ideal pitchers’ frame at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds and a lively arm with a fastball that can reach 95 miles per hour. However Giants general manager Brian Sabean said on Mad Dog Radio after the deal that Wheeler’s future might be as a reliever.

Wow! That’s quite a comedown. Sabean might be blowing smoke but he does know something about developing pitchers. Sabean also said that the organization views Class AA lefthander Eric Surkamp (8-3, 2.05 ERA) at Richmond more highly than Wheeler.

Wheeler yielded 26 hits and 20 walks in 39 1/3 innings while striking out 52 at home. However, he yielded 48 hits and 27 walks in 48 2/3 innings with 46 strikeouts on the road.

In addition, Wheeler has been tagged by lefthanders at a .292 clip while righthanders are batting just .189, and Wheeler is just 1-3, 5.60 ERA since the All-Star break. It will be interesting to see how the youngster does in the Florida State League without the advantage of a pitcher-friendly home park.

While it’s true that strikeouts per nine innings is one of the best indicators of future success, it should be noted that Wheeler has walked 47 batters in 88 innings to go along with his 98 strikeouts.

Wheeler was several years younger than that average player in that league, his home/road split provides a better perspective of Wheeler’s season. It may also indicate why Sabean may have made his remarks about Wheeler being better suited as a reliever and perhaps why he was willing to deal the supposed top prospect for a two-month rental.

Wheeler may indeed develop into a No. 2 starter as Law wrote last week, but everybody knows that high school pitchers are the biggest scouting risks in the game. New York did well to pry away a top minor league arm from San Francisco, but he still has a long, steep road ahead.

**********

Class AA Binghamton RHP Matt Harvey didn’t get a win in his latest start, but the 2010 first-rounder finally had a good start Thursday. The North Carolina product struck out 10 and allowed just a run and four hits runs in seven innings against Harrisburg, an eventual 2-1 loss in 14 frames. Harvey, who is 0-3, 5.76 ERA in six starts, struck out phenom hitting prospect Bryce Harper twice in seven pitches in his first two at-bats. He got Harper on a groundout the third time around.

AROUND THE MINORS: Class AA SS Jordany Valdespin keeps on impressing. The 23-year-old Dominican had a homer and two doubles with four RBI last Monday and is batting .302/.346/.501 with 15 homers, 50 RBI and 31 stolen bases in 101 games …. Class A St. Lucie “toolsy” OF Cesar Puello just wrapped up his best month, batting .297 in July with five of his nine home runs. For the season, the 20-year-old is batting .250/ .303/.394. Teammate OF Cory Vaughn, along with Puello considered the top two young outfield prospects in the system, is in the midst of a slump. The 22-year-old is 4-for-36 with no walks and 13 strikeouts in his last nine games. He’s hitting .254/.336/.426 for St. Lucie.