Manny Acosta and the bullpen competition

After a flurry of moves in the past 10 days, the Mets seem set with the people they will bring to Spring Training to compete for jobs. There should be plenty of competition for a slot in the bullpen, as there should be no fewer than nine relievers vying for the final four spots. Earlier in the offseason, I thought Manny Acosta was likely to wind up with a place on the Opening Day roster. Let’s see if that’s still the case.

First, we know that three spots in the bullpen are set with Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell and D.J. Carrasco. All three of those are righties, so it is a reasonable guess to assume that the Mets would prefer one of the final four spots to be filled by a lefty. Here are the nine main contenders for the bullpen jobs, along with some stats from 2010. I used major league data whenever possible.

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Name L/R Avg FB SwStr% K/9 K/BB
Manny Acosta Right 94.1 9.6 9.53 2.33
Pedro Beato Right low 90s Unknown 7.54 2.63
Taylor Buchholz Right 89.0 10.2 6.75 1.50
Tim Byrdak Left 88.9 9.8 6.75 1.45
Dillon Gee Right 89.1 7.9 4.64 1.13
Pat Misch Left 85.7 7.7 5.5 5.75
Mike O’Connor Left 85.0 7.0 8.92 4.12
Oliver Perez Left 88.0 7.1 7.19 0.88
Taylor Tankersley Left 87.4 8.2 5.25 1.0

Acosta’s advantages are that he throws the hardest of our remaining candidates. He has the top fastball velocity and the most strikeouts. Acosta also is among the leaders in Swinging Strike percentage and K/BB. And while he is a righty, Acosta limited lefties to a .473 OPS last year.

Beato’s numbers are from Double-A, with an approximation on his fastball velocity. When he was in junior college, Beato regularly threw in the 90s and could dial it up to 96. His velocity had dropped his first few years in the minors, but reports had him throwing harder last year, his first in the bullpen. A Rule 5 selection, Beato has to make the Opening Day roster or be offered back to the Orioles.

Buchholz is not overpowering but he gets a lot of swings out of the strike zone, plus swings and misses, thanks to his curve ball and changeup. The Mets gave Buchholz a major league deal, one that includes a $400,000 bonus if he makes the Opening Day roster and is not on the DL.

Byrdak has not officially signed but I included his numbers here, anyway. If the Mets agree to terms with the 37-year old, he is more of a traditional LOOGY, a guy to bring on to face a tough lefty and get him out of the game if a righty steps into the box. In his nine-year career in the majors, Byrdak has limited lefties to a .677 OPS but righties smack him around to an .886 tune.

Gee is still in the mix for a starting job, but with the signing of Young, his best bet to make the team is probably as a reliever. Without having to pace himself, he probably could throw a little bit harder than the numbers above show, which are limited to his time in the majors last year.

Misch is in the same boat as Gee, perhaps slightly better situated because he throws lefty and is out of options. While he is a southpaw, Misch enjoys no platoon advantage, as lefties in the majors have an .804 OPS against him, compared to a .768 mark for righties.

O’Connor pitched very well at Buffalo last year. The K/9 and K/BB numbers above were taken from his time in Triple-A in 2010. The other numbers were from his major league trial with the Nationals in 2008 and probably are not a good reflection of his current talent level. O’Connor is now a long shot to make the Opening Day roster, but is a good bet to make it to the majors during the 2011 season.

Perez comes to camp with a chance to win a spot in the bullpen but virtually no one expects him to be with the club when it begins the regular season.

Tankersley is signed to a minor league deal but the lefty has a good shot to make the team. Tankersley is recovering from elbow surgery which kept him out of baseball during the 2009 season. Last year in Triple-A, he limited lefties to a .118 AVG and when he was promoted to the Marlins, LHB had a .200/.286/.433 line in 35 PA.

We know that Spring Training stats are meaningless but the Mets will probably make some bullpen decisions this year based on what the above pitchers do in Florida. Acosta and Misch are out of options, Beato is a Rule 5 guy and Buchholz gets extra money if he makes the team. I still like Acosta to make the team, but a strong Spring showing would certainly help his cause.

Sizing up the Mets’ 2011 Opening Day roster

While there are several jobs up in the air, the Opening Day roster is starting to take shape for the Mets. There are 17 positions which seem set and another four which seem likely. And the remaining four are possibly already on the team, it is just a matter of which direction Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson choose to go.

The definites
Pelfrey, Dickey, Niese, Capuano, Rodriguez, Parnell, Buchholz, Carrasco, Thole, Paulino, Davis, Wright, Reyes, Hu, Bay, Beltran, Pagan

The likely
Gee, Acosta, Murphy, Evans

For lack of a better option, Dillon Gee seems to be the club’s fifth starter. There also remains the possibility he becomes a long man/swing guy if the Mets sign another starter before the start of Spring Training.

Manny Acosta had 42 strikeouts in 39.2 IP for the Mets last year and a 2.95 ERA. He is not yet eligible for arbitration and seems like a good, low-cost reliever. One thing working in his favor is his success last year versus LHB, who posted a .163/.217/.256 mark, albeit in just 46 PA.

Daniel Murphy might be the starting second baseman on Opening Day. Even if he does not win the job, his ability to play multiple positions (he played third base in the minors and left field and first base for the Mets) seems like an obvious asset, unless the Mets want him to go to the minors to concentrate on playing second on a daily basis.

Nick Evans should benefit from the shift in management, having, for whatever reason, seemingly fallen out of favor with Manuel/Minaya. Evans’ ability to play first base, along with both corner outfield spots, seems to give him a leg up. Also, being a righty bat with some sock helps Evans’ chances.

That leaves two bullpen spots, a second baseman and one other reserve position, likely an outfielder, up for grabs. It makes sense that the two Rule 5 guys – Pedro Beato and Brad Emaus – get a long look to fill a reliever spot and the second base job.

Next, the question is if the Mets hold onto Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo because of their contracts or if they are willing to eat part of all of their salaries in trades/releases. If the Mets do get rid of Perez, how important is having a lefty in the bullpen? Southpaw Mike O’Connor was unimpressive in two short stints with the Nationals, but had 70 Ks in 70.2 IP in Buffalo last year with a 2.67 ERA. Pat Misch is a lefty but has displayed little ability to be a LOOGY. But he does have the ability to pitch multiple innings as a reliever and should not be discounted.

If Emaus makes it, it seems unlikely that Castillo will also be on the team. Justin Turner probably needs Emaus to fall flat and another team to show interest in Castillo to have a shot, especially since he can be sent to the minors without risk.

That leaves the outfield. Ordinarily, Lucas Duda would be an asset as a power lefty bat off the bench, but he is likely better served to get regular ABs in Triple-A. Plus, he looked stretched as a left fielder and the Mets probably want this reserve to be a good defensive outfielder. Jason Pridie could fill the bill, although there is a chance the Mets bring in a veteran who is willing to sign on the cheap. Recently, MLB Trade Rumors indicated Scott Podsednik might be an option here.

My guess is that both Rule 5 guys make the roster and both salary guys are elsewhere. O’Connor gets the other relief spot and Pridie is the final guy for Opening Day. If this is indeed the Opening Day roster, their will be just six players returning from the 2010 Opening Day roster (Niese, Pelfrey, Rodriguez, Wright, Bay and Pagan). There were 11 returnees on the 2010 roster and 13 on the 2009 Opening Day one.

Christmas wishes for the 2011 Mets

The Mets have already had their team Christmas party but they must have decided this year not to exchange gifts. Now, you may be wondering what millionaires give as gifts or what millionaires want to receive as gifts. I cannot answer that question. But I can tell you what players on the Mets really need. So, with Christmas right around the corner, I’d like to hand out my presents.

Jason Bay – A home run on Opening Day. Last offseason everyone was worried about Wright’s lost home run power and the bomb he hit on Opening Day propelled him to 29 homers in 2010.

Pedro Beato – A spot in the Mets’ bullpen. This is a great story waiting to happen, the guy the Mets let get away who switches roles and winds back with his hometown team. Now it just needs a happy ending.

Carlos Beltran – A season of 650 PA in which he hits like he did at the end of last season. In his final 160 PA, Beltran hit .295/.369/.504 which is close to what he did in 2007-08.

Luis Castillo – A trade out of town. There’s still good baseball left in Castillo’s body, but Mets fans are so down on him that, much like with Kaz Matsui, it’s likely not to be in New York. After Matsui left the Mets, he posted an .896 OPS the rest of 2006, after opening with a .505 mark with New York. It’s easy to see the same thing happening with Castillo.

Ike Davis – A copy of The Fielding Bible. Any player who advanced fielding metrics rank so highly should understand what makes him good defensively. Hint: It’s not fielding percentage. The last thing we need is to develop another guy like Joe Morgan, who seems clueless as to what it was that made him great.

R.A. Dickey – Continued success throwing strikes.

Dillon Gee – Two free agent starting pitching signings. While I root for Gee, who gets the most out of his stuff, odds are stacked against him succeeding as a starting pitcher over a full season. He is a great guy to have as pitching depth, a guy to make 10 starts a year. Counting on him for more than that is just inviting trouble. Sure, he had a 2.18 ERA last year. Gee also had a 5.19 xFIP. It’s reminiscent of Fernando Nieve, who had a 2.95 ERA in 2009 but a 5.41 xFIP. Nieve posted a 6.00 ERA in 2010.

Daniel Murphy – No defensive gaffes in Spring Training. Murphy can be a nice asset offensively at second base and the possibility for an exciting platoon with Rule 5 selection Brad Emaus exists if both can hack it defensively.

Jonathon Niese – A normal year in LOB%. Last year Niese had three months with a strand rate over 79, including July when it was a whopping 98 percent. Conversely, he had three months below 63, including September when it was 54.1 percent. His July ERA was 2.48 and it was 7.11 in September.

Angel Pagan – A set position. Last year Pagan played all three outfield spots and batted in all nine slots in the order. It would be nice if Terry Collins brought some stability to Pagan’s life.

Bobby Parnell – A pitch to throw to lefties. Last year RHB had a .614 OPS against Parnell while LHB had an .806 mark. If only our pitching coach had a track record of adding to his troops’ arsenal.

Ronny Paulino – Contentment in a platoon role. Paulino is on record as saying he wants to be a full-time catcher and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to play everyday. But a Thole-Paulino platoon has the makings of one of the best offensive tandems in baseball.

Mike Pelfrey – As many starts in Citi Field as the Mets can manage. The past two seasons, Pelfrey has the following home/road splits:

H: 16-8, 3.24 ERA, 5.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
R: 9-13, 5.84 ERA, 4.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Oliver Perez – An early release. Sandy Alderson wants to give him a shot in Spring Training. May he pitch so poorly that the Mets release him in time for him to hook on with another club, preferably one in the National League East.

Jose Reyes – Better strike zone judgment. In 2004, 62.1 percent of the pitches thrown to Reyes were in the strike zone. Last year that number was down to 44.6 percent as pitchers knew they could get him to chase pitches. His O-Swing% was a career-high 32.1 percent last year.

Francisco Rodriguez – A “boo” holiday from the fans. Rodriguez pitched well before everything came crashing down last year. Now fans seem more interested in him not reaching his vesting option than they do in having him successfully close out games. While Rodriguez is far from the only player capable of finishing games, Mets fans would do well to remember what it was like down the stretch in 2008 after Billy Wagner was hurt.

Johan Santana – A calendar year without surgery.

Josh Thole – A quick start to the season. Last year he had a .172/.242/.259 line in April. With a new backup catcher who wants to be a full-timer, a hot start for Thole could ensure optimal usage for both players.

David Wright – A hitting coach that makes him stand close to the plate. Maybe he can’t stop swinging at high fastballs or low curves but at least this way he can reach the outside strike. May he and Dave Hudgens get off to a good start together.

Terry Collins – What he needs is 150 games from Bay, Beltran and Reyes. Of course, it would be nice to see him run a tighter, smarter ship than Jerry Manuel did.

Sandy Alderson – The courage to make the right deal at the trading deadline. Perhaps it’s pulling the trigger on a potential Beltran deal. Hopefully it’s to acquire a starting pitcher to bolster the rotation for a playoff run. But since Omar Minaya seemingly never made a key mid-season deal, may Alderson trump his predecessor in this area, too.

*****

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all the readers of Mets360. Thanks for checking us out throughout the year and hopefully 2011 will be better than what we’ve experienced the past few years.

Recalling the angst when Mets passed on Beato

The Mets made two moves in the Rule 5 Draft yesterday, picking up infielder Brad Emaus from the Blue Jays and pitcher Pedro Beato from the Orioles. Emaus is well known to the Mets, as new special assistant J.P. Ricciardi was previously general manager in Toronto. And Beato has a history with the Mets, as they were the team that first drafted him in 2005.

New York selected Beato in the 17th-round of the 2005 Draft. A local product, Beato went to Xaverian High School in Brooklyn. He had Tommy John surgery while in high school and opted to attend St. Petersburg College, a junior college in Florida. He really improved his stock at JuCo, where he was clocked in the mid-90s, and was considered first-round material.

Because he went the JuCo route, the Mets retained his rights up until the 2006 Draft. Since the Mets did not have a first-round pick that year, lost as compensation to the Phillies for signing free agent Billy Wagner, many assumed that they would use the money normally reserved for a first-round selection on Beato.

But negotiations hit a snag. The rumor was that the Mets offered low first-round money, then in the neighborhood of $750,000, while Beato was looking to be paid like a top 10 pick, or roughly $1.4 million. The two sides were unable to reach a compromise and Beato went back into the draft, where he was taken with the 32nd pick by the Baltimore Orioles.

The Mets were accused of being cheap. Many ridiculed the move and questioned the wisdom of not using their financial muscle, especially considering the circumstances of it being for a local kid with a power arm. It was one of the first times the Mets drew grief for not being aggressive spenders in the draft. The non-signing was widely criticized at the time.

So, let’s review Beato’s progress with Baltimore. Here are his yearly numbers in the Orioles’ farm system, along with comments by prospect maven John Sickels following the season:

2006 Aberdeen (New York-Penn League) 3-2, 3.63 ERA, 57 IP, 23 BB, 52 Ks
“Beato has the physical ceiling and mental attributes to be a number two starter… Grade B. He will push that to B+ when/if his control sharpens up”

2007 Delmarva (South Atlantic League) 7-8, 4.05 ERA, 142.1 IP, 59 BB, 106 Ks
“However, his mechanics are erratic, which hurts both his velocity and location. He seemed to tire in the second half last year… I like Beato’s ceiling, but he’s got some work to do rounding out his game and making the transition from thrower to pitcher. Grade B-“

2008 Frederick (Carolina League) 4-10, 5.85 ERA, 97 IP, 33 BB, 51 Ks
“The Orioles hoped that Beato would take a step forward in ’08 but instead he took at least two backwards… his velocity was down for most of the season, just in the 80s rather than the 90+ marks he’s put up in the past… Grade C with higher potential if healthy.”

2009 Frederick 5-7, 4.53 ERA, 105.1 IP, 40 BB, 70 Ks
Bowie (Eastern League) 1-3, 4.50 ERA 32 IP, 7 BB, 18 Ks
Pedro Beato rebounded slightly last year from his horrible 2008 season, but he’s clearly not the prospect he once was. … his performance overall was marked by mediocrity more than anything. … Grade C”

2010 Bowie 4-0, 2.11 ERA, 59.2 IP, 19 BB, 50 Ks
“[F]ormer hot prospect had a good season after converting to relief, 2.11 ERA with 50/19 K/BB in 60 innings in Double-A, 16 saves. I can see him sticking in the Mets pen.”

So, we have a failed starter with a once electric arm who rediscovers himself after a move to the bullpen. Beato seems like a great guy to take a flyer on in the Rule 5 Draft. It’s not hard to imagine him contributing to the club as a reliever used in low-leverage situations. That the Mets have so many openings in their bullpen makes it even better.

Finally, when the Mets passed on meeting Beato’s demands prior to the 2006 Draft, rumor was that they were going to use the money instead on international signings. The Mets were in on Jesus Montero but lost out. Many felt they had a nice consolation prize with Francisco Pena, who was rumored to have father Tony Pena’s defensive skills and Mike Piazza’s offensive ones. Turns out it was the other way around.

Pena was one of the many prospects hurt by the Mets’ plan to “challenge” their players by placing them at advanced levels. He started his career in this country as a 17-year old in full-season ball, where he put up a .547 OPS in 399 PA. He returned to Savannah in 2008 and did better, but still not overwhelming with a .688 OPS. In 2009 he was promoted to the Florida State League, where he slipped to a .588 OPS. Pena was limited to 20 games last year and is rarely mentioned as one of the club’s top prospects anymore.

The Mets did sign one other international player in 2006 who has made some headlines – Ruben Tejada.

Back in 2006, the Mets were raked over the coals for not stepping up to sign Beato. They were criticized for not going over slot to sign someone with a great arm. Then they failed to get Montero, the top prize in the international market. And Pena, the guy they did end up with, seems like a bust.

But there are no sure things when you are dealing with teenagers. Beato now is trying to make it as a reliever, Tejada, an unheralded signing at the time, appears to have a future in the majors. So, perhaps in a weird way it worked out best for the Mets. The only way it could have been better is if they had come to terms with Montero.

Nevertheless, it will be fun to see Beato in a Mets uniform after all these years.