Zack Wheeler starting to get it in gear

WheelerDon’t look now but it appears that Zack Wheeler is starting to nicely round into shape.

After a rocky start with some fans and media losing confidence in him, Wheeler has quieted some of his critics of late.

Although he only has two wins (2-5) on the year, Wheeler is putting up quality outing after quality of late. In his last three starts, Wheeler has recorded a quality start in each outing. In that time, Wheeler has tossed 19.2 innings while allowing just three earned runs on 12 hits and three walks and striking out 23 batters in the process.

Maybe Wheeler is finally getting it after all.

Wheeler did all in his power to win Tuesday’s game, shutting down the Chicago Cubs for 6.2 innings and giving up just two hits and two walks. He clearly deserved a better fate than a no-decision, as he simply did not get the necessary run support to claim the victory. It would doom the Mets late, as they lost in walk-off fashion falling to the Cubs, 2-1.

What has been fueling Wheeler recently is the lack of free passes he is giving up. While his 3.8 BB/9 ratio on the year is not exactly inspiring, Wheeler has issued only three walks in his last 19.2 innings. In contrast, Wheeler has struck out 23 batters in those 19.2 innings.

During this stretch, Wheeler has lowered his ERA one full point from when it was 4.89 on May 18 to where it now stands at 3.89. And for good measure, Wheeler has a 9 K/9 ratio and his FIP is a solid 3.35 on the year. So, clearly he is doing his job.

Fans who wanted another Matt Harvey were not going to get that in Wheeler. Many fans in some ways got spoiled by Harvey’s meteoric rise to stardom. Most pitchers need time to refine their mechanics and skills and Wheeler is certainly one of those type of pitchers who needed time to adjust to the speed of the game.

While Wheeler may look to have corrected a few things, Wheeler still has yet to pitch a full year in the majors, so naturally it’s normal to expect more ups and downs. Clearly, though, it looks like he is on the right track to success.

If Wheeler keeps pitching like this and can cut down on the walks, the potential he has is limitless. Let’s hope Wheeler can bottle this up and harness his tremendous upside and fully break out like we all thought he could.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

 

 

 

Zack Wheeler a bright spot for Mets in an otherwise dreary final month

Zack Wheeler3After being shut out for the second time in three days to the Washington Nationals (and only registering 13 hits in the three games against them thus far), the Mets are limping—all bandaged and wounded—to the finish line. The spirit has been sapped out of this club, and a team could only take so much bad news before they completely break down. Ever since the news of Matt Harvey’s injury, and the subsequent trading of John Buck and Marlon Byrd to the Pirates, this Mets’ ball club has seen the wind being taken out of its sail.

After Wednesday night’s loss, the Mets—for the first time this year—are 16 games below .500. Terry Collins, love him or hate him, is basically managing nothing more than a glorified Triple-A squad these days. For those who want to finish in the bottom-ten of the standings, you should get your wish.

Looking for bright spots this month? Well look no further than last night’s starter, Zack Wheeler.

Wheeler is doing his best to cement the hype bestowed upon him as a potential ace. He had another fine performance on Wednesday night, limiting the Nationals to one run (on a Ryan Zimmerman home run, his first given up in 37 innings pitched no less) on eight hits and one walk (to go with six strikeouts) in seven innings, while also taking the tough-luck loss. Wheeler now has six quality starts in his last seven outings. The only non-quality outing in that stretch was when he only pitched five innings (while issuing five walks) and gave up three runs (two earned) against the Indians last weekend.

For the season, Wheeler is now 7-4 with a more-than-healthy 3.38 ERA. A 1.34 WHIP is not ideal, but it could be a lot worse. For a rookie making his debut in this meat market known as New York City, that’s something you can hang your hat on.

And on top of all that, Wheeler had to pitch in the enormous shadow of  Harvey, who took the city and nation by storm with the incredible year he enjoyed. Not to mention, Wheeler had plenty of doubters—and still does-that he is/was a bust. If the numbers he is putting up are numbers worthy of being labeled as a bust, I’ll take it.

Yeah, Wheeler is not without his faults (in regards to some control issues), but with time and experience, he will only get better.

While Wheeler may be at the end of the line in regards to this season, he’s been a joy to watch. With all the bad news the Mets have received in the last month or so, the season-ending (and perhaps more) injury to Harvey being at the forefront, Wheeler excelling in the last few weeks is something the Mets and their fans can get excited about.

Wheeler has to use this momentum the same way Harvey did last year and into this year. The Mets have a lot riding on Wheeler’s strong, exciting right arm and it would be nice if Wheeler can pick up the ball next April and continue where he left off.

Wheeler is giving a downtrodden Mets’ fanbase a glimmer of hope as we look toward the end of the season. It’s at least something to be excited about.

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We should all preach patience with Zack Wheeler

On Friday night in Milwaukee, Zack Wheeler made his fourth career start for the Mets.

While it wasn’t a thing of beauty, Wheeler did collect his second win on the year nonetheless. Wheeler pitched the minimum five innings to qualify for the win. In those five innings, Wheeler gave up seven hits and three walks while striking out three batters. It’s amazing he gave up only three runs (one earned) in the outing.

The thing is, Wheeler battled hard all night and got some key outs when he had to. Especially in the 5th inning.

With the bases loaded and one out, and the tying run at the plate, Wheeler first got Jonathan Lucroy to pop up to shallow center. He then got Juan Francisco to look at a called third strike to end the inning. The Mets would tack on more runs and Wheeler would get his second win.

Wheeler and the Mets were also clearly the beneficiary of some shoddy Milwaukee defense, as the Brewers were a fundamental mess (playing some of the sloppiest baseball I can remember) on the night, which led to the easy 12-5 Mets victory.

Wheeler wasn’t the story on this night, though.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis (4-5 with five RBI’s and three runs scored) had his best game as a professional and Ike Davis (3-5 with two RBI’s and two runs scored) had an inspiring first game back from the minors.

However, the talk of Wheeler’s development is the story with the Mets and their fans these days, with some even suggesting he is a bust.

Through four starts, Wheeler is 2-2 with an uneven 4.29 ERA and unhealthy 1.62 WHIP. To some, that’s not enough. We were sold a bag a goods on Wheeler and those current numbers do not line up with what we were sold.

Wheeler is having a tough time staying consistent, confident and poised on the mound.

It is becoming readily apparent that Wheeler was not ready for his call up. Wheeler is still having a real difficult time with his command. But as Andy Martino points out in his column, it actually maybe better that Wheeler works out all the kinks now in the big leagues. This way when next season comes along, Wheeler may be ready to fully contribute while working over his issues this year.

Wheeler was not going to do what Matt Harvey has been able to do thus far. That was an unfair expectation that many critics unnecessarily put on Wheeler. Wheeler’s maturation and development has to be viewed differently than that of Harvey. They are two completely different animals.

Obviously, some—if not the vast majority—pitchers need time to grow and mature into a complete pitcher.  Wheeler is definitely be one of those pitchers.

There will most certainly be an adjustment period for Wheeler, and like it or not, Wheeler will likely continue to struggle this year. That’s okay, as long as he doesn’t struggle when the Mets are position to challenge for a playoff spot, we can live with Wheeler’s struggles right now.

It should be understood that the early hole Wheeler finds himself in can happen to young phenoms—even ones gifted as much as Wheeler. Look at the early struggles of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Cliff Lee, etc. The list goes on and on.

Buckle up; it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Mets’ fans must remain patient, as it appears Wheeler will need a little time to develop into the ace we are drumming him up to be.

Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner in race to avoid being demoted

With Zack Wheeler’s eventual call up to Queens to come in the next week or two, Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner are doing their best to not lose their spot in the rotation. Simply put, they are not going down without a fight.

While the club and Terry Collins are trying to downplay the addition of Wheeler, claiming he’ll be no “savior” and issuing statements like, “one guy is not going to turn this around for us. It takes 25,” the truth, at the minimum, is Wheeler’s addition will mean either Gee or Hefner will have to go to the bullpen.

Right now, both are pitching like they want no part of a demotion, as they rightfully should. While some of the staff has hit a rough patch (yes that includes Matt Harvey) in the last week or so since the sweep of the Yankees, Hefner and Gee are pitching like it could be the end of the line for them. They also look like they are trying to outdo one another.

They say competition breeds success. Well, if that is true, it is never more apparent than in the Mets’ clubhouse.

Consider the last two starts for both Gee and Hefner.

  • Last two starts for Gee: 14.1 innings pitched, 13 hits, one walk and two earned runs allowed with 19 strikeouts
  • Last two starts for Hefner:  13 innings pitched, 13 hits allowed, one walk and four earned runs allowed with 12 strikeouts.

When you compare their season statistics, they are also similar.

Gee is 4-6 in 12 games started, while Hefner is 1-5 in 11 games started. Hefner has been the more unlucky pitcher, as he has a better ERA (4.36) and WHIP (1.23), whereas Gee sports a 5.20 ERA and 1.56 WHIP. They are also both average strikeout pitchers with Gee spotting a 7.7 K/9 ratio while Hefner’s is 6.9

So, who would choose to demote when Wheeler gets the call?

With Harvey pitching lights out; Jonathon Niese an entrenched member of the staff through thick and thin; and Shaun Marcum a trusted veteran pitcher who, himself, is battling bad luck, who does Collins bump to make room for Wheeler?

Before we answer that, let’s also get something straight. Collins and the Mets are likely right when it comes to Wheeler.

The likelihood of Wheeler coming up and dominating in the same way Harvey did would be a stretch and let’s not put any additional undue pressure on Wheeler. Let him adjust to the speed of the majors. So, while Wheeler’s arrival is exciting and will create a buzz, he should be treated with kid gloves and be eased into the rotation.

To answer the question about who should be sent to the bullpen between Gee and Hefner, well, it sure is a loaded question.

Hefner has been pitching better for most of the year, but with Gee getting his act together of late, Gee might be the better fit for the staff. Hefner has proven to do well out of the bullpen and his stuff works better in that role as opposed to Gee.

In any event, enjoy the pitching efforts being put forth by Gee and Hefner. The addition of Wheeler will only make the rotation that much better and the internal competition could possibly ignite this staff the bigger and better things.

Marcum, Gee and Hefner need to start pulling their weight

 You almost have to feel bad for the Mets’ pitchers who have to follow Matt Harvey these days.

With the legend of Harvey nearly growing to ‘perfect’ proportions, the rest of the staff (sans Jonathon Niese) have to be suffering from an inferiority complex. So far on the season, Shaun Marcum, Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner are now a combined 2-10 with a 5.59 ERA. (And let’s not even bring up Aaron Laffey, okay?)

With the Mets dropping a 6-3 decision to the White Sox on Wednesday night, the Mets are now 0-7 after Harvey’s starts. As the saying goes in baseball: “Momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher.”

For the Mets, that statement couldn’t be any truer.

With the way Harvey and Niese are pitching (or at least in regards to Niese, capable of pitching), I’m also reminded of the “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” mantra used by Braves’ fans in the late 40’s.  What inclement weather term can we rhyme with Niese or Harvey?

All kidding aside, the Mets’ staff after Harvey and Niese is a major source of consternation-as if you didn’t already know this. Will Marcum, Gee and Hefner get their act together? Can they get their act together?

While Marcum has the pedigree (57-38 with a 3.79 ERA in his seven-year career) to contribute, he first has to stay healthy. With an assortment of injuries over the years, Marcum has had trouble putting together many starts. Once he began getting regular starts in 2007, Marcum has only started in 30 or more games twice. For a team already down Johan Santana, it is imperative that Marcum gives this team some innings-and solid ones at that.

As for Gee and Hefner, well, after seeing enough of them for the last couple of years, it’s becoming readily apparent that the two of them are nothing more than serviceable No. 5-type pitchers-nothing wrong with that. While Gee and Hefner can be deceptive, they simply don’t possess the stuff to be trusted mid-rotation pitchers.

And with the Mets still under .500 and not showing much signs of becoming any better than that, the Zack Wheeler clock isn’t clicking fast enough.

The promotion of Wheeler serves two good purposes.

First, he’ll be an obvious upgrade to the staff, as he has the stuff to electrify the masses.

That brings me to my second point. Once the Mets call up Wheeler, the Mets will get a needed PR boost. Since Matt Harvey’s starts are an event these days, the next logical thing is to drum up support for the next best thing in Wheeler. Whenever Wheeler gets the call, It could only help spread some good will among the fanbase.

In the meantime, the back end of the rotation has to get in line, particularly Hefner and Gee. Granted Marcum stays healthy, the Mets staff by mid-year should be Niese, Harvey, Wheeler, Marcum and either Gee or Hefner-with Gee the most likely candidate.

So, with the season off to a semi-rocky start, it’s high time the back-end of the staff start pulling their weight, or they will soon be dead weight.

Making sense of the Stanton for d’Arnaud, Wheeler trade rumors

The Mets’ blogosphere blew up on Thursday after the Daily News’ Andy Martino reported that the Mets were very intrigued at the prospects of trading for the Marlins’ power-hitting dynamo Giancarlo Stanton. Why not, the Marlins have almost  traded their entire roster in the last year; why not try to pry away the most coveted asset on the team in Stanton?

As you can imagine, any trade involving Stanton would come at a steep price and the asking price is indeed steep with inside sources saying for a trade to occur, the Mets would have to part ways with both Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler.

As you can imagine, this trade talk led everyone in Mets’ fan hood to collectively say wow, with many fans having differing viewpoints. First of all, is this all idle chatter or as Martino points outs in his article is there “heat” to this possibility?

Some argue that the Marlins asking price is just too much. Most Mets’ fans are enticed by the possibility of adding one of the preeminent sluggers in the game in Stanton but trading both d’Arnaud and Wheeler is something that seems counterproductive.

They say pitching is what wins championships and when you pair Wheeler with ace-in-the-making Matt Harvey, Mets’ fans envision a one-two punch that could be lethal for years to come. How can anyone not be excited about this formidable duo calling Citi Field home for the next 10 years or so?

And what about d’Arnaud?

After the Mets traded R.A. Dickey and received (perhaps even stolen) the uber-catching prospect d’Arnaud in return from the Toronto Blue Jays, the Mets finally upgraded at a position in catcher that has been such a weak spot for years. Why suddenly weaken that spot after you tried with so much effort to improve it?

So, when you combine all that is riding on Wheeler and d’Arnaud you can see why Mets’ fans are hesitant to want to pull the trigger on this supposed trade.

While Stanton’s proven track record in mashing the ball is tantalizing, I am in the camp that a trade involving both Wheeler and d’Arnaud is just simply too much. Now if the Mets can involve one or the other and package someone along the lines of Wilmer Flores and perhaps Rafael Montero or Noah Syndergaard, then maybe we could be onto something.

It also should be noted that the Mets also have interest in the Rockies’ Carlos Gonzalez, who the Mets will see up close come Monday. Maybe a deal involving only one of Wheeler or d’Arnaud and other Mets’ prospects can get done, but until then the Mets should be saying thanks, but no thanks.

Granted I get the opinion that a star-outfielder can help you every day and that relying on pitching can be taxing and tricky but this doesn’t look like a road the Mets should go down. If, and of course it’s a big if, Wheeler and d’Arnaud live up to their full potential then the Mets would be sacrificing too much to go for the “sure thing” in Stanton.

While the thought of having Stanton’s bat in the middle of a Mets’ lineup surrounding the likes of David Wright, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda is mouth-watering, the Mets should stick to the plan of building around solid pitching and pass on this potential trade-if it’s realistic in the first place.

Mets Minors: Zack Wheeler earns his top prospect ranking

Zack Wheeler came to the Mets as a top prospect who seemed to have a few issues.  Namely, control.  Back in the CAL when he was with San Francisco’s A+ affiliate, he was walking half as many batters as he struck out.  Which isn’t good when you strike out as many as he did.  Averaging .5 BBs an inning would be a problem for any player that your team expected to be a future Ace.

2012 started rocky, with a 3 inning outing that saw 3 walks and 4 Ks and 2 earned runs.  The subsequent 2 starts have been reminiscent of the Wheeler who pitched for the Mets in Port St. Lucie in 2011, who went a combined 12 innings with 17 Ks and only 3 walks.

It’ll take quite a lot for him to move up to AAA before the All-Star break but I expect him to finish the year with Buffalo and be in Spring Training with Harvey, Familia and Mejia in 2013.

Some Notes:

Wheeler’s splits are interesting and he’s striking out far more righties than lefties.  This is aided by the fact he’s likely also face more righties but the lefties are also responsible for 3 of the 4 runs scored against him thus far.  In 4.1 innings against lefties he has 3 walks vs. 2 walks in 10.2 against righties.  This seems to indicate that Wheeler might be trying to hard when lefties get up.  If he becomes more comfortable with allowing his defense to support him, he might cut his struggles against south paws.

His solid pitching has not necessarily meant additional ticks in the win column.  Despite a 1.50 ERA in his last two starts Wheeler has yet to notch his first AA win.

Around the Minors:

AAA:

Zach Lutz Continues to Hit – He’s the biggest star in Buffalo not named Valentino and I’m starting to wonder when his name starts to get floated in trade rumors.  Thus far, he has 5 doubles, 3 HRs and 10 RBI along with a .322 AVG and a .971 OPS.

Chris Schwinden Ready in Reserve – Mr. Schwinden has been sharp in his 4 starts this season having 1 bad outing and three solid starts.  Control seemed to be an issue in the early going but that ship appears righted and Chris should be set to be the first name called in case of injury.

AA:

Jefry Marte Would Like you to Put Him Back on your Prospect Radar – The AFL was a breakout campaign for Marte who hasn’t consistently shined in the minors.  It’s still early, but he’s certainly still shining thus far.  He’s getting on base at an unrealistic clip of .435 but he’s also not hitting with as much power as I’d expect so everything should balance out.  If he can keep his OPS above .900 it’s all good.

I’m a McHugh Fan and you Should Be Too – In 4 starts in AA Collin McHugh has had zero BAD starts. He’s another version of Dillon Gee and Chris Schwinden but I’ve heard his stuff is slightly better.  I have McHugh pegged to be the #5 pitcher in the Met rotation of the future.

Smoke and Mirrors Just Fine – Whatever Darin Gorski is doing to succeed… is perfectly fine with me.  This big lefty doesn’t profile to match his size but he does seem to be getting a lot of success as a starter.  While I’d still not bet on him making a major league rotation he’s off to a fine start in AA.

Super Glad We Kept Elvin Ramirez Does the name Elvin Ramirez ring any bells?  We almost lost him to the Rule 5 draft.  Thus far in AA he’s making people forget about Josh Edgin. which is tough.  He has numbers near Leathersich’s numbers in Brooklyn last year, K/9 nearly 18.  His walks are still a problem but he’s starting to look like a player who could soon step into a closer role at some point.

A+:

Danny Muno Not Fazed By Skipping Savannah – In 2011 Muno became a fan favorite in Brooklyn with some solid speed and a bunch of extra base hits (fueled by said speed).  In 2012… he’s hitting .322, he’s walked 9 times with only 11 K’s, He has 8 doubles 1 triple and 2 HRs and looking like a true hitting star.  The Mets have shifted him 95% to second base which is a bummer because he’d be our #1 SS prospect if they hadn’t.

Oh… That’s Where Wilmer Flores Has Been Hiding – After a disappointing 2011 and a rocky (powerless) start to 2012 lots of people were writing Wilmer Flores off.  The last 10 games have raised his BA to .320 and seen is OPS in the 1.000 range.  If he can keep on this role, you have my permission to get excited again.

Chase Huchingson too Solid to Ignore 3 Starts… 3 wins… 0.00 ERA.  He’s not blowing the competition away but he should be on everyone’s radar.

A:

Travis Taijeron Comes on STRONG – He’s not Aderlin Rodrgiguez but for better or worse,  Travis Teijeron is displaying the power he showed in Brooklyn in Savannah.  Flaws… his BA is poor but everyone not named T.J. Rivera has a poor BA on that team.

Domingo Tapia is Awesome – Okay… so the issue had been throwing hard and not missing bats now… its… nothing.  Tapia is striking out over 10 per 9, he’s barely walking anyone, his whip is low and he’s getting TONS of grounders.  He should be in the Met’s top 10 prospects by years end if he keeps this up.

Jack Leathersich Finally Looks Human – I was set to write something on Leathersich who had somehow managed to replicate his ridiculous 2011 numbers in 4 outings in Savannah.  He hit a bump in the road… no big deal in the long run.

On The Mend: Jenrry Mejia and Reese Havens are playing in extended Spring Training games.  Both look like they are on track to join the B-Mets by mid-late May.

 

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: Is Reese Havens back?

Don’t look yet, but Reese Havens may finally be back.

The 22nd overall pick in the 2008 draft is in the midst of his best stretch in nearly two seasons, highlighted by a pinch-hit, 12th-inning walkoff homer Saturday for the Binghamton Mets against Altoona.
Coincidentally, Havens was playing next to rehabbing shortstop Jose Reyes, perhaps a glimpse at the future double-play combination in New York.

“Yeah man, for sure,” Havens told Lynn Worthy of the Binghamton Press. “I definitely think that. I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing if I didn’t think that so it’s exciting to think about. It definitely ran through my mind.”

Plagued by injuries just about since the day he was drafted, Havens is batting .366/.452/.620 in August with six doubles, four homers, 15 RBI and 11 walks in 21 games. This stretch has lifted his overall numbers to .298/.380/.468 with six homers and 25 RBI in 52 games.

Havens started the season on the disabled list with soreness in his ribs. Havens also spent three weeks on the disabled list from late June to mid-July after back spasms. He had surgery in December to shave a half inch from one of his ribs on his left side after oblique pain limited Havens to just 32 games last season (14 with Single-A St. Lucie, 18 with Binghamton).

“I’ve felt comfortable the last few weeks,” Havens said. “I think its just repetition that’s made me feel comfortable. I’ve been working with (hitting coach) Luis (Natera) on some minor things. I’m just trying to relax up there and make some things happen at the plate. It’s been a lot of fun coming to the park the last two or three weeks. We’re a little bit too late since the season is almost over, but it has been a lot of fun.”

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Jefry Marte hit a home run to lead off the fifth inning for the only run of the game, as the Class A St. Lucie Mets beat Bradenton 1-0 on Saturday.

Four Mets pitchers combined for the shutout. Starter Zack Wheeler gave up three hits and struck out three in five innings for the win. Wheeler is 2-2 with a 2.16 ERA in his first five starts with just five walks and 26 strikeouts in 25 innings. He has tremendously improved his control since the trade with the San Francisco Giants after reportedly returning to his pitching style form his high school days.

Marte, just 20, started the season batting .321 with four homers and a .920 OPS in April but has slumped since. The third baseman, who played in the Futures Game during All-Star Weekend, has posted OPS’s of .674, .653, .451 and .622 in the following months. He has two homers this month after hitting just one from May-July.

AROUND THE MINORS: Binghamton OF Juan Lagares is batting .400 during a current 18-game hitting streak. The 22-year-old is batting .394 with 19 RBI in 31 games since joining the club from Class-A St. Lucie where he hit .338 in 82 games. The native of the Dominican Republic hadn’t hit better than .279 in any of his first five seasons since signing as a 17-year-old. … Buffalo SS Jordany Valdespin is batting .381 with a 1.109 OPS in his last 10 games recovering from a slow start after his promotion from Binghamton. He’s hitting .289 with two homers but 17 strikeouts in 83 at-bats. … Binghamton RHP Matt Harvey, selected the top pitching prospect in the Class A Florida State League by Baseball America, has won five straight starts. The 2010 first-rounder has allowed nine earned runs and 22 hits in 27 innings with nine walks and 24 strikeouts.

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.

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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.

Our farewell to Carlos Beltran

Here at Mets360 we were all huge fans of Carlos Beltran and we thought he deserved a special send off. I asked everyone to chime in with their thoughts and here’s what he meant to us.

Charlie HangleyMeet the (new) Mets, meet the (new) Mets…

That’s what I was singing in December 2004, when Carlos Beltran hitched his wagon to this star-crossed franchise, and he vowed to lead them in “a new direction: the direction of ‘winning.’” Hard on the heels of the signing of Pedro Martinez, I could not believe this was the Mets – the pinchpenny, meek, wouldn’t-harm-a-fly, NYC joke/doormat Mets – spending money and talking big. I had a feeling of “You ARE a real boy, Pinocchio!” Together, Pedro & Carlos gave us fans a voice, relevance, a “swagger” – in the current parlance. It was too quick a seven years, and injuries and one curveball dimmed the excitement, but BOY was that swagger fun…

Mike Koehler – It hardly comes as a surprise, but Carlos Beltran is leaving Queens. A myriad of claims, quotes and hints from anonymous baseball officials during the past two weeks indicated Mets GM Sandy Alderson wouldn’t be able to get a top-level prospect like Zack Wheeler for an aging slugger with bad knees and a contract preventing arbitration offers.

But just who is Wheeler, the 21-year-old pitcher Giants fans vehemently argued would be too much for Beltran? Wheeler, born in Georgia, has spent 2011 in their Class A Advanced affiliate with mediocre numbers. He sports a 3.99 ERA with 98 strike outs and 47 walks in 88 innings. Scouting reports project his fastball – mid 90s – as a plus offering along with a fantastic curveball. He also sports a changeup still demanding a fair amount of work.

Despite pitching just one level under Double A, Wheeler is likely several years away from breaking into the big leagues. When he does, it’s not unlikely he finds success as a front-end starter, although not necessarily an ace with some of his lingering mechanical issues.

Tanya Mercado – I will go on record to say I am a fellow Puerto Rican. With a last name like Mercado, how could I not be? As such, I have never been more proud of a baseball player than I have been with Carlos Beltran with his on and off the field performance. He has exuded all of the characteristics of our people: hard working, proud yet humble, passionate, and energetic. I have watched Beltran make plays in the outfield and there is no other player out there who is as graceful or powerful as he is.

It was entertaining watching him run the bases right on the heels of Jose Reyes. It was fun watching him hit 208 doubles and 149 home runs. Did I mention the 559 RBI’s? Think of what could have been had his knees not given out. Definitely something to think about. He was great with the media always fielding questions about trade rumors and his injuries. He was always a man and never gave an excuse for failing like when he should have slid rather than just go to home plate standing. With his baseball academy in Puerto Rico, he has never forgotten where he came from, giving other young people a chance to enhance their baseball skills while continuing to strive for academic excellence. El no esta con nuestro equipo, pero siempre estara en nuestros corazones. ¡Viva Carlos Beltran!

Doug Parker – Carlos Beltran is not featured on his own rookie card. Back in 1995, Topps got his profile mixed up with light-hitting Juan LeBron, who never made it out of the minors. So Carlos appears on Juan’s rookie card, and vice versa.

And I think this is an apt metaphor for Beltran’s career with the Mets. Much like Kevin McReynolds a generation prior, you never got the sense that the Mets or their fans were quite clear on the overall concept of Carlos Beltran. Heck, when all is said and done, I don’t know if Carlos Beltran was ever clear on the overall concept of Carlos Beltran.

So farewell, Carlos– we hardly knew ye…

Dan Stack – I remember being excited the day the Mets signed Carlos Beltran. The man was coming off a ridiculous postseason run with the Astros. I figured he would be a cornerstone player for years on the Mets and that’s exactly what he was. Make no mistake about it. Beltran was an impact player in his time with the Mets. Despite some peaks and valley’s (particularly his first year with the Mets), Beltran was always a formidable force at the plate. Sure he had some flaws, but no player is without their flaws.

The one thing about Beltran that will define his legacy with me, and with many other Met fans, is the fact that he was misunderstood. Whether it was the called third strike against him that ended the 2006 NLCS or his decision to get knee surgery prior to the 2010 season without the consent of the Mets staff, he hasn’t won over too many fans. However, I will remember him for all the good he did and not the bad. Beltran was the biggest reason the Mets made the 2006 NLCS with his MVP-type season.

So long Carlos, you will be missed!

Denise Winter – While many feel that watching Beltran help the Giants win would be like sticking a knife through their very own heart, others feel that it wouldn’t matter either way. And the truth of the matter is that Beltran will be a rental player for two months. After the season, he is free to go play anywhere he wants, including back to the Mets, if they both so desire.

So why not get the best possible in return for him – no matter where it’s from – while you can? Trading him at this point is not giving up on the season. The season was over a long time ago. Instead, why not wish him well and enjoy his success with a winning team, if that should end up being the case?

Brian Joura – I was one of the people that Mike mentioned above, one who thought that the Mets would be unable to get much more than a “C-level” prospect for Beltran. I was wrong. But I think that people are being a little too excited about Wheeler. Is he a good prospect – absolutely. He’s a top draft pick with a great arm. But he’s also got some serious control issues. This year he has a 4.81 BB/9 which is really not good. J.A. Happ has a 4.81 BB/9 in the majors this year (the worst mark among qualified starters) and he has a 6.12 ERA.

To be fair, Wheeler has made progress with his walks. In 2010 he had a 5.83 BB/9 in his debut season in pro ball. But he needs at least two more years in the minors, with similar-type improvements in his control, before we can think about him being with the Mets. I think he’s a “B-level” prospect.

As for Beltran, I’ve already written a ton about him this year. I’ve been on record as saying he was never appreciated, that he ranks with Darryl Strawberry as the top hitters in production for the Mets in their 50-year history. He had an outstanding half-season for the Mets here in 2011 and I’m rooting like anything for the Peppermint Patty plan to take place.

Thanks for everything Mr. Beltran.

Just who is Zack Wheeler?

After weeks of speculation, the Mets finally pulled the trigger and traded Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for pitching prospect Zack Wheeler.
(This, of course, is contingent on the legalities of the deal which should become final by Thursday afternoon.)

While we wax nostalgic of the memories Beltran’s made in Queens, the next question will inevitably be: So, just who is Zack Wheeler, and is he any good?

Well, Wheeler just happens to be Baseball America’s #35 prospect in the minors in their most recent midyear report. Wheeler is a prospect who projects to be no lower than a #2 pitcher going forward, with a ceiling that he can eventually become an ace.

Here are some basic facts you should know:

Wheeler is a 21-year-old righty who was drafted sixth overall out of high school by the San Francisco Giants in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. Wheeler stands 6-3 and weighs 180 lbs. while hailing from Dallas, Georgia.

While playing for San Francisco’s Single-A San Jose squad this season, Wheeler has started 16 games and has gone 7-5 with a 3.99 ERA. In 88 innings pitched he has complied 98 strikeouts while issuing 47 walks.

Scouts say that Wheeler is long and lean, and one who comes equipped with a very deceptive delivery.

Wheeler is very effective with his fastball and usually throws in the 91-94 MPH range. What he does effectively with his fastball is tie up righties inside with it, while getting lefties to chase.

What also makes Wheeler special is the long strides he makes in his delivery, which is said to look like he’s pitching 45 feet away.

Wheeler’s curveball is also above average. He usually keeps it down in the zone and gets many batters chasing at it.

One of the main weaknesses to Wheeler’s game is that he doesn’t have an effective changeup in his repertoire. Wheeler is also working on a slider, but at this time he is most effective with his slurve.

In SNY’s pregame telecast of the Mets/Reds game on Wednesday night, Ron Darling said that the people he talks to say that his frame and delivery is very reminiscent of one Pedro Martinez.

In any event, the Mets looked like they bagged a quality prospect and one that will make his mark with the Mets in the next year or two. Wheeler still needs a lot of seasoning. My best guess is that Wheeler will not be part of the Mets until late in the 2012 season (probably a September call-up) and won’t challenge for a spot in the rotation until 2013. By that time, the Mets might have a core of talented young arms (Jenrry Mejia, Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia) that could carry the rotation until the next decade.

This is a deal that should pay off big dividends in the long run. And heck, who knows, maybe the Mets will get Beltran back in the off-season, which is another rumor that is circulating. In any event, this is a great trade pulled of by Sandy Alderson.

So, as we bid adieu to Beltran with great appreciation and thanks, let’s also welcome Mr. Wheeler to New York.