Thursday, February 17, 2011

TEAM #14 – New York Mets

Wilmer Flores typifies Mets’ prospect in so many ways

I am not sure that there is any team in baseball that is more in disarray than the New York Mets. Out with Omar Minaya and Rudy Terrasas and in with Sandy Alderson and Chad MacDonald. Trustees for the bankruptcy case of Bernie Madoff are looking for $300 million from the Wilpon ownership group. The pitching staff’s best pitcher is likely out until after the all-star game. Their five-time all-star center fielder has had 528 ABs over the last two seasons. The battle for second base is between a 35yo career .719 OPS hitter, a converted corner infielder/outfielder and a 21yo coming off a debut season in which he posted a .588 OPS. To add injury to insult, their top two competitors for the NL East—the Phiilies and the Braves—added a Cy Young winner and an all-star second baseman over the off season. Sandy Alderson has seventeen years at the helm of a Major League organization and is coming off of an assignment for Major League Baseball where he was charged with cleaning up the mess that is amateur scouting in the Dominican Republic—perhaps the only baseball situation more screwed up than the Mets. He is going to need every bit of that experience to right this ship.

Given the state of the franchise, our ranking of the Mets system likely comes as a surprise to some, but it remains fairly consistent with our view of the system from last year ( TEAM #16 – New York Mets )—a year that saw four of our top eight ranked prospects (Ike Davis, Reuben Tejada, Jon Niese and Josh Thole) make significant contributions with the Big League club. It is an interesting organization in the sense that there are few superstars but a substantial number of players that are likely to make Major League contributions—something that would typify last year’s rookie crop. The strength of the system lies in its Latin American scouting program—something that should continue under the leadership of Chad MacDonald—as eight of the Mets Top 12 prospects hail from that region. But where MacDonald is going to have to make a difference is in the draft. Over the last five years, the Mets have been one of the draft’s lowest spending teams in all of baseball, at barely $4 million per year. The philosophy has been to draft inexpensive, high-floor, college players (20 to 4 college to prep ration in the first seven rounds). It’s a philosophy that still permeates the system today, and a philosophy that gets an organization right where the Mets find themselves—mediocre.

Don’t mistake us. The Mets have plenty of prospects that we like—many that we like moreso than others in the industry. But even the parts that we like—like the Latin American position players-- have a problem in being too similar to each other (Wilmer Flores, Aderlin Rodriguez, Fernando Martinez and Jefry Marte for instance). Writing the profiles became essentially a ‘cut and paste’ exercise, as nearly all of the prospects fall into three or four basic categories. Understand that the Mets earn this ranking not through their potential stars but through their substantial depth of likely mediocre Major League contributors. You will find few ‘game-changers’ on this list. If Alderson and MacDonald are going to change the direction of the franchise, they are going to have to completely revamp the philosophy that brings players into the system.

Best Pick from 2010 – As the saying goes…The Mets are pretty much what we thought they’d be, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for glaring hits or misses. The two selections that stand out to us were our selection of Ruben Tejada at#6—believing that he will be no worse than a solid utility infielder with the upside of a Omar Infante-ish career—and our selection of Kirk Nieuwenhuis at #10—believing his 2009 season was for real and that he was destined for a career no worse than that of a 4th outfielder. Neither pick was exciting, but both were on target.

Worst Pick from 2010 – While we were not alone, and we still haven’t given up on him, 2010 was an extremely rough season for our #5 selection—Brad Holt.

Grade A -

1) Jenrry Mejia, RHP (2010 Performance Scores – Dominance 54; Control 52; HRrate 49; Stamina 69)

Back for a return engagement as the Mets’ top prospect, Mejia should have been collecting frequent flier miles in 2010, as he pitched at five different levels—most of them quite effectively. The bouncing around, for the most part had to do with a nagging shoulder problem that saw him make rehab starts in the Gulf Coast League (GCL) and Florida State League (FSL). And it is things like that ‘nagging shoulder’ that prevent Mejia from ranking higher on our list, as he has yet to pitch more than 95 innings in any of his four professional seasons. With a mid-90s fastball, a plus change and a potentially plus curve, the Mets are convinced that he has the stuff of a front of the rotation ace. We have our doubts. Start with the demonstrated lack of ability to stay healthy. Add to that the command issues that earned him a demotion in June. Then, for good measure, throw in some good—but underdeveloped—secondary offerings that are still quite a ways away from being consistent Major League quality. In the end, it is beginning to look more and more like Mejia’s best days may come in the bullpen. There is a substantial ceiling here, but plenty of questions. The Mets are likely to give Mejia a chance to earn a rotation spot this spring. Even if he comes up short, he is likely to open the season as part of the bullpen.

2) Wilmer Flores, SS/3B (2010 – Power 62; Discipline 73; First Base Rate 48; Speed 34)

We were tempted to rank Flores #1 in the system, but in the end he is surrounded by nearly as many questions as is Mejia. Splitting his time evenly, in 2010, between the South Atlantic League (SAL) and the FSL, Flores posted the #2 Performance Score in each League. From a hit standpoint, there is tremendous potential, with lightning quick wrists and a sweet swing, Flores shows plus power potential, precocious strike zone management skills and above average contact. The questions surrounding Flores have to deal with his defensive position. He has soft hands and a strong arm, but lacks the footwork or the quickness for shortstop. The logical move is to third base, and there has been some discussion of even left or right field. We believe his bat will play at any position, but his value drops as he moves to third and even further if he goes to left. Our ranking assumes he won’t be a Major League shortstop. With nearly 300 FSL plate appearances, it is possible that Flores opens 2011 in AA—as a 19yo.

3) Matt Harvey, RHP

After a sophomore season that had Harvey’s draft stock in freefall, he rebounded nicely last spring and went even higher (7th overall) than we expected (mid-first round). At 6’4”, 225lbs, Harvey has additional projection on his already mid-90s fastball. He compliments the heater with a plus curve and average slider. Where Harvey struggles is with his command—as he has a tendency to overthrow, getting his mechanics out of whack. Adding to longer-term concerns is the current lack of a useable change. This is more born from lack of necessity than anything mechanical. If it all comes together, Harvey has the repertoire to pitch at the front of a Big League rotation, and we will likely get to see just how much work there remains when Harvey makes his debut in the FSL in 2011.

Grade B+

4) Fernando Martinez, LF (2010 – Power 70; Discipline 34; First Base Rate 27; Speed 36)

As prospect evaluators we sometimes become the victim of our own expectations. That certainly is the case in regards to Martinez. Signed in 2005, to one of the largest bonuses ever given to a Latin American 16yo. Martinez added to the expectations when, in his debut season, he posted a .894 OPS in the SAL—as a 17yo! It may not be possible for anyone to live up to those expectations, so we will try to view Martinez’s 2010 season from the perspective of any generic 21yo prospect. In a return trip to the International League (INT), in 2010, Martinez posted the circuit’s #21 Performance Score. He possesses plus power, and average contact skills. Now the negatives, Martinez has never posted 400 PAs in any season since signing. It hasn’t been significant injuries that have gotten in the way, just numerous little nagging ones. While at one time Martinez possessed average speed, as he has matured he has slowed to a below average runner. Perhaps the biggest problem Martinez faces is his over-aggressive approach at the plate that leads to way too few walks and too many strikeouts. Defensively he appears to be a capable right fielder, but little more. While at one time he appeared destined for superstardom, now his upside looks to be that of a power hitting everyday Major League outfielder. Keep in mind that Martinez is still younger than many of the college draftees from the 2010 class. Martinez will go to camp this spring with a shot at an everyday job with the Mets. The expectation is that he at least wins a roster position.

5) Cesar Puello, RF (2010 – Power 32; Discipline 59; First Base Rate 74; Speed 80)

Puello was part of the same 2007 Latin American class that netted Flores. While Puello is actually four months older than Flores, he has typically played a level below him. They both spent time in the SAL in 2010, where Puello posted the circuit’s #5 Performance Score. Despite all of that, there are those in the scouting community that prefer Puello because of his multi-facted game. With plus speed, average power, contact and strike zone management skills, and adequate right field defense, Puello has a ceiling of an above average every day right fielder. There are few knocks on his skill set, but one of the more glaring one is a lack of a substantial baseball IQ. While there is little doubt that Puello could eventually outperform Flores, all of our indications are that Flores is the safer bet. Look for Puello to open 2011 in the FSL.

6) Aderlin Rodriguez, 3B (2010 – Power 79; Discipline 67; First Base Rate 35; Speed 48)

At the present time, Rodriguez is the best third baseman in the system not named David Wright. 2010 found Rodriguez using his plus power, precocious strike zone management skills and solid contact skills to post the Appalachian League’s (APY) #2 Performance Score. At 6’3”, 210lbs, and only 19yo, there is every reason to believe that Rodriguez could develop into a 30HR per year Major League third basemen. The obstacles to accomplishing that can be find in his below average speed, stiff lower body and questionable work habits. If he has to move off of third base, his value takes a significant hit. Additionally, Rodriguez will have to learn more patience at the plate. Look for him to begin 2011 in the SAL.

Grade B

7) Jefry Marte, 3B (2010 – Power 58; Discipline 60; First Base Rate 57; Speed 37)

Marte was signed from the same 2007 Latin American class that found Wilmer Flores and Cesar Puello. In fact, after their debut seasons in 2008, one where Marte posted the #1 Performance Score in the Gulf Coast League (ahead of Aaron Hicks), it was Marte that was considered the top prospect of the trio. However, his over aggressive plate approach has made him vulnerable to full-season league pitching, and he has yet to come close to repeating that performance. A repeat trip to the SAL in 2010 saw him finish with the #7 Performance Score. Contact is the only plus skill offensive skill that Marte exhibits, although he should hit for no worse than average power. Defensively, he is a marginal, but improving, third baseman, but there is little reason that he can’t succeed at the position. His ceiling appears to be that of an average Major League third baseman. With more than 800 ABs in the SAL, expect Marte to move up to the FSL in 2011.

8) Reese Havens, SS/2B -

It was a bit of a lost season for Havens, who appeared in a total of 32 games between the FSL and Eastern League. The only positive aspect to the year was that Havens made the move to second base that we have been expecting since he was an overdraft first round pick in 2008. Make no mistake, with average power, contact and strikezone management skills, all of the pieces are there for Havens to become an offense-first second baseman at the Major League level. But at 24yo, not only is time passing him by, we are seeing an ceiling that continues to get lower. Havens will return to the ESL to begin 2011. With a solid season, he could see some time in New York in September—although 2012 is more likely.

9) Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF (2010 – Power 65; Discipline 31; First Base Rate 31; Speed 53)

Nieuwenhuis followed up his breakout 2009 campaign with a Top 25 Performance Score in the ESL in 2010. While Niewenhuis possesses average-plus power and speed, it is his all-out approach that attracts the most accolades. While Nieuwenhuis could potentially develop into an everyday Major league outfielder, the primary obstacle to that appears to be an all-out approach at the plate that was badly exposed by the more advanced pitching in AAA. A typical low-ceiling, high-floor, college player, Nieuwenhuis will look to improve upon his 2010 performance with a return trip to the International League. All signs seem to point toward a final product as a fourth outfielder type at the next level.

10) Lucas Duda, OF/1B (2010 – Power 78; Discipline 54; First Base Rate 54; Speed 33)

Watching the very large, lumbering, 6’5”, 240lb, Duda playing left field for the Mets near the end of last season was certainly entertaining. Duda earned that opportunity with a #11 Performance Score in the International League. Possessing plus power, solid contact skills and a discerning eye, Duda has the potential to hit at the Major League level. The problem is at what position. With near base-clogging speed and an arm that could best be described as poor, the outfield doesn’t seem to be an option—at least on a regular basis. Unfortunately, that leaves only first base, and with the Mets that position seems to be firmly in the grasp of Ike Davis. Barring a trade to the American League, where he would be an ideal DH candidate, Duda looks to have a future role as a power, left-handed bench bat. He’ll get a chance to win a roster spot this spring, but could well end up returning to AAA to open the season.

11) Brad Holt, RHP (2010 – Dominance 40; Control 20; HRrate 55; Stamina 53)

After tearing through his first two professional assignments in the NYP and FSL, Holt rolled an ankle upon his promotion to AA in 2009 and hasn’t been the same pitcher since. While there are signs of the raw stuff that made him a sandwich round selection in 2008; like a low- to mid-90s fastball and a potentially plus curve and change, they appear to get lost in a myriad of problems. His mechanics appear to be out of whack, he shows little sign of knowing what he is doing on the mound and his control has deserted him. We wouldn’t rank him this high, if it weren’t for a surprisingly strong performance in the AZFL that leaves us wondering if there is hope for him getting back to his pre-injury level. At his best, Holt profiles as a quality #2/#3 starter or potentially devastating back of the bullpen arm. We just have little confidence we will ever see the ‘at his best’ again. Look for Holt to return the ESL to open up 2011. All bets are off, but a rapid rise is not out of the question.

12) Cory Vaughn, OF (2010 – Power 80; Discipline 46; First Base Rate 64; Speed 70)

After the Mets selected Vaughn in the 4th round of last June’s draft, he went on to post the New York-Penn League’s (NYP) #4 Performance Score, showing off plus power and above average contact skills. A bit larger than his father at 6’3”, 225lbs, Vaughn shows surprising athleticism and average speed. If there is a negative, it is his lack of strike zone management skills. Defensively, Vaughn covers adequate ground with a solid arm, making him a prototypical right fielder. There is enough promise here to see Vaughn as an above average offensive right fielder at the Major League level. He is likely to be tested in 2011 with a full season debut in the FSL.

Other Potential Top 300 Prospects – 13) Jeurys Familia, RHP; 14) Juan Urbina, LHP.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

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