Minors : : General
Friday, January 27, 2012

Top Prospects: New York Mets

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Perfect Game

General Manager: Sandy Alderson
Vice President/Player Development and Scouting: Paul DePodesta

AAA: Buffalo Bisons (International League) 61-82
AA: Binghamton Mets (Eastern League) 65-76
Hi A: St. Lucie Mets (Florida State League) 72-68
Low A: Savannah Sand Gnats (South Atlantic League) 79-60
Rookie Adv.: Brooklyn Cyclones (NY-Penn League) 45-29
Rookie: Kingsport Mets (Appalachian League) 39-29
Rookie: GCL Mets (Gulf Coast League) 27-29
Dominican: DSL Mets 1 (Dominican Summer League) 34-36
Dominican: DSL Mets 2 (Dominican Summer League) 28-44

System Overview

The plight of the New York Mets franchise and the issues it faces moving to the future have been well documented. Owner Fred Wilpon’s involvement has left the team hanging by a financial thread, with published reports showing the team having incurred over $50M in loses in 2011 with more projected in 2012. Wilpon’s access to credit has been severely hampered, he’s borrowed $25M from Major League Baseball and has unsuccessfully sought to sell minority shares in the team.

An immediate result of the Mets financial struggles was they were not able to seriously pursue their best player, SS Jose Reyes, when he became a free agent at the end of the 2011 season. Reyes eventually signed with the Miami Marlins for a six-year/$106M contact. The Mets were not active on the off-season talent market either, an auspicious situation for a team that was last over .500 in 2008 and has finished fourth in the National League East each of the last three years.

Furthermore, the Mets owe huge amounts of money to three players who made marginal to no impact on their 2011 performance. OF Jason Bay (.245-12-57) is owed $32M over the next two years with a very reachable $17M vesting option for 2014. 3B David Wright (.254-14-61) will earn $15M in 2012 and will be a free agent at the end of the season if the Mets don’t pick up a $16M option. Most of all, former Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, who missed all of 2011, is owed a staggering $55M over the next two years if the Mets don’t pick up his 2014 option.

Wright’s fall off in production since the Mets moved into spacious Citi Field in 2009 has been dramatic and has mirrored the overall state of the Mets franchise. Whether to trade Wright for young talent before losing him to free agency could be a daily topic in the New York media all summer.

The strength of the Mets minor league system right now rests squarely on the right arms of their top three starting pitching prospects: Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jeurys Familia. While there is some depth in the system, those three presently stand out as the only proven (i.e. Hi A level and above) prospects with a potential impact future. The influx of talent from what looks like an outstanding 2011 draft class will take a while to filter up the system but gives reason for long-term optimism.

2011 Draft

The Mets were one of the most conservative teams in the draft in the years leading up to Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta taking over the Baseball Operations Department late in 2010. They went almost exclusively for college age talent (in 2010 they didn’t sign a single player from a USA high school) and very rarely went over slot for a player either at the top of the draft or in the later rounds.

So the 2011 draft class understandably may have seemed like a breath of fresh air to Mets fans and ranks as their best overall draft class in many years.

The team selected Wyoming high school outfielder Brandon Nimmo with the 13
th overall pick, a selection the organization wouldn’t have even dreamed of making previously. Nimmo, Wyoming’s first ever first round pick, didn’t play high school baseball (there is no high school baseball in the state) but had extensive experience playing American Legion ball and has the tools and athleticism to be an impact big league player despite his unusual background.

With their second round pick, the Mets selected a raw but strong armed Oklahoma high school pitcher, RHP Michael Fulmer, who was gunned at up to 97 mph during the spring.

Perhaps most interestingly, the Mets signed five high school players from rounds 6-16, going above slot for each one, including a $650,000 bonus to All-American IF Phillip Evans, a very polished hitter and defender from Southern California. Another All-American, RHP Christian Montgomery, signed for $250,000 in the 11th round, while dual-sport standout OF Bradley Marquez received $325,000 in the 16th round before heading off to Texas Tech to play wide receiver in the fall.

Even with the influx of young high ceiling talent, the Mets were able to sign four very promising and polished college pitchers in the third through sixth rounds in RHP Cory Mazzoni, RHP Logan Verrett, RHP Tyler Pill and LHP Jack Leathersich.

The Mets worked Mazzoni out of the bullpen after signing in recognition of the innings he threw at North Carolina State as a starter during the spring but he was quickly promoted to the Florida State League before the end of the season. Leathersich, who was drafted as a power left handed reliever after being primarily a starter in college, put up eye opening numbers in the New York-Penn League, striking out 26 hitters in 12.2 innings.

Leathersich’s teammate in Brooklyn, eighth-round pick SS Danny Muno, was one of the top hitters in all of short season ball, hitting .355-2-24 with 43 walks and a .950 OPS.

Top 10 Prospects

1. RHP Matt Harvey
Baseball-Reference Player Profile

Harvey was a 2006 PG/Aflac All-American and potential first round pick out of a Connecticut high school in 2007 but turned down a chance at a seven figure bonus to pitch for North Carolina. He was immediately tabbed as the potential first overall pick in the 2010 draft but struggled with consistency and command for his first two years at UNC before regaining his prospect status as a junior. The Mets picked him seventh overall and signed him to a $2.525M bonus just prior to the deadline.

As should be expected (but doesn’t always happen) for a polished top college draft pick, Harvey started 2011 in Hi A and cruised through the Florida State League, then performed almost as well in the second half of the season in AA. He finished with a 13-5, 3.32 record in 135 innings, with only 47 walks and 156 Ks.

Harvey throws a heavy low to mid-90s fastball and does a very good job of working down in the strike zone with the pitch. One of his distinguishing traits is that he’s able to hold his top velocity all the way through pitch counts and will often hit 95-96 mph late in games. Harvey’s top secondary pitch is a low-80s slider that has good depth and bite and is his primary strike out pitch. His curveball is primarily a show me type pitch for strikes and his change up is beginning to develop.

2. RHP Zack WheelerBaseball-Reference Player Profile

Wheeler, the sixth pick in the 2009 draft out of a Georgia high school, came over to the Mets in late July, 2011 in a straight up trade for OF Carlos Beltran. Beltran wasn’t able to jump start the Giants offense and get them into the playoffs before becoming a free agent, while the Mets picked up one of the better young pitching prospects in the game.

In fact, Wheeler and Matt Harvey (above) could easily be termed Top Prospects No. 1a and No. 1b, as they are very similar in raw stuff and big league ceiling, with Harvey having the slight edge due to having pitched successfully at a higher level. Harvey is also only 10 months older than Wheeler, who was an older high school draft.

Wheeler, a 2008 PG/Aflac All-American, pitched for the East Cobb program in the summer and fall during his high school years and had a long track record of consistent improvement, not to mention good health and sound pitching mechanics, leading up to the 2009 draft.

Wheeler is one of the rare pitchers that’s able to sit in the mid-90s for long stretches of time instead of just touching that level now and again. He throws with a pronounced downhill angle from an extended high three-quarters release point that gives his upper-70s curveball even bigger shape and makes it a second strike out pitch. His change up and slider are improving pitches. Wheeler’s command improved significantly after his trade and that could be the most significant factor in his eventually surpassing Harvey as a prospect and future big league pitcher.

3. RHP Jeurys FamiliaBaseball-Reference Player Profile

Familia is the third member of the big armed trio of right handers, with Harvey and Wheeler, that could form the core of the Mets rotation for the next decade. Like Harvey, Familia has experienced a half season of success at the AA level, putting him a bit ahead of Wheeler in terms of experience. The trio is all within 10 months of each other in age.

In terms of velocity and quality of fastball, Familia rates first among the three, with a heater that will frequently hit 96 mph and will peak at 99 mph. He has been able to simply overpower hitters when he’s consistently in the strike zone, something he improved dramatically at in 2011. He also throws a slider and change up but those offerings definitely rank below what Harvey and Wheeler throw as off speed pitches.

It would be surprising if the Mets don’t start all three in AA to begin the 2012 season, something that Mets fans should pay very close attention to as the year develops.

4. OF Brandon NimmoBaseball-Reference Player Profile

The 6-3/185 left handed hitting Wyoming native certainly had all the physical tools and profile for being the 13th pick in the 2011 draft, where the Mets signed him to a $2.1M bonus. Nimmo was a star football wide receiver and state sprint champion in high school and should maintain his plus speed as a centerfielder even as he fills out and gets stronger.

The big question for scouts all spring was about whether they could truly evaluate Nimmo’s bat potential considering his lack of repetitions and high level competition compared to most high school hitters around the country. Two veteran scouts made very telling comments to me late in the spring that convinced me that Nimmo was indeed going to be a very high pick.

One said something to the effect of, “We are getting all excited and giving tons of money to young Latin players who have far less in the way of hitting background than this kid. Put Nimmo down in the Dominican Republic and see what scouts think. You’ll see his athleticism and you’ll see his projection and then you’ll really, really see his bat. Everything would stand out about him even down there where we think the kids are raw skilled.”

The other was a cynic at the start of the spring but told me in late May, “I saw him late in Arizona, I’ve seen him play in Wyoming, I’ve seen him play in South Dakota. I looked for every reason I could not to like his swing and his bat but I just couldn’t find it. He’s sold me, I’d take him with our first round pick without hesitation.”

5. OF Kirk NieuwenhuisBaseball-Reference player profile

If it weren’t for June labrum surgery on his non-throwing shoulder that cut his season off after 53 games, the 6-3/215 Nieuwenhuis could well have made his big league debut in 2011 and perhaps not even have been eligible for this list. He was hitting .298-6-14/.908 OPS as a 23 year old in AAA at the time he was hurt.

Consistency has been the left hand hitter’s trademark since he was drafted in the third round out of NAIA Asuza Pacific in 2008. Nieuwenhuis doesn’t have a true plus tool, but does everything well on the field. Despite his size and just average Major League running speed, Nieuwenhuis has played centerfield almost exclusively since signing due to his instincts and ability to run routes. And while Nieuwenhuis has hit 17 and 18 home runs in his two full seasons in the minor leagues, he does hit enough doubles to qualify as a potential run producer.

The big question for Nieuwenhuis is whether his instincts in centerfield will translate to enough range to cover the large outfield in Citi Field. That would give the Mets a centerfielder with some power for the position, whereas he would fall below the ideal production line should he be relegated to a corner position.

6. 3B Wilmer Flores - Baseball-Reference player profile

The Mets management of their top Latin American prospects from 2006-2009 has undergone plenty of scrutiny from baseball analysts, as the team consistently rushed prospects to levels well above where normal development would place them. Players like OF Fernando Martinez and RHP Jennry Mejia are two obvious examples, with Flores a third.

The Mets paid Flores a $750,000 bonus out of Venezuela in 2007 and he was playing in rookie ball as a 16-year old. Despite having three clubs at the rookie level, the Mets played him the entire season in the South Atlantic League as a 17-year old in 2008. Despite evidence that he wasn’t developing as a hitter, he was in the Hi A Florida State League as an 18 year old and played over 360 games in A ball as a teenager.

Taken in context, Flores' .269-9-81 performance in the Florida State League in 2011 is outstanding for a 19-year old who projects to be an above average defensive player at third base. However, he hardly walks (27 times in 559 plate appearances) and saw his power numbers regress from 2010. If the Mets learn patience with players such as Flores and others, the talent already in their system might take a big jump all by itself.

7. SS Phillip Evans
- Baseball-Reference player profile

The Mets went way out of slot to sign Evans, giving him $650,000 in the 15th round, the third highest bonus they paid to any player, and over $200,000 more than second round pick RHP Cory Mazzoni.

The 5-10/185 Evans is a prototypical Southern California middle infielder in many ways and a right handed hitting version of Tony Wolters, the Indians third round pick in 2010 who received a $1.35M signing bonus. A 2010 PG/Aflac All-American, Evans doesn’t have a true plus run or throw tool, as he’s a 6.9 to 7.0 runner with arm strength that is playable for shortstop and very good for second base. But he is an exceptionally polished and instinctive player both offensively and defensively, although his defense is what will likely get him to the big leagues. Evans also has the type of make up that will make him an extra coach on teams with younger players. Although whether he ever ends up with younger players is doubtful, as the Mets moved him through all three of their short season teams despite his signing close to the deadline.

8. RHP Cory Mazzoni - Baseball-Reference player profile

The Mets drafted Mazzoni in the second round (71st pick overall) of the 2011 draft and showed immediate confidence in him, moving him up to the Florida State League for six appearances at the end of the season. While Mazzoni did make all dozen of his pro appearances out of the bullpen after signing, that might have been in deference to the 92 innings he pitched at North Carolina State during the spring. The 6-1/195 Pennsylvania native has the stuff, strength and command to be a starting pitcher, with a fastball that sits in the low-90s and has been as high as 96-97 mph at times, a power curve in the upper-70s and a split-finger changeup.

9. OF Cesar Puello - Baseball-Reference player profile

Every organization seems to have a prospect similar to Puello, a strong and fast 20 year old prototype right fielder from the Dominican Republic whose biggest challenge to becoming a successful Major League player will be learning some control over the strike zone. Puello fits the bill as a potential five-tool player, with the hit tool the furthest away. He split time between centerfield and right field last year and has the skills to play both, although is arm strength surpasses his speed as a plus tool.

After stealing 45 bases as a 19 year old in the South Atlantic League in 2010 but only hitting one home run, Puello’s power took a huge step forward in the Florida State League last year as he blasted ten home runs (.259-10-51/.710 OPS) and began to use the strength in his 6-2/195 frame to drive the ball. As mentioned, the big hole in his game is plate discipline, as he walked only 18 times (vs. 103 Ks) in 488 plate appearances. Puello was hit by more pitches (20) than he drew walks.

10. LHP Darin Gorski - Baseball-Reference player profile

While top prospects Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jeurys Familia will get all the attention by likely starting the season together in the AA Binghamton rotation, a probable fourth member of that rotation should get some notice as well. Gorski has been flying under the radar since being an upper-80s finesse pitcher out of Kutztown State in Pennsylvania, where the Mets picked him in the seventh round in 2009.

After two undistinguished years in the minors, Gorski blossomed last year in the Florida State League, 11-3, 2.08 in 138 innings, allowing only 29 walks against 140 strikeouts. Most importantly, his velocity moved up from finesse/soft toss category to “firm low-90s” at times, which made his very good change and workable downer curveball all that more effective.

Gorski sounds very similar to another finesse left hander out of a small Northeast school who went on to pitch in the big leagues for nine years, John Halama.

Others in the Conversation: RHP Michael Fulmer, IF Reese Havens, OF Juan Legares, LHP Jack Leathersich, RHP Collin McHugh, SS Danny Muno, SS Jordany Valdspin

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