Looking at the different talent evaporators around the sport, many will peg the Mets farm system in the lower third of farm systems. There are a myriad of conflicting and reasonable opinions why this exists.
There is the fact that over the past few seasons, the Mets organization has seen top prospects like Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and Amed Rosario graduate from prospect status. Knocking names like these off your lists is going to take a toll on how your farm system is perceived.
There are those like Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, who surmises the Mets have made a series of mistakes in the draft that include drafting Gavin Cecchini over Corey Seager and drafting L.J. Mazzilli over Cody Bellinger.
While either or both of these may be true, there may be an alternate explanation. What if, the Mets are actually drafting the right players, but they are failing their prospects by failing to do what is needed to help cultivate each prospect’s talents to get them to reach their full potential?
Consider for a moment, the difference between Keith Law’s 2017 and 2018 prospect lists. In Law’s 2017 rankings, he had listed Mets prospects Rosario (1), Dominic Smith (29), Thomas Szapucki (60), Robert Gsellman (76), and Justin Dunn(84) in his Top 100. (ESPN Insider). This year? Well, only 2017 first round pick David Peterson made the list. (ESPN Insider).
Now, it is true Rosario, Smith, and Gsellman are no longer considered prospects. It is also true Szapucki and Dunn have dropped off the list. Their dropping off the list does seem to answer the question why the Mets prospects are not developing with way many believed they would.
With respect to Dunn, Law comes close to, but does not quite say the Mets handling of him was a complete disaster. In a conference call discussing his Top 100 prospect list, Law had this to say about Dunn:
They probably pushed him too far to high A just speaking in hindsight, but also there were a lot of issues with his fields of pitch, with his fastball command, with lack of life on the fastball that you almost look — and again, this is all hindsight, but you look and say, nobody caught that? Nobody on the player development side looked and said, well, hey, wait a minute, here are two things we’re going to have to work on in instructional league last year in spring training this year, before sending you out to high A, which is normal for a typical college draftee, but maybe not for him.
Really, it is quite an indictment on the Mets organization to say they completely missed something on a top prospect during the Instructional Leagues, and the team also failed to address the issue during a season in which Dunn would go 5-6 with a 5.00 ERA.
As we saw with Law’s rankings, seasons like this tend to cause evaluators and organizations to begin re-assessing their opinions of certain players. This is not something unique to Dunn.
Certainly, we saw something similar happen with former first round draft pick Kevin Plawecki. Entering the 2015 season, the Mets were excited about him, and when Travis d’Arnaud got hurt in April, they rushed Plawecki to the majors. Over the next few seasons, he would bounce between Triple-A and the majors. In that time, he would never quite progress. That was until last year, when he finally had a prolonged stretch in Triple-A. Judging from his performance last year, that helped him figure things out and help him enter the Mets plans for the 2018 season.
Certainly, the mismanagement of the development of prospects goes further than Dunn and Plawecki. The same could be said for someone like Cecchini, who after two very good years in 2015 and 2016, completely regressed last season, and his status on the 40 man roster is now teetering.
While the Mets handling of prospects like Dunn and Plawecki are instructive. The situation with Szapucki is equally as enlightening.
After dominating opposing batters in his first two professional seasons, Szapucki first appeared to take small step back with Low-A Columbia. Eventually, it was discovered Szapucki had a torn UCL requiring season ending Tommy John surgery.
With that Szapucki joined other promising Mets prospects Jordan Humphreys, who was having a break-out season on the mound, and position player Blake Tiberi in needing the surgery. If only, those were the only season ending surgeries and injuries the Mets suffered in their minor league system last year. Frankly, it has become a pattern, and it’s hindering development, and it is one that has not escaped Law’s attention:
They have had a ton of injuries on the farm, too. I’ve written the Mets’ org report already. I think it goes up on Monday. And I’m struck by how many guys were hurt, are coming back from getting hurt, guys who haven’t come all the way back. Luis Carpiois a good example of a guy who I thought was going to be a pretty good prospect at least, threw out his shoulder, had surgery, and has just not been the same player since he returned. So some of this is health, and I don’t know if that’s player development, the training staff, or just rotten luck.
Really, it goes much further than Szapucki, Humphreys, Tiberi, and Carpio.
Catcher Ali Sanchez has had hand injuries in successive seasons. Desmond Lindsay has had issues staying on the field, and he needed major surgery last year. Jhoan Urena effectively lost two seasons of development time to injuries. Even rising star Peter Alonso has suffered broken bone injuries the last two seasons, which given the Mets current track record, should give everyone pause. It should surprise no one the list goes on and on from there.
Looking at everything, maybe you still conclude the main issue is the graduation of prospects. It’s still possible many believe the real issue is the inability to select the right player. Regardless of your point of view, the one thing that cannot be discounted is this Mets organization is having difficulty keeping players healthy, keeping them on the field, and surrounding them with the things they need to succeed.
For those that don’t follow the Mets minor league system closely, Thursday was about as bad a day as one organization could possibly have.
The day began with the Mets announcing Cameron Planck, last year’s 11th round draft pick, is going to undergo season ending shoulder surgery. Planck is undergoing shoulder surgery before ever throwing a pitch as a professional.
Ironically, the Mets didn’t pitch him last year to protect his arm. The Mets invested heavily in the high school arm paying him $1,000,001 to keep him from going to the University of Louisville.
Before the surgery, Planck had a mid-90s fastball, a terrific change, and a developing knuckle curve. Hopefully, he can not only be this pitcher once again, but also fulfill the destiny he had as a potential front line starter.
Another potential front line starter in the Mets organization is Thomas Szapucki.
Last year, Szapucki was 4-3 with a 1.38 ERA, 0.885 WHIP, and a 14.9 WHIP in nine starts between Kingsport and Brooklyn. The 21 year old lefty has a mid to high 90s fastball and a curveball that baffled both right-handed and left-handed batters alike.
Things have not gone as well for him this year. His 2017 season was delayed due to a shoulder impingement in his pitching arm. After five good starts, Szapucki left Thursday’s game.
Initially, it was believed he left the game in relation to his getting hit with a line drive. No such luck. As it turns out, Szapucki left the game with left forearm discomfort. Many times a pitcher’s complaints of forearm discomfort is a precursor to Tommy John surgery.
If that’s the case, on one day, the Mets may have lost two pitchers who were on the path to one day being top of the rotation starters for the major league club.
While we rightly focus on the issues the major league rotation has had staying healthy, there needs to be focus on the Mets inability to keep their minor league pitchers healthy. If the past few seasons is any example, the Mets NEED a strong group of minor league starters when the major leaguers get hurt.
Szapucki and Planck should be front and center among internal candidates. Hopefully, Thursday will not stand in the way of that happening.
In the NHL draft tonight, the Vegas Golden Knights will be drafting players from each of the other 30 NHL rosters. There is a provision that players who have less than two years of service time are automatically protected thereby not making a team choose between a significant player and a huge prospect. It does beg the question about what would happen if that provision were removed.
Better yet, what would happen if teams were forced to protect just 10 of their best prospects in an effort to permit the new team to stock their minor league system. If the Mets were put in the position to select eleven players with under two years service time, who should they select?
1. SS Amed Rosario
By any account, Rosario is among the top prospects in all of baseball if not the top prospect. He has more than justified that billing this year. Through 69 games, Rosario is hitting .325/.368/.479 with 15 doubles, four triples, seven homers, 48 RBI, and 12 stolen bases. He’s great, and there is no circumstance in which the Mets should even think about losing him to another team.
2. 1B Dominic Smith
The Mets have been aggressive promoting their 2013 first round pick through the minor leagues. Last year, he was the youngest player in the Eastern League. This year, he has been among the youngest in the Pacific Coast League. Through it all, he has held his own, played a terrific defensive first base, and is developing power at every stop. He is the first baseman of the future for a team who will likely lose their current first baseman at the trade deadline or free agency.
3. RHP Justin Dunn
Last year’s first round pick has terrific stuff, and he showed it off last year. While he struggled this year, he has been better off for those struggles. Since being demoted to the bullpen to help him find himself, Dunn has gone 3-1 with a 0.86 ERA and an 8.1 K/9. When you have a player that struggles and improves this much, this is a player you make sure to keep.
4. RHP Robert Gsellman
Gsellman started last year pitching in Double-A, and he finished it helping pitch the Mets into the postseason. He’s had an up and down 2017 season, but he has shown flashes of his tremendous talent. He is just 23 years old, and he still has the stuff he did last year when he posted a 2.42 ERA in eight games. With a better infield behind him, which we should see with a Rosario promotion, we will likely see a return of the stats we saw last year.
5. SS Andres Gimenez
The 18 year old dominated the Gulf Coast League last year showing off his skill set that had him one of the highest regarded international free agent signings in 2015. He has skipped short season ball and held his own during his 37 games for the Columbia Fireflies. He has a good bat regardless of position.
6. LHP Thomas Szapucki
Szapucki is potentially a top of the rotation starter with a mid to high 90s fastball and a very good curve ball. He used that to be completely dominant in rookie ball. After an injury to start the year, he has just returned from the disabled list, and he is rounding into form.
7. CF Desmond Lindsay
The man dubbed as the “Offensive Machine” when he was drafted has certainly taken off lately. While he struggled to start the year, he has adjusted to the Sally League, and he has begun dominating. Since June began, he has been hitting .333/.400/.694 while playing a good center field. It seems he may have put his leg issues behind him, and he is taking the next step.
8. C Tomas Nido
After years of struggling at the plate, Nido broke out last year winning the Florida State League batting title. After a slow start to the season in Double-A, he is once again showing he is as complete a catcher as they come hitting .300/.353/.483 with 10 doubles, four homers, and 22 RBI in his last 32 games. He is proving last year was no fluke, and he is the Mets catcher of the future.
9. RHP Marcos Molina
Despite missing a year due to Tommy John surgery, the Mets believed enough in Molina to add him to the 40 man roster. They were right to do so. In five starts for St. Lucie, he was 2-3 with a 1.26 ERA, 0.767 WHIP, and a 7.2 K/9. That has earned him a promotion to Double-A and a clear path towards the major leagues.
10. RHP Seth Lugo
With spin rates, we know Lugo’s curve ball is the best in the majors. He has used that to help propel him not just to the majors, but also to have success in the majors. In addition to that, he has a fastball he can get into the upper 90s when he needs a big out. He used this repertoire to help pitch the Mets into the postseason last year. He has used it again this year to be effective in the rotation upon his return to the rotation from his elbow injury.
11. LHP Anthony Kay
The Mets have long wanted him. After failing to sign him out of high school in 2013, they made him their second first round draft pick last year. That is because he has a fastball he can get into the upper 90s with a promising curve ball and change. Like many college pitchers, his arm was abused by his coach, and he has suffered an injury requiring Tommy John surgery. He should be able to bounce back and be the pitcher the Mets have long thought he could be.
In the above list, the Mets have lots of pitching talent, but that would also leave a lot of pitching talent exposed. If the Mets went this route, they could lose a Harol Gonzalez or Jordan Humphreys, both of whom are having terrific years. There is also the potential position player cost. Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini are both former first round picks who are close to being regulars at the major league level.
Even if you were to make some amendments to the above list, you are still going to leave a very talented player exposed. This speaks to the depth of the Mets farm system that the Mets continue to improve with each draft and each international signing period.
Looking at this Mets team since 2015, one thing has been perfectly clear: this team is built on pitching, and it will only go as far as the pitching carries them. In 2015, when their starters were healthy and able to last the season, the Mets were able to win the National League Pennant. In 2016, with three of the arms going down, the Mets were still good enough to enter the postseason as the top Wild Card.
The Mets have been fortunate because the pitching has been cheap. It was not until recently that Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom entered their arbitration years. Noah Syndergaard won’t be arbitration eligible until after this season. It is interesting because it is after this season that things begin to become murky. Harvey and Wheeler are scheduled to become free agents after the 2018 season with deGrom becoming a free agent the season after that.
With the Mets success rising and falling on their pitching, it begs the question why haven’t the Mets selected at least one or two pitchers and come to terms on a contract extension. The common refrain among Mets fans is the team should keep Syndergaard and deGrom and join them in a rotation that one day may also feature Robert Gsellman, Justin Dunn, and Thomas Szapucki. For now, even with the clock ticking, the Mets aren’t making a move.
While it may not make sense to most Mets fans, in a report by Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the New York Mets have advised why they have not entered into contract extension discussions with any of their young pitching:
As GM John Ricco explained, “[GM] Sandy [Alderson] has not said let’s be aggressive in that area, and that [injuries] is the biggest reason.”
Fact of the matter is each one of these pitchers have an issue. Harvey, deGrom, Matz, and Wheeler have all had Tommy John surgery. Harvey, deGrom, and Matz all had season ending surgery last year. Even someone healthy like Syndergaard dealt with bone spurs last year. Point is, the Mets pitchers have not been exactly healthy, nor do they inspire confidence they will be healthy going forward. To that end, the Mets relative inactivity has been understandable.
2. Lack of Urgency
As noted in Sherman’s piece, the Mets do not have a pending free agent until the after the 2018 season, and Syndergaard isn’t a free agent until after the 2021 season. Honestly, this reason is a bit disingenuous. With Harvey’s pending free agency many expect this is Harvey’s last season in a Mets uniform as the team does not want to risk him walking in free agency and the team getting nothing in return for him.
3. Pitchers Aren’t Interested In Extensions
According to Ricco, who would know this better than fans, extension discussions are typically begun by the player and his agent. Again, with fans not being in the business, it is hard to challenge him on this. With that said, it is hard to believe the Mets would be willing to let all their pitchers go to free agency without so much as initiating contract disucssions with them. Frankly, it is harder to believe when you consider back in 2012, the Mets pounced on an opportunity to give Jon Niese a five year contract extension.
As noted in Sherman’s piece, when you give a contract extension to one player, it is going to have ripple effects. As Ricco said, “You would have to manage personalities because if you do [an extension] with one, how does it impact the others?”
Now, this is a bit of an overstatement on Ricco’s part. Entering into contract extensions with the pitchers should be part of an overall plan. For example, when Omar Minaya was the General Manager, he was faced with Jose Reyes‘ pending arbitration in 2006, he agreed with a four year pact with his shortstop. Minaya then quickly moved and locked up David Wright to a six year deal. While Alderson is dealing with more than just two players, Minaya’s actions certainly show if the team has a plan an executes it, there should be no issues.
It is something Mets fans don’t want to hear, but it is a reality. After this season, the Mets will have Reyes, Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Addison Reed, and Fernando Salas as free agents. The team will have to decide on options for Jerry Blevins and Asdrubal Cabrera. In addition, all of the Mets marquee starting pitchers will be in arbitration thereby escalating their salaries. Furthermore, Jeurys Familia will also be owed a lot of money in arbitration if he has another stellar year. Long story short, the Mets will have to spend some money this offseason.
In order to do that, the Mets need to have the money. As Ricco explains, “Once you’ve locked in [on an extension], you do limit flexibility in some ways.”
Now, it is easy to say the Mets can plug in Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith next year, but at this point, it is not known if they will be ready to be 2018 Opening Day starters. Putting forth such a plan would be folly, especially for a team that can still compete for a World Series.
Overall, the Mets concerns over not extending their pitchers have some merit, especially when you consider the injury issues. Still, the longer the Mets wait, the more expensive each of these starting pitchers will become. As they become more expensive, the chances of locking up more than one of them significantly decreases. Sooner or later, the Mets are going to have to take a chance on a couple of these pitchers if they have designs of competing for World Series over the next decade. With Harvey being a free agent after next season, the sooner the Mets begin executing a plan, the better.
With the full season minor leagues having their Opening Day on Thursday, the Mets have announced the rosters for each of their minor league affiliates. Each team includes an interesting group of prospects. Each team also features a particular strength of each aspect of the Mets farm system. Keeping in mind each particular group is viewed not just in terms of how good the players are now, but also how they project going forward, here are the best of the best:
Best Starting Pitching – St. Lucie Mets
The St. Lucie rotation features a number of pitchers who may very well make their way to a major league mound. The former second round draft pick Church fixed both his hip and his mechanics, and he had a breakout season last year. Dunn is already a top 10 Mets prospect a year after he was drafted. Molina is back from Tommy John surgery, and he has looked good in both the Arizona Fall Leauge and Spring Training. Crismatt more than held his own against the vaunted Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic. This is as exciting a rotation as there is in the minor leauges, and possibly, you will see some version of this rotation with the Mets one day.
Honorable Mention: Columbia Fireflies. A rotation with Jordan Humphreys, Merandy Gonzalez, and Harol Gonzalez is a very interesting minor league rotation. It would have been more interesting with Thomas Szapucki, but he is slated to miss time due to a shoulder impingement.
Best Bullpen – Las Vegas 51s
The 51s bullpen features Sewald and Roseboom who were both extremely effective closers last season. Certainly, both impressed the Mets enough to get long looks during Spring Training. Prior to having bone spurs removed, Goeddle was an effective major league reliever. Rowen gives you a different look with his sidewinding action on the mound. Arguably, this could be a major league bullpen that could hold its own.
Honorable Mention: Binghamton Rumble Ponies. The Rumble Ponies bullpen has Corey Taylor, who has been favorable compared to Jeurys Familia, as its closer. There are some other interesting names like Ben Griset, who is a very promising LOOGY, and Luis Mateo, who was once a very well thought out prospect before he faced some injury issues.
Best Catching Tandem – Las Vegas 51s
If nothing else, Plawecki has established he can handle a major league starting staff. More to the point, Plawecki has shown himself to be a very good pitch framer. While his bat has lagged in the majors, at 26, he still has time to improve. Behind him is Carrillo, who is a good defensive catcher that won the Gold Glove in the Mexican Winter Leagues this past offseason.
Honorable Mention: Binghamton Rumble Ponies. Tomas Nido seemingly put it all together in St. Lucie last year, and he appears poised to take the mantle as the Mets catcher of the future. Binghamton very easily could have been named the top catching tandem off that, but some deference was paid to Plawecki showing he can handle the position defensively at the major league level.
Best Infield – Las Vegas 51s
When the weak point of your infield is a player who is coming off a season where he won the Eastern League batting title, you know you have something special. Rosario and Smith are considered two of the best prospects not only at their positions, but in the entire game. Cecchini played well enough last year to be put on the 40 man roster a year ahead of schedule and earn a September call-up where he hit two doubles in six major league at-bats.
Honorable Mention: St. Lucie Mets. The team features a pair of 2016 draft picks in 1B Peter Alonso and SS Colby Woodmansee who showed real ability during their time in Brooklyn. Due to that success, they both skipped Columbia and joined an interesting second base prospect in Vinny Siena and a promising hitter at third base in Jhoan Urena.
Best Outfield – Columbia Fireflies
No, this isn’t because of Tebow. This is mostly about Lindsay, who has been labeled as an “offensive machine” by the Mets organization. He is a five tool prospect that with a little health will arrive at Citi Field sooner rather than later. Another interesting five tool prospect is former Division II player Zanon. He certainly has all the tools to succeed. It is a question whether those tools can translate against better competition. Cone is a player who has a good baseball IQ, but he still needs to translate that and his talent to on the field success
Honorable Mention: Las Vegas 51s. The outfield got demonstratively better with the recent signing of Desmond Jennings. It will get better with either Brandon Nimmo or Michael Conforto playing for them again. That depends on Nimmo’s health as well as the health of the major league outfield. It will also be interesting to see how Matt Reynolds handles taking on what was Ty Kelly‘s role last year in being a utility player that mostly plays left field.
Overall, the Mets have a number of good to very good prospects who are either close or project to be major leaguers. Some of those players like Rosario will be stars. Others should have long major league careers. While we are getting excited for another year of Mets baseball, we also have a lot to be excited about for years to come with these prospects.
After the 2013 season, Curtis Granderson was really a free agent for the first time in his career. While Granderson was always durable, he was coming off an injury plagued season that was the result of getting hit by two pitches. In the prior to season for the Yankees, Granderson was coming off consecutive 40 home run seasons. In fact over that two year stretch, Granderson led the majors with 84 homers. With that in mind, Granderson was one of the most coveted free agents on the free agent market.
To that end, it is surprising that a player like Granderson who had mostly played for good teams in his career would opt to go a Mets team coming who never had a winning record since moving to Citi Field. Moreover, it was surprising that a power hitter like Granderson was so willing to move to the cavernous dimensions of Citi Field.
And yet, Granderson signed a four year deal to become the Mets right fielder. Why?
Well as Granderson told MLB Network during their 30 Clubs 30 Days feature on the Mets, “I was optimistic it was going to happen. Sandy Alderson and the Mets organization told me about the young guys – the Matz’s, the Syndergaard’s, I had see Harvey, the deGrom’s – and all of a sudden here they are. Not only are they here but they’re here to stay. They all piggyback off of each other and do an amazing job.”
Either Sandy did a great job selling, or Granderson just has an eye for talent because heading into the 2014 season things were not that optimistic.
Matt Harvey‘s incredible 2013 season was cut short with him needing Tommy John surgery. Noah Syndergaard was not yet dominating in the minor leagues despite having terrific stuff. Steven Matz was just coming back from pitching after what had been an arduous Tommy John rehabilitation.
Now, Zack Wheeler was coming off a promising season, and Rafael Montero promised to be the next big thing. While Granderson mentioned Jacob deGrom, if we are being honest, no one knew what he was yet. Certainly, not the Mets as they had deGrom lower on the depth chart than Montero.
Despite all of that, Granderson was right, it has all worked out. Even better, the Mets have pitchers like Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo who have developed into good pitchers while Granderson has been a Met. Behind them are pitchers like Thomas Szapucki and Justin Dunn.
Back in 2013, this was the image of the Mets Alderson presented to Granderson. To his credit, Granderson bought in and signed with the Mets. To Alderson’s credit, he not only delivered, but he keeps delivering.
As Granderson enters the last year of his four year contract, it is important to remember he was the first free agent that believed the Mets could one day be World Series contenders. Not only did he sign with the Mets based upon that belief, but he has also been an important contributor to this Mets team both on the field and in the clubhouse. In many ways, the Granderson signing was a pivotal moment. It was the time that the Mets starting the process of going from a rebuilding team to a World Series contender. It was also the time when someone started believing in this team.
Like the Mets, the minor league affiliates’ seasons are long over, and over at Mets Minors, organizational leaderboards are being compiled, and awards are being handed out:
Full Season Batting Leaders – statistically speaking Brandon Nimmo might’ve had the best year especially with him missing out on the Pacific League batting title by .001 points and him having the top OBP in the farm system.
Full Season Pitching Leaders – Naturally, the above-referenced pitchers were listed throughout.
Here is how all the 2015 draft picks fared with Alonso and Justin Dunn as standouts. And nowadays, you would be remiss without mentioning the fact that Tim Tebow homered in his first professional at-bat.
However, here are the bigger awards everyone is most curious about:
As you saw this season, there were major contributors from the Mets minor league system this year. If not for Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Josh Smoker, T.J. Rivera, and others, the Mets may not make the postseason this year. It is not only good to know the Mets minor league system has been this beneficial, but also that there is a significant amount of talent behind the players we have already seen contribute.