The New York Mets began the year with hopes of making a deep playoff run. A never-ending stream of injuries prevented that from happening and the Mets won just 70 games, their fewest in any season since 2003.
But is any in-house help on the way?
To answer that question, Minors Only chatted with Mets minor league expert Toby Hyde. Owner of the Mets Minor League Blog, Hyde travels around the minor league system and his Mets Minor League Report video series can be seen at SNY.tv.
Project Prospect: Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis received more late-season buzz than any other prospect in the system. How high are you on him?
Toby Hyde: Fairly high. His late-season power surge was very encouraging. He's made a run at being a top ten prospect in the system. He has the tools, specifically the speed and agility for center field, and the bat now looks like it's for real. A year ago, scouts thought he was a fourth outfielder, but now some think a little more highly of him. I don't think it's an impact bat on the corner, but World Series teams have had success recently by playing rangy defenders at two outfield spots and sacrificing a little offense for a lot of defense.
PP: Brad Holt's transition to Double-A did not go well. Do you read much into that and do you see him as a starter or a reliever long term?
Hyde: Yes, I read something into Holt's difficult transition to Double-A. Double-A is the dividing line where stats really start to be very clear in predicting major league performance. After striking out more than 11 batters per nine innings in each of his first two professional stops, his K/9 dropped to 7.0 in Double-A. Meanwhile, his Double-A walk and homer rates were his highest as a professional. When I saw him in 2009, his fastball simply did not have the same kind of velocity as it did in 2008. His breaking ball had made progress since 2008, but was still not an offering he could rely on. Right now, he looks like a reliever.
PP: Jefry Marte had a lot of breakout buzz entering the year, but ended up being overwhelmed by the South Atlantic League. How much has his stock dropped?
Hyde: Not as much as you might think. The Mets jumped him from the Gulf Coast League to the South Atlantic League in the season in which he turned 18-years-old. Had he put up big numbers, he'd look like a future superstar. Instead, he's still a guy who shows a lot of potential. There's some pop in his bat, but he must become more disciplined at the plate to make it play more consistently. Despite an eye-popping 49 errors this year, the Mets think he has the ability to play third. He remains years away from the big leagues.
PP: One prospect who held his own against older competition was Double-A's Ruben Tejada. What does he project to be at the major league level?
Hyde: That's actually a really good question. After hitting .289/.351/.381 as a 19-year-old in Double-A while playing smooth defense at short, he absolutely looks like a big leaguer. He finished with his best month by hitting .319/.358/.416 in August with a season-high eight steals. He's not a burner, but rather an opportunistic thief. The real question about Tejada is whether he'll continue to add strength and become an impact bat. Coaches who have worked with him note that he's become stronger in the last year, but he's still a slightly built five-foot-ten and well shy of 200 pounds. Last year, he hit just .231/.294/.297 with an 18% IF/F and a .270 BABIP. That IF/F dropped to 11.4% this year as his BABIP rose to .325.
Are there some good bounces in that BABIP? Absolutely, but he was also making much stronger contact. In 2009, major league shortstops hit .271/.328/.393 while second basemen hit .271/.336/.416. It doesn't seem like a stretch at all to think that Tejada can reach a 750 OPS. Given that he'll play good defense, he'll be a cheap asset, whether or not he ever hits for the kind of power that would make him a star.
PP: The Mets have brought in a lot of young Latin American talent in recent years. Did they make any splashes in that market this summer?
Hyde: It wasn't so much a splash as a spark. The Mets biggest international signing was lefty Juan Urbina, son of former big leaguer Uegeuth Urbina. According to research by Patrick Clark at Beyond the Box Score, the $1.25 million the Mets gave Urbina makes it the 25th largest signing bonus of all time for a Latin Amateur (excluding Cubans), but just the 7th largest in 2009.
PP: Between Brian Schneider and Omir Santos, the Mets lack a long-term catcher. Can Josh Thole fill that void?
Hyde: Yes. With enough playing time, Thole will be a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2010. Schneider will not return to the Mets. In a limited big league audition, Thole hit .321/.356/.396 in 53 major league at bats and had a 752 OPS that was supported by a .354 BABIP. That may seem fluky, but realize he had a .359 BABIP over 384 AB in Double-A. Even if you subtract a few singles from that line to drop Thole's BABIP back toward .300, he's still better at the plate than Omir Santos. Santos managed a 688 OPS, which was his highest at any level since 2006. Keep in mind that major league catchers averaged a 717 OPS in 2009.
The question about Thole is his defense. In the big leagues, he threw out two of six runners stealing against him, but was charged with three passed balls. By contrast, Santos threw out 30% of runners (15 of 50), but committed just three passed balls in 91 games to Thole's 17 games. Some of the balls he couldn't handle could be attributed to learning a new pitching staff. A naysayer would point out that Thole was among the Eastern League leaders in passed balls, and scouts were not at all fond of his work behind the dish. Thole's a hard worker, so I think with repetitions, he'll improve to major league adequacy.
PP: Given the uncertainties in the major league rotation, it won't be long before fans start to clamor for Jennry Mejia. Realistically, how long is it before fans can expect to see him in Flushing?
Hyde: Summer 2010 -- in a relief role, perhaps -- would be the earliest Mets fans can expect to see him at Citi Field. After going to the Arizona Fall League this year, I give him almost no chance to break camp with the big club in the spring.
PP: Assess the progress of the two 2008 first rounders, Ike Davis and Reese Havens.
Hyde: We'll do the easy one first. After a homer-less and very disappointing 2008 debut, Davis was everything a first rounder is supposed to be in 2009. He made stops in High-A and Double-A and did that while hitting and hitting for power in both places. A .298/.381/.524 season with 31 doubles and 20 HR has put him towards the top of the organization's prospect list.
He has bat speed and very real pull power from right-center on over. He's a strong defensive first baseman with nice footwork around the bag and active hands. The remaining weakness in his game is his performance against lefthanders, but even over the course of 2009, he made progress through repetition. Davis hit .197/.231/.279/.509 in 61 at-bats against southpaws in High-A, but improved on that to .268/.342/.465/.807 in 71 Double-A at bats. Even while adding 300 points of OPS, he was 200 points shy of his destruction (.331/.409/.618) against righthanders. Nonetheless, the strides he made were significant. Davis could hit his way into a look for the Mets in 2010.
While Davis' 2009 put to rest any questions about his underlying ability, Havens' season did not. Havens was nicked up and missed significant time in 2008. He did the same in 2009. When he was drafted in 2008, scouts wondered whether he would have the agility to play short in the big leagues. After committing 21 errors in 97 games in High-A, those concerns remain. When he was drafted, there were concerns that professional pitchers would exploit his unusual swing in which he started his hands very low. After hitting .247/.361/.422 in High-A, those concerns remain as well. Havens did not strike out at alarming rates -- 73 times in 97 games -- so perhaps his average will rebound.
He clubbed 19 doubles and 14 HR in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League and his ISOP of .175 is not far from Davis's FSL mark of .198. That suggests that some power is there, and with 55 walks, he showed some real plate discipline. The move to Double-A in 2010 will answer a lot of the outstanding questions about Havens.
PP: The Mets didn't have many high picks in the draft this year, but what did you make of the rest of their draft? Any personal favorites?
Hyde: It was a thin draft in terms of numbers. The Mets didn't have a first rounder and failed to come to terms with their fifth and sixth rounders. A lot rests on the development of their first pick, second round lefthander Stephen Matz, who signed for late-first round money. The Mets are also very excited about the raw athleticism and the power/speed combo of fourth-rounder Darrell Ceciliani, who hit .234/.313/.310 in 42 rookie ball games with 14 stolen bases.
PP: Jeurys Familia put his name on the map this year. What kind of stuff does he have and where does he rank among Mets pitching prospects?
Hyde: Familia has a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a rapidly improving breaking ball. His change is his distant third pitch. He ranks in the top three of Mets pitching prospects with Jenrry Mejia and Brad Holt.
PP: Which other prospects have seen their stock rise this year?
Hyde: We've touched on the biggest risers: Davis, Familia and Thole. The rest of the big risers were members of a very talented Low-A rotation. 19-year-old righthander Kyle Allen had a real nice year for Low-A Savannah by going 9-6 with a 3.45 ERA and a ground out to air out ratio of 2.18. He has a live arm and an unusual feel for a breaking ball and changeup for his age. Lefty Robert Carson and righty Eric Beaulac both look like they could at least be bullpen pieces in a few years.
PP: Who are a few prospects who had disappointing seasons?
Hyde: Both Fernando Martinez and Jon Niese played their way into the big leagues and then got hurt up there before getting a real chance to prove that they were ready to take the final step toward becoming productive big leaguers. That has to be disappointing for both players. Francisco Pena's .224/.258/.329 line doesn't look very impressive, but I see reason for optimism in that he was just 19-years-old in High-A and also because he hit a career-best eight homers and stuck out just 78 times in 100 games. Righthander Scott Moviel missed half the season with knee surgery, and then didn't miss enough bats (46 in 64.1 IP) in High-A for me to call him a top prospect.
PP: Who are a couple sleeper hitters to look for in 2010?
Hyde: Pena is a better approach away from putting it all together. He needs to lay off the stuff out of the zone, and walk more than three times a month. With more discipline, his power would become more fearsome. I have a soft spot for second baseman Alonzo Harris, who popped 10 homers for Kingsport as part of a .273/.321/.447 campaign. He's a terrific athlete who turned down multiple big-time Division 1 football scholarships and he is a plus runner who is very raw defensively. When in doubt, bet on the tools. Like Pena, Harris is pretty hacktastic, fanning 59 times against 17 walks in 58 games. With a little more refinement on both sides, he could be THE breakout guy next year in the Mets system. I like third baseman Richard Lucas, who can go the other way with very rare authority for a player of his age. I've seen him sting balls literally from line to line. Outfielder Nick Santomauro has some pop, but some holes in his swing.
PP: Who are a couple sleeper pitchers to look for in 2010?
Hyde: A healthy Dillon Gee might be very useful upper level depth for the Mets. Lefty Adam Bostick deserves a shot in spring training to win a bullpen role. Southpaws Urbina and Matz are the two most exciting arms the Mets added this summer.
PP: Lastly, an updated top 5 Mets prospect list would look like what?
Hyde: Martinez is still up there at the top along with Niese as both fell short of losing their rookie eligibility due to season-ending injuries. Mejia and Davis are also in my top five. I haven't decided who gets the last spot yet. Candidates include Thole, Tejada, Wilmer Flores and Holt.
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