Wednesday, August 3, 2011

For this week's update, the focus will be on players who, throughout the Mets system, are regarded as their "top prospects" or players that will have an impact at the big league level. In the following weeks, stay tuned for players who have had surprising seasons, good or bad, and updates on how recent draftees and international signings are handling their first taste of professional ball.

In Buffalo, the Mets AAA affiliate, there are not too many top notch prospects. With Kirk Nieuwenhuis injured, the roster is composed mainly of guys who have the potential to be good role players on a major league team, but not high impact stars.

Three guys that come to mind are Ruben Tejada, Fernando Martinez and Nick Evans.

Evans has hit in AAA all year, and since being sent back to Buffalo, has continued to hit, with a .315 average on the year to go with a .469 SLG percentage. Tejada started out strong for the Mets, but struggled mightily in his last month in Queens, and those struggles have continued since being sent down on July 19. In his last ten games, Tejada is hitting .189 (7-37), with only one extra base hit. Tejada's defense is major league ready, but if he wants to start, he will need to start to hit.

As for F-Mart, his entire career has been about injuries, and those injuries have continued this season. After missing another two weeks on the DL, he has been active for three out of Buffalo's last four games, getting the day off Tuesday. It has never been about talent, as he hit another home run August 1st, but with only 33 games left in the season, Martinez has to figure out how to stay on the field to keep hope alive of him contributing regularly to a big league club.

In AA, Binghamton has a roster with a lot more high-end talent. With names such as Matt Den Decker, Reese Havens, Jordany Valdespin, Jeurys Familia, and Matt Harvey, there is plenty of long-term upside.

To start with the hitters, it is good to finally see Havens playing every day. Even though he is not hitting very well at the moment, with 14 k's and only one extra base hit in his last 38 at-bats, like F-Mart, being on the field is the most important thing for him. I still believe in his talent, and the more at-bats he gets, the more it will show.

Valdespin is a player who has always had the tools, but has never really put it together. A player mainly known for his speed, (31 steals already this season), Jordany has put together a run of power that he has never done before that has scouts drooling over his total package. Over his last ten games, he has slugged .568 with seven extra base hits in only 44 at bats. His 15 home runs this season are more than the 14 home runs he had COMBINED in his first four seasons as a minor leaguer.

Den Decker on the other hand, has not hit or walked nearly as much as he did in St. Lucie, the Mets A+ affiliate. Before Aug 2, he had struck out in nine straight games, and will definitely need to refine his approach in order to advance through the Mets system.

When looking at the pitching, the news is very good. Familia returned from the DL to start for the B-Mets last night after missing about a month with a shoulder impingement. Despite results that do not warrant praise, he was clocked multiple times in the high 90s, as high as 97, so he looks healthy and that is all I wanted to hear from his first start back.

The most promising news, possibly in the entire Mets organization was, and has been Matt Harvey. In his last start he went 7 innings pitched, giving up only four hits, one run and two walks with ten punch outs. This is by far his strongest outing in AA. After his first three shaky starts( 13 innings, 20 hits, 13 earned runs, 4 walks, 14 k's), he has really turned it around, combining for 17 innings, with only 15 hits, six walks against 24 k's. He looks like he has learned how to dominate AA, as he did A+.

In A ball, the Mets have four organizations: St. Lucie and Savannah as full season teams, and Brooklyn and Kingsport as short season teams. These players are at least two years away from contributing to the big leagues, so as an evaluator; it is not necessarily about results, but more about "stuff" and projections.

This week I am going to focus on two high upside arms in Kingsport, Juan Urbina and Akeel Morris. Urbina, the son of former major leaguer Ugueth Urbina, was ranked the Mets eleventh best prospect coming into the season by Baseball America. His overall stats this season are not good, but over his last two starts he has 12 strike outs against only two walks in nine innings; a drastic improvement when compared to his 15 k's and 12 walks in his previous five starts spanning 20 innings.

Morris on the other hand, has had dominant stuff from the get-go. He leads the Appalachian league in strikeouts, but also leads the league in walks, which means he still has a lot of work to do. However, like Urbina, he has been better lately. In his last two starts, he has thrown 11 innings, giving up only five hits and one earned run to go with 13 k's. While he has trimmed down his ERA, he has still not found his control, as he also gave up seven free passes in those 11 innings; which is unacceptable. For Morris, the stuff and potential is obviously there, he just needs to refine his control.

On the hitting side, the spotlight is glaring on Cesar Puello and Cory Vaughn. Puello has been tearing the cover off the ball for an entire month now, finishing July hitting .382/.407/.764 with 11 extra-base hits in his last 15 games. Considering Puello hit .227/.283/.320 with 20 extra base hits in his first 80 games, this is a very encouraging development. He still has plenty of work to do, considering he had 11 k's against zero walks in this stretch, but this kid simply oozes potential, and stretches like these have the Mets higher ups salivating for more.

Unfortunately, Vaughn's story is the complete opposite. After starting the year making the all-star team for Savannah, his swing has fallen apart. Cory was promoted to St. Lucie at the end of June, but has struggled mightily since the promotion and even more of late. In his last 36 at bats, he only has four hits, with 13 strike outs against 1 walk. While his power numbers are up, how he does the rest of the season will have a large impact on where he begins his 2012 campaign.

To close, I want to focus on Zack Wheeler and his first start in St. Lucie. While his box score was not spectacular, allowing four runs on seven hits in four innings, there were two things that were great to hear. First, his stuff was electric. According to the New York Post's Tim Bontemps, Wheeler,"Hit 99 on three different fastballs tonight on one gun." Second, and even more importantly, he did not walk a single batter!

Two starts before Wheeler was traded, he changed his mechanics back to the way he threw in high school, (the Giants made some adjustments to his delivery after they drafted him). In his first 77 innings this season, he walked 45 batters, but in his most recent 15 innings since making the switch, he has only walked two. For a pitcher who is well-known for his command issues, (he walked six batters per nine innings last season), this type of improved control is a huge step in his development.

If he can continue this trend, he could be on the verge of helping out the big league club by the end of 2012, with the likes of Matt Harvey and Jenrry Mejia not too far behind. No matter how successful the team is in 2012, if these three are starting 60% of the Mets games by the end of next season, they will most definitely be an exciting team to watch.

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