By Mike Steffanos
Mark SI's John Donovan down as a skeptic when it comes to the Mets overtaking the Braves, and Minor League Ball's John Sickel as not impressed by the Mets farm system:
Sports Illustrated: NL East Preview
John Donovan, a baseball writer that's good enough to know better, pens the kind of crap that gives me agida:
No discussion of the National League East in 2006 can even begin without acknowledging two unflagging truths: The Mets spend money like Ivana Trump and the Braves still are the team to beat.
Nobody has gotten a more unfair rap this off-season than Minaya as a spendthrift. The payroll has gone down, but a high profile trade and signing seem to negate the salary room he created in the eyes of some writers. Tom Verducci, the best baseball writer, managed to avoid this trap by paying attention to the facts (what a concept!), but not many others did.
One thing I won't fault Donovan for is questioning whether the Mets can win the division with their starting pitching as currently constituted. We're all wondering about that. He likes the Braves to win the division because he likes John Smoltz and Tim Hudson over Pedro and Glavine. I think the Braves have every bit the question marks in their rotation as the Mets, and a lot more in the bullpen. Still, until the Mets prove they can beat the Braves head to head, you can't beat up anyone for picking Atlanta. The Mets went 6-13 vs. the Braves in 2005. If they went 10-9, all else being equal, they would have won the division.
A lot of experts think the Braves will find a way to pull a bullpen together, but few give the Mets that kind of credit as far as finding a way with their rotation. It's the difference in the way the two teams are perceived, and in fairness, it's based on track record. The Mets will always have more to prove until they...
...well, actually prove something.
Between Omar, Willie and Rick Peterson, the Mets built a pitching staff last year that performed above expectations. We tend to remember Looper's failings and the negative stuff, but look at what they were expected to do early in the year and where they ranked at the end. For what it's worth, I believe they will find a way this year, too -- and with more talent out available, they will be better. I'll go out on a limb -- I think their pitching will be far more solid than Atlanta's both in the starting staff and in the bullpen. I think Glavine will continue to succeed -- maybe not as dominating as at the end of 2005, but with a solid ERA in the mid 3s. I think Heilman will step up, too. Now if they can only figure out how to win a few games in Atlanta...
Minor League Ball: Mets Top 20 Prospects
John Sickels has his updated Mets Top 20 prospects up. For the full list please click the above link. After all of this summer's dealing, needless to say coming up with a top 20 is stretching it a little.
Sickels has Mike Pelfrey, who hasn't thrown a pitch for their system yet, ranked number 2 on the list. Sickels gave him an A- rating. Others on the list who haven't played in the system yet are Fernando Martinez, the 16-year-old who signed a big contract last year; and Cuban defector Alay Soler.
Milledge is, of course, the top-ranked prospect. Anderson Hernandez is 3 and Brian Bannister is 4. Bannister is a good kid, and does show promise to contribute something on the major league level, but he wouldn't be close to a top 10 prospect in a good system.
If you're looking at just upside, the ones I've been hearing a lot about in that regard are Milledge, Pelfrey, Martinez (whose LH swing scouts drool over), Carlos Gomez (who can establish himself as a legit top prospect this year -- or not), Emmanuel Garcia (ditto) and LHP Jon Niese (drafted out of high school last year).
Depending on how he comes back from Tommy John surgery, Humber could reestablish himself as a top prospect. A lot of scouts see him as a solid #3 major league starter, and before he got hurt some thought he might be getting a look by September of this year.
It's bad -- but nothing unexpected. You can only hope that Milledge pans out and some of the babies like Gomez and Fernando Martinez reach their potential -- and that all of the changes that Omar has made in scouting and development create a deep farm system down the road that won't be devastated by a couple of trades.
MetsBlog: Ken Rosenthal Interview
Matt Cerrone has an interview with baseball writer Ken Rosenthal, who has been critical of many of Omar Minaya's deals in print. Not a big surprise that he is critical in this interview -- especially with what he perceives as Minaya's impatience and impulsiveness. Here's a sample:
...I think, perhaps, they've compromised themselves too much by trading Kris Benson and Jae Seo, with three guys at the top who have age issues. And then Victor Zambrano and Aaron Heilman, who are not anybody's idea of greatness, at the back end. And even the bullpen I'm still reserving judgment on, I still wanna see how it all shakes out...
And then there has been some criticism of Omar Minaya's lesser deals, and, I think, justifiably so. That being said, should they be a contending team? Absolutely...
Rosenthal's criticism here is both fair and fascinating, and should spark interesting debate among Mets fans. A fine interview.