Sunday, May 23, 2021

Making the Future Brighter

The main storyline for the New York Mets is about treading water while all of their players on the Injured List work their way back. It's been a bit frustrating to watch them try to win Major League games while playing mostly their Triple-A lineup, but I do admire that they've been able to compete in most of their games during this stretch. Still, their listless loss to the Marlins today capped a disheartening 3-6 road trip. It might be a bit more interesting if their roster at Syracuse included more true prospects. Then there would at least be the sense that we were previewing the future of the big league club these last few games. Sadly, this is not the case.

Pitchers Jordan Yamamoto and Sean Reid-Foley are depth pieces the Mets acquired through trades this past winter to provide some pitching depth lacking in the upper levels of their own organization. They're both 25 and have had Major League experience with their former teams. Reid-Foley appeared in 21 games from 2018-2020 for the Blue Jays. The former second-rounder was ranked 10th on the Blue Jay's prospect list in 2018 with a ceiling as a mid-rotation starter. Now he's seen as a middle reliever. Yamamoto had appeared in 19 games from 2019-2020 for the Marlins. After a solid rookie season in Miami, Yamamoto couldn't follow up on it last year. He wasn't good in today's loss, either. These guys have been useful in covering for some of the injuries this season, but neither is likely to be a significant contributor to the Mets' next championship.

The most likely guys who may play roles for that hypothetical champion are pitcher Sam McWilliams and outfielder Khalil Lee. McWilliams is a guy who reinvented himself through advanced analysis last year, though he didn't pitch in the majors. The Mets were interested enough to give him a Major League contract for the year, outbidding other teams. He's intriguing but struggling for consistency in Triple-A Syracuse. It's telling that the Mets haven't even given him a quick look with all of the shuttling in and out of relievers. Meanwhile, Lee has a reputation for being a great athlete who struggles to make contact. He's lived up to that, striking out 10 times in 15 ABs with the Mets.

The real prospects in the Mets organization are all pretty far away from potential MLB careers. Going by MLB's Top 10 list:
  1. Francisco Alvarez, C: The 19-year-old is killing it in Low-A St. Lucie. He's likely to get promoted to Brooklyn at some point, as he's overmatching the Low-A Southeast League.
  2. Ronny Mauricio, SS: The 20-year-old is a level above Alvarez and enjoying great success in Brooklyn. It wouldn't be much of a shock to see him promoted to Double-A before the season is over. At some point, he's going to have to get experience at other defensive positions — unless the Mets see him as strictly a trade chip.
  3. Matt Allan, P: After looking great in camp, the kid went down to Tommy John surgery. He'll probably pitch again in the second half of 2022 as a 21-year-old. Had he stayed healthy and kept pitching well, it wasn't inconceivable that Allan might have made his MLB debut late next season. That definitely won't happen now. I'm sure the Mets will play things quite conservatively with him next year.
  4. Brett Baty, 3B: The 21-year-old is off to an excellent start in High-A Brooklyn. He doesn't have a HR yet but has 5 doubles in 14 games.
  5. Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF: The Mets' #1 pick last season was off to a great start in Low-A St. Lucie until he tore a labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. The 19-year-old will undergo major surgery to repair the damage. The Mets haven't announced any timetable for the surgery and recovery, but it would be surprising to see him back on a playing field this season.
  6. J.T. Ginn, P: Originally looked at as a first-round talent, Ginn fell to the Mets in the second round in 2020. Like Allan, Ginn needed Tommy John surgery, but he had it last season before the draft. He spent some time in training camp, though he didn't pitch. Ginn will likely see his first minor league action later this summer. He's 22 and pitched a season of college ball as a freshman. Provided he comes back strong from the surgery, Ginn will likely beat Matt Allan to the majors.
  7. Khalil Lee, OF: As mentioned above, Lee, who will turn 23 next month, has big questions about his ability to make contact. He supposedly made some swing changes with the Royals last season that would help in this area, but we sure haven't seen evidence of that yet.
  8. Mark Vientos, 3B: He's actually a month younger than Baty, though he was drafted a year earlier. In 2019, Vientos was promoted to Low-A Columbia at the end of the year. The Mets aggressively assigned him to Double-A Binghamton this year, and it's been a struggle so far for the 2017 second-rounder.
  9. Alex Ramirez, OF: The 18-year-old international signing from the Dominican Republic was the Mets' top international signee in 2019 but has yet to play in the minors here in the states yet. Everything is projection at this point.
  10. Thomas Szapucki, P: The lefty will turn 25 next month. Multiple injuries, including Tommy John surgery, have really slowed his ascent to the majors. He probably profiles as a reliever, if he makes an impact in MLB at all. In a deeper system, Szapucki wouldn't be a top-10 guy at this point in his career. If he is to be an impact Major Leaguer in any capacity, he will need to prove that he can pitch effectively and stay healthy. Currently in Triple-A Syracuse.
The quick overview of the system presented above doesn't reflect any attempt to present myself as a prospect guy. I am definitely no expert in that area. Like many Mets fans, my primary interest in their minor league talent is what sort of Major League ballplayers they might develop into. Their best prospects currently are far away from the Majors. The ones on the list who are closest to MLB are unlikely to have a big impact, if any. There are certainly players outside of MLB's top 10 who might wind up playing for the Mets. You're probably talking relievers and bench players for the most part, but some guys in the system could conceivably blow up into something more.

Still, my biggest hopes for this club would be that 5 years down the road, a list like this would look much different. There would be premium talent near the top of the list that would be knocking on the door of the Majors. There would be young players outside of the top 10 who had a realistic chance of being impact Major League ballplayers. And, while I commend the work of Zack Scott and the front office for scrambling around getting some viable depth players this winter, it hopefully will no longer be necessary for the team to acquire a Jordan Yamamoto, Joey Lucchesi, or Khalil Lee unless they're gambling on an upside play.

The problem with prospect depth in the system is reflected in the W-L record of their top two affiliates. Triple-A Syracuse fell to 4-14 on the season this afternoon, while Double-A Binghamton's defeat put them at 2-15 for the year. Obviously, winning isn't everything in Minor League baseball, but when you're two top affiliates are a combined 6-29 on the year, you probably don't have many outstanding players at those levels.

That's the state of the system today. What will it take to make dreams of a much more productive system a reality? We'll explore that in our next post tomorrow.

Please be well and take care. Given the progress with the pandemic, I'm going to retire "stay safe" from my signoff as a nod to a more hopeful future for all of us.

Note 6/1/2021: In my original post, I had incorrectly stated that Mark Vientos had been promoted at the end of the 2019 season to Double-A Binghamton. That was incorrect, he played the whole season in Low-A Columbia. That made the Mets' decision to start him in Double-A this year a much more aggressive move. I have updated this post with the correct info and apologize for the error in the original post.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.


  1. I believe McWilliams has hit the minor league IL list (what a surprise!!!) It's uncanny how many issues have impacted the team's players at all depths.

  2. I hadn't heard about McWilliams. What a freaking year


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