Friday, May 7, 2021

The Return of Some Old Friends

Things are looking slightly better for the New York Mets today after they managed to pull out a split of the series against the St. Louis Cardinals. It's not as if there aren't still obvious problems, of course. The Mets actually set an all-time team record for men left on base in a 9-inning game in yesterday's finale. But they had a winning road trip and are managing to keep their heads above water while trying to get everything clicking and make a real run. The 13-13 record isn't ideal, but it could be a lot worse. Thank goodness for the solid starting pitching and surprisingly effective bullpen while the club attempts to warm up those ice-cold bats.

Taijuan Walker continues to impress in his outings for the club. For a guy who seemed to be Plan Z for the Mets front office, he's actually putting up numbers close to what Trevor Bauer has done for the Dodgers at 1/4 of the cost. It may be unrealistic to expect that to continue all season, but I cling to the hope that the Mets will start producing offensively before too long. If Walker continues to pitch competently, he should help this team win some games. His efforts so far have made the recent setback for Carlos Carrasco much easier to take.

I still don't have any real clarity about who the 2021 Mets really are. I expect things to come into focus by the end of this month. My obvious hope is that they're going to start scoring some runs and play consistent winning baseball. If I have insecurities about that outcome, they are rooted in so many previous seasons where Memorial Day dawned on a Mets team that was already proving they weren't built to win. I don't believe that to be the case this year, but my confidence would really be bolstered by seeing something closer to the offense we expected at the start of the season.

One thing that's got me really charged up this week is the return of Minor League Baseball. Following the progress of Mets prospects has carried me through many seasons where the Major League club was a disappointment. It gave me something to dream about. And it's never been easier to keep up with happenings on the farm than it is today with an abundance of sources on the internet.

It was different in my younger days when I subscribed to the Sporting News for their coverage of the minor leagues. I remember pouring over old minor league box scores and stats that were already out of date when the paper was delivered to me. I eventually lost interest in the process in my teens when my fascination with girls surpassed my interest in baseball. It certainly didn't help that the Mets rarely developed any outstanding players, anyway.

It was an open secret that under the Wilpons, the Mets never went all-in on their scouting and development. Still, there was some progress in developing a few more home-grown prospects over the past 15 years or so.

When Omar Minaya was hired in the fall of 2004, he had a reputation as a scouting and development guy, and there were some thoughts that he would make a priority out of rebuilding the farm system. It didn't work out that way, really. The Mets did some good things with the system during Minaya's tenure, but their efforts still lagged far behind the most successful organizations. More progress was made during Sandy Alderson's years as GM.

The last couple of years under the in-over-his-head Brodie Van Wagenen have featured a mixed bag of solid drafts and trading prospects for questionable returns. But the biggest problem had been obvious for years: the lack of commitment on the part of the owners to spend money on something that wouldn't pay immediate returns. While progressive teams were surging ahead, utilizing new technology and new thinking in development methods, the Mets lagged behind, unwilling to adapt to changing times.

Still, for years there has been at least a smattering of interesting prospects. The internet and all of the growth in minor league coverage made it a lot easier for me to follow what Mets prospects were doing in real-time, without the delays caused by printing and mailing from the old Sporting News days. As much as I loved the sport, I never developed the skills to evaluate prospects myself. Still, I really enjoy following Mets' prospects and how they were doing, and I love reading the opinions of experts on the subject. Hat tip to Mack Ade and some of my other colleagues at Mack's Mets for the great job they do in this area.

Steve Cohen purchasing the club and announcing a commitment to building a sustained winner with the Mets gives me some real hope for the first time in many years that the Mets farm system will be far more interesting to watch in the coming years. But there are also intriguing prospects in the system right now, and it's been a real kick these last couple of days following their progress in Minor League games once again.

The Mets did a decent job during the pandemic season of keeping their top minor leaguers and new draft picks engaged and developing as much as possible. Credit goes to Van Wagenen and his regime for not dropping the ball under extremely trying conditions. But being able to play ballgames once again is such a big difference, both for the prospects and for those of us who want to keep tabs on how they're progressing.

For this year, it will be fun to follow the progress of Francisco Alvarez and Pete Crow-Armstrong in St. Lucie. I'll be keeping tabs on Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio in Brooklyn. Mark Vientos in Binghamton and Sam McWilliams in Syracuse will be another couple of guys who I'll check in on. I'm bummed that Matt Allan's exploits will be tabled until sometime next year, but hoping that he'll come back strong.

Beyond that, I'm greatly looking forward to watching the Mets strategy in the upcoming draft and the next international signing period. By all accounts, the Mets plan to be much more active in the international market. Once they sign some of those guys, I'm more hopeful that the Mets will pull out all of the stops to maximize their chances of becoming valuable Major Leaguers.

If I still have some confusion over what the MLB Mets are exactly this season, I have a great deal of excitement and anticipation for what their farm system will become over the next few years. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to follow their nascent efforts towards that goal this season with their minor league affiliates. After a long year away, they're back, baby!

Please stay safe, be well, and take care.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

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