Mets Top Prospects: #26 Cesar Puello

Here at Amazin' Avenue, were going to start a comprehensive running list of top Mets prospects. To debut the list, I will be counting down the top 26 (because 25 wasn't enough) prospects in the Mets' farm system, starting with 26 today. Mark Himmelstein (a.k.a. Meddler) has graciously volunteered to help on this project, due to his enthusiasm for the community, prospects, and Ike Davis' ugly swing.

Hopefully, this list will benefit all of us, by providing good set of reference materials for future discussion of the farm system. The ongoing community prospect polls are meant to compliment our countdown, but sadly your votes don't count toward this list. Amazin' Avenue is a Simonocracy, a conglomeration of rival warlords under one chieftain, not a Democracy. So without further ado, clocking in at #26 is...

Cesar Puello OF

Vitals

Born: 4/1/91

Height/Weight: 6'2'' 195 lbs.

Bats/Throws: R/R

Drafted/Signed: NDFA from La Romana, DR

Current Team/Level: Kingsport Mets, Appalachian League (Rookie Ball)

Mark's Scouting Report:

Quick and lean, Puello has all the raw tools you like to see in a young outfielder. He has a strong, athletic frame that should fill out nicely as he ages. He has basestealer's speed, a strong throwing arm, lots of range in the outfield, and burgeoning gap power. It's the skills where things get a bit tricky. Puello isn't a total hacker, but he's not a particularly patient hitter, nor is he particularly adept at making consistent contact yet. As with most teenagers, there is a lot of development to do on this side of the scouting spectrum, and unlike other IFAs the Mets have pushed quickly through their system, Puello has neither the plus batspeed to drive the ball consistently nor the strength and bat control to generate consistent loft. These things could change as he matures and adds strength, but such blessings might not come without their curses. The important thing to remember here is that there's a lot of development left here, so any excitements or disappointments should be tempered.

Statistics

Hitting:

Year Level G PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG ISO BABIP HBP SB CS GB% LD% FB% HR/FB
2008 GCL 40 163 151 46 6 0 1 5 32 0.305 0.350 0.364 0.059 0.375 6 13 5 57.00% 6.10% 36.80% 2.40%
2009 APP 10 47 42 13 1 0 1 1 8 0.310 0.370 0.405 0.095 0.364 3 1 0 62.80% 11.40% 25.70% 11.10%

 

Fielding:

Year Pos Outs Chances TotalZone
2008 RF 56 94 +5

 

Mark says:

Because the set is so small, the player so young, and the Rookie League statistical upkeep so unreliable, this is a case where it would be more advisable to follow the anecdotal telephone game-style scouting reports than the numbers themselves. Still, for what it's worth, the high BABIPs and low LD%s mean neutralizing these numbers for luck is going to yield an ugly result.

The only major thing I would suggest we pay attention to is the poor K/BB. If Puello can move those numbers back towards each other, he goes from an all-tools, few-skills prospect to someone you actually wouldn't mind calling one of the better outfield prospects in your system. The one other particular statistic to take note of is the HBPs. Nine HBPs in 50 games is quite a lot, and if the rate continues as the set increases, it would be an indication of a sustainable "skill" (though in this case, I'm not sure that's the proper term). This would mean his OBPs will likely be quite a bit higher than his BB% would suggest, which is a double-edged sword. The pure run value of a HBP isn't any different from a BB, but it is not the same indicator of process (and therefore, by proxy, progress). Thus in terms of progressive evaluation, this will be a case where BB% is going to be a more important litmus test than pure OBP will, relatively speaking.

Sam says:

Considering the BABIPs has remained high, I'm not willing to neutralize his numbers for luck quite yet. Three big non-luck factors in his LD%, BABIP disparity could include: his speed, inferior defenses, and the unreliability of the batted-ball data for minor leaguers. I hope it's more the first thing on that list, but I strongly suspect the LD% is a little unreliable, considering that a similar phenomenon holds for more established prospects at the higher levels of the Mets' system (Nieuwenhuis, Thole).

The Hit-By-Pitches are interesting, albeit a little worrisome. I would like to see some video on Puello, not just for his mechanics, but also where he stands in the box. After last year, I was ready to call his .350 OBP a fluke, but after 3 HBPs already this year, I'll say: be wary, but keep watch.

The most encouraging thing for me, here, is the one homerun already. Hopefully, this modest flash of power is a sign of things to come, as it's hard to draw any more conclusions from such a small sample. Some like to cite his increase in OPS from month-to-month last year, but that's probably as much coincidence as it is improvement.

Similarly, it seems too soon to make a judgment based on his fielding stats, but a positive number is good to see and matches the scouting reports.

Mark Has Fun With Comparable Players

1. Scott Boras' pamphlet says:

Carl Crawford

Year League G PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG ISO BABIP SB CS HBP
1999 APPY-R 60 278 260 83 14 4 13 47 0.319 0.350 0.404 0.085 0.382 17 4 1
2000 SAL-A 135 609 564 170 21 11 6 32 102 0.301 0.342 0.410 0.109 0.351 55 9 3
2001 SOUL-AA 132 585 537 147 24 3 4 36 90 0.274 0.323 0.352 0.078 0.317 36 20 4
2002 IL-AAA 85 383 353 105 17 9 7 26 69 0.297 0.335 0.456 0.159 0.351 26 8 2

 

As far as comping 18 year olds goes, this obviously a nice one for Puello. Puello is only a few months older than Crawford was when he finished his 1999 season, and the similarities are fairly obvious. Both players are/were low power, low contact, high BABIP, midsized, basestealing outfielders. The strikeout rates here are very similar, and while Crawford walked a bit more, he doesn't have those sneaky HBPs. What we see as we continue down Crawford's career is what I will suspect will be a recurring theme in these "ceiling" comps. He didn't show any major improvements level-to-level early on. His rates remained similar through Double-A, and despite a little power surge in 2002, it still took him another couple seasons in the majors to crack a .305 wOBA. This is what will be important in determining Puello's "prospectability". If he keeps doing what he's doing and maintains his athleticism, it might just take a little bit of extra raw strength to push him down a path that will eventually spit him back out as an above average player.

2. Impartial observer says:

Carlos Gomez

Year League G PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG ISO BABIP SB CS HBP
2004 2 Lvls (GCL-R APPY-R) 57 239 221 62 17 4 1 7 38 0.281 0.324 0.407 0.126 0.330 17 2 8
2005 SAL-A 120 539 487 134 13 6 8 32 88 0.275 0.331 0.376 0.101 0.313 64 24 9
2006 EL-AA 120 486 430 121 24 8 7 27 97 0.281 0.350 0.423 0.142 0.340 41 9 20
2007 PCL-AAA 36 157 140 40 8 2 2 15 27 0.286 0.363 0.414 0.128 0.342 17 4 2

 

This is another solid comp for Puello. Gomez even has the early HBPs instead of extra walks, at least compared to Crawford. Interestingly, despite having perhaps the best raw speed of the three, Gomez didn't have a ridiculously high BABIP early on, though he did also sustain one well above average through his minor league career. The problem with Gomez, unlike Crawford, is that instead of maintaining his early minor league rates in the upper levels, he showed some obvious signs of regression. When Carlos jumped from A-Ball to Double-A he experienced a notable increase in strikeouts and decrease in walks. Gomez still went on to become a reasonable major league player, but the vast majority of his value is tied up in his defense. This seems like a very possible path to the majors for a player like Puello, and it accents the point that the thing to watch for is a lack of level-to-level regression, even if there is no apparent statistical progress.

3. Steve Phillips says orally craps:

Reggie Abercrombie

Year League G PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG ISO BABIP SB CS HBP
2000 PION-R 54 253 220 60 7 1 2 22 66 0.273 0.360 0.341 0.068 0.374 32 8 8
2001 SAL-A 135 531 486 110 17 3 10 19 154 0.226 0.272 0.335 0.109 0.298 44 11 12
2002 FSL-A+ 132 569 526 145 23 13 10 27 158 0.276 0.321 0.426 0.150 0.370 41 17 9
2003 SOUL-AA 116 479 448 117 25 7 15 16 164 0.261 0.298 0.449 0.188 0.371 28 9 9

 

There's an obvious statistical difference here between Abercrombie and Puello, Crawford, and Gomez. Abercrombie was an absolute whiff machine. He's another example of a player with excellent raw athleticism, but he was never able to make any kind of consistent contact. Still, the similarities here are still generally positive, despite what Steve Phillips wants you to believe. Abercrombie's BABIP has generally stayed high, though it tailed off a bit more in the upper levels. He also added considerable power as he grew up, but his plate discipline just never improved enough to become a viable major league player. He got hurt after 2005 and it essentially put an end to a prospect career that was hanging on by a thread to begin with. If Puello starts whiffing like crazy in the upper levels, we should use this kind of comp to recognize it as a monster red flag.

Sam Stays Closer To Home:

Last year, Puello played alongside OF Javier Rodriguez (age 18) and IF Jefry Marte (17). All international signees, their respective career paths tell us something about Puello.

Name AB AVG OBP SLG
Javier Rodriguez 135 .193 .258 .237
Jefry Marte 154 .325 .398 .532
Cesar Puello 151 .305 .350 .364

 

Marte, the least athletic of the three, hit the best while playing mostly 3B. He was promoted to A-Ball this year, where he's flopped with a .586 OPS. Javier Rodriguez never made it out of the Gulf Coast League. The lesson: Puello isn't refined but he's a baseball player. I don't mean that in the Steve Phillips, captain obvious sort-of-way, I mean his tools have begun to translate to skills. Rodriguez proves that transformation is not as automatic as we always think. The lesson regarding Marte is that the Mets not rushing Puello with his teammates is smart, not a vote of non-confidence. (Marte and Rodriguez also make  a good disclaimer about rookie league stats: They can prove you suck, but not that you're good.)

Conclusion:

He's a prospect, because along with Nieuwenhuis and F! he is one of the few OF farm hands with legitimate tools. He's this low, because it's hard to read anything from his stats so far, and scouting reports are scarse. Right now, all we can do is wait for some breakthrough on either of those fronts.  He doesn't have to get his BB/K to 1.00 overnight, he has to make enough progress to keep producing in the same way that he has in the Rookie Leagues as he moves up the ladder. Even though he's so young, we can make an educated guess that he will need to remain at least a plus athlete to become a viable major league player. That makes the possibility of injury even riskier, not in terms of likelihood but in terms of the damage it could do to his development. But it also means if he does develop his skills a bit and manages to stay healthy, he could blossom before our eyes.

Perfect-World WAR: 4.5- a Plus-plus corner outfielder with some pop

Path of least resistance WAR: 0.5- a useful fourth outfielder, but no Endy Chavez

Thanks again to Mark for all of his hard work. Expect #25 next week.

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