We get back to the Minor League Season in Review series by taking a look at how the St. Lucie Mets fared this season.
Rough season for the mini-Mets this year as they finished 17.5 games back of first place Charlotte, good for second-to-last in the Florida State League's South Division. Managed by Edgar Alfonzo (brother of Edgardo) who continues to climb the organizational ladder, it wasn't a complete lack of talent that doomed the Mets but in short, St. Lucie was a very imbalanced club. For much of the year they possessed a strong lineup, pacing the FSL in most offensive stats at the ASB. Guys like Stefan Welch, Josh Satin & Jordany Valdespin carried the load for the first half while call-ups like Wilmer Flores & Kai Gronauer took the baton after the break. Unfortunately, their overall undisciplined approach at the plate (337 BB vs. 1117 K) caught up to them and led to an extended period down the stretch where they averaged 1.9 runs/game.
On the other side, we all know that the Mets farm system as a whole is very pitching-thin and no affiliate felt that dearth more so than St. Lucie in 2010. The Mets pitching staff was an abomination all season long with guys like Kyle Allen, Scott Moviel & Jeurys Familia all underperforming while mid-season additions like Brad Holt & Nick Carr just added gas to the flames. There were a couple of bright spots (late season promotions of Brandon Moore & Jim Fuller, a strong follow-up season for Eric Beaulac) but they were admittedly few and far between. And it just gets worse when you look into the numbers: St. Lucie brought up the rear in ERA, WHIP & walks while collecting a league-low three shutouts (compared to a league-leading nineteen by Tampa).
Despite the atrocious pitching, St. Lucie managed to hang around .500 for much of the season; in fact, on July 19th the team was still in contention for a playoff spot, boasting a 51-44 record. However, the story of their season was truly written by a nightmarish 25-game stretch in late July/early August where the club went 2-23. The Mets dropped like a rock in the standings and never recovered. The lackluster pitching staff went from bad to straight-up embarassing as they allowed an average of 5.9 runs/game in that stretch. The offense had already been having a tough time carrying the pitchers and this proved to be the straw that'd break their backs and ultimately end the season in Port St. Lucie.
The Usual Suspects
SS Wilmer Flores - STOCK UP
Not much I can say that we haven't all heard or read before. Wilmer had a very strong year, acquitting himself very nicely in his first exposure to upper level pitching in St. Lucie and even improving his play at short, working hard at his agility and quickness. More importantly, he addressed concerns about his '09 season at the plate, like his lack of power and his poor plate discipline:
Especially impressive when you consider that half of 2010 was spent in the Hi-A FSL, generally a pitcher's league where the average age is usually around 23 years old (Wilmer was 18 for most of his stay there). I know I personally take it for granted sometimes but it's really remarkable to think what he's doing at such a young age. In hindsight commentators question FMart's previous superstar rankings as he was merely surviving as an extreme youngster yet never flourishing. Well, Flores not only has age on his side but proved this year that he can flourish as well. Despite a lack of any one plus-plus raw tool, his advanced hitting skills (namely, the ability to not just make contact but consistently make hard contact) at such a young age against advanced competition is what gives him the potential to be special. Carlos Beltran probably hit on it best during his rehab with St. Lucie, stating "When I was 19, I had no idea of the things [Flores] knows."
OF Juan Lagares - STOCK UP
Lagares' 2010 resurgence was a welcome sight as his prospect stock had tumbled quite a bit after he'd served as the poster boy of the Mets' inane policy of rushing talented, Hispanic prospects only to see them falter. Think of it this way, this was Lagares' fourth year in Savannah and he's only become age appropriate this season. In 2006, Lagares showed a lot of promise as a 17-year old in the Dominican League (playing against other teenagers, mind you). 2007: Tony B. felt the appropriate move was to skip Lagares over three separate levels and start him in Lo-A Savannah. Obviously he was crushed by college pitchers in their low 20's and after spending two more seasons getting his feet under him in Savannah, he finally recovered this year and put his excellent raw tools to good use. During that period he also transitioned from short (where he was too error-prone) out to center/left field. Unfortunately, after a slow start in St. Lucie Lagares' season ended prematurely thanks to a fractured left ankle in late July.
Long-term, the problem for Lagares is that in those mostly lost seasons he spent a lot of time catching up when he should have been developing. And now despite the fact that he's definitely regained some of that lost luster (especially if he can stay in center) and despite the good, projectable tools, ultimately his complete lack of discipline at the plate (this was his third straight season with single-digit walks) will probably limit his success as he climbs the ladder. Thanks again Tony!
C Kai Gronauer - STOCK UP
Big year for the German sensation as he really put himself on the map as far as Mets catching prospects goes and his current gig out in the Arizona Fall League confirms that. Kai was another of the Gnats who was promoted following the ASB and he only improved after arriving at Hi-A. At 23, Gronauer isn't young but keep in mind that this was only his third pro season. Like most European players, his development cycle is a bit behind however he's really showing the kind of skills that make a career in the big leagues a real possibility. Aside from a solid, if unspectacular, offensive game, scouts have lauded Gronauer's ability behind the plate. From good agility and footwork to a strong, accurate arm to advanced game-calling ability, it isn't hard to picture Gronauer as a part-timer in the majors in the mold of a Vance Wilson.
C Francisco Pena - STOCK DOWN
Just about the last thing Pena needed was a season lost to injury; but that's just what he had in 2010 after he broke his foot during Spring Training. He made it back onto the field in late August for a brief twenty game stint and his timing at the plate actually looked surprisingly good. However, at age 21 he's no longer able to ride on potential alone and he's going to have to show a whole lot more (at the plate and behind it too) to bring back some of the excitement he garnered when he first signed with the Mets as a teenager in '06.
To give some perspective, Pena signed about two weeks after another highly sought-after, big-bodied, sixteen year old catching prospect with huge offensive potential inked a deal with a New York club: Jesus Montero. Obviously Pena doesn't have Montero's ability but it gives you an idea of how far he hasn't come since then. Now it's still not time to completely write him off; catching prospects often develop at a slower pace (exhibit A: Geovany Soto) so it would just be dumb to completely give up on the kid but it's taking more and more projection, faith, etc to even visualize him reaching the majors at this point. And although I'd say the Mets' unsurprisingly overaggressive assignments probably really hurt his growth, Pena HAS to show more in 2011, already his fifth year with the organization.
RHP Brad Holt - STOCK DOWN
Obviously Holt was a disaster in 2010. And there were warning signs during the second half of '09 that many (myself included) downplayed and hoped would disappear. Well, they didn't and now we're left with a complete question mark where our top pitching prospect used to be. Specifically, the problem in 2010 was the complete lack of any command, even with the fb. The scary thing is, looking back to his first try in St. Lucie in '09, back when he was at the height of his prospect stardom, that was actually his only stint where he'd posted a BB/9 below 3 at any level, including college. So we're left wondering if the good Holt that we saw was only the exception and the bad Holt we saw this year is more the rule.
Now if there's a bright side, it's that he'd also never exhibited control problems even close to this degree. This year his BB/9 baseline of about 3.5 jumped up to 7+. The big question is, do you see this as a bump in the road or the beginning of the end? For me, I'm willing to revise my original projection of a top-of-the-rotation starter but I also am still not ready to say he's middle relief fodder at best. Reports maintain he's still touching the mid-90's and his secondary stuff is still improving to a degree. Now even if (like many) you don't buy into his breaking stuff, when he's spotting his fb he obviously misses bats (he's also never posted a K/9 below 7 at any level). So in that case I'm still seeing a late inning, high velocity relief prospect which isn't an insignificant role. Of course, that's all if he can reharness that command which granted is a big if but returns from the AFL so far have been mostly good.
RHP Jeurys Familia - STOCK HOLDING
I wouldn't argue if you feel that Familia's stock deserves to drop thanks to a seemingly poor follow-up season after he broke onto the scene last year in Savannah. There was a lot not to like about his 2010 campaign, namely those walks. His previously acceptable walk total nearly doubled in thirteen fewer innings in 2010. And that issue was compounded by the fact that he allowed seven homers in 2010, two more than '08 & '09 combined. Now there is some explanation for the walks (and perhaps even the homers): According to reports (and Familia himself), he was pushed hard by coaches to throw more changeups this season which he did, but not with very good control.
And if that doesn't do it for you, there are more reasons to like his 2010 season: Number one is the huge jump in strikeouts, then there's his already superb GB:FB rate improving even more. Also, it's important to note that FIP of 3.89, a figure not nearly as offensive as the 5+ ERA and driven by a handful of simple factors: 1) A terrible defensive infield featuring Wilmer sandwiched by out-of-position second baseman Michael Fisher and Richard Lucas and his 21 errors at third 2) An unsustainably high BABIP of .350 (compared to a career mark around .290) and 3) an uncharacteristically high HR rate. If you figure that each of those factors improves naturally next season, coupled with reports that Familia's velocity climbed up to 96-97mph while showing even more diving action this year (thus the GB rate), you've got yourself a pretty damn good bet for a bounceback season in 2011.
RHP Kyle Allen - STOCK DOWN
The problem with analyzing Allen's season is that just about everything he did needs to be viewed through the lens of a pretty significant injury as he hurt his back in April and felt the effects all the way through August when he was shut down due to the pain. This makes it very tough to evaluate his performance as he himself said the injury threw off his mechanics making it hard to finish pitches, affecting everything from velocity to command. In that sense it's almost unfair to criticize Allen too much for his poor results this season but we can't completely throw them out, as some highlight trends and others are just impossible to ignore (more walks than strikeouts, yuck). For example, both his K/9 & BB/9 have been regressing each year since his debut in '08. His BABIP (.301) was right in line with career totals, his HR/9 (.53) was nearly identical to last season and his FIP (4.88) was not far from his ERA. Again, you've got to take 2010 with a grain of salt but considering I already felt that the perception of Allen wasn't quite aligned with his OK stuff, definitely didn't like what I saw this year.
RHP Eric Beaulac - STOCK UP
Another strong year for Beaulac and though he wasn't quite as dominant as his '09 in Savannah, his ability to produce strong results against much more age-appropriate competition was a good sign for his long-term prospects. Those prospects probably lie in the Mets bullpen as he is basically just a two-pitch, fastball-slider pitcher. Beyond that, his fb velocity has always been inconsistent in longer outings and his changeup still lags far behind his two other offerings. Though his 2010 saw his K/9 drop from over 10 down to about 6, a move to the 'pen would ideally allow Beaulac to maintain his low 90's velocity and continue to induce plenty of ground balls with his sharp slider, which already looks like a major league caliber pitch with plus potential. Overall, Beaulac reminds me of another long, lanky righty with low 90's heat and a strong slider - Buffalo's spot starter/longman Josh Stinson - and could easily team with Stinson to form a solid, right-handed middle relief duo up at Citi Field in the next couple of seasons.
More Names Worth Watching
After a decent first half in Savannah, lefty-hitting RF Rafael Fernandez had a very good Hi-A debut with St. Lucie, batting .300 and OPS'ing .835 off of lefties. The 22-year old has a very athletic build and apparently there are(were?) those in the organization who really like his ability to eventually reach the show....CF Pedro Zapata performed the opposite trick, surging in Savannah then fading upon his arrival to St. Lucie. Though a year older, Zapata is like Fernandez in that he is an athletic outfielder though he's a righty with much better wheels (36 sb in '10), allowing him to man a very strong center...23-year old RHP Elvin Ramirez continued to show why he floats in and out of prospect discussions in 2010. On the bright side, he had no recurrence of prior back issues and kept hitters at bay to the tune of a .212 average against using his hard-sinking fb that sits around 93mph and has plus potential. On the down side, even after a full-time move to the 'pen his BB/9 ballooned to a career-high 5.25 and (as it has in the past) really limited his overall success...1B Stefan Welch had a strange year, helping carry the St. Lucie offense in the first half but absolutely falling apart once the reinforcements from Savannah arrived after the break. Either way, Welch doesn't have enough bat to project as a first baseman at higher levels ...Once again limited by arm injuries, '07 second rounder RHP Brant Rustich pitched only 14.2 innings in 2010. The 25-year old still flashes the tremendous stuff that once had scouts projecting a future closer but at this point, the notion that he could stay healthy for an entire season is optimistic thinking to say the least...The Mets other '07 second round pick RHP Scott Moviel did stay healthy in 2010 but didn't fare much better, either starting or in relief. The 6'11" righty just never developed the velocity/stuff the Mets were hoping for and despite a decent K-rate (7.38), has proven exceedingly hittable (.294).