Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE
Continuing the Season in Review series, today we'll have a look at the Binghamton Mets and quite an interesting group of young prospects.
No matter what you say about Binghamton this year, 2010 was a huge improvement over the historically bad 54-86 campaign of 2009 which sent manager Mako Oliveras packing to the Mexican League. In his stead, long-time Met Tim Tuefel made his Double-A managing debut after a couple of seasons in the same role with St. Lucie. And in many ways Binghamton resembled a Double-A version of St. Lucie: powerful offense, numerous position prospects around the field but ultimately a serious lack of impact starting pitching was the crippling factor, leading to a final record of 66-76, seventeen games back of first.
On the offensive side, business was good for the B-Mets in 2010, despite a good amount of turnover. The team boasted five hitters with fourteen or more home runs and it seemed that whenever one slugger left, another one took his place to keep the Binghamton offense humming right along. We saw this various times throughout the year either as a result of injury (in the case of Reese Havens & Zack Lutz) or due to promotions. When a middle-of-the-order spot was left open thanks to the promotion of CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis to Buffalo, Sean Ratliff stepped right into center and excelled at the plate. When Reese Havens went down, Josh Satin answered the call, same for Zack Lutz and Eric Campbell. Ultimately, the Mets offense ranked first in the Eastern League in doubles, homers, slugging, OPS and second in batting. This was definitely your prototypical station-to-station, "three-run bomb"-type offense as the club also ranked dead last in stolen bases.
Unfortunately, the Binghamton pitching staff was basically the mirror of their offense, allowing lots and lots of runs and no matter who they plugged in, it just didn't work. Prospects like Brad Holt & Robert Carson were extremely disappointing while middling starters like Dylan Owen & Chris Schwinden seemed to meet their match at Double-A. The bullpen was just as bad as intriguing pick up Clint Everts was a disaster and guys like Roy Merritt & Eddie Kunz left a lot to be desired. All in all, the B-Mets pitchers ranked second-to-last in hits, homers, ERA, WHIP, saves and they were dead last in walks. An abysmal pitching staff was the anchor that held this team around the .500 mark for most of the season and ultimately dragged them down even further by season's end.
The Usual Suspects
2B Reese Havens - STOCK DOWN
Another year, another season-ending injury for Havens in what is becoming a serious threat to the second baseman's (he switched off of shortstop for good this year) long-term prospects for major league success. The most frustrating part is that when he's on the field, the kid hits. In fact he looked like he was kicking off the breakout campaign many predicted when in his first exposure to Double-A pitching, Havens teed off for six bombs in just eighteen games, batting .338 with a .400 OBP. Unfortunately, that was it. Havens went down with a re-aggravation of an oblique injury and never came back when the injury just wouldn't heal and turned into back issues. The idea of surgery was tossed around but ultimately the org. felt the best course of action was to let Havens take the rest of the season and now the winter off and come into 2011 completely healthy.
I think we're at the point now where we can no longer pencil Havens into the Mets infield of the future. That's not to say he can't or won't get there but he really has to prove he can stay on the field for an extended period before we can project him as a major league starter. In his three-year career, Havens has only once played more than 23 games in a season. Toby Hyde wrote that Havens has played in only 47% of his team's games since joining the organization. Havens could easily be an impact talent but as impressive as his tools are, they still need to develop and the #1 way to make sure they won't is if he keeps missing time.
Coming into the 2010 season Campbell was an infielder with a poor glove, a career .253 average and nine pro home runs to his name. The '08 eighth rounder out of BC was beginning to look like organizational filler but all that changed this year. Campbell got off to a decent start in pitcher-friendly St. Lucie but it was a .397/.455/.590 May that made him one of the most potent bats in the system as he showed increased power while maintaining his trademark plate discipline. By the end of the month he was in Binghamton where he kept right on hitting after the call-up and by the break had already matched his career total in homers (9). Unfortunately Campbell broke his pinky in late June and when he came back in August he didn't seem to have that same life in his bat as he hit around .250 with just one homer in his final 31 games (split between between St. Lucie & Binghamton).
Campbell was one of the system's most pleasant surprises in 2010 but for a prospect not gifted with loads of speed or athleticism whose third base glove is highly suspect (so much so that he played 40% of his games in left in 2010), he's going to have to prove himself again in 2011. Prove that his power surge in the first half was for real, prove that he has enough bat for a corner position (1B/LF) and prove that his second half slump was strictly injury-related.
Valdespin is one of the more peculiar prospects in the Mets farm system. He's athletic, quite fast and even has surprising strength for someone his size (5'10", 150lbs). He certainly passes the scouting "eye test", eliciting praise for his "major league actions" in the field and his excellent bat speed at the plate. You may remember Valdespin garnering a good amount of attention from the (former) powers that be during spring training, who remarked about his tools and near readiness to contribute. Then after a late start to the regular season due to injury, Valdespin put those tools to good use in St. Lucie posting his best offensive line to date although he slowed considerably in his first exposure to Double-A pitching.
The problem is that the kid is too raw. In the field, out of control play leads to unnecessary errors. At the dish, the lefty-swinger has virtually no plate discipline, regularly walking in the single digits. His walk rate has declined at each of his past three stops as pitchers learn to throw him balls and reached a horrid 1.7% in Double-A. To top it all off, Valdespin has a definite maturity problem and has been suspended on multiple occasions by the organization. The good news here is that though he's not exactly a youngster (23 in December), Valdespin is young in terms of experience; 2010 was his first pro season where he topped 70 games and only his third overall in the states. Valdespin may have the tools to play at the highest level but he has a long way to go before he can be considered a possible everyday major leaguer and with Rule V eligibility looming, adding him to the 40-man roster is a very tough call.
CF Sean Ratliff
Ratliff is another somewhat divisive Mets prospect because his 2010 was one of extremes: On the one end the '07 fourth rounder performed like a star, getting off to a quick start in St. Lucie and upon promotion to Binghamton taking the Eastern League by storm as possibly it's best offensive player from that point on. With just twelve more games under his belt Ratliff would have ranked second in the EL in OPS (as a center fielder no less) behind only 31-year old minor league vet Tagg Bozied. Ratliff also jumped from a career average against lefties in the low 200's to a .333 mark against them in 2010; not a be-all, end-all statistic but not insignificant. However, to see the other extreme all you've got to do is take a look up above at his strikeouts. The kid swings and misses a lot. So much so that paired with his relatively low walk rate, many question whether or not his on-base skills will translate to the majors. Also, it's pretty clear at this point that Ratliff is a corner OF, not a center fielder, in the majors leagues.
When I look at Ratliff I think of another tall, skinny, lefty taken in the early rounds out of the Pac-10 with prodigious power and high K-rates, Detroit's Brennan Boesch. Like Boesch I don't see Ratliff batting too much above .250 but also like Boesch I do expect Ratliff to produce double-digit power from day one while (unlike Boesch) also providing plus defense from the corner outfield.
1B/2B Josh Satin
After a solid 2009 in Savannah, Satin answered questions about whether his bat would translate to higher levels with a very strong offensive showing in 2010 facing off against more age-appropriate competition. Though he's still not showing the kind of home run power he did in college when he hit 18 bombs in his senior season, Satin continued hitting tons of doubles (thanks to extremely high line drive rates). However, Satin also answered questions about his defense in 2010 but not quite so positively. It became pretty apparent by season's end that Satin doesn't have the range nor the hands to play a major league second base on an every day basis and as a result the Mets began playing him all around the infield.
Satin reminds me a lot of a right-handed version of Dan Murphy. He can clearly hit, for average and gap-power with the occasional pull-side homer, and what's more he'll take some walks. Unfortunately he just doesn't have the kind of defensive skill set or even that one plus offensive tool to profile as an every day player. On the bright side, like Murphy, Satin too has been able to get comfortable all over the field which in and of itself creates some of that defensive value that he is otherwise lacking. Satin profiles well as an offensive-minded major league utility man; though with guys like Murphy, Evans & Justin Turner in the fold, there may be a bit of a logjam in that role with the big club.
LHP Mark Cohoon
Very good year for the 22-year old Cohoon who really solidified his status as a legitimate pitching prospect and one of the better ones in the Mets entire system. The soft-tossing lefty absolutely destroyed the Sally League in the first half, finishing his time there with a record three straight complete game shutouts. The Mets responded to this dominance by challenging Cohoon with a promotion to Bingo, completely skipping Hi-A St. Lucie (which doesn't happen often). Cohoon scuffled at first (7.09 July ERA) but seemed to figure things out and pitched to a 1.65 ERA the rest of the way.
Cohoon is your classic crafty lefty. Not blessed with much velocity on the fb (he rarely tops 88mph), Cohoon is a master at mixing his pitches and hits his spots extremely well. He features a strong curve and change-up which he can throw for strikes on both sides of the plate and he's adept at cutting the fastball for more run. He's definitely a cerebral pitcher who gets rave reviews for his mound presence as well as his excellent pick-off move. But because of his very low velocity Cohoon will need to maximize every last tool in that bag to succeed as a starter in the majors so at this point it's difficult to peg him as anything more than a future #5.
LHP Robert Carson
Carson was the recipient of one of the more surprising promotions this season as the Mets pushed the 21-year old up to Binghamton even after he hadn't quite mastered Hi-A in just his first season at St. Lucie. Unfortunately, the big lefty made the org. look bad, getting rocked for the better part of three months. The feeling with Carson was that he always struggled in his first exposure to a new level but after a few starts would always seem to catch up; in St. Lucie he started with a 7.07 ERA before going 7-2 with an ERA in the mid-3's the rest of the way. This did not happen in Bingo. And though I was one who said Carson might actually get a lot out of the move, I'm willing to revise that statement; they should have left him in St. Lucie.
Either way he's still an interesting arm thanks to his size and velocity (he usually works around 93-94mph) and his nearly overhand delivery creates excellent downward tilt, meaning lots of ground balls. Long-term I don't think Carson has consistent enough secondary offerings to stay in the rotation but could easily become an excellent lefty late-relief option if he shores up that spotty fb command.
LHP Eric Niesen
After starting the season on the radar to back up Pedro Feliciano, Niesen missed the cut and went on to absolutely fall apart in Binghamton. It didn't take long for the Mets to pull him out of the rotation but that didn't seem to make a difference as Niesen was not only issuing walks at an alarming rate (he allowed three more than in 2009...in 73 less innings) but was looking a lot more hittable (average against jumped from .246 in his first go with B-Mets in '09). To make matters worse he suffered a concussion on a throw-through from his catcher, though the team insists this had no lasting effects.
Niesen is like Carson in that he has the stuff to pitch in the show; he can dial up the fb to the 93mph range from the left side and even features a nice sweeping slider which can be a swing-and-miss pitch. Unfortunately, for any of that to matter Niesen needs to exhibit some control, something he didn't do in 2010. Now it isn't uncommon for guys with this profile (hard-throwing lefty, former starters with control problems) to suddenly click a little later in their careers (see, JC Romero, Matt Thornton & Pedro Feliciano) but at age 25, Niesen is running out of time with this organization, especially as a potential candidate for the Rule V draft this December.
RHP Dylan Owen
Owen had another OK season in 2010 though he did show signs that he might top out before ever reaching Queens. After a disappointing 2009 season with Binghamton, Owen got off to a quick start this year and even got a call up to Buffalo in late May. However, he was completely overmatched posting a 7.11 ERA in ten appearances and was sent back by July. Owen worked primarily out of the 'pen after his return but didn't fare well posting a 4.55 ERA in sixteen relief appearances. His 3.59 mark as a starter looks nicer but a 4.86 FIP doesn't bode well for his future in the rotation. As an '07 20th rounder, the odds are already against Dylan Owen and with middling velocity and stuff, he'll need to figure out how to have success in short stints if he's ever going to make it in the bigs.
More Names Worth Watching
LHP Roy Merritt stayed in the periphery of the major league LOOGY discussion by allowing a .228 average against lefties this year. And though their tattered 'pen often forced him to pitch in other roles, he posted a 2.18 ERA after the break...You can pretty much forget about RHP Eddie Kunz. After threatening the feat last season, he threw more walks (68) than strikeouts (63) in 2010 as the organization shifted him into starting as a last-ditch effort to salvage the former first rounder...2004 fourth rounder C Mike Nickeas has always been known for his sterling defense but little by little has developed a serviceable offensive game, including a 50:50 BB-to-K rate in 2010. The slow growth netted him his first cup of coffee this September and makes him a viable backup catcher candidate. Not bad considering we got him for Victor Diaz....IF Michael Fisher was claimed after his release by the Braves in April for an overall lack of power. Not only did he bat .300 with three different Mets affiliates in 2010, after making major mechanical changes to his swing the 2007 sixth rounder more than doubled his previous home run total, finishing 2010 with 9 bombs.