Allright, let's wrap this bad boy with a look at the Mets' Triple-A farm club (and Terry Collins self-proclaimed favorite affiliate!), the Buffalo Bisons:
Like Binghamton, 2010 was a success for the Bisons in that it wasn't 2009. Also like Bingo, Buffalo barely topped the 55-win plateau (56-87) in an inaugural 2009 campaign that went down in the record books for all the wrong reasons and certainly welcomed Buffalo into the organization on the wrong foot. In fact, following the season Buffalo ownership was pretty peeved with the way that former (God I love saying that) Mets GM Omar Minaya seemed to ignore their new affiliate, filling the roster with minor league journeymen and other such drek. That's why it was so fitting that Buffalo Baseball HOF'er Terry Collins (as Minor League Field Coordinator) was the one to bring the club back to prominence in 2010.The Bisons were good in 2010, finishing with a 76-68 record which placed them third in an extremely competitive International League North Division which ultimately saw the Yankees' Scranton/Wilkes Barre affiliate absolutely run away with the division title. For the sixth straight season, the Mets Triple-A affiliate was managed by Ken Oberkfell who started his run as a Tide, then a Zephyr and now a Bison. In terms of the team itself, the Bisons were yet another case of a system-wide trend in 2010: Dynamic offense with big-time power backed up by a lackluster pitching staff devoid of much upper tier talent. This formula worked for the first two-thirds thanks to a lineup that scored runs in bunches just about every day but after call-ups of guys like Ike Davis, Josh Thole & Chris Carter and injuries to players like Mike Hessman & Fernando Martinez, the Bisons fell out of contention late in the summer and eventually finished 11.5 games back of surging Scranton.
In its prime, the Bisons offense was a thing to behold. Powered by sluggers like Mike Hessman, Chris Carter & Val Pascucci, there was no doubt that for the lion's share of the season this was THE offense of the IL (and perhaps the entire minor leagues). And though they slowed upon mass promotions to the big club, guys like Nick Evans & Lucas Duda jumped up and continued to pepper Oak St. with longballs while Jesus Feliciano made a season-long run at the league batting title. In total, the Buffalo lineup ranked at or near the top in doubles, homers, runs, on-base, slugging, average and so on. The only thing they didn't do was run; make no mistake, this was a 3-run bomb kind of club.
Unfortunately, they were afflicted with the system's overall lack of impact pitching depth. And though tweeners like Pat Misch & Dillon Gee held the fort admirably and an early season run by some egghead knuckleballer helped, in the end their weakness showed. On-the-fence prospects like Michael Antonini, Tobi Stoner & Dylan Owen all struggled with Triple-A hitters and retreads like Ramon Ortiz didn't help. Overall, the staff placed in the bottom third in ERA, wins, WHIP and a whole host of other pitching statistics. The one surprising bright spot was the work of the bullpen where - despite surprisingly poor results from Bobby Parnell - less-heralded pitchers like Michael O'Connor, Jose De La Torre & Chad 'Blast From the Past' Cordero provided strong relief work.
The Usual Suspects
CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis - STOCK UP
Another level, another strong line from the hard-hitting lefty who just kept chugging away in his first full season at Double-A, garnering an Eastern League All-Star appearance, the Mets Sterling Award for Double-A and a call-up to Buffalo on August 5th all while posting a .370 wOBA, which was right in line with his career average. Kirk also continued to feature his trademark power/speed mix, knocking eighteen more bombs while stealing thirteen bases (though he was caught seven times). His high strikeout rates remained around career levels though his walks did come down a shade, a harbinger for lower OBP's in the majors.
Just as important for his prospect stock, the Captain played well defensively in center throughout the 2010 campaign. Many have expressed concern about his ability to man center field in the major leagues thanks to his bulky build and resultingly his offensive potency should he move to a corner spot. To that point, he's always shown good power to all fields since being drafted in '08 but his line drive-oriented swing obviously drives high LD% (and high BABIPs) and cuts down on his FB% and ultimately his overall power potential, especially in a big park like Citi. As far as his fielding ability, he has the speed to cover a lot of ground and features a great throwing arm (despite hitting lefty he throws righty); to me, he profiles as an average major league center fielder, at least for the first few years of his career. Oh and don't be too worried about the struggles in his brief 30-game trial with the Herd, Kirk has always shown a propensity to struggle in his first exposure to a new level before catching up after a couple months.
LF Lucas Duda - STOCK UP
Duda was a revelation in 2010, almost definitely the most pleasant surprise in the Mets system. By season's end Duda was a Double-A All-Star, the Buffalo MVP and the organization's Sterling Award Winner as the system's top position player. From the time he was promoted to Buffalo on June 14th, no hitter in Triple-A had more extra-base hits. And to think, the 23-year old left fielder came into the season as a guy with a solid bat but labelled org. filler due to a lack of power. Well that changed in a big way as he knocked 27 homers, including four at the major league level. At one point he even rode an incredible five-game homer streak while in Buffalo, only the fifth Bison to do so in their 125-year history.
The late-blooming power was a welcome surprise for Duda who even back to his days at USC has been regarded as a lumbering lefty with a penchant for contact but not enough power for a first baseman/corner outfielder. What's more, even his K:BB ratio improved tremendously this season. There is some negative here as he is still exhibiting some pretty heavy platoon splits (.244 BAA vs. lefties) but suddenly Duda has gone from nice organizational filler to a definite major league asset. Depending how he handles lefties in the bigs, Duda's future is somewhere between a solid, power-hitting corner outfielder to a lefty-side in a platoon split (his likely role for 2010).
RF Fernando Martinez - STOCK DOWN
Yet another injury-shortened season for Martinez that saw him back on the DL with a variety of hamstring and knee ailments. And when he did get on the field he seemed rusty which hurt his overall numbers. Factoring that in, FMart looked about the same in Buffalo as he did in '09, solid yet unspectacular. The key problem here isn't the time he's missing itself, it's the fact that he's missing time where he would otherwise be developing into a better player. For the fifth straight season since he reached full-season baseball, FMart failed to hit the 100 game plateau. For some perspective, Kirk Nieuwenhuis has posted totals of 123, 131 & 124 games in his three seasons thus far. Fmart has 349 total pro games since signing in '05; Kirk has 329 since being drafted in '08. You get the point.
Obviously Fernando can't stay on the field and as a result his development has suffered a great deal. Once projected as a strong all-around hitter with good speed, FMart now looks more like a low average/OBP lefty slugger with corner OF range. To me, the best comp for him currently is JD Drew with admittedly fewer walks. Hopefully things will get back on track for the former highly-touted youngster as he is still only 22 and has time but it's hard to see him bouncing back to that elite level. Unfortunately, a lot of the damage from injuries and the Mets' downright irresponsible handling may be done as more and more Martinez is looking like THE cautionary tale as to why you don't rush prospects.
3B Zach Lutz - STOCK UP
You might be saying "Wait a minute you ripped Havens & Fernando for missing time, what about Lutz?" That's true, Lutz has nearly as many problems staying healthy and this season was no different as he suffered another foot injury which cost him over two months. The difference for me is that 1) he still played a solid chunk of the season (unlike Havens) and more importantly 2) he keeps improving at each level (which is more than you can say for FMart). This season's 17 homer performance in his 61 games with Binghamton produced an eye-popping .289 ISO which was tops among prospects in the Eastern League. Factor in his 13% walk rate and you've got yourself a heck of a combo of power & patience which is nothing new for Lutz. Many are also overly down on his defense which is at least serviceable thanks to his athleticism (though this is the aspect of his game that has probably suffered the most due to time off).
The problem for Lutz though? Beyond being injury-prone, If you haven't noticed we've already got a third baseman that's here to stay. We're also spoken for at first and our OF situation is already pretty crowded. It's highly unlikely that Lutz could make the switch to second so there's a good chance the Mets take their time with him and if the right deal comes along I wouldn't be surprised to see him moved at some point. Either way, with that major qualifier of health aside, I've bought in on Lutz as a strong bet to be a solid, everyday third baseman in the majors.
SS Justin Turner - STOCK UP
Turner was yet another pleasant surprise in a season that was full of them in the Mets system. Nabbed off of waivers from the O's back in May (by Omar - credit where credit's due), Turner was one of the top all-around performers in Buffalo in 2010 and capped the season with an historic night where he hit for the cycle and went 6-for-6, the first Bison to do so in the modern era. Turner may not have the name value of some of the other options for second base in 2011 but he should get as serious a look as anyone. Here's a kid who plays solid-to-good defense (at both second AND short), has shown some power in the past before hitting twelve bombs this season, keeps his strikeouts way down while always bolstering his on-base averages with good walk rates. He's also never batted below .298 in his pro career and best of all he's only 25 with five cost-controlled years left. Even if Havens or Murphy claims second base at Citi Field in 2011, Turner is just the kind of player that the Mets are always overpaying to fill out their bench which gives him plenty of value going forward.
RHP Dillon Gee - STOCK HOLDING
It was a funny year for Gee who statistically had probably his worst season as a pro but really emerged as a solid, if unspectacular, back-of-the-rotation option for the Mets. Gee's 2010 was all the more impressive when you consider that he rehabbed back from a labrum injury suffered early in '09 that many felt would require invasive surgery to earn Buffalo's Comeback Player of the Year award as well as the Mets Sterling Award for the Bisons.
In one respect, Gee was dominant in 2010, using his pinpoint control of a five-pitch mix including a low 90's heater and a hard-breaking, 12-to-6 curve to set the Bisons' all-time strikeout record and lead all of Triple-A in punch-outs. Gee struck out seven or more batters in ten of his starts all the while posting a BB/9 around 2. Unfortunately, Gee's only weakness was the longball as he also ranked among the IL leaders with 23 bombs allowed. Some look at this figure as unsustainable bad luck, others an inclination for giving up hard contact (when contact is in fact made) but either way, Gee is coming to the right home ballpark in order to cut down that figure. And though he likely pitched over his head during his masterful five-start debut in September, if he can limit the big-flies Gee figures to be a very solid Bannister-esque, fifth starter/longman option for the Mets in 2011 and going forward.
LHP Michael Antonini - STOCK DOWN
It was a so-so season for Antonini who posted improved results in Binghamton in the first half (3.98 FIP), but then found the going a little tougher upon promotion to Buffalo. This isn't the most alarming outcome as Antonini has made it something of a trend to struggle in his first exposure to a new level. But Antonini is already 25 so he's not exactly young and what's more troubling is the fact that as he's climbed the ladder, his strikeouts have markedly decreased while his walks, hits and home runs allowed have all jumped quite a bit at each resulting level. And for someone whose peripherals were already on the edge of what's acceptable for a prospect, this does not bode well for his chances at success at the next level. In addition, even though the Mets are at a loss for left-handed relievers, Antonini has never exhibited the kind of platoon splits you want to see from a LOOGY. The 25-year old will likely have his moments at Triple-A thanks to his very strong control but I don't see much more than a lefty spot starter a la Pat Misch.
RHP Tobi Stoner - STOCK DOWN
The worst of Buffalo's three late-round, potential back-of-the-rotation options - and the only who started the season on the 40-man roster - Stoner had a very rough season, allowing nearly forty more hits than innings and nearly as many homers as Gee with almost one hundred fewer strikeouts. And though he came into the season as another starting pitching depth option, we shouldn't have been surprised to see this decline as Stoner had been outperforming his FIP at multiple stops over the last couple of seasons:
Though his FIP actually topped his ERA in 2010 (4.96), Stoner's lack of stuff and so-so velocity doesn't look much like a major league starter. All in all, Stoner profiles a lot like a right-handed Antonini in that his middling stuff will probably limit him to spot starting and possible longman work out of a major league 'pen.
RHP Josh Stinson - STOCK HOLDING
Solid 2010 for the 22-year old whose overall numbers aren't overly pretty but he continued to distinguish himself as a solid reliever/spot starter prospect. In fact, he posted a 3.31 first half ERA - including a sub-3 bullpen ERA - but seemed to run out of gas in the second half where he posted an ERA near 7. Kind of surprising to see him back starting in 2010 after he'd fully transitioned into the 'pen in '09 and indicated a preference for relief work. Either way, his best shot to make an impact with the big club going forward is in relief where his sinking two-seamer and strong slider/curve combo play up. Though he doesn't generate a lot of whiffs, his strong GB rates and ability to keep the ball in the park would play well in the 6th-7th innings granted he brings that walk rate back down.
RHP Manuel Alvarez - STOCK UP
Welcome into the prospect circle Manny Alvarez. In his second full season out of the 'pen, the 25-year old Alvarez burst onto the scene with straight-up video game numbers up until he ran out of gas, blowing by his previous high in innings in mid-August. Alvarez opened the season with a bang, running through St. Lucie without allowing a run and went well into the summer months before he allowed his first homer. By the time he reached Buffalo Alvarez was gassed but still featured the pinpoint command that made him so successful all season. The big-bodied righty spots both his low 90's fb and surprisingly good curve extremely well to either side of the plate and showed enough this season to deserve a serious look during ST for a spot in the major league 'pen.
RHP Jose De La Torre - STOCK UP
Like Alvarez, De La Torre is a 25-year old righty that really opened eyes in 2010. Though he's been a solid relief prospect ever since he was signed as an undrafted free agent back in '06, De La Torre was forced to prove himself at each level thanks to his diminutive stature (5'9", 175lbs) and lack of overwhelming velocity/stuff. But he did just that and this year proved that he had the ability to hold down upper level hitters, pacing the Bisons' staff in average against (.203) and K/9 (10.8). Also like Alavarez, De La Torre will likely get a long look this March for a middle relief role with the big club though he doesn't quite possess the same exceptional command.
More Names Worth Watching
Just about the only secondary name from the Bisons roster worth watching in 2011 is lefty reliever Michael O'Connor. Though technically not a prospect (having pitched over one hundred big league innings with the Nats between '07 & '08) O'Connor has rebuilt himself from a mediocre starter into a strong multi-inning reliever, posting a 2.67 ERA in 70 IP with the Herd. O'Connor pitched multiple innings in 21 of his 51 appearances and could profile well as a replacement for the Takahashi/Valdes role, though he doesn't have traditional lefty/lefty splits (.269 BAA) so look elsewhere for a true LOOGY.
And that about wraps the 2010 'Season in Review' series. If you happened to miss any of the affiliates, catch up by clicking on the links below: