Welcome back to our ongoing series evaluating the Mets Farm System to this point in the season. Monday was Buffalo, Tuesday Bingamton and today for Part III we'll be taking a look at Hi-A St. Lucie. The Mets have had their ups and downs this year, they've had a whole lot of roster movement and quite a few players worth mentioning so let's get started.
In keeping with most Mets affiliates this season, St. Lucie has played like a .500 team. They always seem to balance out any win with a loss, when they win a series, chances are they'll lose the next one; their longest win streak of the season, a 6-gamer back in May, was followed directly by their longest losing streak, a 4-gamer. The nice thing is that they've only had one losing month so far (8-13 in April) and are currently three games above .500 (45-42).
The roster has seen a moderate amount of turnover with guys like Josh Satin, Sean Ratliff, Wilfedo Tovar & Manny Alvarez moving on while guys like Oliver Perez, Dan Murphy & Carlos Beltran have passed through while rehabbing. On a related note, Luis Castillo is scheduled to start his rehab in PSL later this week. The good news is that the resulting roster additions have been quite useful so far. Following the first half finale in the Sally League a whole wave of talented Sand Gnats made their way down to PSL, headed by the surging Wilmer Flores. Guys like starter Brandon Moore and catcher Kai Gronauer have also made very positive impacts thus far. In fact, after finishing the first half two games under .500 and 9.5 games back in the division (the FSL All-Star Break took place in June), the Mets have played 12 & 7 baseball since the roster additions, good for first in the division.
The Mets have featured one of the Florida State League's top offenses this season, pacing the league in batting while among the top three in nearly every offensive category. Unfortunately, they also sport probably THE worst pitching staff in the division, bringing up the rear in staff ERA and walks. All you need to know about this staff is that they also lead the league in hit batsmen by 20 over the next highest team; so yeah, they don't like the strike zone. Guys like Jeurys Familia, Kyle Allen & Scott Moviel have all contributed to make this a wild and largely ineffective pitching staff thus far. The good news is the newly rejuvenated offense has averaged nearly five runs/game since the callups so if some of these guys (many of whom are considered top prospects) can improve even a little St. Lucie may be in the race for the second half crown.
The Usual Suspects
RHP Kyle Allen - STOCK DOWN
Allen seems to have caught 'Mets Pitching Prospect Syndrome'. Symptoms are walks, hit batsmen and a general lack of command; it's going around quite a bit this year. For Allen, it's been worse than others as his totals for walks and strikeouts have basically mirrored each other all year long. Even worse, his K/9 has tumbled as batters quickly realized Allen's command is shot. In his last ten starts he has allowed multiple walks in seven of them. Considered a breakout candidate by many coming into the season, Allen has taken a huge step backward this year against more advanced hitting.
RHP Eric Beaulac - STOCK HOLDING
Though he's put up solid numbers against more advanced hitters, Beaulac is really just starting to catch up to players his own age so take that line with a grain of salt. Nor have his numbers actually been that good as evidenced by his 5.35 K/9 and .275 BABIP. However, his ability to get outs, namely groundouts, is undeniable, coming as a result of his slider which is looking more and more like a major league quality plus pitch.
Beaulac himself requested a move to the bullpen and perhaps it's time for the Mets to heed his call. The lowering strikeout rates, reports of inconsistent velocity (anywhere from 86mph-93mph), poor platoon splits and a mediocre at best changeup all seem to point to a future fb/slider power reliever in the vain of a Bobby Parnell, minus 4-5 mph off the fastball.
LHP Robert Carson - STOCK UP
No, on the surface those numbers are not very impressive. However, following a 7.07 April ERA, Carson has been very solid in each of the following months, including a 2.08 ERA in July. And really it isn't just the numbers that give me confidence with Carson, it's the reports on his increased stamina, mound presence and fastball command. After a 2009 where he regularly tired by the 6th, the big-bodied Carson is now holding his low to mid 90's velocity deep into games and is consistently commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate. He has also learned to work extremely quickly, improving his game pace and rhythm. While it may take a while, Carson is doing exactly what it takes for him to round into that back of the rotation innings-eater I'm hoping for instead of just a LOOGY.
RHP Jeurys Familia - STOCK DOWN
Consider Familia another bitten by the Mets pitching prospect bug: As I recently noted in a farm report, Familia just surpassed his walk total from all of last season in less than half the innings. On the bright side, his fastball seems to have gained a couple ticks as he now regularly reaches the mid-90's and still shows the tremendous sinking movement that has garnered a 1.59 GB/FB rate and allowed just two homers thus far. So at least the stuff is still there and considering this is his first exposure to truly advanced hitting, it's not that surprising or alarming that a kid with good fb command up to this point is suddenly a bit more wary of the strike zone. Also, he has reportedly spent a lot of time working on his changeup and slider and if he brought that work into the games that would definitely explain increased walks. So his stock is down but not by as much as you might think upon seeing his line.
SS Wilmer Flores - STOCK UP
A lot has been said about Wilmer so I doubt I need to go into too much detail for everybody but obviously he's having an excellent season. He got off to a sensational start batting .341 in April while matching his 2009 homer total (3) in the first month alone. Though he did cool off quite a bit come June, his developing power (33 XBH already vs. 25 all of last year) and improving batting eye (23 BB thus far vs 22 all of last year) coupled with his already tremendous contact ability really give Mets fans reason to get their hopes up.
After fueling Savannah's first half title, Flores hasn't missed a beat since joining Hi-A despite facing off against players 4-5 years his senior. I suppose a couple more homers wouldn't hurt but after a recent doubles binge his SLG is actually higher than it was in Savannah. Apparently scouts have even been surprised by how much better he looks on defense than last year, but don't get greedy as he still probably won't stick at short.
C Kai Gronauer - STOCK UP
He's not a true prospect but the German national is certainly making the possibility of major league backup duty look a lot more attainable. And for this regime, a backup making league minimum is a beautiful thing. When you couple his all-around solid batting line with his strong defense and game-calling skills, not to mention his excellent start in Hi-A, Gronauer suddenly looks a lot more palatable as far as organizational catching depth goes. Don't go nuts over his advanced age (23) as European players always need a usually lengthy transition period to catch up to the speed of the game in the US.
RHP Brad Holt - STOCK DOWN
If you were wondering who has been the biggest disappointment of 2010 in the Mets farm system, you're looking at him. Exhibit A: Twelve combined walks in his last three starts back at Lo-A. Holt's season has been an unmitigated disaster. Exhibit B: .336 BAA in Binghamton. And frankly, I wish there was more I could say about it but so far there isn't. He hasn't attributed his inconsistent velocity or his suddenly scattershot command to any sort of lingering ailments from his checkered injury history. Even on days when his velocity is back up near where it should be he's not looking like the guy who set the Cyclones single season strikeout record back in '08.
The really scary part is that the fallback bullpen option which seemed so failsafe before is now suddenly just as questionable, as his one plus pitch is suddenly lacking any of the electricity it once had. In short, Holt seems to have gone all John Maine and lost the one skill that truly made him a top pitching prospect and without it, he's little more than Eddie Kunz. Every fifth day I keep hoping to hear that he corrected a minor mechanical flaw and is back to normal but if that doesn't happen soon, a move to the bullpen is imminent.
OF Juan Lagares - STOCK HOLDING
One could argue for any of the three directions here. Lagares had a strong first half in Savannah, posting the best half season he'd ever had including a career high in homers and a much improved slugging percentage. After losing premium positional value last season moving off short, he capitalized on his tools and got it back by handling center field capably. He also is on a pace to more than double his previous high in steals.
However, for all you cynics it was his third stop in the SAL and though his slugging reached levels he hasn't seen since his Dominican Summer League days, his typically troublesome K:BB rate didn't improve in the slightest. In addition he is off to a very slow start in PSL, though he is still young for the league. I tend to be more on the 'glass half full side' with Lagares and expect to see his solid contact skills shine through this season and a continued utilization of his strong raw tools long-term as he is finally handled more conservatively.
RHP Brandon Moore - STOCK UP
After a flat-out dominant first half in Savannah and now a very strong start to his Hi-A career, Moore has yet to show a true weakness thus far in his short pro career. Moore only reinforced the fact that he can strike guys out as evidenced by his runaway victory as first-half SAL strikeout king; pair that with his ridiculous eleven walks for the full effect. And though as a college product, Moore has been facing younger competition, you can't really be upset with ERA's in the 2's at every stop so far (including Brooklyn in '09). I suppose in his three starts for St. Lucie he has shown a bit more wildness, but it's still early to call that a trend. As long as that issue doesn't flare up and he can keep his K/9 at or near nine, he'll go into the winter as a pitching prospect worth much more attention come 2011.
RHP Scott Moviel - STOCK DOWN
This season looks like the last straw for the 6'11" wonder as his 8.69 April ERA wasn't quite cutting it and he was demoted to the bullpen as soon as the Mets could find someone to take his rotation spot. As in season's past, Moviel hasn't struck out nearly enough batters, he went from bad to awful in terms of his BAA and even his BB/9 has turned from a strength to a weakness this year. Say goodbye to the days of Moviel as a prospect, even for the bullpen.
1B Stefan Welch - STOCK HOLDING
Like Gronauer, Welch isn't a true prospect but despite poor plate discipline he has shown the ability to hit for decent average at just about every stop so far. To me, this becomes worth noting once it persists against the more advanced pitching in Hi-A. If he can keep it up in Double-A (probably in 2011), then he can start being discussed as potential major league bench fodder. Also like Gronauer, as an Australian Welch most likely has a longer development time due to a different level of play in his home country. Welch actually reminds me quite a bit of fellow countryman and former Mets prospect Justin Huber, for better or for worse.
SS/2B Jordany Valdespin - STOCK HOLDING
The infielder that garnered so much attention in Spring Training based on his solid tools and "major league actions" has been just decent thus far in 2010. He basically spent most of the first month and a half on the DL but since returning in June has hit. As in the past, he has shown strong contact skills and despite once again posting awful walk %'s, has avoided a negative ranking basically because he's already hit five homers in just over 200 ab's, impressive when compared to his previous season high of four.
His stock would really improve if he shows this power is for real as his on-base skills are sub-par, his fielding is still too raw considering his age and he's not really that fast. He is not young for this league so the fact that he is developing slowly is not helping his stock. However, for a IFA he signed very late (20) so in just his third pro season let's not consider his age completely damning, especially since comments from Omar in the above link seem to hint at an accelerated climb in store for Valdespin.
Tune in tomorrow as we take a look at the always interesting Lo-A Savannah Sand Gnats!