After completing the previous three levels, we'll continue our mid-term examinations with a look at the Mets' A-ball affiliate, the Savannah Sand Gnats.
Savannah has certainly been the bright spot in the Mets' system. Savannah had an outstanding first half, taking the South Atlantic League's first-half crown and ensuring themselves a spot in the playoffs after a bitter fight that left Augusta on the outside looking in, a game out.
How did they do it? Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Not even pitching and defense—any team that features Wilmer Flores, Jefry Marte, and Alonzo Harris can't boast about its 'D'. Instead they were incredibly reliant on starters Mark Cohoon, Brandon Moore, Jimmy Fuller, Collin McHugh, Armando Rodriguez, and Darin Gorski for their successes. And the bullpen has been nearly as good, led by John Church. There hasn't really been a clunker in the bunch, and the team actually has a 2.66(!) team ERA. The next closest team has a 3.33 ERA; the league average is 3.79. The pitching has simply been extraordinary.
Which is good, because the offense has been very average, scoring 4.50 runs per game in a league that averages 4.54. Some guys have done their jobs (Flores, Juan Lagares, Pedro Zapata, Joey August, Wilfredo Tovar, Kai Gronauer) and others haven't (Nick Santomauro, Alonzo Harris, Marte, Rafael Fernandez, Alex Gregory).
Perhaps the most intriguing question is this: Can Savannah keep it up? The answer is probably not, and they haven't been two successful since starting the second half. They're currently 9-12, good for last in the SAL's Southern Division. The biggest reasons, of course, are promotions. They've lost their two best pitchers, in Cohoon and Moore, and arguably their two best hitters, in Flores and Lagares, to promotions. They're going to miss those guys, and it wouldn't surprise me to see them finish towards the bottom in the second half. Anyway here are the first half standings:
And the current second-half standings:
The Usual Suspects
RP-SP John Church - STOCK UP
Church is almost certainly the biggest surprise on Savannah's roster. Church began the year in Savannah's bullpen, but he's recently been moved into the rotation following Mark Cohoon and Brandon Moore's callups. And he's been great, as that ERA can attest. But what kind of prospect is he? Well, not a very good one. He's still 23 years old—a little on the old side—he still only throws 88-92, he still doesn't have a plus offspeed pitch. It's tough imagining much from a guy who's going to be a 24-year-old soft-tosser at St. Lucie next season. It's also important to note, that despite that incredible performance, we're just talking about 50 innings here.
So how can I say his stock is up? Well, he wasn't on the radar last year, and now he's on the periphery. That's improvement. Right now I'm of the opinion that he's more of a Tobi Stoner type who'll stall at higher levels, but we'll see.
SP Jimmy Fuller - STOCK HOLDING
When the Mets promoted two pitchers drafted in 2008 from Savannah, it was kind of telling to see which two they chose: Cohoon and Moore. At the time, Fuller had a sub-2.00 ERA and was possibly just as dominant as the other two. But Cohoon went to Double-A and Moore to St. Lucie, while Fuller was left to hold the line in Savannah. And it's really for that reason why I have Fuller's stock staying steady. While Church has seen his role expanded this season, Fuller is still perceived by the organization as a Sally League starter, despite that ERA. And Fuller's pitching legitimately well: the strikeout rate is strong, walk rate's just fine; his FIP is a very good 2.93, his BABIP a very reasonable .302. No obvious warning signs.
Well, except one, and it's the single most common one you'll see in finesse pitchers in the minors: he's allowed just one homer in 93.1 IP. That's well under 1% of his outfield flies for those wondering. And that just won't hold up as he advances, and it's probably the most significant reason for attrition in otherwise solid pitching prospects. There's a large number of pitching prospects in the minors who repeatedly put the ball in the air but don't have the home run rates to match. It's just not a repeatable skill for the vast majority of pitchers, and it'll probably hurt Fuller as he advances. Still, he's a lefty with a decent slider, so there's still a chance of him becoming a reliever, which is exactly what I would have told you last year.
RP-SP Darin Gorski - STOCK HOLDING
Gorski's been pretty average in Savannah, and that doesn't really bode well for his future. He doesn't get a ton of strikeouts, he doesn't have phenomenal control, he's an extreme flyball pitcher. Pretty boring stuff from a Sally League pitcher. I'm really not a fan at all, but he's only thrown 62 innings this year, so it's possible he's got more in the tank than he's shown. But he turns 23 at the end of the season, so he's not young for the level, either, and he might be due for a repeat performance in Savannah next season. The stuff is still sub-par, high-80s heat, but it's the low ground ball rate (34%) that's especially distressing—Gorski was billed as a sinkerballer. You could argue his stock is falling, but I'll stick with holding for now.
3B Jefry Marte - STOCK DOWN
Let's get the good news out of the way first: he's still very, very young, one of the younger guys in the league. He's still very talented, has room to grow, etc. And he has shown some improvement this season. His batting average is obviously up 20 points, the isolated power is up 34, the isolated discipline up 31. He's already matched his 2009 season output in home runs, and he's close in doubles.
But you have to remember: Marte's already repeating the level. You expect him to play well, and he's still a far way from the great .325/.398/.532 line he put up in the GCL in 2008. As it is, he's below average across the board. And you know he's not in there for his defense, with him having already committed 23 errors after committing 49 a year ago. Marte is a guy who needs a big second half or he's at risk of repeating the level for a second time.
SP Collin McHugh - STOCK HOLDING
McHugh, drafted out of Berry College in 2008, is really in a similar situation to Fuller. He's pitching well but really not well enough to stand out in the Mets' class of pitchers at Savannah this season. Unlike Fuller, however, I'm a little more optimistic about McHugh's chances to stick in the rotation. The strikeout and walk numbers are similar, but he also brings a strong ground ball rate, giving him an extra dimension as a pitcher. But it's still an uphill climb for McHugh, who is 23 and needs to get some forward momentum to his baseball career. For what it's worth, McHugh also writes a fairly solid blog.
OF Cesar Puello - STOCK HOLDING
He's fallen off somewhat from a year ago—what little power he had fell off a cliff and his average dropped to .258—but he moved up a level and he's still young for the league. And most importantly the patience has held up: his isolated discipline is .088, up .011 from his mark in Kingsport last season. With his speed, if he can make more consistent contact in the second half, he'll really improve his chances at making it as a leadoff hitter. What bothers me the most, however, is that he's been playing right chiefly; Zapata's a good defender in center, but Puello carries far less value in right, where his utter lack of power is big negative.
Put a gun to my head and ask me right now, and I'll say Puello probably needs to repeat Savannah, but a big second half could change my mind.
OF-1B Nick Santomauro - STOCK DOWN
His OPS is .427. His stock has dropped like a log. It's just unacceptable from a corner outfielder, and he's mostly seen time at designated hitter this season. He’s gone from a possible fourth outfielder to a guy who looks like organizational fodder. Just really, really disapppointing.
SS Wilfredo Tovar - STOCK UP
The Mets had Tovar up at St. Lucie to start the season, a very aggressive promotion for someone who hit .243 in the GCL in 2009. And he hit about as well as you would expect, batting .246 with no patience or power. Tovar's principal skill is as a fielder, so it came as a surprise when he showed up in Savannah and suddenly started to hit, batting .338 over his first twenty games. There is a qualification, however. It's still unclear whether this is just a hot streak or whether his bat speed has caught up to better pitching, but any improvement is something. And best of all his age: he won't turn 19 until August 11. I wouldn't get too excited yet, especially since all he's really doing is hitting singles, but keep your eyes peeeled.
There's a couple of guys you'll notice I didn't do. It's not necessarily that they aren't worth a profile but rather that I just had less to say. So here are some quick thoughts on a few guys:
- Pedro Zapata is holding his own in Savannah at .286/.346/.374 after dominating in 2009 in a repeat performance at Kingsport. The problem is that he's not young for the level, so holding his own isn't as impressive, and there's nothing he truly excels at, and the overall package just isn't strong enough to create a well-balanced outfielder. His stock is steady.
- Alonzo Harris is easily my least favorite player in the Mets' system. He can't hit (.235/.277/.355) and can't field. I don't see a lot here right now, and terrible plate discipline will probably always stand in his way. His stock is down.
- Armando Rodriguez has a 3.03 ERA, striking out 87 in 95 innings while walking 34. He's not quite as impressive as the other pitchers on the staff. He also has an extreme flyball rate, like Gorski. At 22, I don't think he has much projection left despite a slight frame, and he's only throwing 90-92 with average at best secondary offerings, so earlier reports of his ceiling as Mejia-esque are probably unfounded. But wait and see. Stock is holding.