'Baseball America' Executive Editor Jim Callis was kind enough to give me some time last week and answer some of the most burning questions surrounding the Mets minor league system. The following was our chat:
As an 18 year old currently batting .373 in Hi-A, has Wilmer Flores clearly moved into the overall #1 slot in the Mets farm system and has he done enough in your eyes to be considered a premium, Grade A prospect?
JC: If we were doing a Top 100 Prospects list now, Flores would rank around 50. I know he struggled last year in low A, but he was also 17. He has a chance to have a very good bat down the road. He's not going to be a shortstop, and he may be more of an outfielder than a third baseman, but he'll have enough bat wherever he winds up.
Seemingly the forgotten man this year, does Fernando Martinez still have what it takes to reach the lofty goals Mets officials and fans alike once had for him?
JC: I never understood why the Mets pushed him so aggressively, and he never has put up big numbers in the minors outside of a 46-game stretch in low Class A four years ago. I think it's time to revise expectations to solid regular at best, and even that's not a lock.
Kirk Niuewenhuis is certainly looking more and more like a major leaguer everyday, but what level of player do you currently project?
JC: Nieuwenhuis continues to boost his stalk, continuing to hit after the jump to Double-A. I think he's more of a solid regular than a future star, a corner outfielder with 20-20 upside. His strike-zone discipline is a concern, and I don't think he really covers enough ground to play a major league center field. But he's a good prospect, no question.
What's your take on the whole 'Mejia to the bullpen' thing? Does it affect his development or his long-term role?
JC: It shouldn't affect him long term unless the Mets start jerking around him, shuttling him back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation and from the minors to Triple-A. He could wind up being a reliever in the long run, but it would be silly not to try to turn him into a quality starter.
Finish this thought, "In 5 years, Josh Thole is..."
JC: A backup catcher. Thole is a good contact hitter but he doesn't do anything else well enough to project as a big league starter.
The system as a whole has seen a big step back in terms of it's top pitchers, how concerned are you about guys like Jeurys Famila, Kyle Allen & Eric Niesen?
JC: None of those guys was really an elite prospect coming into the year, though they were among the best in the Mets system. Familia is still throwing hard but he still hasn't come up with any consistency in terms of his secondary pitches or command. Allen and Niesen have seen their command really go backward, and that's more alarming.
And then there's Brad Holt; what happened? What sort of major league role (if any) do you see for him long term?
JC: Holt wasn't good in Double-A last year, perhaps because he hurt his ankle after his first start, but that can't be the reason he has been awful for most of this year, necessitating a demotion to Double-A. He has one of the better arms in the system, but he's more thrower than pitcher and still needs to learn there's more about pitching than velocity. I wonder if he's going to be more than a reliever in the long run.
What can you tell us about the hard-throwing young lefty Juan Urbina?
JC: If it all comes together, he'll have a plus fastball and changeup to go with a solid slider down the road. He has one of the higher ceilings in the system.
What was your feeling on the selection of Matt Harvey in the draft?
JC: My sense was that of all the guys on the board, the Mets liked Arkansas third baseman Zack Cox the best, but his extra leverage as a sophomore-eligible and his high asking price scared them off. That said, Harvey isn't the typical Mets slot draft pick, as he's advised by the Boras Corp. After an inconsistent first two years in college, he was much more consistent last year and was arguably the best college righthander in the draft. I'm not completely sold on him based on all that inconsistency, and I could see him winding up in the bullpen down the road, but it's nice to see the Mets take a guy based on more than just slotability.
The trio of Eric Campbell, Sean Ratliff & Lucas Duda have all seemed to figure it out this season, at or above Double-A no less; is it fair to expect any (or all) of these guys to be players in the major leagues? How about potential trade chips?
JC: I wouldn't go that far. They're all older guys having nice years, but none of them have hit like this in the past and all play positions with a big premium on offense. I'd want to see it again next year before I'd even call any of them solid regulars on a good team. They might be a piece to a trade, but more as a complement and not as guys who would be the centerpiece of a package for a big name.
I have to ask about A.A.'s favorite invisible man, Nick Evans; has he gotten as raw a deal as we seem to think he has?
JC: He's like those other guys you just mentioned, more of an older offense-only guy who doesn't really project as a regular. He has a better track record than Campbell, Duda or Ratliff, but he's a righthanded-hitting first baseman with average power, and there's not a huge market for that.
Can you give me the name of a sleeper in this system you like to climb the ranks, this year or beyond, as well as your most overrated Mets prospect?
JC: My sleeper coming into the year would have been Kyle Allen, but that's not working out too well. So let's go with third baseman Aderlin Rodriguez, who's tearing up the Appy League and hasn't gotten much hype yet. The Mets system doesn't really have a lot of guys get overhyped. If I have to pick an overrated guy, I'd say Fernando Martinez or Brad Holt. I don't know if either guy is ever going to figure it all out.
And finally, where would you rate the Mets farm system as a whole? Strengths? Weaknesses?
JC: It's mediocre. It ranks in the bottom third among farm systems, and that's the result of going cheap in the draft for so many years, which is just inexplicable considering the Mets' resources. They've also been less aggressive international than they were at the start of Omar Minaya's reign. The strength of the system is international players, as Flores and Mejia are the clear blue-chippers in the system. I don't think they've built up particular depth at any position, and they don't have much in the way of solid big league contributors who are ready to step in.
Well that about wraps it up. Thanks so much for your input on all things Mets minors Jim. I know you guys are always really busy over at BA so I really appreciate the time. As always, keep up the good work!