Let the 2011 Winter Leagues Begin!

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 10: World Future's All-Star Jefry Marte #31 of the New York Mets fields a ground ball during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field on July 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.

For those that may have missed it, the Winter League baseball season began yesterday with Opening Day of the prospect-studded Arizona Fall League -- the Caribbean Leagues will soon follow in the next few weeks. It is certainly an interesting time of year for us prospect watchers as we get to see how some of the Mets best and brightest minor leaguers fare against more advanced levels of competition. And in recent years it's pretty much the only semblance of Mets baseball stretching into October that we've got.

As usual the AFL takes the cake as the Mets have sent eight of their most interesting prospects out to play in the dry AZ air against some of the best prospects in all of baseball, including guys like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Gerritt Cole. On the pitching side, hefty lefty Robert Carson will be making a repeat appearance along with second half revelation RHP Collin McHugh and SAL ERA champ RHP Taylor Whitenton.

Of the position players, we'll see Futures Game representative 3B Jefry Marte (pictured), the emerging C Juan Centeno and 2011 stud OF Juan Lagares. Unfortunately, Reese Havens was pulled after the club decided his time would be better spent catching up on conditioning -- he lost 20 lbs over the course of this season. In his stead, we'll see Savannah's slick-fielding IF Wilfredo Tovar. In addition, starter Brandon Moore was originally slated but is ineligible after a 50-game September drug suspension; he'll be replaced by reliever RHP Erik Turgeon.

We've reviewed most of these guys previously so I won't go into too much detail there but at the very least let's look at yesterday's results (box):

  • After posting a 2.89 ERA in 18 games --16 starts -- for Double-A Binghamton and firmly putting his name on the map, Collin McHugh got the Opening Day start for Peoria. Unfortunately he didn't fare all that well, allowing 3 earned on 5 hits over just 2 IP; he also walked 1 batter and didn't strike anyone out. After the game McHugh said on Twitter, "Not the best start to my AFL season, but definitely not the worst. I'm healthy, getting groundballs, and throwing strikes. Up from here!" He was right there, as he got all five of his outs by way of the groundball. Read more of his thought at his blog here.
  • Turgeon (5.33 ERA in 51 IP for Bingo) came on in relief and didn't do much better, allowing a run on a double over 1 IP.
  • Rob Carson (5.05 ERA in 24 starts for Bingo) also wasn't great, allowing another run on 3 hits -- 1 double -- in 1.1 IP; he had 1 K and din't walk a batter. The more interesting note here though was the Pitch F/X information available during the game (pictured below), which had Carson working between 92-95mph, once hitting 96. This is a nice improvement from last fall when the same system had him topping out at 93mph. This should be an enlightening season as the Mets' club, the Peoria Javelinas' home park is one of the stadiums fitted with Pitch F/X cameras for every game; you can easily find said data underneath the Gameday information on MLB.com during and after each game.

Pitchfx_medium

  • Sand Gnats standout Taylor Whitenton (2.49 ERA in 22 starts) posted a scoreless 1.1 IP, allowing 2 walks and 1 hit while striking out 2 batters. He was a bit wild, unleashing a wild pitch and throwing just 17 of his 34 pitches for strikes. Pitch F/X had him consistently working in the 91-93mph range.
  • The 20-year old Tovar -- who batted .251 for Savannah this season -- played the whole game at second, going 0-for-4. In 2011, he appeared at 2B in just 37 of his 131 games for Savannah. 

Going forward, we probably won't be covering the AFL or any of the winter leagues on a daily basis. Instead, expect to see a weekly or bi-weekly recap like we ran last winter. In addition, expect to see the return of Minor League Mondays, where you'll be able to catch up on the winter leagues as well as other interesting goings-on around the Mets farm system.

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