For today's edition of Minor League Monday, we're going to continue our Season in Review series by climbing the rookie ball ranks up to the Mets Appalachian League affiliate in Kingsport:
Managed by long-time Atlanta Strength and Conditioning coach and former Mets Minor League Rehabilitation Pitching Coordinator Frank Fultz, the K-Mets were actually a pretty good team this season. Actually, to be more precise they were a very average team until the calendar turned to August and then they reeled off a 20-8 record to cap the season.
While that gave them the fourth highest winning percentage among all Appalachian League teams, unfortunately that wasn't good enough for a playoff spot this season thanks to the presence of two exceptional clubs in the Appy League's West division.
The Usual Suspects
OF Julio Concepcion - STOCK DOWN
Here's what we said about Concepcion in this space following the 2010 season:
"Concepcion definitely has some interesting tools and has showed enough with the bat that he warrants attention as a budding outfield prospect. But at the age of 21 he'll have to take a big step forward going into 2011. He'll likely start in Kingsport but I'd hope to see him up to Lo-A Savannah (at least) by year's end."
Well he did start in Kingsport, but never really did enough to warrant a promotion. For the second straight season he walked at an alarmingly low rate. But against better competition that began to affect the rest of his offensive game as he saw declines across the board in his rates and counting stats. At this point, he's still athletic enough to keep an eye on and he certainly didn't have an awful season, but like before his advanced age forces us to hope for a big step forward come next year.
SS Juan Carlos Gamboa - STOCK UP
If you're keeping track you know that I really like Gamboa. The 20-year old Mexican showed enough offensive potential this season to force himself into a starting role with playoff-bound Savannah by year's end. And while he lost a bit in the plate discipline department from 2010, he supplanted it with seriously surprising pop from a little man (5'7", 152 lbs). And I buy it; he's already slugged five more homers in 100+ winter leagues games and he's got a very nice stroke from the left side. Add in the fact that he's a stud defender up the middle and he's well on his way to earning legit prospect status come 2012.
C Jeffrey Glenn - STOCK UP
One half of the impressive young catching tandem that emerged in Kingsport this year, Glenn stepped onto the scene this season as an intriguing young backstop with excellent athleticism and good pop. Drafted in the ninth round out of a Fla. high school back in '09, Glenn showed very nice offensive potential for a teenager in his first full season. He's obviously got some work to do in terms of his approach at the plate (see, 1:3 BB-to-K). And it's pretty clear the grind of the season wore him down (June OPS: .829 | July OPS: .797 | Aug OPS: .618) But at this early stage of his career this is pretty much all you can ask for from a budding young catcher.
C Camden Maron - STOCK UP
That brings us to the other end of Kingsport's catching duo, L.I.-native Cam Maron. If Glenn was intriguing then Maron was downright impressive, slugging his way up to a late-season cup of coffee in Savannah much in the same way as Gamboa. The 20-year old Maron also features excellent athleticism and complemented Glenn nicely thanks to his very advanced plate discipline. In addition, he seemed to actually improve as the season progressed, especially in the power department where he ended up surpassing Glenn by season's end. It should be very interesting to see what both of these promising young catchers will do going forward.
RHP Akeel Morris - STOCK UP
it was a strange season for Morris, and there are certainly aspects of his line that would make one think a downgrade would be more appropriate. An ERA over a run worse than last season, even worse a 4.50 FIP and an unholy 6.66 BB/9. However, while his bad points were bad, his good ones were spectacular namely his 10.69 K/9 and a league-best .166 opponent average. The fact that he pitched this season as an 18-year old with less baseball experience than most is also important to note. Morris is the epitome of effectively wild -- which definitely boosts that opp. AVG total -- but if he can begin to harness his electric mid-90's heater and continue to develop his hard curve, he's got the kind of potential that makes scouts drool.
OF Brandon Nimmo - (Drafted in 2011)
Obviously we all know about Nimmo's exploits, beginning his pro career down in the GCL with a rash of strikeouts before getting hot and slugging a couple of bombs. Upon moving up to Kingsport he once again struggled out of the gates but the season ended before he was able to right himself. It was interesting that the Mets decided not to let him keep playing by sending him up to Brooklyn along with fellow 2011 draftee Phillip Evans. The downside of a NY media storm around the 18-year old likely wasn't worth the benefit of a few more pro ab's under his belt.
OF Gregory Pron - (Drafted in 2011)
2011 was certainly an impressive season for the 2011 42nd round draftee. After leading the Univ. of West Florida to their first ever National Championship and contending for D2 National Player of the Year honors, the 22-year old just kept on hitting with Kingsport until he ultimately won the club's Player of the Year honors. The 6'6" outfielder will always have to battle strikeouts thanks to a big swing but he clearly possesses some natural hitting ability as well as some excellent athleticism. Anything the club gets out of this late-round find is pretty much gravy, but like most D2 players Pron will have to prove himself at each and every level.
RHP Domingo Tapia - STOCK UP
The second of the K-Mets three talented teenaged starters, Tapia is a bit of an enigma. He is a physical specimen, standing at 6'4", 190 lbs before his 20th birthday. This season he translated that size into production as he began to work consistently in the high 90's and often hit triple digits on the radar gun with a Mejia-like heavy sinking fastball that produced stellar GB rates. He surged in the second half of the season, forcing a late season cameo in Brooklyn where he was excellent in his only start. That in and of itself is worth bumping his status some.
However, strangely he still suffers from an inability to put batters away. After posting an underwhelming 5.55 K/9 in 2010, he was even worse with a 5.40 mark in 2011. This clearly points to a lack of secondary stuff, a weakness in Tapia's game that he'll have to significantly improve if he wants to stay out of the bullpen. But either way, he's got the kind of size and electric fastball that you just don't see often, which makes him one of the most interesting pitchers in the system going into 2012.
LHP Juan Urbina - STOCK DOWN
After a mediocre yet serviceable pro debut in 2010, 18-year old Juan Urbina was frankly disappointing in 2011. Once again he appeared extremely hittable and allowed the second-highest home run total in the Appy League while struggling with command and having a hard time going deep into games. Fortunately his K-rates improved some this year and he finished the year strong, posting a 3.71 ERA in August. Additionally, he still showcases a very advanced approach and feel for his secondary offerings for a kid barely shaving. The problem is that he's just not featuring the kind of stuff to match the hype. And while I personally won't ding him too bad over his 2011 season, he'll need to deliver more on his promise come 2012 to remain among the upper echelon in the system.
More Name to Watch For
Despite so-so results spot-starting for the K-Mets in 2011 -- including a 5+ ERA nearly 1:1 K-to-BB -- Venezuelan RHP Miller Diaz was yet another teenaged power arm that was regularly hitting the mid-90's this season...I highlighted 2010 17th rounder RHP Chad Sheppard as part of the pre-season relief prospects to watch and after allowing just two home runs as a collegiate pitcher, he allowed two more in just 20 IP along with a 5+ ERA for Kingsport. However, the reason I'm still watching him is those 29 K's, the .221 opponent average and the 3.99 FIP...22-yr old RHP Bret Mitchell was underwhelming, if a bit unlucky, in his pro debut for the K-Mets in 2010. This season, he maintained his high K-rates and the rest evened out as he posted a sub-3 ERA, winning the Kingsport Pitcher of the Year award and forcing a late season cameo in Brooklyn...2011 19th rounder OF/3B Dustin Lawley was a teammate of Greg Pron at UWF and like Pron raked upon joining the K-Mets lineup. The co-Player of the Year led the club with nine homers and forced a promotion onto the Sand Gnats playoffs roster where he hit another bomb down the stretch.