For today's Minor League Monday we'll get back to the farm system top 5's and look at the Top 5 Make or Break Seasons. These are the guys that, to put it indelicately, have to either put up or shut up.
However, these are also guys that either do or did have something going for them. Whether the problem is now poor performance, injuries or in some cases both, all of these players are either on or approaching the hot seat. And to make matters worse, this winter brought a regime change in the Mets front office meaning that many of the advocates for these players who scouted them, drafted them and signed them are long gone.
So let's take a look at who is on the hot seat in the Mets farm system:
1) RHP Brad Holt
It shouldn't be a shock to see Holt on top of this list after his disastrous 2010. We've broken down what went wrong for him here before so I won't go into too much detail. All you have to know is that after posting a miserable 7.48 ERA in his first few months with Binghamton, he was sent down to St. Lucie only to post an even worse 10.20 ERA in his final nine starts. Holt's command just disappeared; walks, hit batsmen and wild pitches all skyrocketed and the results were ugly. It was only a couple of years ago that Holt was a rising star in the system following the ’08 draft and though he's still flashing the stuff that got him there, he really hasn’t looked very good since the second half of ’09. Needless to say another season like 2010 will pretty much torpedo those formerly high hopes. Much of the same can be said for lefty Eric Niesen.
2) OF Fernando Martinez
Doesn’t it seem like we’ve been talking about Martinez forever? That’s because we have; he was signed back in ’05 and was in full-season ball the very next year. Ever since it’s been one injury-riddled season after the next with a couple of decent showings mixed in. What we’re left with is a prospect with definite talent but with even more holes as a result of injury and stalled development. As a clear favorite of the former regime (see, misguided acceleration strategy), perhaps no prospect has more to prove to Sandy & Co. than FMart, especially with the organization’s sudden OF depth. Still just 22, it wouldn’t be impossible for Fernando to put it all together beyond 2011 but if he does, chances are it won’t be with this organization.
3) C Francisco Pena
Pena is probably the closest to the edge entering ‘11 but he ranks third because it’s been somewhat evident for a while that he’s just not working out. Since his ’07 debut the burly backstop has struggled to put together an offensive approach. Averages in the low .200’s as well as K-rates consistently at or above 20% and BB-rates at or below 5% made his on-base ability non-existent. And his much-discussed power potential has not really shown up in games as he’s only once slugged over .350. Even worse, his bat is supposed to carry him as his catching skills are sub-par. Despite the fact that catchers often take longer to develop, after a winter league stint where he batted .182 it’s almost time turn out the lights.
4) RHP Brant Rustich
Of everyone on this list, Rustich has the best chance to bounce back and reach his former ceiling. The ’07 2nd rounder’s mix of size (6-6, 220) and electric stuff had him ticketed for the back of a major league bullpen but durability issues made him a big risk. However, despite numerous arm and hand injuries, Rustich continues to flash the high-90’s fb and very sharp slider, when he gets on the field. What’s more, Rustich recently underwent a procedure for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome which according to doctors should clear up all of his health issues by the start of 2011. If that’s true, Rustich could move very fast through this system, but if the arm injuries persist, it’s hard to assume he suddenly stays healthy enough to do that.
5) OF Javier Rodriguez
This one is pretty simple: JRod was an ’08 2nd rounder drafted out of the PR as a super-toolsy CF prospect that reminded many of a young Carlos Beltran. The problem is that his bat just hasn’t come around as he batted .193 and .230 in the GCL in '09 and '10 and his raw tools haven’t really developed; despite showing good instincts he had to move off of CF in ‘10 due to a lack of footspeed. Now the good news is he bounced back with the bat in ’10 with Kingsport, batting .319 with an .866 OPS. But after his less than illustrious pro career as well as persisting poor plate discipline (94:26 career K-to-BB) he’s going to have to prove himself every single year going forward.
Honorable Mention: CF Juan Lagares
Much like Rodriguez, the 21-yr old ultra-athletic outfielder finally broke out with Savannah in ’10 after years of underwhelming results. However, at least Lagares has a good excuse as the previous regime rushed him badly (they must have liked him a lot huh?) and his development suffered as a result. In fact, the speedy Lagares was once a SS who was ultimately moved to the OF. Also like Rodriguez, despite turning a corner offensively in 2010 Lagares has very little slack going forward thanks to very poor plate discipline and 3-4 years of mediocre results and injuries.