Minor League Monday had to wait with yesterday's big news but now in these waning weeks of spring training, I thought we could wrap up our minor league rankings. So today we're going to look at the organization's top minor league bullpen arms. There was once a time that the bullpen was made up entirely of former/future starters; no longer. Now, while many relievers still represent failed starting pitchers, most teams also groom pure relief arms from the very lowest levels and the Mets are no different.
Now we're going to limit this list to guys who currently pitch -- at least part of the time -- out of the 'pen. If we included every pitcher who may potentially wind up in the bullpen (meaning Mejia, Familia, Stoner, etc) our list would go on forever. Also, we'll create a sub-list of the Top 5 LOOGY's as well, since sticking them in with the righties when most bullpens carry one -- maybe two -- lefties is like comparing apples and oranges. So on to the relievers!
1) Manny Alvarez - For those paying close attention this spring, you've already seen why Alvarez is a serious bullpen candidate as early as this season. The stout righty possesses a strong, 91-93mph fastball as well as a sharp curve, both of which he can spot very well. His 1.2 BB/9 in 2010 would be a welcome sight in the Mets 'pen. Although you've also seen why he'll start in Buffalo as he was hit around for an 18 ERA in three innings during camp.
2) Josh Stinson - Like Alvarez, Stinson was recently added to the Mets 40-man roster which means we've also seen a bit of him this spring. Despite indicating a preference for the 'pen, the Mets moved him back to spot-starting in 2010 but he was still very solid until he ran out of gas late in the summer. Stinson doesn't miss many bats but his strong sinker/slider/curve mix generates tons of ground balls and plays up in relief. Not the flashiest guy on this list nor does he have the highest potential but possibly the surest bet to reach his ceiling as a solid/cheap MR which is nothing to sneeze at. He too will likely make his big league debut at some point in 2011.
3) Nick Carr - Carr bounced back from TJ surgery pretty well in '10, pushing his velocity back into the high 90's with Hi-A St. Lucie as well as during the AFL. However, once again Carr showed an inability to command his fastball or his sharp but inconsistent slider, posting a 6+ BB/9. The potential for triple-digits could have him moving fast but only if he can prove that he can show some semblance of command.
4) Ryan Fraser - I've said it here before that Fraser is eerily similar to a young Bobby Parnell. After posting a stellar 1.44 ERA and 11.20 K/9 with Brooklyn, the 2010 16th rounder can move fast thanks to a high 90's heater; but like Parnell he needs to reign in his command while also getting more consistency on his slider. Also like Parnell, the Mets will likely try Fraser as a starter in '10.
5) Chad Sheppard - Sheppard is a big, strong (6'4", 210lbs) righty that possesses a very heavy, low 90's sinker (see, two homers allowed in two college seasons). He also throws a solid slider. The 2010 17th rounder did not make it on to the field last summer but posted a 3.60 ERA with 49 K's in 40 IP as the Relief Pitcher of the Year in the Southeastern Conference.
Honorable Mention: Brant Rustich - If the '07 second rounder could ever stay healthy he'd have a legitimate shot as a closer in the bigs. His perfect pitcher's build, mid-90's heater, power slider and solid splitter all give him the look of a guy who could get major league hitters out today. Problem is that he hasn't stayed healthy. However, last September he saw Dr. James Andrews and was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, for which he was treated by having an upper rib and muscle removed. He reportedly came into camp this spring feeling good so we'll see what happens in 2011.
Top 5: LOOGY's
1) Roy Merritt - The 25-year old sidearmer was strong for Double-A Bingo in '10, posting a 3.86 ERA including a 2.18 mark after the break. But the key was his .228 average against lefties and following a .209 mark in '09, Merritt has proven that despite a fastball that doesn't break 90mph, his unorthodox delivery and winding slurve make him devestating for lefties. However, hurting his chances is the fact that he really can ONLY be used against lefties as righties absolutely tee off on him.
2) Jim Fuller - I'm going to break my own rule and include a couple of starters on this list but only because there aren't nearly as many lefty relief candidates. And honestly, despite exceptional results in 2010 -- 2.19 ERA with 124 K's in 131 IP between Savannah and St. Lucie -- Fuller's stuff, or lack thereof, really limits him to a major league role out of the 'pen. Nonetheless, Fuller's 88-91mph fb and rolling curve play up thanks to an always tough mentality on the mound.
3) Eric Niesen - The '07 third rounder had a disastrous 2010 with Binghamton -- 5.14 ERA with 59 K's vs. 60 BB's in 77 IP -- and things didn't get better after he made the switch to relief (5.40 ERA). But it was only a year ago that the hard-throwing lefty was a top candidate to understudy Pedro Feliciano after posting a low-3's ERA in Hi-A -- with a sub-3 BB/9 -- and a strong debut in Double-A. Niesen still features a hard curve but his low-to-mid 90's heat has waned and though he insists there are no lasting effects from a throw through-induced concussion, there are signs that his mechanics are/were out of whack. Early returns this spring point to these mechanical issues being ironed out which could potentially put Niesen back on the fast track.
4) Josh Edgin - After being drafted in the 30th round in 2010, Edgin mowed down Appy League hitters -- on both sides of the plate -- to the tune of a .231 average against, 11.65 K/9 and a ridiculous 3.45 GB:FB rate. Strangely, his 2.84 ERA was far better than anything he ever posted at Ohio State or Francis Marion U. but this was his first shot in full-time relief. Additionally, his plus stuff, including a low 90's heat and sharp slider, allow the big-bodied southpaw to project to the highest levels.
5) Angel Cuan - Cut out of the Jim Fuller mold, the 21-year old is short on stuff but his excellent command and mound presence allowed him to post a 2.03 ERA in Brooklyn in 2010 including a .227 average against lefties. Now at 5'11", 150lbs, Cuan isn't projetable in the slightest so he'll have to maximize his pinpoint control to make it at the higher levels.
Honorable Mention: Adam Kolarek - The 2010 11th rounder has a very nice pitcher's build (6'3", 215lbs) which, when paired with a very clean delivery, produces a hard fastball that reaches 93-94mph. He also features a slider which flashes plus potential and posted a very solid 2.89 ERA with Brooklyn in his first stint as a full-time reliever. He's got a bit of an issue with command but if he can straighten that out he could move up this list fast.
Catch up on the other Farm System Top 5's below!