We owe all you prospect watchers a Farm System Performance Meter for June but with the All Star Breaks come and gone how about some tasty Mid-Term Reviews instead? For the next couple weeks or so we'll stop by each of the full season affiliates -- the short season leagues haven't played a meaningful amount yet -- and we'll check in on all of the players deemed 'prospect', starting today with Buffalo.
The 2011 Bisons have one glaring issue: Attrition. We've all heard about the Mets running out a 'Buffalo Lineup' this season; that's bad for the Mets but far worse for Buffalo. They just haven't been able to keep a strong team on the field this year. Eight of the nine players in their Opening Day lineup have either been promoted to the majors or spent a significant amount of time on the DL.
Guys like Ruben Tejada, Justin Turner and Dillon Gee were plucked quite early on in the season. Other like Zach Lutz, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jenrry Mejia have succumbed to different forms of injury. In the cases of Lucas Duda and Fernando Martinez, it's been both.
All in all, that's a lot of talented players to lose -- seven of the Pre-season Top 50. They've even lost some of the secondary filler on which most minor league clubs rely in Jason Pridie, Mike O'Connor and Jose De La Torre. There was definitely a scenario where the Bisons could have ended up being quite good this year. Just not this one.
The Usual Suspects
RHP Jenrry Mejia - STOCK DOWN
Obviously this rating is based on the news that Mejia required Tommy John surgery back in early May. Yes it's a relatively routine surgery and chances are very good that he comes back 100% but major arm surgery should never be taken lightly, especially not for undersized, max effort pitchers. Not too much else to say about him. Early returns from Buffalo were excellent, though towards the end he became wilder and more hittable, likely a result of the impending injury. Who knows if this impacts his long-term role as a starter. That's about it.
OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis - STOCK UP
Yes I know he's hurt. Frankly my dear I don't give a damn. That's because he showed tremendous growth in his second shot at Triple-A pitchers, improving greatly on his .225/.295/.358 Bisons debut in 2010. And as BA's Jim Callis stated, he just keeps 'proving it.' Before the injury he was pacing the Herd offense posting a .403 wOBA including an April that saw him OPS nearly 1.000 and an impressive 16-game hit streak. While he's still striking out a lot and still exhibiting platoon splits, there are two reasons to be excitied about his 2011 performance: 1) His BB% has jumped from a career total under 10% up to 14.5% in '11 which explains the big-time boost in OBP. 2) He has continued to answer questions about his play in center, more than capably manning the wide Buffalo expanses and quieting concerns that he's a corner OF at best.
In all seriousness, we shouldn't brush off the injury because even though it is to his non-throwing shoulder, he's having trouble swinging a bat and may require season-ending surgery. If he can't get back on the field suddenly his prospect stock drops at least a little.
OF Fernando Martinez - STOCK DOWN
Same old song and dance for FMart in 2011: Said he's feeling great in spring, soon after hit the DL with leg-related injuries, spent a bit of time sitting on the bench in Queens, performed all right with Buffalo once again showing his power as his only potentially plus tool, is back on the DL. Of course, the same old 'he's only 22' qualifier still applies but he's really not showing any improvement despite multiple attempts at Triple-A pitching. He saw a slight uptick in BB% (7.5%) but his on-base skills are still poor, he's still striking out a ton (24%) and the advanced hit tool that we heard about all those years ago still hasn't re-appeared. His prodigous, easy power still gives the Mets something to hold onto but he's clearly being passed in the race to become Carlos Beltran's successor.
3B Zach Lutz - STOCK UP
Same story for Lutz too who just keeps on doing what he always does, hitting and getting hurt. Just like in the book, I'll give Lutz a bit of a boost despite the recurring injuries because -- unlike FMart -- he continues to post excellent results even as he ascends to the highest levels of the system. Quite a few people didn't like my ranking of Lutz as the #9 player in the system this spring but I still like the pick as he continues to justify the billing of perhaps the best all-around bat in the system.
The injuries are still a concern as he's spent quite a bit of time on the DL thus far. However, at this point it really does resemble bad luck more than anything as he missed the most time with a broken finger he suffered from an errant foul ball while sitting in the dugout. When he finally returned, he was hit in the head by a pitch in his first game back. The really unlucky part is that now that he's back and hitting, his brief window may be closed for quite a while with Wright returning.
OF Lucas Duda - CALLED UP
Despite missing some time with back woes the Dude proved that 2010 was not a fluke, once again terrorizing International League pitchers. He's still exhibiting platoon splits (.268 AVG against lefties) but his excellent plate discipline (23:27 BB-to-K) and heretostay power (.295 ISO) helps to quell those concerns. Still hasn't quite arrived in The Show thanks largely to sporadic playing time but some more reps lately have fueled a 1.059 OPS over his last ten games with the Mets.
RHP Dillon Gee - CALLED UP
Gee has continued to do nothing more than make so-called prospect experts like myself look stupid in his rookie campaign. Called up after just two starts for the Bisons, Gee has been a revelation for the Mets, stabilizing a rotation in flux and outperforming expectations by some people who projected him as a back rotation guy at best. And though no one can live up to his incredible first two months, I will say that though I definitely sold him short as the pre-season #17 prospect overall, I did write this piece (Is Dillon Gee the Next Shaun Marcum?) pre-call up speculating about a much higher ceiling based on his highly unique pitching tendencies. For those concerned about possible good luck, Gee's 3.76 ERA is nearly identical to his FIP (3.85).
SS/2B Ruben Tejada - CALLED UP
Despite pre-season plans to keep Tejada in Buffalo this season to catch his breath and re-learn short, necessity forced the club's hand and pushed the 21-year old back into a big league starting gig after just 39 games in Buffalo. However, in that time Ruben showed that some offseason lifting paid off as he posted an ISO (.140) far outpacing his previous career high (.092). He hasn't shown that same pop with the big club though he's garnered a lot of goodwill by seemingly having much more of an idea at the plate than 2010. Strangely, he also made nine errors with Buffalo perhaps showing some rust at shortstop after his 2010 at second -- a trend that has continued in his time at short with the Mets.
LHP Mark Cohoon - STOCK HOLDING
Despite a 6+ ERA with Buffalo, Cohoon's stock is not dropping entirely because of expectations. In the same way that we couldn't go nuts over the cerebral lefty's dominance over the SAL in 2010, we conversely can't get that upset when he gets beat up a little by much tougher competition in Triple-A. That's because in both instances that was what he should be doing based on his stuff and his overall ability. As a crafty lefty with mediocre velocity but excellent command and secondary stuff, he was supposed to crush the raw hitters of the low minors. And it would be supremely surprising if he didn't get hit -- at least a little -- by more advanced hitters in the higher minors, which he has. The good news is that thanks to an unmatched pitching IQ, he's already begun to show signs of figuring things out -- his ERA has dropped in each consecutive month -- and continues on the path to being a back-end major league starter.
IF Justin Turner - CALLED UP
One of my biggest blunders from the pre-season Top 50 was underselling Turner. This came after I had lobbied for him to get a September call-up in 2010, after I questioned the Rule 5 selection of Brad Emaus due to his presence and then argued that he deserved the starting 2B job this spring. I considered myself a big fan of Turner's after his performance with Buffalo last season and then I seemingly forgot that when making the list. Either way, Turner played only ten games with the Herd before capitalizing on the failures of Emaus. Though not flashy, Turner's solid all-around game thus far falls right into line with his minor league career; expect more of the same.
Odds & Ends
Utility man Michael Fisher has reprised his 2010 role as the stopgap, filling in at any position, any level. This year, he was pushed all the way up to Buffalo after the plethora of injuries/callups. And like 2010, he's performed admirably, especially his first month where some surprising pop and a penchant for the big hit powered a depleted Bisons offense. He's faded a lot since then and his highest ceiling is another Justin Turner -- and chances are he never reaches it -- but he's been a good story nonetheless...Diminutive reliever RHP Jose De La Torre appeared in nine games with the Herd, allowing just two runs over 12+ IP before a shoulder strain sidelined him. He's on the comeback trail now and though his stuff isn't great, excellent minor league numbers and an ability to miss bats -- thanks to a plus change -- gives him a chance to make a September debut...One of the biggest surprises in the system in 2011 has been RHP Chris Schwinden, climbing from Double-A bullpen depth to Buffalo's only All-Star and likely the next in line should the Mets need a spot start. Despite so-so velocity Schwinden has always shown the ability to miss bats thanks to good secondary stuff and pinpoint command, similar to Dillon Gee. He's attributed the success ('10 Double-A AVG: .306 | '11 Triple-A AVG: .221) to an increased ability to rely on his sharp curveball to put hitters away.