It's that magical time of year again. The time when it seems like endless potential is in the air all across this great land. When the promise of tomorrow can outshine any amount of gloom from the past (or upcoming) year. No, I'm not talking about the holiday season; I'm talking about the far more important prospect ranking season.
That's right, it's that time of year which delights prospect watchers and casual fans alike, uniting them all in one common goal. It's the only time on the calendar when the big boys take a back seat to the would-be superstars of tomorrow. The coming months may bring the ruin of all but a precious few, but today they are all future stars.
Just like last year, I'll be running down the rankings ten players at a time -- starting with nos. 41-50 -- providing a brief commentary on each one. But unlike last year, I'll be adding a new feature called 'Why He's Here' where I'll spotlight a few of the areas within the rankings that may warrant further discussion and explain my thinking in each case. Obviously I'd love to do this for each slot, but then we'd have a novel on our hands.
So without any further ado, let's begin the 2012 Amazin Avenue Top 50 Mets Prospects:
#41) RHP Taylor Whitenton
The 23-yr old former 39th rounder emerged in 2011 as a legit prospect based on one of the most dominant pitching lines in the entire system. As evidenced by his 9.56 K/9 -- which was right in line with his career marks -- as well as his SAL-leading .193 opp. average, hitters just don't pick up the ball well out of the 6'3" righty's hand. Additionally, he cleaned up his control quite a bit in 2011 posting a 3.86 BB/9 compared to a career mark above 5.
In short, Whitenton has proven that he has a very strong, major league-caliber arm; what role he fills is still up for debate as his low-mid 90's fb/sharp slider mix would translate very well to late relief. However, late season struggles in the AFL (see, 4.76 ERA) serve reminder that he was a bit old for the SAL and was pitching in a very forgiving home park in 2011. He'll have to continue to sharpen that command to stay successful as he climbs and remain on the big league radar moving forward.
#42) RHP Greg Peavey
The 2010 sixth rounder out of Oregon St. lived up to his reputation as a cerebral pitcher with good command of a solid four-pitch mix during his pro debut in 2011. In his initial assignment with Savannah, the 23-yr old righty proved -- with a 2.62 FIP and just 11 walks in 78 IP -- that he was too advanced for Sally leaguers. However, his less than dominant strikeout total was rather conspicuous. And that trend continued in his move to the FSL where good command of average stuff wasn't as effective, as his walks were up and worse he saw his K/9 drop down below 6.
Peavey may be the rare case of a pitcher who throws too many strikes -- at least hittable ones. For someone with a definite lack of swing-and-miss stuff, it would behoove Peavey to work around the fringes of the zone more and perhaps accept an additional walk here and there. Either way, he seemed to show improvement down the stretch with St. Lucie and if he can continue to make adjustments, he has enough secondary stuff and pitching smarts to continue to profile as a strictly back of the rotation starter.
#43) RHP Luis Mateo
Mateo was originally signed by the Giants but failed his physical. He rehabbed, then signed with San Diego...but that also fell through when MLB suspended him for lying about his age. Regardless, the Mets stayed on him and ended up paying only $150k for a kid who has a seriously big arm. Though he's 21 -- not 19 -- he still tops out at 97mph with a sharp slider and gets great downward action thanks to a long, athletic 6'3" frame. And look at those results: Five walks in 63 innings. Seriously? And 80 K's? That's nuts from a kid with his stuff making his pro debut. Yes he may have been a little old for the DSL, but with a top-flight pedigree and the stuff to match there's reason to be excited about a potential steal here. Get ready to hear this name a lot more this year, he could fly up this list in 2012.
Why He's Here: Fellow Dominican righty Rafael Montero may have gotten more ink this season -- jumping all the way up to Brooklyn during their playoff run and earning the final spot in BA's top 20 in the GCL. But to me, Mateo's extended -- and incredible -- performance in the DSL wasn't far behind Montero's excellent 2011. Add in a couple more ticks on the fastball, a better pitcher's build and a better pedigree and Brooklyn or not, I'm more taken with Mateo going forward. Tempting to rank both guys higher on this list based on some outstanding numbers but I'm waiting for results against age-appropriate competition before I really get excited.
#44) RHP Rafael Montero
Like Mateo, the 21-yr old Rafael Montero signed a little late to pro ball but he certainly made up for lost time. Montero used a pinpoint low 90's heater to carve up DSL hitters early in the year (see, 0 walks vs. 20 K's) and for whatever reason, he was promoted forward while Mateo was not. Montero went on to post more gaudy totals -- including a combined .208 opp. average -- as he rocketed up four levels, right into the Cyclones 'pen in the heart of a playoff run. Pretty incredible, even before you realize that this was all during his pro debut. While he had age on his side, his combination of stuff and command are very impressive. I'd LOVE to see what he could do alongside Mateo in the Gnats rotation in 2012.
#45*) C Cam Maron
The 20-yr old Long Island native is living the dream right now. As a lifelong Mets fan, it was enough that he was drafted by his childhood team in the 34th round in '09. But now he's suddenly making a name for himself as one of the club's better young prospects after impressing in his first full-ish season in 2011. After a couple of seasons spent mostly in instructs -- capped with a couple weeks in the GCL each time -- Maron made the rookie-level K-Mets last year and showed the kind of promise he featured in brief glimpses in previous years.
Specifically, Maron has a highly advanced eye at the plate, as evidenced by his ridiculous 15.3% walk rate. Now his swing doesn't project for a lot of power so in many ways he could be a righty-hitting version of Josh Thole at the dish. However, he's posted a career ISO over .100 in 205 career ab's so let's not rule it out completely. Additionally, his good athleticism and strong fundamentals suggest he could develop into a good defender as he climbs. In a catching-starved system, Maron is already nearing the top of the heap and could jump up this list next year with a repeat performance in Lo-A Savannah.
#45) RHP Nick Carr
Carr placed no. 41 on this list last season and around the end of April he looked like a lock to make a big move forward in 2012. Armed with the high-90's heat that has always made him dangerous, he finally looked to be turning the corner as his command was straightening out and he'd dominated the competition in the FSL. That's when the injury bug returned and curtailed his season. He continued to miss bats upon returning but his control reverted back to 4+ BB/9 levels and he now once again resembles quite a question mark moving forward. As always he has the stuff to move extremely fast -- I'm talking Citi Field by September fast -- but he's got to stay healthy and improve the command, despite a violent delivery which works against him on both fronts.
#46) LHP Robert Carson
Obviously I'm off the bandwagon. Now was I happy to see the AFL radar gun hitting 97mph this fall? Of course. Do I love his combination of size and power stuff from the left side? Who wouldn't. Am I being overly harsh on him with this ranking? Probably. But ultimately, Carson has got to do something to stay up on these lists and frankly, in the past three seasons he hasn't. While it's fair to say that he was likely moved too fast, a couple of 5+ ERA's the last two years paired with consistently high walk rates, surprisingly low K-rates and ballooning opp. averages doesn't add up to a top prospect regardless of velocity or handedness.
The ease with which lower level hitters have consistently hit him is what concerns me the most as hittability doesn't discriminate between the rotation or the 'pen. I mean maybe his stuff plays up in shorter stints which would help but in ten relief appearances out in the AFL in October the league batted .309 off him; not a good sign. Add in the fact that his secondary offerings haven't developed nearly as planned and it's hard to stay high on a guy who is pretty much hanging his hat on one superb season in rookie-ball almost five years ago.
#47) OF Travis Taijeron
Taijeron (pronounced like 'Tyrone') was the Mets 2011 18th rounder selection out of Cal Poly Pomona. As the center fielder for the Tritons, the sturdy-built Taijeron (6'2", 200lbs) showed off his powerful game with 16 bombs and a ridiculous .744 SLG as he battled for Div. II Player of the Year honors. And he kept right on hitting in pro ball, leading the NYPL in slugging and ISO (.258) while placing third overall in home runs in 56 games.
It's become very clear that Taijeron possesses plus-power potential. The problem is that he strikes out...a lot. He'll have to improve that 28.5 K% if he's going to have success at the higher levels though his long swing from the right side will likely always lead to high K-rates and low averages. He does help negate that with solid plate discipline (see, 9.8 BB%). And though the athletic 22-yr old played some center for the Cyclones he profiles as a corner guy. But based on his very real raw power alone he was a very nice mid-round value and remains worth watching come 2012.
#48) OF Gilbert Gomez
Gomez is a 19-yr old physical specimen who stepped into the prospect spotlight in 2011 thanks in large part to one heck of a seized opportunity. Gomez has always been interesting thanks to his excellent athleticism, but as of late July of this summer he was still just another teenager in Rookie-ball with good tools and not a ton to show for them. That's when he was called up to Hi-A.
The St. Lucie Mets -- who share the same complex with the GCL club -- came looking for an outfielder and Gomez was called across the complex with the intent of getting a few innings of fill-in work while some outfielders were on the mend. The funny thing is that he raked. In 70 ab's he hit .307 with four homers and four stolen bases, while playing good defense -- though disappointingly mostly in the corner OF. Gomez was already worth watching thanks to his long, athletic frame but much more so now thanks to his surprising performance jumping up four levels to Hi-A.
#49) RHP Ryan Fraser
For Fraser, 2011 meant a shift in roles as he went from a dominant Brooklyn closer in 2010 to a mainstay of the Savannah rotation this season. And though he proved capable at a higher -- full-season -- level, he still drops five spots from last year's rankings due to one number: 5.86. That was his K/9 in 2011, down from 11.20 in '11. Now that wasn't the only reason but it tells a lot of the story. Basically, Fraser was far less effective against Lo-A hitters as his .271 opponent average will attest. As does his FIP (4.75) which ended up over a run higher than his ERA. I said that he resembled Bobby Parnell last year and I'll stick with that statement as he will pick up steam and once again profile as a big leaguer if the organization moves him back to his long-term role in relief.
#50) OF Javier Rodriguez
The '08 second rounder hasn't quite lived up to expectations, but after a slow start in 2011 he managed to get things back on track in Brooklyn. Specifically, after posting a .209 average through 26 games with the Gnats, Rodriguez was demoted to short season A-ball. From there he'd go on to rank among the NYPL league leaders in doubles and total bases while boosting his BB% to a very impressive 11.6. While inconsistent offensive results, waning speed and a subsequent move to right field have hurt his value, he's posted very solid ISO rates each of the past three seasons. And at 21 he's still quite age appropriate for his current level. He may not be the power/speed threat and future star the Mets hoped for when they drafted him but he's still got a chance to be a major leaguer, especially if he continues to develop that power.
#51) RHP Brad Holt
How the mighty have fallen. The '08 supplemental pick and former top prospect is now a shadow of the dominant pitcher who streaked through A-ball over three years ago. 2011 saw the 25-yr old continue to struggle in Double-A before making a full-time move into relief in mid-June. And his splits (Starting ERA: 5.04 | Relief ERA: 4.09) indicate that he didn't see a huge improvement.
Now his peripherals do provide some hope -- his troublesome BB/9 dropped by over two full points in relief while his 5.8 K/9 skyrocketed to 9.5. And after allowing an opponent's average of .336 in 2010, he held Eastern League hitters to an anemic .197 as a reliever, though the .242 BABIP isn't a great sign. But what that means is that -- as many scouts insist -- his stuff is still decent. The problem is that he's still not throwing enough strikes to take advantage of it. If he can continue to improve in that aspect he may still have a chance as a middle reliever, but at this point -- in the midst of a serious long-term decline -- even that's a long shot.