It's no surprise that High-A St. Lucie was once again a hub for Mets prospects in 2012. From high upside starters to low ceiling utility players, the Mets were stocked with all kinds of talent. For that reason, we'll split up the little Mets roster into two more manageable chunks. Last Monday we reviewed the pitchers, and today we'll focus on the hitters.
St. Lucie was nothing short of the best affiliate in the Mets farm system in 2012. Not only did the club finish in the pole position of the Florida State League regular season, they went ahead and set a franchise record for most wins in a season, topping the high-water mark of 81 set in 2000. The team was anchored by a pitching staff that led the circuit in wins, ERA, and WHIP and was complemented by an offense that placed top three in runs, OPS, and homers.
In his first year at the helm, Manager Ryan Ellis took the FSL Manager of the Year award, making the 34-year-old rising managerial star two-for-two after winning the same award with Savannah in 2011.
In short, the St. Lucie Mets made their bones in a spectacular first half that saw them go 49-19 — again, a club record for wins in a half. They ended up just a game over .500 in the second half after promotion-related roster churn, but that was more than enough for their second straight playoff berth. Unfortunately, the little Mets were bounced in the first round by the Marlins' Jupiter affiliate. Yet, for the second straight year, St. Lucie was a shining example of a highly successful minor league affiliate, on the field and in the pipeline.
The Prospects (In alphabetical order)
OF Darrell Ceciliani - STOCK DOWN
The 22-year-old Ceciliani lost just about a full season of development in 2012 after struggling with hamstrings for the majority of the year — again — which is becoming a serious long-term concern. The good news is that when he played, he was very effective. His walks remained high and strikeouts were way down, but he was riding the unsustainable BABIP train again (.370), like he did in 2010 with Brooklyn. Either way, it's hard to really judge his year based on 20 games, which means this October in the Arizona Fall League will be more valuable for the young center fielder than most.
C Blake Forsythe - STOCK UP
If there were degrees of improvement — which in my mind there are — Forsythe's would be humble. In short, the 23-year-old backstop basically did the same thing he did in 2011, except one rung up the minor-league ladder. And that does, indeed, count for something, as a higher level implies better competition. Additionally, just about anything any catcher does in this system is worth noting, especially one who looks like he's got the arm to stick behind the plate (32% caught stealing % in '12), despite big-body-slow-actions syndrome.
What's more, real power to the pull side coupled with a career walk rate above 11% show me a player that might be able to ultimately pull his weight at the dish higher up the chain. Are we looking at a major league starting catcher? Forsythe's sub-par strikeout rate — which topped 25% for the third straight year — and an overall mediocre hit tool say no. But Forysthe has done enough to this point to warrant some consideration as a future backup, which isn't far from the best that the Mets can currently boast at any level.
OF Alonzo Harris - STOCK UP
On the ledger of the 2012 season, mark Harris's name down in the "pleasant surprise" column. After the 2007 39th-rounder and one-time prep football star began to watch his offensive stats plummet upon reaching A-ball back in 2009, it looked like this might be another case of "great athlete, not great baseball player." Things looked even worse following a second failed season in Savannah. Take three in the SAL in 2011 proved more promising, but only inasmuch as any third attempt can, giving his waning prospect stock a reprieve at best.
Then came 2012, when his very first assignment to High-A represented a potential knockout blow. But Harris quietly survived, and before long, survival gave way to success. By year's end the 23-year-old shortstop-turned-outfielder had experienced a career season nearly across the board. That includes an extremely promising walk rate (8.9%), a drastic decline in strikeouts (13.4%) and a stolen base total more than twice his previous career high. It truly was a season of redemption for Harris.
Now, it should be mentioned that he was indeed slightly old for the league, and despite the growth in his secondary skills, his hit tool is still lacking. All in all, it's still tough to see a slam dunk major-league player here. However, the key is that Harris has firmly placed himself in that discussion, a place we never would have thought we'd find him one short year ago.
OF Cesar Puello - STOCK DOWN
After a solid High-A debut in 2011, it was a tough follow-up season for the 21-year-old Puello as he battled injuries for much of it. The broken hamate is an annoyance as it will likely sap some power until it fully heals, but the balky hamstrings are the bigger concern, as this is something he's now struggled with in multiple seasons. Like Ceciliani, it's got to enter the discussion as a long-term concern.
When he was on the field, he played relatively well. He hit at similar levels to last season, with a nice little boost in power (see: .164 ISO) and a lot more success stealing bases. He's still showing the all-around athletic ability that had him in the preseason top ten, but the major black mark against him is still the awful plate discipline. His walk rate dropped to a career-low 2.8% while his strikeout rate jumped up to a nearly unacceptable 23%. Despite his good tools, Puello does not have the kind of hit tool to absorb that kind of deficiency. This means he'll have to prove he can make some very big strides with his plate discipline if we're ever to believe he can have prolonged success at the highest levels.
2B Danny Muno - STOCK HOLDING
Like some of his teammates, the 23-year-old Muno also missed time this season, but not because of injuries. The 2011 eighth rounder was suspended 50 games after testing positive for anabolic steroids in May. Though as much as you don't really like to see that, his profile really doesn't change much in the wake of his 2012 season. As expected, he shifted off of short for good and still looks like a solid bet as a cheap utilityman who makes a lot of contact and can get on base a ton (note: I say cheap because he signed for a ridiculous $10,000). His true test will come in Double-A as we already knew his plate discipline was advanced beyond High-A — his 13.7% walk rate was third-best among qualified FSL hitters. His upcoming gig in the Arizona Fall League should give us a good taste of that.
2B T.J. Rivera - STOCK UP
Another year, another chance to prove the critics wrong for the soon-to-be 24-year-old undrafted free agent from the Bronx via Troy University. After a pro debut in Brooklyn that was as impressive as it was unexpected, Rivera just kept on doing his thing in 2012. He followed up a very strong .326 average for the Cyclones with a .333 mark for Savannah before getting the bump to St. Lucie. Lacking any one plus tool, Rivera does just enough of everything to make himself interesting. Make no mistake, he's certainly no top prospect and .350-plus BABIP could easily be a mirage. But the thing is he's done it at four straight levels. So if he can find a way to replicate his success in Double-A and continue to showcase a strong, flexible glove around the infield, he's at least got an outside shot as a scrappy infielder in the mold of a Steve Lombardozzi in Washington or a Daniel Descalso in St. Louis.
1B/3B Aderlin Rodriguez - STOCK UP
After a 2011 that had people wondering if he'd hit enough at higher levels to let his plus power translate, the 21-year-old Rodriguez was nothing short of one of the best prospects in the Mets' farm system in 2012. Spending the first half of 2012 back in Savannah, Rodriguez saw offensive improvements across the board. Specifically, his BABIP rose by over 50 points as he squared up balls much more regularly, allowing for large gains in average and power (see: .223 ISO). Perhaps even more promising was the fact that he pushed his walk rate up above 8%, a very good sign for a kid with plenty of swing-and-miss in his game.
Following a promotion to the Florida State League Rodriguez experienced some slight regression, but nothing beyond what you'd expect from a 21-year-old making his first adjustments to High-A. The fact that he maintained an ISO just below .200 speaks to the quality of his raw power, which is second to none in the entire system. The ease with which Rodriguez drives the ball makes him perhaps the most legitimate shot to be the Mets' next 30 home run hitter and, to that end, the organization's best corner prospect (with the qualifier that Flores is still floating to a degree). Which corner he'll play is up for debate as humble defensive gains at third base have given way to some playing time at first base. Regardless, if the 6-3, 210-pound righty can continue to build on the strides he made in 2012, he should have more than enough bat for either position at the highest levels. Following 2012, Rodriguez is firmly entrenched as one of the Mets' top ten prospects.
OF Travis Taijeron - STOCK DOWN
We all knew the deal with Taijeron. The 23-year-old, drafted in the 18th round out of Cal Poly-Pomona in 2011, looked great, showing off major league power in his pro debut, albeit against much younger competition. Yet, as with any advanced college product with serious flaws in his approach, it only becomes truly legitimate once he proves it at High-A in a more age-appropriate environment. And unfortunately, after once again feasting on SAL pitching, Taijeron floundered badly upon his promotion to St. Lucie.
His already troubling strikeout rate jumped up to nearly 30% as he struggled to keep his average above .200 for much of the summer. His once fearsome .550 SLG dropped well below .400, and his OPS dropped almost 300 points, exhibiting why it's always risky to buy into late-round college hitters at the lower levels. A walk rate at 10% and a continued split against lefties might keep the dream of a major league bench piece alive. However, at this point, there's little to distinguish Taijeron from other strictly minor league mashers like Mike Hessman or Valentino Pascucci.
OF Cory Vaughn - STOCK HOLDING
The 23-year-old former fourth rounder continues to be one of the most perplexing prospects in the Mets' farm system. You'll rarely see a player's stock stagnate following a 20/20 campaign in his first full season at a level. Yet despite that overwhelming positive evidence, there's just as much negative performance to counteract it. Most notably, it's his .236 career average at High-A. Batting average isn't my favorite indicator of future success, but if a high round college draftee who's slightly old for the league cannot maintain even a passable average, that is somewhat troubling — more so when you consider scouting reports are consistently unimpressed with his hitchy swing.
Now Vaughn's other rate stats remained strong. A .219 ISO is nothing to sneeze at — especially in the Mets' power-starved system — nor is a very impressive 12% walk rate. But, once again, there is a downside as his strikeout rate continues to reside above 20%. All in all, Vaughn seems to possess just about all of the tools to project a major league career — from a top tier power/speed mix to a strong eye at the dish — except for one: his hit tool.
Without some major improvement in that area, he just doesn't barrel the ball enough to project as a guy who'll ever hit above .250 — if that — at the highest levels. That doesn't mean he can't have an impact as a player at the major league level, thanks mostly to the depth of the rest of his skillset, but it does limit the kind of impact he'll ultimately be able to have.