2012 was something of a struggle for the B-Mets as they worked for much of the season to play .500 baseball, yet unfortunately after early June couldn't get their heads back above water. Despite very strong prospect presence throughout the year, the club just couldn't maintain a lot of momentum -- only twice winning more than three consecutive games.
After a year at the helm of the St. Lucie Mets -- not to mention Savannah in '10, Brooklyn in '09 and Kingsport in '08 -- career minor leaguer Pedro Lopez took the helm in Binghamton in 2012. With Wally Backman back in the fold, 2013 figures to be Lopez' first repeat engagement since joining the organization -- assuming he is retained, of course. In terms of numbers, the club was very much a middle of the pack team, ranking in the middle third of the Eastern League in terms of offensive runs scored as well as pitching runs allowed. In a particularly talented Eastern Division in 2012, that was just not enough to keep them in the hunt.
The Prospects (in alphabetical order)
IF Wilmer Flores - STOCK UP
The 21-year old Flores was outstanding in 2012, completely revitalizing a prospect stock that was beginning to sag before the season began. He once again demonstrated one of the most advanced hit tools in the entire minors, let alone the Mets farm system, while showcasing the power game we've long awaited. After some attributed his early-season success to a third try at St. Lucie, Flores performed even better in Binghamton as one of the very youngest players in all of Double-A. Not surprisingly he continued to utilize outstanding contact ability (11% strikeout rate) which, when paired with strong walk rates (7%), consistently put him in good spots to drive the ball. In fact, of any player in Double-A with as low a strikeout rate, Flores ranked second in ISO (.174), trailing only Cardinals uber-prospect Oscar Taveras. Such a combination of power and contact ability is not something you see every day.
The re-emergence of Flores' outstanding bat couldn't have come at a better time as it helped to counteract the continued decline of his defensive value. Finally moving off of shortstop for good, Flores shifted all over the Binghamton infield getting reps at first, second and third. However, his extreme lack of foot speed minimized his range and consequently his value at second base and to a lesser extent third, where he proved serviceable. The good news is that his bat looks like the real deal no matter where he plays. What he lacks in athletic ability and defensive upside, he makes up for with one of the most advanced bats in all of minor league baseball and it's not a stretch to imagine him as one of the club's best offensive threats by this time next year. It's unclear where he'll fit with the Mets as they are currently constructed, yet if he replicates his success early next season they'll be forced to find a place for him.
LHP Darin Gorski - STOCK DOWN
After a breakout 2011 in the FSL, the '09 seventh rounder came back to Earth against the more age-appropriate competition of the Eastern League. He posted an all-around average pitching line, made worse when you consider his 4.53 FIP. Now it wasn't all bad for Gorski; a 7.60 strikeout per nine coupled with a .244 opponent average certainly doesn't point to a complete flame out. However, for a guy that features an average fastball and lacks a true putaway pitch, a homer per nine that was fourth-worst in all of Double-A baseball* is not a good sign -- especially for a decided flyball pitcher.
*of starters with 130 or more innings pitched
Regardless, Gorski still features the kind of package from the left side that could easily slide into the back end of a major league pitching staff. Now whether he can stick as a bottom of the rotation starter, survive making spot starts or forever ride the Taxi Squad shuttle remains to be seen. A great deal depends on whether Gorski can make the necessary adjustments to more advanced hitters in 2013. He reported feeling more comfortable as the year progressed, however a nearly identical opponent average before and after the break paired with a disastrous 2.09 home run per nine in the second half don't exactly tell the same story. At age 25, Gorski will have to make some strides either way next season in order to remain relevant though keeping the ball in the park at Las Vegas will certainly be a challenge. Based on rotation depth alone expect to see Gorski begin the season back in Binghamton though there's a good chance he sees Las Vegas before very long. Again, long-term I think Gorski could help a major league team but as I've said before, when I look at him I can't help seeing Pat Misch.
2B Reese Havens - STOCK DOWN
2012 was a very damning season for the Mets' one-time second baseman of the future. In some ways, including a new regime in place and his advanced age, it really was a make-or-break campaign for him. And unfortunately he did not deliver. Despite struggling with more back woes, he reached 90 games played for just the second time in his career. However, in what was a highly discouraging development the 26-year old second baseman floundered, posting the worst offensive season of his career. While his characteristically high walk rate was true to form (14.9%), his .135 ISO was a career low while his disastrous 29% strikeout rate ranked second-worst in the Eastern League*, short-circuiting the rest of his batting line.
*among players with at least 90 games played
After a putrid May where he batted .127, he showed brief flashes but never seemed to get his bearings, batting just five points better in the second half (.217) than he did in the first. You can't even blame bad luck as he featured a very appropriate .296 BABIP. At this point, Havens has clearly been passed on the organizational depth chart, sinking further -- in terms of value -- than just about any Mets top prospect. It's been five summers since that fateful first round when Havens was selected and by now his star has nearly lost all it's luster. In fact, considering the upcoming roster crunch it's not hard to see a situation where Havens is not retained on the club's 40-man (and he'd likely make attractive Rule 5 fodder). It's not an impossibility for Havens to become the impact player we all envisioned but it's becoming harder and harder to imagine every day -- especially with this organization.
OF Juan Lagares - STOCK DOWN
2012 certainly wasn't a bad year for the 23-year old Lagares, but it was asking a lot for him to maintain the torrid pace he set in 2011 when he batted .370 in his Double-A debut. The big difference was a drop in BABIP from his unsustainable .399 mark in 2011 down to .337 in 2012. Aside from that -- and a few more homers dropping in for doubles -- he wasn't a significantly different player this season. Very similar strikeout rate (17%), similarly improving walk rate (6.8%) and good speed on the basepaths, not to mention improved defensive play in his new home in center.
In fact, after playing the majority of his games in center in 2012, that storyline will be the key for Lagares' prospect stock going forward. While he's shown the ability to hit some against advanced pitching, he doesn't feature a corner outfield profile due to a lack of home run power. And despite good speed, he's not exactly a burner either so center is no given. But again, he looked solid out there in 2012 and if he can continue to improve I'll stick with my preseason best case comp of Jon Jay. One hurdle may be the ability to get enough reps -- Matt den Dekker is the clear choice in Las Vegas, and he may find himself in a time-share with Puello should they both find themselves in Binghamton (though I personally might favor Lagares getting more nods).
3B Jefry Marte - STOCK DOWN
It was another uneven season for the 21-year old Marte. Like in 2011, he busted out of the gates to start the season, only to fade down the stretch. After posting an .748 OPS with six homers over the first half of the year, he knocked just three more longballs with a .629 OPS following the break. The good news is that as one of the youngest everyday players in the Eastern League he continued to showcase improved plate discipline, featuring career bests in both strikeout (14.8%) and walk (8.4%) rates. What's more, his struggles with the glove seem to be behind him as he committed a career-low 15 errors at third base in 2012. This improvement clearly allows Marte to profile defensively at third -- and also serves as an excellent lesson as to why you don't panic over shaky defensive play at the lower levels.
However, the central problem at this point is more about his bat. While he continues to flash lots of promising signs for a younger player, he hasn't come close to batting .300 or posting an ISO above .150 over a full season since his debut in rookie-ball back in 2008. Now he's demonstrated enough incremental growth -- season over season -- to remain interesting. But at this point it's been four full seasons since he showcased the kind of offensive profile that would play at third base in the majors. With a hit tool that really hasn't stood out at any point and a career ISO of .123 after five years, it's not unfair to begin wondering if he'll ever be able to put it all together.
RHP Cory Mazzoni - STOCK DOWN
It was a somewhat disappointing full season debut for the 2011 second rounder out of NC State. While his overall line certainly doesn't look awful, key indicators like a very pedestrian strikeout rate and far too many hits allowed were not what we expected from a very polished college product with mid-90's heat and a reportedly solid secondary repertoire. In fact, a 6.79 strikeout per nine against younger competition in the FSL was the first red flag. When it dropped even lower (6.25) in Double-A, it became a real cause for concern. For reference, Collin McHugh has a career strikeout per nine of 8.8 in Double-A. And unlike a guy like Mike Pelfrey, he does not compensate with good groundball rates.
The good news is that scouts still liked what they saw from Mazzoni. The 23-year old righty continued to flash premium velocity while maintaining excellent command (see, 2.24 walks per nine). Though the secondary stuff didn't blow anyone away. With all that in mind, many see a successful relief pitcher at the highest levels. And while the Mets might have envisioned more when they drafted him, a fast-moving late innings reliever wouldn't be the worst thing for this club.
RHP Armando Rodriguez - STOCK HOLDING
2012 represented a very big year for the long-term development of the 24-year old Rodriguez. The former starter finally made the full-time move to relief and took to it swimmingly. Not surprisingly, the strong-armed righty looked more dominant than ever, even against the more advanced competition of Double-A. In fact, he maintained a strikeout rate above nine and even better, a walk rate around 2.60. The only hiccup came in the dog days of summer when he seemed to tire in his new, high frequency role, posting ERA's above four in June and July.
Either way, the 6'3", 250 lbs Dominican pretty clearly made himself into the organization's best relief prospect in the short term. With an opponent average that hovered around .215 all season, it's not a stretch to think that he could be quite effective against major leaguers very soon. Expect Rodriguez to get a fighter's chance in spring training, but more likely he'll serve as the first line of relief depth, much like Elvin Ramirez last season -- except with better command. The only thing he'll have to be careful of is that as an extreme flyball pitcher, he has a tendency to give up the longball.
SS Wilfredo Tovar - STOCK UP
2012 was yet another quietly solid campaign for the 21-year old shortstop. His final numbers won't exactly blow your socks off thanks to a slow second half in Binghamton. However, pay more attention to the very strong first half he had in St. Lucie, where in his first exposure to the level he acquitted himself very nicely, posting career highs in both strikeout (6.6%) and walk (11.3%) rates. Following the mid-season promotion Tovar struggled against the more advanced competition. Yet by season's end he began to acclimate, batting .270 over his final month -- despite the fact that he was one of the five youngest players in the league. Additionally, while he's never going to hit for a ton of home run power, he posted a career high in slugging and compiled more doubles at St. Lucie than Wilmer Flores.
As always, the story with Tovar is not his bat, it's a glove that gives him a chance to be a premium defender at the major league level. In fact, he pretty much profiles as a high-level defensive shortstop right now. Don't be surprised to see him get the call should Ruben Tejada miss any time next season. The only question remaining is whether his strong plate discipline, outstanding contact skills and burgeoning doubles power will make him a valuable everyday player in the mold of a Tejada or, if the bat just proves too weak against tougher competition, a top-notch defensive specialist in the mold of Philadelphia's Freddy Galvis. In any case, it looks like Tovar will be a valuable piece around the Mets infield for years to come.
More Names to Watch
2010 16th rounder RHP Ryan Fraser posted a solid season out of the B-Mets pen, however despite a full-time move to relief he did not miss any more bats. Though the big righty can dial it up to 94 MPH, he posted a strikeout rate around 6, not a good sign for future success...One-time IFA stud C Francisco Pena was nearly off the map coming into 2012, though he maintained a pulse thanks to a .170 ISO in St. Lucie. However, he struggled upon promotion to Double-A, failing to bat .200 and sliding back out of relevance...24-year old IF/OF Eric Campbell bounced back from a brutal 2011 with a first half OPS well above .900. Unfortunately, he faded badly after the break and continues to lack a big league profile...RHP Greg Peavey just about fell under prospect radar with a mediocre 2012 where he posted a so-so 4.53 FIP but an atrocious 5.25 strikeout per nine. That won't cut it as a starter but he just made a solid run in the AFL as a reliever, his likely last-ditch role for 2013...Though he's a backup at best, C Juan Centeno is by far the most advanced catching prospect in the Mets system. The '07 32nd rounder doesn't boast many tools and he's mostly a singles hitter, but for the third straight season he showed a strong proficiency for making contact coupled with a solid eye and most of all, excellent defensive skills...At 25, it's hard to consider reclamation project 1B Allan Dykstra much of a prospect. However, despite an injury-marred season he again showed the ability to hit for real power and walk a ton (see, a 20% walk rate), enough to dream on a lefty, slugging pinch hitter.