It just so happens to be an extremely quiet time to cover the Mets. Very little tangible action at the major league level now that David Wright is officially here for the long-term and the Dickey trade market continues at a simmer. Not a ton of prospect-driven happenings either with the team (basically) sitting out from the Rule 5 draft and a lull in interesting action in winter ball.
However, for those of us willing to peak our heads under the radar, the Mets have actually generated a decent amount of minor league roster activity thus far. Now are minor league deals the most thrilling of transactions? No, not really. However, as we've learned so well these last few years, November's minor league free agents can very easily end up July's key contributors. Last season alone brought us names like Mike Baxter and Jeremy Hefner. And don't make me remind you about a guy named Dickey.
So it's worth a closer look at each of these guys, if only so we can better answer the question 'Who is that wearing number 93?' next March.
The club's first move of the offseason came back on October 25th when they claimed 29-year old catcher Anthony Recker off waivers from the Cubs. Drafted in the 18th round by the A's back in '05, he was acquired by Chicago last August in a swap of Triple-A catchers. The Allentown, Pennsylvania native has only compiled 79 plate appearances in the big leagues since '05 and has hit a paltry .152/.282/.242 in that time.
However, as Chris McShane pointed out at the time of the move,
"In the minors...he's been a significantly better hitter than that...He had an .889 OPS in 2011 and .789 this year, which isn't spectacular but isn't awful, either. He hit 10 home runs in just 253 plate appearances this year, too, so there's at least a little bit of pop in his bat."
The move makes even more sense when you look into the splits. Over his last couple seasons Recker has batted .308 with a .951 OPS against lefties. The sturdy, 6'2", 240 lbs Recker also hit double-digit home runs in his last six minor league seasons.
Clearly there's power there and clearly he demonstrates that power-bat best against left-handed pitchers. For that reason, Recker could hypothetically get a shot this spring to battle Mike Nickeas for the role of Josh Thole's platoon partner in 2013 -- despite the fact that he's no better defensively than Thole himself. Fun fact: Recker was a teammate of fellow Mets minor leaguer Zach Lutz at tiny Alvernia College.
RHP Greg Burke
A few weeks later at the GM Meetings the club signed 30-year old relief pitcher and Camden, New Jersey native Greg Burke. We already went into pretty good detail about this move in the November 12th piece, 'Mets Sign Greg Burke; Also, Who is Greg Burke?' as well as what it might mean for the 2013 Mets.
But to recap, Burke is a right-handed relief pitcher who actually has a full season of big league service under his belt, as he posted a 4.14 ERA with San Diego in '09. However, he quickly regressed the next spring and faded out of relevancy until last year when he converted to a sidearm delivery and subsequently posted dominant numbers at Triple-A (1.53 ERA). Personally, I think Burke has the best shot of anyone in this group to lock up a key role on this club by the end of 2013.
INF Brian Bixler
On November 16th the club announced the signing of veteran minor league utilityman Brian Bixler. Of everyone on this list, the '04 second rounder has the most major league service time, appearing in 183 games spread over the past four seasons. He most recently appeared with the Astros but you might remember him from his time with the Nationals in 2011. Originally drafted by the Pirates, the 30-year old Sandusky, Ohio native was actually something of a top prospect in his day, ranking in Baseball America's Pittsburgh Top 10 in 2007.
And that's about the last nice thing I can say about him. I mean he's very versatile defensively...in that he won't embarrass himself at pretty much any spot on the field. But he's certainly not a stud with the leather anywhere either, posting negative career UZR's at short and center. And that's before we talk about his bat, or lack thereof. In 356 career plate appearances he's posted a .189/.249/.269 line.
Bixler has carved out a little niche playing the role of scrappy, stopgap who you can plug almost anywhere as long as he hits before the pitcher. In short, he's Justin Turner. Can that be useful? Yeah I suppose; but we already have Justin Turner and one is most definitely enough.
RHP Carlos Torres
Less than a week later on November 20th later the Mets made a veritable flurry of moves, signing up three more minor league free agents. Right-handed reliever Carlos Torres was the most accomplished of the bunch. At age 30, Torres posted a mediocre 5.26 ERA in 53 innings with the Rockies this season. He also had short, rather unimpressive stints in the bigs with the White Sox in 2009 and 2010. He also randomly made six starts for the Yomiuri Giants in 2011, posting a 6.26 ERA.
As Chris also pointed out in covering this move,
"Opponents hit Torres to the tune of a .348 wOBA at home this year but only posted a .286 wOBA against him on the road. His 5.10 FIP at home and 3.74 FIP on the road might also suggest he was a victim of Coors Field."
Additionally, his minor league track record gives further reason to be at least mildly optimistic that he can help. A 3.22 ERA paired with an 8.5 strikeouts per nine mark and good command over his last four seasons in Triple-A tells you that there's at least something there, even if the stuff is lacking. Furthermore, the fact that he can pitch in pretty much any role certainly helps his chances. On the whole, the best way to describe Torres is useful depth, in the same vein as Miguel Batista in 2012. Certainly nothing to call home over but perhaps not the worst option if/when a couple of bullpen arms go down.
LHP Scott Rice
On the same day the club also announced the signing of 31-year old left-handed pitcher Scott Rice. However, unlike Burke and Torres before him, Rice has yet to log any time in the majors, despite nearly 800 innings over 14 seasons in the minors. In fact, Rice's journey makes for a very interesting story:
The 6'6" lefty was initially drafted way back in 1999 by the Orioles in the sandwich round (44th overall), garnering a $700,000 bonus at the ripe old age of 17. After a few seasons plagued by middling command he was shifted to the bullpen where he quickly found a home; in his first full season in relief he posted a 0.94 ERA with well over a strikeout an inning at age 21 in A-ball.
However, it still proved a slow climb up the chain and by 2007 he was shipped to the Rangers. The turning point came when he began feeling discomfort in his pitching elbow during one of his first outings with Texas. Strangely, Rangers doctors couldn't find any signs of structural damage and he was advised to continue pitching. In hindsight, from his descriptions of the pain it was clear something was wrong; however soon after Texas decided to cut bait.
Possessing a shadow of the stuff that made him a former first round selection, Rice found himself pitching in the independent Atlantic league where he'd make stops with the Long Island Ducks as well as the Newark Bears. However, after continuing arm pain, someone with the Ducks was able to get him in front of Mets' team physician David Altcheck, who immediately diagnosed a torn flexor tendon and recommended Tommy John surgery.
Just over a year later Rice was at the Rockies spring training facility pitching in open tryouts along with undrafted amateurs. Fortunately, having healed from the surgery his stuff rebounded and not only did he get a deal, he was a Texas League All-Star in 2010. Since then Rice has floated around the periphery of the majors, but still hasn't been able to seal the deal.
In 2011, he posted a sub-par 4.40 ERA in Triple-A Albuquerque and was DFA'd by the Dodgers. Regardless, the Rice signing makes as much sense as any so far this winter, thanks to his overwhelming career success against lefties. Looking at his last two seasons, Rice has allowed lefties to bat .184/.263/.253 against him while posting an impressive 11.32 strikeouts per nine against them. The guy clearly has the ability to get lefties out and should at least get the opportunity to audition in a LOOGY role this spring.
Along with Torres and Rice, the Mets also signed Triple-A outfielder Jamie Hoffmann on the same day. The 28-year old longtime Dodger prospect has seven seasons of minor league service time under his belt, but only 28 major league plate appearances -- and just four hits -- to show for it. However, just the fact that the he made the show has to be considered a win. That's because after high school the Minnesota native was selected in the eighth round...of the 2003 NHL Draft. He was never actually drafted to play baseball, yet signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dodgers out of high school anyway, a highly unorthodox route.
Either way, the fact that he garnered interest in both sports speaks to his excellent athleticism. The 6'3", 235 lbs righty has always been known for a strong power/speed mix, posting double-digit home runs/steal campaigns in four of his last five seasons. He strikes out a little too much -- so he's probably not ever going to bat .300 -- but he knows how to take a walk (see, 12.6% walk rate in 2012). Additionally, he ranked as the Dodgers top defensive minor league outfielder for four straight seasons as a member of their system. Hoffmann was selected first overall in the 2009 Rule 5 draft by the Yankees, only to be returned later that spring.
Hoffmann is similar to a right-handed version of Mets outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis in that he's good at a lot of things, but lacks that one standout tool. Add in a Zach Lutz-esque career of posting good numbers (.290/.359/.448 in five career seasons at Triple-A) while being perpetually blocked and he's suddenly fighting to avoid Quadruple-A status. If given the opportunity I think there's a good chance Hoffmann would grab onto a fourth outfielder gig, much like Mike Baxter did in the 2012. The problem for Hoffmann being that Baxter is still here.
INF Brandon Hicks
Finally, the Mets capped their November minor league spending spree by acquiring the 27-year old infielder from the A's on November 26th for 'cash considerations'. Hicks has a lot of similarities to the aforementioned Bixler: Utility infield profile, has some major league seasoning -- 55 major league games over three seasons -- appeared for an NL East opponent (Atlanta), names kind of rhyme, etc.
That said, Hicks' offensive profile varies quite a bit from that of Brian Bixler. Specifically, he too hasn't really hit much at the major league level (career .133/.204/.289), yet as a minor leaguer Hicks actually has a lot of pop. In 2012 Hicks knocked 18 longballs in Triple-A, the second straight season he had done so and the third season overall. Additionally, like most fringe players obtained by the Sandy regime, Hicks knows how to take a walk, posting a 12.3% mark in 2012 -- partially why he scored his first eight major league runs before collecting his first major league hit.
Unfortunately, Hicks generates all that power with a notable uppercut in his swing, which creates serious contact issues. I'm talking 30% strikeout rate and above kinds of issues. And that type of swing-and-miss won't allow anyone to play on any sort of regular basis. Perhaps all you need to know about Hicks is that the A's dealt him for almost nothing, yet they lack in infield depth.
In reality, Hicks is another righty bench option who wants Justin Turner's job -- though admittedly with a lot more power. Additionally, thanks to solid athleticism/quickness and a very strong arm, Hicks represents a moderately decent internal option to replace Ronny Cedeno as Tejada's caddy for the occasional day off as well, though without the ability to replace him for the longer term absence.
So chances are we just walked through a super in-depth profile of your 2013 Las Vegas 51's. But again, you never know where the next Baxter or John Maine or even Dickey may come from. Except, now you do.