2012 Amazin' Avenue Top 50 Mets Prospects: #10-6

It only took us a couple weeks but we've finally broken into the top ten. As with the last couple of rounds we'll break these last two segments into groups of five as many of these guys warrant extended discussion and analysis.

Now if you've been away or asleep or just plain negligent, you can catch up on the rest of the series by following these links:

#50-41 | #40-31 | #30-21 | #20-16 | #15-11

Or scroll to the bottom of the page for a compiled version of the rankings. But for now, let's dive into the top ten:

10) OF Juan Lagares

2011 Season
Team League AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
STL FSL .338 82 308 51 104 15 6 7 49 152 21 47 5 6 .380 .494 .873
BIN EAS .370 38 162 21 60 11 3 2 22 83 5 29 10 2 .391 .512 .903
Minors .349 120 470 72 164 26 9 9 71 235 26 76 15 8 .383 .500 .883

2011 Offseason Leagues
Team League AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
PEJ AFL .303 15 66 8 20 4 1 2 18 32 4 10 4 1 .343 .485 .828
AGU DWL .125 9 16 0 2 0 0 0 0 2 0 6 0 0 .125 .125 .250

Let’s discuss the most divisive prospect in the system. The 22-yr old Lagares blossomed in 2011, opening eyes with an excellent performance where he batted nearly .340 in Hi-A and then topping it with a downright incredible showing in his Double-A debut where he batted .370 in 38 games. And if that wasn’t enough he went on to post very solid totals out in the prospect-studded Arizona Fall League. In short, it was an excellent season. And even shorter, it was unsustainable.

That’s because, as we all know, it is unlikely Lagares will match the .439 BABIP he posted in Binghamton. Or even the .379 he put up in St. Lucie. His sparkling average is in line for serious regression come 2012. And it doesn’t help that he’s never been known for his patient approach. But here’s why I buy in: First off, you don’t just bat .370 at Double-A, the level that most believe makes a big leaguer. No it wasn’t even 40 games, but then again you don’t just bat .340 at Hi-A. There was clearly luck involved but let’s not also pretend that scouting reports about an emerging hit tool don’t exist. Or that they didn’t exist even back in the days – before years of injuries and underperformance – that this kid was a very highly thought of IFA. Thanks to a rush job on par with FMart or Ruben Tejada as well as nagging injuries his skills haven’t had the chance to shine through. But now that he’s finally catching up to his context the highly athletic outfielder is either finally unleashing his excellent offensive ability or he’s getting very lucky. I’m going with the former. Now he doesn’t possess a ton of home run power and his speed is good but not great so his ceiling certainly isn’t through the roof. But I can still see a 15/20 athlete who can bat between .280-300 and capably handle center on most days, in the mold of the CardinalsJon Jay.

Why He's Here: As I stated, this didn’t just come out of nowhere. Even when rushed Lagares has always shown excellent contact ability. What’s more, he consistently showed a propensity to BABIP well over .300 (since ’09 he’s at a cumulative total around .340). And the scouting buzz jibes, focused around the bat speed his excellent line-drive stroke creates, especially as he’s added muscle to a long, athletic build. Even better was the significant jump he took in walks. 6.3% may still seem low by other standards but it represented a 200+% increase over his 2010 mark as coaches talked about the importance he placed on that aspect of his game. Add in the fact that he can capably handle all three outfield positions and it’s tough to hold him back in the rankings.

Frankly, beyond the big three pitchers there is still not a lot of proven top tier talent in this system. Yes there are guys with better fundamentals – Havens. Or higher major league ceilings – Nimmo or Puello. But are there that many guys that have proven themselves at a high enough level to displace one of the top athletes in the system coming off a season when he batted .350 against advanced pitching? In my opinion there are not and so flawed or not he’s a definite top ten guy for me.

9) 2B Reese Havens

Team League AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
STL FSL .273 3 11 1 3 2 0 0 2 5 2 5 0 0 .385 .455 .839
BIN EAS .289 58 211 37 61 15 1 6 26 96 27 59 2 0 .372 .455 .827
Minors .288 61 222 38 64 17 1 6 28 101 29 64 2 0 .373 .455 .828

What’s left to say about Havens? Once again he showed us he has a great approach at the plate, as evidenced by yet another 11+% walk rate. Once again he showed us he can hit for excellent power from the left side, thanks to another .150+ ISO. His average is still being held down by a highish K-rate but that’s nothing critical. He continues to project as an excellent mix of on-base skills, power and fair defensive ability at second base. But once again he failed to stay on the field, appearing in only 61 games which was unfortunately the second highest mark in his career.

Last winter he had a procedure done which was purported to eliminate the chronic oblique issues. Yet in 2011 he still missed time due to back problems -- thought to be associated with lingering conditioning issues. But he went into the offseason healthy. And now that he’s had his first winter sans rehab in quite some time and now that the major health issue is supposedly behind him, it’d be nice to see him reach the 100-game plateau in 2012. Especially since it would also likely lead to a major league call-up. But if that doesn’t happen and he indeed suffers more health woes, it’s time to start seriously questioning whether or not Havens will ever be durable enough to have a meaningful big league career.

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8) OF Cesar Puello

Team League AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
STL FSL .259 117 441 67 114 21 5 10 50 175 18 103 19 9 .313 .397 .710

For the second year in a row Puello ranks eighth on our list. However, that is not as much a commentary on his growth – or lack thereof -- as it is the growth of the system, namely some key additions at the top as well as breakout campaigns from a couple of others. Puello himself did indeed progress in a few areas in 2012, however not without some give-back in others. First and foremost, the Mets finally heeded our calls and moved Puello to center full-time, where he seemed to play well enough for his first extended look at the position. The shift up the defensive spectrum alone helps his value, a season or two proving he’s legit there would really give him a boost. Additionally, the 20-yr old made good on the promise of more in-game power that scouts had sworn was there since ’09. After posting an .067 ISO in 2010, Puello more than doubled that total -- in the pitcher-friendly FSL no less.

However, while the power was a very welcome sign he robbed Peter to pay Paul a bit there as he saw significant regression in both his walks (3.7%) and strikeouts (21.1%). He’ll have to prove that he can indeed hit with authority without selling out those other ratios. In addition, as I warned last winter the excellent stolen base speed from 2010 (45 sb’s) dropped in 2011 as an already bulky kid just continued to add muscle. As the speed declined so too did the BABIP (2010: .363 | 2011: .311) and subsequently so did the average.

Now ultimately, there is still more reason to be pleased here than not. Like Flores, Puello was one of the youngest players in the entire FSL and is one of a small handful of players that could hold his own as a 20-yr old. Additionally, though you wouldn’t see it in his K/BB he showed good growth in the second half of the season, adding nearly 50 points to his average and over 150 for an .800 even OPS. And in terms of ceiling, Puello gives you a legitimate shot for at least four of the five majors tools all from the center field position. Yet he’ll have to show even more with the bat in 2012 as he’s currently more tools than ability and as we’ve seen so many times before poor plate discipline can easily derail a young hitter before they ever hit their stride.

7) OF Brandon Nimmo

Team League AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
MTS GCL .241 7 29 5 7 0 0 2 4 13 3 9 0 0 .313 .448 .761
KNG APP .111 3 9 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 3 5 0 0 .333 .111 .444
Minors .211 10 38 5 8 0 0 2 4 14 6 14 0 0 .318 .368 .687

There's not much I can tell you that hasn't already been hashed and re-hashed ever since the Mets made Nimmo their first round selection in 2011 (13th overall). The 18-yr old from Cheyenne, Wyoming possesses the kind of tools and raw athleticism that make scouts drool. Previously I said that Puello had a four-tool upside; well Nimmo is a potential five-tool guy, provided his bat develops like the Mets hope. There's not much -- or really anything -- to take from his brief ten game debut so all we can really go off of are the scouting reports.

Nimmo utilizes a very nice, quick swing from the left side and has been praised for excellent hand-eye coordination. He features a slight natural uppercut which when paired with his wiry, 6'3", 185 lbs frame definitely portends for legitimate power as he fills out. He has enough speed to allow him to man center for now, though a shift to right field is definitely a possibility as he's not a burner. Fortunately he also features more than enough arm strength for right. In terms of ceiling Nimmo has the kind of raw potential the Mets haven't seen in an outfielder this young since another wiry young lefty took the organization by storm. And while Nimmo doesn't have Strawberry upside -- frankly who does? -- he certainly does have a chance to be a star level talent.

In terms of his ranking, I'm holding him back a bit for now because 1. As I've made clear I'm very wary with track records this short and 2. Nimmo has even more risk associated to him thanks to the whole 'lack of competition' angle. The scouting reports are great and all but players this far already have the chips stacked against them and in this case there are even a few extra ones, making the chance to bust a bit too high to jump into the top five this soon. Just a little bit of success and an affirmation of scouting reports and he could be looking down on the entire system this time next year.

6) IF Jordany Valdespin

2011 Season
Team League AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
BIN EAS .297 107 404 62 120 24 3 15 51 195 21 68 33 14 .341 .483 .824
BUF INT .280 27 107 7 30 8 0 2 9 44 4 25 4 4 .304 .411 .715
Minors .294 134 511 69 150 32 3 17 60 239 25 93 37 18 .333 .468 .801

2011 Offseason Leagues
Team League AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
LIC DWL .252 34 107 11 27 3 3 0 15 36 7 17 10 3 .304 .336 .641

Much like Lagares, the 24-yr old Valdespin is a bit of a polarizing figure thanks to his hit-or-miss skill set. Specifically, his awesome raw ability was on display big time in 2011 as he finally put together all of the tools that he'd only flashed in the past. He set career highs in doubles, homers, stolen bases, slugging and OPS and most impressively did so between Double and Triple-A. Using his quick, buggy whip-style stroke from the left side -- think Brett Gardner -- he was able to shoot balls to all fields while creating more than enough bat speed to pull them over the wall. In short, he showcased the kind of all-around offensive skill set that you just don't often see from middle infielders, minors or majors.

However, his dynamic style of play can tend to border on out-of-control and nowhere is that more clear than in the field. The highly athletic Valdespin possesses more than enough quickness and foot speed to handle short but thus far he's had a very hard time limiting the errors there or even from second, where he's seen a lot more reps. Additionally, as has been his issue in the past his plate discipline was not good. He walked in just 3.5% of his plate appearances with Buffalo while striking out over 22%. However, he did show a very solid improvement in both categories in his time with Binghamton, though he remained susceptible to good breaking stuff. Ultimately, I think of Valdespin like the anti-Tejada: He's old, not disciplined -- in the field or at the plate -- and isn't known for great makeup. However, he features the kind of all-around athleticism, broad skill set and subsequent production in the high minors that Ruben can only dream of. While his flaws can obviously undermine him, his realistic ceiling likely resembles the 2011 4.0 fWAR version of Erick Aybar.

Why He's Here: This ranking resembles the Lagares ranking because once again, despite his flaws I find it very hard to look past the impressive performance Valdespin had against upper level pitching in 2011. You can make a laundry list of things not to like about his profile but the bottom line is that he flashed legitimate 20/30 potential, which is a lot more than can be said from most of the guys in this range and from a middle infielder is incredible as it is rare. He may not be able to bat you much above .270-.280 in the majors but as I pointed out, I was intrigued by the improvement he showed in plate discipline. Like Lagares the final numbers might not have looked great (4.8% BB-rate with Bingo) but the % improvement over 2010 did.

I've heard many cite Valdespin's advanced age when dismissing his development but it should be noted that he was a late-comer to pro ball, making his stateside debut at age 20. In terms of career plate appearances he's still only at 1555, compared to 1341 from the 20-yr old Cesar Puello. And while there's been limited research on the subject, it's clear that teenagers don't have the market cornered on the ability to improve. And that goes for defense as well, especially considering Valdespin's athleticism. Paul DePodesta broached that very subject, stating his firm belief that infield defense is one of the skills that can improve the most, the fastest with repetitions in the minors. Put it all together and you've got a dynamic MI prospect who can affect the game in a whole host of ways and while it might be a bumpy ride, that kind of ceiling from a player so close to the majors is extremely valuable.

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Compiled Top 50 Mets prospect rankings:

6. MI Jordany Valdespin

7. OF Brandon Nimmo

8. OF Cesar Puello

9. 2B Reese Havens

10. OF Juan Lagares

11. SS Wilmer Flores

12. RHP Michael Fulmer

13. RHP Cory Mazzoni

14. C Albert Cordero

15. CF Matt den Dekker

16. 3B Zach Lutz

17. 3B Aderlin Rodriguez

18. RHP Akeel Morris

19. LHP Darin Gorski

20. OF Cory Vaughn

21. 3B Jefry Marte

22. RHP Domingo Tapia

23. SS Phillip Evans

24. SS WIlfredo Tovar

25. RHP Collin McHugh

26. OF Darrell Ceciliani

27. SS Danny Muno

28. LHP Josh Edgin

29. LHP Jack Leathersich

30. LHP Juan Urbina

31. RHP Erik Goeddel

32. RHP Chris Schwinden

33. RHP Josh Stinson

34. IF Robbie Shields

35. LHP Mark Cohoon

36. RHP Brett Pill

37. RHP Armando Rodriguez

38. RHP Logan Verrett

39. SS Juan Carlos Gamboa

40. SS Bradley Marquez

41. RHP Taylor Whitenton

42. RHP Greg Peavey

43. RHP Luis Mateo

44. RHP Rafael Montero

45. C Cam Maron

46. RHP Nick Carr

47. LHP Robert Carson

48. OF Travis Taijeron

49. OF Gilbert Gomez

50. RHP Ryan Fraser

51*. OF Javier Rodriguez

52*. RHP Brad Holt

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