For our first Minor League Monday following the 2012 minor league season we'll continue our 'Season in Review' series by climbing up to the Mets' Short Season-A affiliate in Brooklyn, the Cyclones.
As we've become accustomed to these last few years, it was another successful season in Brooklyn where the Cyclones once again impressively represented the Mets' farm system as one of the best teams in the New York-Penn League. The 'clones' trend of leading the NYPL in attendance also continued as they paced the circuit with 249,009 passing through the gates this season (6,553 per game).
In his second season at the helm, long-time minor league instructor Rich Donnelly led the club back to the playoffs on the strength of the league's best pitching staff. With a team ERA of 2.62, the Brooklyn pitchers were by a wide margin the best staff in the NYPL, leading the league in ERA, innings pitched, shutouts, and hits while ranking second in walks and strikeouts.
Such a dominant collective pitching performance came thanks to a starting rotation for the ages; a group of five starters who remarkably all ranked within the top 16 (among qualified starters) in ERA, strikeouts per walk, and opponent batting average. Unfortunately, despite all that the Cyclones were dispatched in the first round of the NYPL playoffs by the Rays' Hudson Valley affiliate. Nevertheless, it was another good year for one of the Mets' banner minor league teams.
The Prospects (In alphabetical order)
RHP Matthew Bowman - (Drafted in 2012)
2012 13th rounder Matthew Bowman was initially noted for his mechanical resemblance to Tim Lincecum, and though he's no Freak, the 6'0" 165 lbs Princeton product proved that he's a pitcher worth watching this summer in Brooklyn. He only made one start in his twelve appearances with the Cyclones due to the club's stacked rotation, but acting as Luis Cessa's personal caddy, Bowman posted a 2.45 ERA while striking out a batter an inning. Most impressive is that he allowed only two walks over 29.1 innings. Bowman doesn't possess the same caliber stuff as Lincecum, but Paul DePodesta said he was hitting 95 MPH in workouts before the draft which, if repeatable, could make the slender 21-year-old quite interesting.
RHP Luis Cessa - STOCK UP
Cessa was a little bit overshadowed as a member of the outstanding Cyclones rotation, yet had an excellent year nonetheless. In fact, for the second straight season the lanky righty from Mexico posted a 2.49 ERA with an opponent batting average of .241. Additionally, like most other Brooklyn starters, Cessa featured excellent command as he walked 1.62 batters per nine innings and was the model of consistency, recording a "quality start"—for whatever that's worth—in all but two of his starts.
The one flaw in the 20-year-old's game is a lack of strikeouts. In fact, after a so-so 7.7 K/9 in 2011, he followed up with an even more disconcerting 5.5 mark this summer. The odd thing is that he does feature a good fastball that sits in the low-90's and even touches 94 MPH. The explanation is likely a sub-par secondary repertoire; however, at his age and with lots of physical projection remaining there is plenty reason to be optimistic about Cessa's future.
SS Phillip Evans - STOCK HOLDING
Not a terrible year from the 20-year-old 2011 15th-round steal, though I'll admit it was still a little disappointing. The overall results were fine, but after he rocketed out of the gates with a first month in which he batted .280 with a .910 OPS and three homers, many thought he'd have a better season than he did. After reports of his potential first-round talent, it quickly seemed like the Mets had something special on their hands. Unfortunately, the diminutive shortstop slowed considerably, ultimately pulling into the All-Star break batting .239 and slugging just .349. Suddenly the season looked like it was going off the tracks fast. However, a strong final month-plus brought his line back to respectability, which is why, despite the ebbs and flows, his stock remains unchanged.
Evans showed a lot of the skills that excited people following the draft, including good pull-side strength, good contact skills (14.6 K%), and an excellent eye (9.4 BB%), not to mention solid enough range and plenty of the arm strength needed to stick at short. However, going forward he's going to have to not only smooth out the peaks and valleys he experienced this year, but he'll have to translate the strength in his stout frame into more extra-base hits—he had only 14 in 73 games. More importantly, he'll have to find a way to take advantage of the right side of the field, as he's been almost exclusively a pull hitter to this point.
MI Juan Carlos Gamboa - STOCK DOWN
I typically don't like to make bets when putting together rankings. However, the relatively unknown 20-year-old middle infielder was definitely one of the exceptions, as I pegged JCG for a breakout season by placing him in our pre-season top 40. Unfortunately, despite showcasing the same strong plate discipline and good defensive skills that he had in the past—though at second base due to the presence of Phillip Evans at short—his offensive game never got on track. His surprisingly good power disappeared and he never seemed to find his groove at the plate. It's no sure bet he'll ever figure things out, but I will say that I was never a fan of the platoon he shared with 2012 ninth-rounder Richie Rodriguez. In what was very much a start-and-stop summer, JCG saw game action in three-straight games just four times all season. In fact, neither player seemed to thrive in part-time roles, as they barely batted .300 combined.
RHP Matthew Koch - (Drafted in 2012)
It was a tough pro debut for the Mets' 2012 third-rounder. The 21-year old Koch allowed NYPL batters to hit nearly .280 against him and, even worse, the former Louisville closer who was hitting 97 MPH as a collegian only compiled a so-so 7.7 K/9 in 13 games. Even without a good secondary repertoire, a mid-to-high-90s heater is typically enough in short-season A-ball, as evidenced by Ryan Fraser and his 11+ K/9 and .155 opponent average two summers ago. It's sort of scary to think that in his 13 appearances— most of them two innings or less—Koch managed to keep men off the basepaths just once. It's entirely possible that after a long college season the big-bodied righty was mostly gassed, but the Mets will want to see a whole lot more in 2013 to justify their third-round investment.
RHP Rainy Lara - STOCK UP
The 21-year-old Dominican was one of the pillars of the Brooklyn starting staff in 2013, posting a sub-3.00 ERA and placing third among NYPL starters in K/9 (10.19). Additionally, in keeping with the theme of the Cyclones' staff, Lara showcased pinpoint command, posting a 1.59 BB/9, which is incredible when you consider how many bats he missed.
While Lara might not get as much attention as Luis Mateo or Hansel Robles, he could very easily become the best of all the impressive Brooklyn starters. At 6'4", 180 lbs Lara possesses a near-perfect pitcher's build, and along with a good low-90s fastball, he already floats an excellent change-up—a good portent for his chances to remain in the rotation long-term. In three pro seasons Lara has posted a career 2.42 ERA, and now that he's moved back to starting full-time, he's put himself on the map as one of the top Mets pitching prospects to watch next season.
RHP Luis Mateo - STOCK UP
Mateo was another of the few bets I made before the season, as I stated:
"...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 his name a lot more this year, he could fly up this list in 2012."
However, unlike Gamboa, this one was a good choice as Mateo was nothing short of outstanding for the Cyclones this summer. His name was splashed all over the NYPL pitching leaderboards, leading the circuit in K/9 (10.43) and placing sixth in BB/9 (1.10). In fact, the 22-year-old Dominican right-hander was the only pitcher in the league who ended up in the top ten in both categories—Lara was just outside in BB/9. Mateo allowed an opponent OPS of just .519 (sixth in NYPL) while featuring the league's best FIP (1.85) and allowing just a pair of homers. He also struck out eight or more batters in six of his twelve starts.
Simply put, NYPL batters could not handle Mateo's electric fastball. He regularly worked in the mid-90s and could even dial it up for a few more ticks if need be. Paired with a solid high-80s slider, Mateo could dominate even when his command was not at its best. Despite throwing strikes seemingly at will, he would occasionally lose command within the strike zone, especially late in the season, which isn't terribly surprising for a guy with just 130 pro innings to his name. His lack of a useable change-up has many proclaiming him a future big league reliever—a role he could fill extremely quickly. Nevertheless, despite a somewhat advanced age due to some drama in his past, the kid has made 25 regular season starts as a professional so I'm not going to put a cap on his long-term role just yet.
OF Brandon Nimmo - STOCK UP
2012 was something of a coming out party for the Mets' 2011 high-profile first round selection. After playing in far off locales like Wyoming and Tennessee, Nimmo was thrust under the bright lights of MCU Field in Brooklyn this summer. And for the most part he acquitted himself very nicely, showing off nearly all of the tools that made him a thirteenth overall selection.
The 19-year-old Nimmo posted an extremely impressive 14.3% BB rate (fourth among players with 150+ pa's), especially when paired with a very strong .158 ISO. In fact, he was one of the NYPL's youngest position players for most of the year yet placed fourth in the circuit in doubles and third in extra-base hits. His big, loping strides gave him enough speed to man a strong center field. However, that same speed did not show up on the basepaths where he stole a single base and was caught five times. Additionally, his 24.3% K rate is higher than you want to see. Nonetheless, scouts were enamored with the mix of tools and polish Nimmo showed in his first full season as he justified his early billing as a potential star in the making.
C Kevin Plawecki - (Drafted in 2012)
Thre 21-year-old backstop may have gotten off to a slow start as a professional, but by season's end the 2012 first round selection — 35th overall — had clearly showed why the Mets valued him so highly. Reports of an advanced approach at the plate came to fruition as he ultimately walked more than he struck out in 2012; his 9.9 BB% was impressive while the 9.5 K% was among the league leaders. Additionally, he balanced that patience and contact with good home run power, leading the Cyclones with seven bombs. He'll need to get some more gap power out of his sturdy 6'2", 205 lb. frame as he knocked just eight doubles all season while slugging just .384. He's got a strong arm (14/30 CS), but he's still a work in progress behind the plate. Yet in an organization starved for Major League catching talent, Plawecki has already proven he's one to watch.
RHP Hansel Robles - STOCK UP
Of all the Brooklyn starters, none was more successful — or perhaps unexpected — than Robles. The 22-year-old Dominican was strong out of the K-Mets bullpen in 2010, but there wasn't a lot in his profile that pointed to a guy that would grab a 2012 Sterling Award by the neck among a very talented Brooklyn pitching staff. In fact, with a stocky 5'11", 185 lbs build, it was a surprise to see his velocity push up to the mid-90s in 2012 as he blew away NYPL hitters.
Robles led the NYPL in ERA and placed in the top three in FIP (1.86), BB/9 (1.06), and opponent average. The strong-armed righty allowed more than one earned run just once and finished the season by allowing zero earned over his final 33 regular season innings. And if that's not enough, he saved his best performance for the playoffs, where he tossed a complete game shutout with four hits, no walks and ten strikeouts. Robles's smaller build allows him to effectively repeat his delivery, however it also limits his projection which leads many to see a reliever long-term. Either way, a mid-90's fastball as part of a solid four-pitch mix will play, not to mention push Robles way up prospect rankings this winter.
RHP Gabriel Ynoa - STOCK UP
Each of the 2012 Brooklyn starters offered up reasons to like their chances going forward. So while it's likely splitting hairs to try to choose between them, there's a very good case to be made that Gabriel Ynoa is the most promising of the bunch. The 19-year old was perhaps the most consistent Brooklyn starter — allowing more than two earned runs just once all year — and while he might not have been quite as dominant as 22-year-olds Mateo or Robles, imagine what he would do to this league in three years.
In his first exposure to A-ball, the 6'2", 158 lb. teenager was nothing short of masterful, striking out six guys for every one walk and allowing just a single home run all summer. What's more, his .213 opponent average was one of the top marks in the league and most impressively, he did all this as one of the five youngest pitchers in the NYPL. For reference, Ynoa is actually two months younger than Brandon Nimmo. Despite the fact that this beanpole righty still offers a lot of projection, he is already touching 93 mph with his pinpoint fastball and features a highly advanced change-up. I've said this before, but while Michael Fulmer gets the nod as the Mets best teenage pitcher, Ynoa is the clear choice for second.
More Names to Watch For
Coming off a difficult transition to stateside baseball in 2011 where he posted a .602 OPS in the GCL, OF Eudy Pina bounced back this year. Posting a .750 OPS, the long, athletic 21-year old got back to showcasing his good all-around game, playing center whenever Nimmo didn't. While he wasn't quite on par with the others, the Cyclones oft-used sixth starter RHP Julian Hilario certainly wasn't bad. His 3.23 ERA was all right, but he got more attention with his GB tendencies, leading the staff in GB/FB rate and allowing just one HR in 2012. The Mets 2012 tenth rounder RHP Paul Sewald shined as a member of the USD rotation this spring and became the Cyclones' top reliever following the draft, posting a 1.88 ERA in 23 games. Despite the 10.99 K/9, the 22-year-old is more of a finesse righty which doesn't always play out of the 'pen so don't be surprised to see him get a chance at starting. After a brief stop in Indy ball, the former Cubs 11th rounder and Dix Hills, New York native LHP John Mincone had a circuitous route back to NY. But now that he's back he's rejuvenating his career posting a 1.82 ERA and a 4.83 K/BB and certainly took the next step to a long-term role as a LOOGY. The Mets drafted a pair of talented college hitters in 2012 in OF Stefan Sabol & 1B Jayce Boyd. Both showcased good power while featuring walk rates above 11% and though the corners are a tough row to hoe in the Minors, both represent good draft values for a system lacking in offensive talent.
Join us next Minor League Monday for the next installment, where we'll venture to full season ball and Savannah!