This morning the Mets announced that Binghamton infielder Wilmer Flores and St. Lucie starter Rafael Montero had received the Sterling Organizational Awards as the Minor League system's player and pitcher of the year, respectively.
After spending the first half of 2012 in Hi-A St. Lucie, the 21-year-old Flores made a huge splash in his first season at Double-A, batting .311 with an .855 OPS through 66 games. Though his defense was still a question mark as he bounced around the infield, mounting questions about his stalled offensive game -- especially his in-game power -- were effectively put to rest.
This marked the Venezuelan infielder's third Sterling award -- having received honors in '08 with Kingsport and '10 with St. Lucie.
The 21-year-old Montero had a similar season, holding his own with Low-A Savannah but really opening eyes with his performance in High-A St. Lucie following the All-Star Break. There he'd make eight starts, posting a 2.13 ERA, a 9.95 K/9 and a spectacular .196 opponent average all as one of the younger pitchers in the Florida State League. His season totals of 110 strikeouts versus just 19 walks belies a rarely seen combination of command and stuff, which should have the slender Dominican flying up prospect rankings this winter.
For Montero this was his second Sterling award after representing the now defunct Gulf Coast League club last fall.
See the additional affiliate-specific Sterling Award winners below:
Triple-A Buffalo: RHP Matt Harvey
Double-A Binghamton: RHP Zack Wheeler
Hi-A St. Lucie: OF Alonzo Harris Jr.
Lo-A Savannah: RHP Michael Fulmer
SS-A Brooklyn: RHP Hansel Robles
Rookie Kingsport: RHP Miller Diaz
DSL1: RHP Yoryi Nuez
DSL2: OF Vincente Lupo
While these awards are less an indications of long-term success and more a recognition of performance this season, unlike past years the 2012 awards are almost entirely made up of varying degrees of legitimate big league prospects. Obviously it's very nice to see guys like Harvey and Wheeler on this list, but it's very encouraging to see lower level talent like Michael Fulmer or the resurgent Alonzo Harris perform to their abilities as well.
Of course that's no guarantee of anything really but it's certainly nice when some of the system's most promising talents are also it's top performers.
The 2012 Sterling Awards will be handed out in an on-field ceremony before Saturday's game against the Braves at Citi Field.