In the past we've done these on a team-by-team basis where each affiliate received its own analysis and more importantly, each of their prospects were reviewed—and don't worry, we'll maintain that structure moving forward. Today, however, we'll get the ball rolling with a more macro-level look at the system as a whole. Specifically, we'll do a quick team spotlight for each of the domestic affiliates while also evaluating one positive as well as one negative from each team.
On the whole, 2013 was a very productive season for the Mets minor league system. The U.S.-based teams combined for a 413-363 record, good for a .532 winning percentage. Additionally, four of the seven affiliates made the playoffs while one even brought home a league title.
As far as personnel, it was another big year in terms of talent being infused into the organization—which has been a hallmark of the Alderson regime thus far. Obviously Sandy got off to a fast start by acquiring two impact prospects on the precipice of the majors in Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard—not to mention a long-term lottery ticket in Wuilmer Becerra.
As it always does, draft time brought numerous intriguing names as Paul DePodesta continued his strong record of evaluating amateur talent. The selection of Dominic Smith (pictured, right), however, brought with it a different level of excitement as the organization added a player with true superstar upside, something that perhaps cannot be said of the other first round draft picks taken under DePo.
Additionally, Sandy worked one final bit of masterwork in parlaying spring training invite Marlon Byrd and Dickey-trade throw-in John Buck into further long-term value. Aside from late-inning reliever Vic Black, Alderson continued to bolster the farm system with a legitimate top ten prospect in Dilson Herrera.
Triple-A Las Vegas 51s
The 51s finished at 81-and-63, the best record for a Mets Triple-A squad since 2001 (Norfolk, 85-57). That mark paced the Pacific Southern division, earning the 51s their first playoff berth since 2002. Unfortunately, they fell in the first round at the hands of the Salt Lake Bees.
Not surprisingly, the 51s were an offensively-powered team, leading the Pacific Coast League in runs per game (5.75). Conversely, pitching was a weakness all season as injuries and promotions prevented the staff from developing any sort of continuity; the 51s placed 13th our of 16 teams in ERA (4.66). By all accounts, manager Wally Backman did another fine job; however, with the retention of Terry Collins at the major league level it's unlikely that Backman continues patiently waiting within the Mets organization.
One Positive Thing: Major league production. On the major league side, the big club received more contributions from Triple-A players than in any season in recent memory. As an example, for the first time in franchise history 15 players homered for both the Mets as well as their Triple-A club in the same season; the previous high was 12 in 1963. While this is somewhat indicative of holes at the major league level, it's also an indicator of the talent that was readily available to very capably fill them (e.g., Satin, Lagares, Torres, etc).
One Negative Thing: Las Vegas. The move west had the expected effect of delaying personnel moves as well as complicating the talent evaluation landscape on the whole. Organizational sources cited the extreme offensive environment as an added wrinkle that must be included in the already difficult task of evaluating performance. In short, Las Vegas is not a perfect affiliate for pretty much any organization, but that even less so for an east coast club like the Mets. Unfortunately, the Mets will have to suffer through one more year in the desert before they can hopefully find a more convenient partner in 2015.
Double-A Binghamton Mets
Like Las Vegas, Binghamton paced the league with one of their best seasons in recent memory, finishing the year with a record of 86-and-55—the best mark in the Mets system. They did so with a highly balanced attack, finishing second in the Eastern League in both runs scored per game (4.74) as well as ERA (3.53). This is thanks to extended contributions from some of the top performers in the organization in 2013—names like Montero, Syndergaard, Leathersich, Gorski, Dykstra, and Puello. Also like Las Vegas, Binghamton returned to the playoffs after a lengthy layoff (2004); however, they too were eliminated in the first round, dropping three games to the Trenton Thunder.
Manager Pedro Lopez had an impressive campaign nonetheless, once again experiencing success on the field while garnering significant support from the organization. This makes three-straight seasons that the 44-year-old Lopez has guided his team to the playoffs and after a late-season call-up to join the big league staff, he's increasingly considered a rising star amid the future major league managerial ranks. It's a fair assumption that he'll be at the helm in Triple-A in 2014 with the expected departure of Wally Backman.
One Positive Thing: Cesar Puello. Beyond the further growth of Lopez as a manager, the growth of Puello as a potential impact major league player is a huge story from Binghamton this summer that's been slightly buried thanks to the player's implication in the Biogenesis scandal. Despite that, no B-Mets player took a larger step forward than Puello did in 2013, returning from the precipice of prospect oblivion only to break out as a five-tool stud in Double-A. While the plate discipline remains the sole fly in the ointment, the 21-year old outfielder finally unlocked all of his massive raw ability, showcasing major league-caliber tools.
One Negative Thing: The rest of the outfield. Aside from Puello, the Binghamton outfield had a combination of disappointing, underwhelming, or straight up unproductive seasons. Guys tabbed as potential major leaguers coming into the season did little to bolster those opinions. From Darrell Ceciliani, who showed a decline in raw tools after a history of injuries, to Cory Vaughn, who improved at the dish but only played in 71 games, to Alonzo Harris, who experienced the most extreme regression of the group, the results were largely disappointing. Travis Taijeron deserves mention as someone that defied expectations by knocking 14 home runs in just 65 games; however, he still doesn't fit the profile of a major league regular.
Advanced-A St. Lucie Mets
The Mets were one of the affiliates that did not clinch a playoff berth in 2013—but that doesn't mean it was a bad season. In fact, with a record of 71-and-60, the Mets finished 11 games over .500 with the second-best record in the Florida State League Southern Division. However, they fell into the weird space where they weren't the best team in the first or second half; the latter distinction went to Charlotte, which sent them to the playoffs despite their worse overall record.
Regardless, it was a strong season for the Mets banner affiliate as they showcased a respectable crop of talent on both sides of the ball. Pitchers like Noah Syndergaard, Rainy Lara, and Matthew Bowman helped bolster one of the strongest starting rotations in the league while position players like Kevin Plawecki and Jayce Boyd were cornerstones of the lineup. Like Binghamton, the St. Lucie Mets showcased a balanced approach, placing in the top five in both runs scored per game and staff ERA. Mets manager Ryan Ellis has now posted winning seasons in each of his three seasons at the helm of a Mets affiliate.
One Positive Thing: Jayce Boyd. The 2012 sixth rounder jumped out of relative anonymity coming into the season to declare himself a legitimate prospect. The 22-year-old followed his outstanding .361 performance in Savannah with a very solid .292/.372/.421 line in St. Lucie. While he only managed nine home runs on the season, we can perhaps think back to Lucas Duda and imagine an on-base-centric corner player with late-blooming power.
One Negative Thing: Injuries. The St. Lucie Mets were 'snakebit' in 2013, experiencing numerous injuries to a number of impact players throughout the season. From Michael Fulmer's late start (knee) and early finish (arm), to Luis Mateo's Tommy John surgery, to Domingo Tapia's burnt hand, it was a tough year for the St. Lucie medical staff.
Class-A Savannah Sand Gnats
After a one-year hiatus the Gnats made it back to the playoffs in 2013 on the strength of a 77-and-61 campaign. Not only that, but Savannah was able to sweep their way through the first round and eventually take the South Atlantic League crown—the first championship by a Mets affiliate since the St. Lucie Mets won it all in 2006.
Like most Mets affiliates, the Sand Gnats, first and foremost, fielded a very strong group of pitching talent in 2013. Headed up by organizational pitcher of the year Gabriel Ynoa, the Gnats staff ranked first in the SAL in WHIP and K:BB and second in ERA. Ranking towards the bottom of the league in runs scored, the Gnats pitching was most definitely the key to thei success in 2013, helped along by pitching coach Frank Viola.
One Positive Thing: Steven Matz. The fact that Matz was able to avoid any further arm injuries and pitch his first full season cannot be overstated. That's because the dynamic stuff from the left side that prompted the Mets to select him in the first round way back in '09 was readily apparent very early. Matz regularly touched 97 MPH with his electric fastball and made good strides with a curveball/change-up combo. Unleashing that repertoire over a full season led to spectacular numbers, including a 2.62 ERA, a .225 opponent average, and a nearly 30% strikeout rate.
One Negative Thing: Phillip Evans. The former 24th-rounder was paid like a first-rounder thanks to top tier athleticism and the promise of a true major league shortstop with a high offensive upside. Unfortunately, the tools have not translated to production on the field. After a mediocre first extended season with Brooklyn in 2012, Evans really dropped off in '13, as evidenced by a punchless .203/.268/.263 line. Even worse, his uneven play at short generated more than a little chatter about a move off the position in the short term.
Short Season-A Brooklyn Cyclones
Thanks to a late run, the Cyclones managed to finish 38-and-37 staving off their first losing season since moving to Brooklyn; however, they were not able to keep their postseason streak alive, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The issue on Coney Island this summer was simply a lack of talent.
While Mets fans are commonly spoiled with numerous top prospects out in Brooklyn, that was just not the case in 2013. The club's only top draft pick, Gavin Cecchini, spent a large chunk of the season on the disabled list while the pitching staff in general dried up with the last wave of talented arms graduating upwards. While players like Robert Gsellman and L.J. Mazzilli provided some intrigue for the future, there just wasn't the same amount of impact talent that we're used to seeing on this team—which hurt them in the standings.
One Positive Thing: Akeel Morris. The one-time top prospect out of the Virgin Islands dropped off the radar after a nightmarish 2012 that saw him post an ERA around 8 and a walks-per-nine mark above five for the third straight year. The arm strength was there but he lacked any semblance of polish. This season, however, he thrived in more measured use, mostly as a piggyback, multi-inning reliever. While the walks are still too high, a 1.00 ERA and a 32.8% strikeout rate deserve further attention.
One Negative Thing: Cecchini's Injuries. While the 2012 first-rounder has been solid when he's played, he's missed nearly 30% of his teams' games since turning pro—last season with a finger injury and this summer it was an ankle. Obviously it's early enough that this remains a minor quibble, far too soon to apply the 'injury-prone' label; however, for a guy with a limited ceiling as it is, it would be heartening to see him spend a full season on the field refining the skills he'll need to stick at shortstop.
Rookie-level Kingsport Mets
The K-Mets were one of the better stories in the Mets farm system in 2013, finishing with an excellent 40-and-27 record—the most wins since the club won 48 back in 1996. It was an impressive run of timely hitting and clutch pitching performances from a strong bullpen—the hallmarks of any team that outperforms it's Pythagorean win-loss by nearly ten games. On a related note, Kingsport was 8 and 3 in one-run games. Unfortunately, that success did not last into the postseason; after winning the first game against Greeneville, the K-Mets lost two straight to end their season.
One Positive Thing: Rob Whalen. We had a beat on fellow excellent Kingsport starter Chris Flexen coming into the season (see?). As for Whalen, not so much. But the 2012 12th-rounder out of a Florida high school burst onto the scene with Kingsport this summer, placing in the top three in the Appalachian league in pretty much every relevant pitching category. Should be interesting to see if these two big righties can form the core of the next wave of young power pitching in the Mets system.
One Negative Thing: 27 games for Bradley Marquez. I'm something of a broken record on this, but it's just such a shame that the talented Marquez isn't getting more baseball reps—splitting his time with Texas Tech football. I don't fault the Mets for making the pick—you're still holding an ultra-athletic lottery ticket for the extremely reasonable price of a 16th round pick. But the guy clearly has the tools and so he has a shot, just wonder if he's wasting it.
Rookie-level GCL Mets
The Gulf Coast League Mets were not good this season. In fact, they were disappointingly bad, finishing the season at 20-and-40—good for last place in the GCL Eastern Division. I say disappointing because this team had names, meaning it had numerous players Mets fans were very excited to follow. And unfortunately many of those guys floundered, almost to a man. I'm talking about guys like Wuilmer Becerra, Vicente Lupo, Ivan Wilson, Branden Kaupe, Andrew Church, etc. It doesn't mean that they can't bounce back, but it did mean that the GCL Mets were pretty bad in 2013.
One Positive Thing: Dominic Smith. It's the easy choice but I've got to dwell on the fact that the Mets newest first-round pick was excellent in his pro debut, posting a .287/.384/.407 line. Beyond that, he's already generating plenty of excitement from scouts who foresee a kid that has all the makings of a star. After a couple of first round draft picks by the Sandy regime that have drawn mixed reviews, Smith looks like an excellent selection.
One Negative Thing: Vicente Lupo. We shouldn't be all that surprised that Dominican League stats lied to us about the 19-year-old's offensive ability. But many of us are. In a poll I ran on the eve of the '13 season Lupo ranked first as the prospect Mets fans were most excited to see. And then he went on to bat .220 with 50 strikeouts in 37 games. But it's important to remember that, once again, he's 19. There's every chance he could pick up where he left off in 2012 in a repeat engagement in the GCL.
So that was your high-level look at the season that was in the Mets farm system in 2013—not without a few blemishes but certainly a good one on the whole. Once again, stay tuned for upcoming team-by-team reviews where we'll delve deeper into the nitty gritty, player analysis!