After hitting the Gulf Coast League, our 2013 minor league season in review rolls onto Tennessee as we take a closer look at the rookie-level Kingsport Mets. In keeping with the theme of the organization's farm system, the K-Mets played home to an underwhelming crop of hitters but more than a couple of big right arms this summer.
For a higher level look at the club and their outstanding 2013 campaign check out our recent affiliates overview. However, here we'll look more in-depth at the various prospects that played in Kingsport last summer:
Victor Cruzado, OF
The 21-year-old switch-hitter out of the Dominican had a very nice season in his stateside debut, posting a .328/.421/.467 line -- losing out on the team batting title by a single point to Jeff McNeil. At just 5'11", 178 lbs he bucks the trend of a smaller guy to boast a good amount of pop from either side of the dish -- he knocked a trio of homers in 2013 -- but very little footspeed. Additionally, he's always featured a very good eye at the plate, as evidenced by the 21:26 BB-to-K rate this summer. While a corner profile defensively means that the power is going to have to keep coming, his lack of a strong split and excellent eye at the plate give him one of the more advanced, underrated bats at this level -- making him a nice sleeper candidate for 2014.
Jon Leroux, 1B
On the surface, Leroux had the best season by a Kingsport hitter in 2013, batting .286/.370/.549 with six homers. However, at 22 he was pretty old for the level, making this a prototypical college player feasting on much rawer competition. Additionally, this was his second go-around with Kingsport after he floundered there big time in 2012, batting .198 in 40 games. The 2012 32nd-rounder out of Northeastern was moved off of catcher by the organization so he's already losing value there and he swings and misses a lot (25.4%), though the 11% walk rate was a decent compromise.
Jeff McNeil, SS
The 2013 12th-rounder out of baseball powerhouse Long Beach State acquitted himself very nicely in his pro debut with Kingsport, posting a team-best .329 average along with the third-best strikeout rate in the entire Appy League (7%). And that's pretty much his game – a contact-oriented approach from the left side (he struck out just 44 times in 581 collegiate at bats) and a strong hit tool made more effective thanks to slightly above average speed (see, 11 stolen bases). Unfortunately, his 6’1", 165 lbs frame does not portend for very much power -- though it does give him plenty of range to handle short.
All told, he’s a guy that projects as a potential utility player at the highest levels – not the sexiest profile, but aside from Rosario probably the most likely position player on this team to touch the majors. In a way he’ll attempt to follow the trail being blazed by fellow Cali college product Danny Muno as a high on-base middle infielder. Like Muno, McNeil managed more walks than strikeouts in his debut (17:14) and McNeil even batted the very same .348 this spring that Muno did in his final season at Fresno State -- a very similar, high-level, west coast baseball environment. Though the styles are slightly different -- less power and a better handle at shortstop -- it’s fair to see a somewhat similar value proposition as Muno here
Pedro Perez, 3B
Perez was originally signed back in the 2010 crop of IFAs, ranking amongst Baseball America’s top 25 international players available at that time. After showcasing a good all-around game in his pro debut with the DSL Mets in 2011, the Colombian native missed most of the following season with back woes. This season, he got back on the field and showcased a solid power game (three homers, .101 ISO) that scouts hope will blossom as the big-bodied infielder develops -- since he’ll continue to lose the footspeed that moved him off of short as an amateur. Listed at 6’1", 190 lbs, Perez is already a good deal heavier than that and so the hope is that he develops the bat to profile as a classic corner player but the hit tool will have to take a step forward to do so.
Amed Rosario, SS
Kingsport was a rather aggressive assignment for the 17-year-old who was the youngest everyday player in the Appalachian League -- a fact that speaks volumes about the organization's impression of the talented young player. With that in mind, the fact that he was able to post a very strong .118 ISO while placing himself among the team leaders in extra-base hits in his pro debut -- again, at age 17 -- is outstanding. That said, the most important thing about Rosario's season took place from a scouting perspective, where talent evaluators walked away largely impressed. The power he showcased is considered just a preview of what his lithe, lanky frame (6'2", 170 lbs) will generate as he fills out, and though he's not a burner by any means he featured the kind of quickness and actions at shortstop that advocates feel will allow him to stick at the position at the highest levels. That's pretty much the long-term value proposition that had the Mets coughing up $1.75 million for the young Dominican's services.
But be forewarned: Rosario is the epitome of a project, raw and unrefined and light-years from the show. While athletic, he isn't a complete toolshed so it's easy to come away less than impressed on the wrong day -- as we saw in Jeff's first-hand report. Conversely, the ability is obviously in there there so that on the right day, it's possible to see a player that may take the mantle as the club's best infield prospect since Reyes -- as we saw in a first-hand report over at Fangraphs (based on a viewing where he hit an impressive oppo shot). In short, the Mets newest young IFA bonus baby didn't necessarily blow anyone away with his stat line, but he showed enough between the lines to make scouts extremely bullish about his long-term potential.
Champ Stuart, OF
The Mets sixth-round selection in 2013 out of Brevard College, a division II school in Florida, Stuart's current game is predicated almost entirely on his plus-plus speed -- and it showed. In the field, he featured a true center field profile, covering more than enough ground to project at the position at the highest levels. Additionally, he stole 11 bases and proved that the infield single was a definite weapon in his arsenal.
Unfortunately, the actual offensive ability is raw, if non-existent, as he showcased a pretty poor hit tool to go along with mediocre power and a heroic amount of swing-and-miss (31%). The tools (read, speed) are a great head start and it's encouraging that he possesses a surprisingly good eye -- his superb 18.1% walk rate was the third-highest in the league -- but the minors are littered with great athletes who aren't great baseball players meaning that at some point Stuart will have to hit.
Joe Tuschak, OF
After two pro seasons where the 2011 fifth-rounder out of a Pennsylvania high school batted a combined .197 while barely breaking double-digits in the extra-base hit column, Tuschak had something of a make-good season, comparatively. His .271/.313./376 line with three home runs was far more palatable, despite the fact that his patience at the plate seemed to suffer as a result. Regardless, for a kid that made his name on excellent raw athleticism it's a good sign to see that the tools are turning into projection at some level, even if the long-term outlook is still quite murky.
Bradley Marquez, OF
Not much new to report on Marquez, who continued to showcase impressive raw tools that remain unrefined thanks to time spent on other exploits. The profile is still linked to his superb speed and his good strength, which played its way into games here and there in 2013. To be honest, the .250/.286/.345 line could have been worse given the overall lack of instruction; however, it also gives him a lot of ground to make up once he graduates this spring. At age 21, he won’t necessarily be too old but he’ll have to be a quick student. Still, it was a prudent 16th-round selection by the Mets back in 2012 as Marquez continues to be an intriguing lottery ticket moving forward.
Alberto Baldonado, LHP
Perhaps the most intriguing arm on the team, Baldonado may possess as good a shot to appear in the majors as any pitcher on the 2013 Kingsport staff. Admittedly, that's almost entirely because he is left-handed and can reach the mid-90s, but hey, you can do a lot worse when scanning the low minors for major league bullpen starter sets. And let's not downplay his production too much; he did post a 12.44 strikeout per nine mark (31.55%), fourth-best in the entire Appy League (min. 25 IP) to go along with a .174 average against lefties. In short, the 20-year-old from Panama has an excellent arm, a slightly deceptive delivery from the left side, and the makings of an ok curve -- capable major league relievers have originated from much less.
Tyler Bashlor, RHP
The 20-year-old got into 11 games after the Mets tabbed him in the 11th round last June, posting a so-so 5.74 ERA. However, the reason why the Mets paid so much over slot for a reliever out of junior college is the strength of his big right arm. The stout righty (6', 200 lbs) and former two-way player consistently worked in the mid-90s as a professional and touched the high-90s when he needed it. The reason that velocity was still around in the 11th round, you ask? As a late convert to pitching Bashlor sells out quite a bit for the velo, exhibiting max effort and subsequent questionable control (see, 12 walks in 15.2 IP). On the bright side he struck out over a batter an inning out of the Kingsport bullpen and features the kind of arm that will move fast if he can find a way to harness it.
Chris Flexen, RHP
After flashing plus stuff during his pro debut in Kingsport in 2012, the 19-year-old prep product from California did not disappoint in 2013. In fact, Flexen consistently placed himself amongst the league leaders in most pitching categories on the way to a campaign where he posted a 2.09 ERA in 11 starts along with a top ten walk rate of just 4.4% for the K-Mets. In short, the 2012 14th-rounder is still quite raw but can dial it up to 94 MPH on the fastball and flashes the makings of a good swing-and-miss curve. His solid repertoire and nearly ideal pitchers build (6'3", 215 lbs) lets us dream on a potential starter at the highest levels, but at the very least his stuff would work out of the bullpen. Could be the best value the Mets generate out of that year's draft, considering his late-round selection.
Ricardo Jacquez, RHP
The 20-year-old Jacquez is an interesting case of a kid with mid-90s velocity who still dropped to the 35th round before the Mets plucked him out of an Arizona junior college. That happened for two reasons: The first is makeup questions after he was booted off the Univ. of Texas baseball team for rules violations. The second and more important reason is that the hard-throwing righty stands just 5'9". Obviously there's not a long history of such diminutive pitchers having success at the major league level; however, it's not completely unheard of. In some cases, it can even be a blessing for the team willing to take the chance. In this case, Jacquez whiffed an outstanding 33 batters in just 20 innings on his way to a 1.74 ERA for the K-Mets. While he may have issues as he reaches the upper levels -- as Jack Leathersich can attest -- the El Paso native has more than enough fastball to blow through the low minors.
Corey Oswalt, RHP
The Mets liked the 20-year-old San Diego prep product enough to not only draft him in the seventh round in 2012, but paid him more like a third-rounder. That's because of an abundance of projection thanks to his age and build (6'4", 200 lbs) as well as the fact that he already sported a strong, low-90s fastball out of high school. Unfortunately, his season was cut short after just three starts due to a knee injury. On the bright side, he exhibited characteristic strong command, walking just one batter in those 13 innings and the injury was to his knee, not his arm.
Persio Reyes, RHP
The 20-year-old Dominican showcased one of the more interesting arms on the K-Mets staff in 2013, featuring a fastball that -- despite his diminutive build -- worked in the low-90s and touched 94 MPH. Unfortunately, it's still a big-time work in project, as evidenced by the 4.40 ERA and the .237 opponent average, pretty mediocre for this level. That said, he did strike out nearly a batter an inning and allowed just a pair of homers all season. At just 6'2", 151 lbs, it's fair to say that there's some projection left but it's just a small frame, in general. That and the fact that he lacks any semblance of a consistent secondary repertoire points to a potential reliever long-term.
Brandon Welch, RHP
Like Oswalt, the Mets fifth-round selection in 2012 had an abbreviated season as he didn't make his first appearance until July 23rd and even then only made a couple of starts for the K-Mets. That said, his final start where he struck out seven Blue Jays and allowed just four baserunners over five innings gives you a taste of why the Mets plucked him out of a Palm Beach-area junior college relatively early.
The 21-year-old Welch is a late convert to pitching, playing outfield as late as his freshman season. However, on the mound he utilizes an athletic delivery to touch as high as 96 MPH and featured a relatively advanced swing-and-miss slider not to mention surprisingly good command of both offerings. At 6’1", 185 lbs he lacks a classic pitchers build and his velocity has been inconsistent in the past so a relief profile is a safe bet, but Welch could easily be the most dynamic arm of this pool by this time next year.
Robert Whalen, RHP
It’s fair to suppose that the 19-year-old Whalen may have been the best pitcher in the Appalachian League in 2013 – perhaps only bested by Mariners righty Edwin Diaz. The 2012 12th-rounder out of an Orlando-area high school posted the circuit’s second-best marks in ERA (1.87), WHIP (0.93), and strikeouts (76 in 72.1 IP) and earned honors as the organization’s Sterling award in Kingsport. As evidenced by the one home run he surrendered along with a superb 2.40 GB:FB rate, he’s also extremely good at keeping the ball on the ground.
While he topped rotationmate and fellow 2012 draftee Chris Flexen on a statistical front, he doesn’t quite possess the same level of projection as the fellow prep right-hander. He’s already nearly maxed out his stocky, 6’2", 200 lbs build so scouts don’t see too much more coming in the way of stuff despite his age/inexperience. That said, Whalen worked around 90 MPH this summer, flashing as high as 94 MPH on the heater along with a decent 12-to-6 curve. Considering his strong fastball command and good groundball tendencies, that’s enough to project success at the next couple rungs and still dream on a potential major league arm – especially if he can add a tick or two along the way.