With both Buffalo and Binghamton getting ready to partake in all-star festivities this Wednesday and the big club on hiatus until Thursday, we felt it a good time to run a sort of mid-point evaluation of the farm system. This means a team-by-team analysis of the various Mets full-season affiliates as well as some of the more notable players that comprise them. Having started less than a month ago, it's still a bit early to evaluate short-season teams.
So why not start get started at the top with a look at the first half for the Buffalo Bisons:
If nothing else, the Bisons have been an interesting watch this season after their disastrous 2009. The beneficaries of a concerted effort this winter by newly appointed Farm Directors Adam Wogan and Terry Collins to build depth in the high minors, the Bisons have had FAR more success in 2010. The herd has already accumulated 46 wins before the break, ten shy of their total from all of last season (56-87).
However, that total still leaves the Herd 6.5 games back of first place in the International League's North Division, a spot they held for much of the early months. In fact, as late as May 5th the Bisons paced the division; however, they were most definitely victims of their own success: The team was performing so well thanks to some extraordinary individual performances; at one point in Mid-may the Bisons had the IL's leading hitter (Jesus Feliciano), the leading HR & RBI man (Mike Hessman) and the #3 pitcher in ERA (Dickey). Other guys like Chris Carter and Elmer Dessens were flat-out dominating. Unfortunately, the minors are ultimately a training grounds for the Show and most of these guys were called up to the Mets. All told, ten different 2010 Bisons are on the current Mets 25-man roster, a testament to the talent of the club. Also, guys who were not called up like Hessman and Fernando Martinez have missed significant time due to injury.
From the start of the promotions in May the Bisons have gone from a team ten games over .500 to one that is struggling to stay afloat. Since the start of June the Herd has played 17 and 22 baseball and what was once a league-leading juggernaut of a lineup is now a much more pedestrian-looking offensive unit. Early season hero Jesus Feliciano presciently stated "You want [Buffalo] to keep winning but there's just been a lot of movement on the team. Hopefully they can start winning games again." Well he should be a big part of that as he starts his second tour of duty with the club on Friday. Also, late-comers like Justin Turner, Val Pascucci and the surging Lucas Duda have helped right the ship of late. If Fernando can perform to his talent, Big Hess comes back strong, Feliciano brings back the magic that had him batting .400 before the call and pitchers Gee and Misch can keep up the strong starts, look for the Bisons to be in the hunt come September.
The Usual Suspects
(We're going to stick to the true prospects so while Skooch's 3-HR game last month was impressive, we won't be discussing him here)
OF Fernando Martinez - STOCK DOWN
Any discussion about Martinez has to start with his health. Fernando has always had problems staying on the field and 2010 has been no different. First he went down early with a back strain in April and more recently missed over a month with a strained hamstring. Aside from giving rise to the idea that he won't be able to handle the rigors of a 162-game schedule, Fernando has missed important developmental time with his various stints on the DL. In his 4.5 year pro career, Martinez has yet to play over 90 games in a season; that's not good.
While he once had a bit of a buffer thanks to his advanced placement at such a young age, that margin is quickly closing and he soon needs to put up or shut up. What's worse, his numbers thus far certainly don't jump off the page (like his Phillies counterpart Domonic Brown) nor do they suggest very much growth as his always problematic K:BB ratio is worse this year than ever before. The one-time hope that he'd play center is also all but dashed with a seemingly permanent move to RF. On the bright side, his calling card has always been his easy power and with seven bombs thus far, he's currently on pace to top his career high of ten homers in 2006.
All in all Martinez is losing a lot of that top prospect luster with his average performance on the field and his mounting time off of it. Once unanimously considered the Mets top prospect, Fernando has certainly been passed by the likes of Ike Davis, Jon Niese and Jenrry Mejia with guys like Wilmer Flores and Kirk Nieuwenhuis breathing down his neck. It's very telling that in trade talks for Cliff Lee, Seattle's reported demands never included Fernando's name.
RHP Dillon Gee - STOCK HOLDING
It's been a season of peaks and valleys for Gee. He started the year like a house a'blaze, posting a sub-3 ERA in April and drawing calls for a promotion to the Show. However, by May cracks began to form in his stat line as the home run balls seemed to keep jumping out. By June things fell apart as his once pretty ERA ballooned well above five; at one point he rode an eight game home run-allowed streak.
Fortunately things have normalized for Gee in July as he seems to be back in control, once again looking like the future back-of-the-rotation piece for the big club. He is not as good as his one homer-April, but he's also not as bad as his seven homer-May. On the season, Gee's hits, walks and strikeouts per nine innings have basically resembled his career figures which, considering he's made the climb to the very top of the minors, is a very good sign for his future success. His below average home run tendencies will probably always make him a #5/spot starter, though he's certainly coming to the right home ballpark so who knows.
This one-time '07 21st rounder has already far exceeded expectations and looks to continue doing so in the majors as his call-up to Queens is really only a matter of time.
OF Lucas Duda - STOCK UP
Lucas Duda has been one of the bigger surprises in the Mets system so far this season. He started the year on a tear in Binghamton before a right hamstring strain in May landed him on the DL for about a month. It was no coincidence that the team lost nine games straight immediatelely after. Upon returning he was understandably rusty but the offense-starved Bisons (drained by promotions and injuries) needed support so he was promoted anyway. What he's done since is nothing short of amazing: In 24 games in Buffalo alone Duda has already knocked nine home runs, approaching his career high of 11 in '08. At one point he rode an incredible five-game homer streak, only the fifth Bison to do so in their 125-yr history.
This power surge is a welcome surprise for Duda who even back to his days at USC has been regarded as a lumbering lefty with a nice penchant for contact but not enough power for a first baseman/corner outfielder. What's more, even his K:BB ratio has improved tremendously this season. There is some negative here as he is still exhibiting some pretty heavy platoon splits (.177 BAA vs. lefties) but suddenly Duda has gone from nice organizational filler to a definite major league piece, even if that is just a platoon player.
RHP Tobi Stoner - STOCK DOWN
Though he wasn't on the top of any prospect lists coming into the season, after making it to the Show in '09 and excelleing in his time in the DWL, Stoner has underperformed expectations and now a meaningful major league career is a little more questionable. In a lot of ways Stoner is very similar to Dillon Gee. An '06 16th round selection out of a small college in West Virginia, Stoner has never had the best stuff and tops out at 90-92 mph but he's been able to make it work throughout the minors with an all-around solid four-pitch mix, strong command, excellent pitching IQ and an aggressive style of attack.
Like clockwork, Stoner has always struggled in his first taste of a higher level but this year is the first time that he hasn't been able to figure things out the following season. His HR/9 has gradually climbed as he's moved up the ladder which is not surprising as his go-to pitch is his change but this is one of his major hurdles to further success at this point. Now I do think he will be able to find some success against Triple-A hitters but it may take longer than it first seemed when he got the call-up last September. I still foresee a solid long reliever/spot starter here.
RHP Manny Alvarez - STOCK UP
Not enough has been said about the diminutive reliever who has managed to shoot his way from Port St. Lucie up to Buffalo in 2010. A virtual no-name as far as Mets prospect lists were concerned after posting a 5.09 ERA in PSL in '09, all Alvarez did was begin 2010 with a 25.2 IP scoreless streak out of the St. Lucie bullpen; whatever adjustments he made worked. He then carried that streak up to Binghamton and though he was eventually scored upon, his Buffalo ERA is currently 0.00 as he rides yet another scoreless streak.
Start thinking about this guy as a piece for the Mets 'pen at some point in 2010 as he has still yet to hit a real wall. Though he didn't allow a run in Hi-A and posted a 2.70 ERA in Double-A, I can't imagine he'll go on posting a 0 ERA in Triple-A; however, 55 strikeouts in 52 IP versus only eight walks(!), zero homers allowed in 2010 and a .196 BAA is hard to ignore, especially with a 'pen like ours.
Tune in tomorrow for the Binghamton Mid-Term Review.