For this week's Minor League Monday we'll head to Savannah to take a look at the 2012 season that was for the Low-A level Sand Gnats.
Following his time managing the now defunct GCL Mets in 2011 — and coaching for the Gnats in 2010 — Luis Rojas, son of Felipe Alou and brother of Moises, made his debut managing Savannah. Beyond that, the Sand Gnats bolstered their coaching staff with some big league
caché cachet as Frank Viola moved into the role of pitching coach after holding the same title with the Cyclones in 2011.
Unfortunately for Rojas, Viola, and the rest of Savannah's coaching staff, the roster just didn't feature very much talent this season. Through the first half of the season the Sand Gnats were actually quite competitive. Built on the strength of a very talented starting rotation boasting equal parts polish and projection, they pulled into the break 15 games over .500.
However, with the inevitable wave of promotions that the midpoint brings — notably top starters like Tyler Pill, Logan Verrett, Jacob DeGrom, and Rafael Montero — the pitching staff just didn't have the depth to maintain that level of production. And with an offense that was already pretty bad by most measures, their play dropped off. They ended up nose-diving throughout the second half and finished the season just a couple games over .500, short of the playoffs for the first time in a couple years.
The Prospects (In alphabetical order)
C Albert Cordero - STOCK DOWN
I was extremely bullish on Cordero following his impressive 2011 season (see: no. 14 overall pre-season ranking). In his A-ball debut the 21-year-old batted .286 with six homers while showcasing very good all-around skills behind the plate — a big deal in the catching-starved Mets system. He showed tremendous growth in the second half of the season, too. In fact, just about his only major flaw was his poor approach at the plate (3% walk rate).
A quick glance at his line above ,and it's no surprise to hear that Cordero took a huge step back in 2012. He saw major declines in just about every offensive category, and, all in all, I must say it's pretty odd to see such a stark and disappointing regression after he had already posted a successful full season at this level. It should be pointed out that — strangely — the 22-year-old Venezuelan's one big win was a seriously huge stride in terms of his plate discipline, surpassing his 2011 walk rate nearly three-fold to a stellar 9.7%.
I don't typically like the argument that teaching players to be less aggressive has a negative effect on their hitting ability, but we may have a good example of that going on here. It should also be mentioned that following a BABIP of .330 last year, it was down in the .220s in 2012. Clearly Cordero's stock will take a huge hit this winter, however, for those two reasons, as well as the fact that he's still a strong defender behind the plate. Cordero isn't a lost cause just yet. I've said before that catchers typically have long lead times in the minors so hopefully this is just Cordero taking his time.
RHP Michael Fulmer - STOCK UP
In ranking the 2011 supplemental pick in the no. 12 spot before the season I stated:
"...any teenage pitcher represents a tremendous amount of risk based on distance from the majors alone. That fact keeps (Fulmer) out of the top ten for now, but with a little bit of success the strong-armed righty could easily change that by the end of 2012."
How about a lot of success? The 19-year old from Oklahoma was nothing short of spectacular in his first full pro season, posting the fourth-lowest ERA as well as the third-lowest opponent average among qualified starters in the SAL. Oh, and did I mention he was among the five youngest players in the circuit for most of the season? The hard-throwing teenager was especially impressive in the second half when he really seemed to figure things out, posting a 2.20 ERA over ten starts with a strikeout per inning and just two homers allowed. He even made strides with his command, which represented his only slight weakness in 2012 (see, 3.16 BB/9)
Utilizing a special fastball that works in the low-to-mid 90's — and even touched 97-98 MPH at times — Fulmer overpowered hitters who were on average two years his senior. What's more, the further development of a sharp, mid-80s slider gave him a second potential plus-pitch and an excellent put-away option. His change-up lags far behind, but that's because he just hasn't ever needed it yet. The development of the pitch will ultimately determine the shape of his long-term development. But at this point, the dynamic mix of stuff, youth, and success makes the 6'3", 200 lbs righty one of the biggest stories in the system in 2012 and one of it's best prospects going forward. With the probable graduation of Zack Wheeler in 2013, Fulmer is one of the serious candidates to take the top overall spot.
OF Gilbert Gomez - STOCK HOLDING
None of us should be too surprised that Gomez didn't quite live up to his magical September call-up in St. Lucie last season — and the .547 slugging percentage he posted there. However, what the highly athletic 20-year-old did do was continue to showcase his good tools while building on his solid all-around skillset. Specifically, a walk rate that was already very strong climbed to an exceptional 14.3% while he maintained the same 20% strikeout rate, a figure that's palatable from a toolsy center field prospect. Speaking of center, Gomez continued to show off a very strong glove manning Savannah's spacious outfield. Overall, Gomez capitalized on a 2011 in which he opened some eyes by proving that he's a definite prospect. But to take the next step he'll have to translate his good raw power/speed mix into some gaudier stats in 2013 as he vies for a starting gig in St. Lucie.
C Camden Maron - STOCK UP
The 2009 34th-rounder came into the 2012 season as a promising catching prospect worth keeping an eye on. One full summer with Savannah later, and the 21-year old Long Island native now represents the cream of the crop among Mets backstops — perhaps not the most impressive of distinctions but a move in the right direction nonetheless.
In terms of the how, it was more of the same from Maron, who only continued to bolster his reputation as Josh Thole Jr. That means, first and foremost, excellent plate discipline as he once again posted an outstanding walk rate (13%). His strikeout rate moved up a tick (17.8%), but so did his overall power (.108 ISO). The left-handed hitter struggled slightly with lefties (.258) but continued to show that he possesses a capable, if not outstanding, bat. As we've seen with Thole, that profile plays at the highest levels — at least a little. Though also like Thole, Maron will really have to work on his defense to stick at catcher/stay relevant — specifically with his arm, as he caught just 10 of 80 runners in 2012 (13%).
SS Matt Reynolds - (Drafted in 2012)
The Mets' 2012 second-round selection was solid, if unspectacular, for the Gnats in his pro debut. However, in a lot of ways, that's the best way to characterize Matt Reynolds as a player. Drafted out of the University of Arkansas as a third baseman, the Mets immediately shifted the 21-year-old infielder back to his natural home at short. That's mainly because he doesn't possess the power or hit tool required of a corner player yet shows a good idea at the plate, makes plenty of contact, and can run a little bit. In the field he's again solid, though nothing extraordinary, and may end up shifting over to second base long-term. All in all, he balances his lack of a high ceiling with a conversely high floor and like Danny Muno the year before, it's not hard to imagine Reynolds as a middle infield utilityman long-term.
RHP Domingo Tapia - STOCK UP
Before the season I characterized the 6'4", 200 lbs 20-year-old as a potential top-of-the-rotation horse armed with a special, Mejia-esque mid-90s sinker, but not a ton else. This availed itself previously through the maddening lack of strikeouts for a guy known to hit triple-digits on the regular. Well, 2012 saw Tapia take the next step as his typically pedestrian K/9 ticked up to a respectable 8.39, thanks to an increased reliance on a four-seamer that regularly worked in the high-90s. The best part is that he was able to do so while maintaining the league's top ground ball rate — note, just two homers allowed all season. And the best part of his season was that he continued to show his characteristically strong command (2.65 BB/9). Additionally, he demonstrated a strong feel for a sinking high-80s change-up.
SAL hitters were baffled with Tapia's plus stuff as he notched the fourth-best swinging strikeout rate in the league among starters (18.2%). And don't be fooled by the so-so ERA; Tapia posted the second-best FIP in the SAL (2.68). The problem here is that lagging behind the rest of his repertoire was his slurvy breaking ball, which will have to continue to develop if he is to maintain his profile as an eventual impact big league starter. The good news is that he's still just 20, absolutely oozes projection and already mows opposing hitters down with the best of them. Definitely good reason to be excited about Tapia's long-term potential, which is among the best in the system.
More Names to Watch For
Strange pro debut for the 22-year old LHP Alex Panteliodis. The Mets 2011 ninth rounder out of the U of Florida pulled into the All-Star Break with a 4.04 ERA and nearly as many walks as strikeouts, looking like organizational filler. Then in the second half he went on to strike out 58 batters in 59 innings, walking just nine. Clearly he figured something out, though his final line still left something to be desired and the sub-par stuff doesn't help. He earned a look in 2013 though I'm still of the filler mindset...22-year old Mexican righty Marcos Camarena was a very solid swingman for the Gnats in 2012 as he posted a sub-3 ERA, a .237 opponent average and a stellar 1.38 BB/9. The fact that he garnered some support for a spot in a talented Gnats rotation breaking camp speaks to his ability, though his current stuff is still just middle-of-the-road. Though at 6'3", 200 lbs there's hope that he adds a few ticks and figures as a polished relief prospect...OF/3B Dustin Lawley was a favorite amongst a dreary Sand Gnats lineup in 2012. The 23-year old 2011 19th rounder showcased a nice all-around skillset, featuring power, speed and a very flexible glove. However, at his advanced age the very poor strikeout-to-walk rate isn't a good sign so he'll have to really maximize those skills if he wants to stay on the radar as a jack-of-all-trades type.