No big surprise that Hi-A St. Lucie was once again a hub for Mets prospects in 2012. From high upside starters to low ceiling utility players, the Mets were stocked with all kinds of talent. For that reason we'll split up the little Mets roster into two more manageable chunks and so for today's Minor League Monday we'll focus on the St. Lucie pitching staff.
St. Lucie was nothing short of the best affiliate in the Mets farm system in 2012. Not only did the club finish in the pole position of the Florida State League regular season, they went ahead and set a franchise record for most wins in a season -- topping the high-water mark of 81 set in 2000. The team was anchored by a pitching staff that led the circuit in wins, ERA and WHIP and was complemented by an offense that placed top three in runs, OPS and homers.
In his first year at the helm, Manager Ryan Ellis took the FSL Manager of the Year award, making the 34-year old rising managerial star two-for-two after winning the same award with Savannah in 2011.
In short, the St. Lucie Mets made their bones in a spectacular first half that saw them go 49 and 19 -- again, a club record for wins in a half. They ended up just a game over .500 throughout the second half after promotion-related roster churn, however that was more than enough for their second straight playoff berth. Unfortunately, the little Mets were bounced in the first round by the Marlins' Jupiter affiliate. Yet, for the second straight year St. Lucie was a shining example of a highly successful minor league affiliate, on the field and in the pipeline.
The Prospects (In alphabetical order)
RHP Jacob DeGrom - STOCK UP
The former 2010 ninth rounder was by any measure the biggest surprise in the Mets farm system in 2012, bursting onto the scene as one of the club's most talented arms outside of Queens. The long, athletic righty out of Stetson U was already late to pitching after converting from shortstop in college. So things didn't look good when he required Tommy John Surgery after his first pro season -- where he posted a pedestrian 5.19 ERA. In his age 24 season there was little time to waste so the organization challenged him with an assignment to full-season ball in Savannah. However, DeGrom didn't seem to miss a beat, first dominating SAL hitters and then following with four more excellent starts in Hi-A.
Now taking full advantage of his athletic 6'4" build, DeGrom possesses a special, mid-90's heater with life, the kind of pitch that makes him a serious major league relief prospect today. He pairs it with a workable slider and a so-so change-up and for that reason he'll continue to work out of the rotation next season. Expect DeGrom to continue to move fast -- perhaps starting in Binghamton? -- as he's still behind the development curve, despite the excellent 2012 results. Should he falter in the slightest as a starter, he could be an asset to a big league 'pen extremely quickly.
RHP Erik Goeddel - STOCK HOLDING
All in all it was a solid season for the 23-year old former 2010 24th round steal out of UCLA. Tough to complain about a 3.09 FIP and an 8+ strikeout-per-nine in his first exposure to the level. However, the slender righty left a little to be desired in 2012, especially in the second half when he posted a 4.14 ERA. Now the strikeout totals were still there and his control is fine, the issue is consistency as his strong slider/curve combo disappeared at times. Even worse, a fastball that flashed mid-90's as a collegian was regularly in the 89-92 MPH range for the Mets. To me, Goeddel's profile screams future reliever as he flashes the ability to blow away hitters with his very polished stuff -- as displayed in a seven inning, two-hit, eight strikeout performance to close the season -- but to this point he's just been too hittable.
LHP Chase Huchingon - STOCK DOWN
After opening eyes as Savannah's swingman in 2011, the 23-year old one-time undrafted free agent and converted outfielder got his rotation spot this year. Unfortunately he just didn't have quite the same level of success he showed as a Sand Gnat, the biggest problem being his BB/9 (4.25) which nearly doubled from last season. In turn this has made the big lefty far more hittable as he doesn't have any plus offerings to lean on. Regardless, 6'5" lefties with solid stuff who are new to pitching will always get additional chances -- especially since that 3.82 FIP doesn't look that bad. Expect to see Huchingson back in St. Lucie to begin 2013.
LHP Adam Kolarek - STOCK UP
The 23-year old Kolarek was downright dominant in his first run with Hi-A St. Lucie, posting a 10+ K/9 and going a over a month into 2012 before he allowed his first run. Double-A proved more of a challenge for the big lefty as his so-so command was exploited; though his K/9 only climbed which is a good sign. He was ultimately optioned back to St. Lucie due to roster crunch, but I like Kolarek's long-term chances as a LOOGY at the highest levels, as much as any lefty reliever in the organization not named Edgin. In fact, he possesses a similar -- if a little worse -- repertoire as Josh Edgin, meaning a good hard fastball as well as a very strong slider from the left side. He's going to have to watch those walks but the consistently excellent strikeout totals tell you that he's got the stuff to get good hitters out.
LHP Jack Leathersich - STOCK HOLDING
The 22-year old out of UMass-Lowell was a revelation for the Cyclones in 2011, striking out pretty much anyone that stepped to the plate in his stellar pro debut. 2012 was quite similar, in that his strikeout-per-nine remained in the teens, rarefied air for any pitcher at any level. In fact, after posting a 13.88 mark in Savannah, his outstanding 14.25 mark with St. Lucie led all qualified Florida State League pitchers. However, the major difference between the seasons was his overall effectiveness, which was not quite at the same level. Though SAL hitters presented little challenge, Hi-A was a different story as he was far more hittable and even surrendered the first three homers of his career. Now his overall numbers still weren't bad -- subbing out that ugly ERA with a 2.66 FIP. But the story here is that for a guy known less for his stuff and more for his deceptive delivery, can he make those swing-and-misses translate to the highest levels?
RHP Rafael Montero - STOCK UP
The just-turned-22-year old Dominican righty was a revelation this season, becoming one of the most valued young pitchers in the entire system. Early in 2012, Montero effectively dominated SAL competition utilizing his trademark surgical command, sporting a walk-per-nine at 1.01. His low 90's stuff and strong secondary mix weren't quite overpowering -- as evidenced by the unspectacular 6.81 strikeout-per-nine -- but his location of that repertoire was more than enough. However, he stepped it up over his first eight starts with St. Lucie. Suddenly he was striking out the world, posting a strikeout rate just a shade under ten while maintaing the excellent command. What's more, his opponent average dropped from .223 with Savannah down to a ridiculous .196 for St. Lucie.
What happened? In short, Montero is a highly advanced pitcher who seemed to get better by the day. And I'm not talking about his stuff -- though his low 90's fastball is enough, his slider is useable, and his change-up is already a plus offering. The key is that he has an exceptional ability to mix his pitches, and the presence of such an advanced change-up coupled with pinpoint command at such a young age only belies that point. Remember, this kid won an Organizational Sterling Award in the Gulf Coast League last season. Some scouts see him as a reliever thanks to his diminutive build (6', 170 lbs is generous). However, Montero has all of the tools to start at the highest level; while his stuff might not point to a potential ace, I fully expect that he'll continue having success in that role all the way up the chain. I personally think there's a good chance we'll be hearing Montero's name for a long time.
RHP Tyler Pill - STOCK UP
The 2011 fourth rounder out of Cal State-Fullerton did exactly what he was supposed to do in 2012. As a polished college arm, he easily dispatched A-ball hitters -- first with Savannah, then with St. Lucie -- utilizing very strong command and the mere presence of developed secondary offerings. For that reason one could make the case that his prospect stock should perhaps remain stagnant. However, for one it's always a good sign to keep doing what you're doing at a higher level. More importantly, the 22-year old Pill also took a step forward in terms of missing bats in 2012, posting a strikeout-per-nine at 8.4 between both levels.
This is important for Pill as he does not possess the kind of stuff to project comfortably as a major leaguer. Namely, his high-80's, low-90's heat just doesn't give him a huge margin for error. Now as we've seen with guys like Dillon Gee and Collin McHugh, it can work. If Pill can maintain his excellent command and continue to refine his already strong secondary offerings he definitely has a chance. But it's typically a tougher road for these types and usually Double-A is a very telling indicator.
RHP Logan Verrett - STOCK UP
The 22-year old Verrett fits a very similar profile as fellow 2011 draftee Tyler Pill. High on polish, the third rounder out of Baylor has the type of advanced college repertoire to get lower level hitters out and he did just that in 2012. After having good success in Savannah, Verrett made the most of his final six starts with St. Lucie. The 6'2" righty was able to make good use of his excellent command, posting a sub-1 walk-per-nine while allowing FSL batters to hit a paltry .205 against him.
While his stock ticks up based on strong results in his pro debut, the main problem here is that he saw his strikeout rate drop from above nine in Savannah down near six for St. Lucie. While he showed a bit more velocity on his low 90's fastball than was expected, Verrett is still short on stuff for a right-handed starter and for the strikeout attrition to begin before Double-A is not a good sign. He features a consistent slider that he spots very well but it is an average pitch at best. Additionally, throwing lots of strikes is good and all but if you don't have any swing-and-miss offerings things can get ugly once the hitters get more advanced (see Peavy, Greg). Like Pill, Verrett will have to walk the command/secondary stuff tightrope with little margin for error as he climbs the ladder, potentially shifting to relief before all is said and done.
More Names to Watch
RHP Taylor Whitenton transitioned to full-time relief nicely in his first season out of the bullpen. The 24-year old righty burst onto the scene with a big 2011 in Savannah, but thanks to a very strong fastball and a very inconsistent secondary mix, he profiled better long-term in relief. With well over a strikeout an inning and an opponent average around .200, the stuff is clearly there to succeed at the highest levels. The only question is whether he'll be able to rein in the command...As the minor league return for Francisco Rodriguez, RHP Adrian Rosario was sort of an afterthought. However, with an extremely strong showing in St. Lucie he proved that he's at least someone worth watching. The 6'4" righty features a big fastball and little else, which is why he likely had so much trouble upon moving to Double-A...One more name to know out of the little Mets bullpen is RHP Jeffrey Walters. The 2010 seventh rounder out of the U of Georgia posted a sub-1 ERA before moving up to St. Lucie. Once there the 6'3" righty put forth a strong 3.39 FIP, placing himself on the landscape of Mets relief prospects.