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Mets Low-A Affiliate, Savannah Sand Gnats Opening Day Roster Released

Newly-minted catcher Dustin Lawley wonders how much worse a summer in the Savannah sun might be while wearing the tools of ignorance.
Newly-minted catcher Dustin Lawley wonders how much worse a summer in the Savannah sun might be while wearing the tools of ignorance.

On Tuesday night the Savannah Sand Gnats -- the Mets Low-A South Atlantic League affiliate -- became the first club among the organization's full season affiliates to officially release their 2012 Opening Day roster. Check it out here.

It's an interesting group, especially that pitching staff. In fact, aside from Buffalo the Gnats may boast the most intriguing group of starters in the entire system.

Obviously we have to start with 2011 44th overall selection RHP Michael Fulmer. The big-bodied 19-yr old features top shelf stuff and is one of a handful of pitchers in the system with true top of the rotation potential. Says Paul Depodesta, 'Fulmer has the chance to join a staff led by Frank Viola that will have three accomplished college starters in the rotation. That has the potential to be a great developmental experience for him.'

And speaking of accomplished college starters, Mets 2011 third and fourth rounders RHP Logan Verrett and RHP Tyler Pill will also be part of the Gnats' rotation. Verrett didn't sign soon enough to make his debut in 2011, while Pill posted a 4.00 ERA in nine games between the Gulf Coast League and Brooklyn. Both college draftees should have the opportunity to make the jump to St. Lucie by mid-season, much like Greg Peavey did last season.

Additionally, 2011 ninth rounder out of Univ. of Florida LHP Alex Panteliodis has recovered from the hip injury that held him out last season.

Perhaps more interesting is another pair of righties with top of the line stuff, Domingo Tapia and Rafael Montero. Both Dominicans feature mid-to-high 90's heat and at the ages of 20 and 21 respectively, the sky is the limit. Interestingly, Tapia (listed at 6'4" but FWIW he's grown) uses his big frame to generate his velocity while the generously listed 6'0" Montero uses top notch arm speed. Paul DePodesta referred to the duo in his BP chat earlier today:

"Both guys have a chance to emerge as our next group of top tier potential ML starting pitchers. They both have power stuff (Tapia routinely touched 100 mph last summer), and both pound the strike zone."

Finally, add in LHP Jack Leathersich, proud owner of the most dynamic pro debut in the system last season. For anyone that forgot, the 5'11" 21-yr old struck out 26 batters in 12.2 IP last season as a reliever for Brooklyn. He'll likely piggyback with another starter to stretch out his innings in 2012 as the club wants to try him in the rotation.

What's more, the other end of the battery will be just as interesting to watch with 2011 risers Albert Cordero and Cam Maron. Between the two young catching prospects are the Mets best hopes at a legitimate catcher of the future. After batting .330 in the second half of 2011 while playing sterling defense with the Gnats all season, expect Cordero to get a quick promotion up to St. Lucie. This should clear the way for Cam Maron to play his first full season as a pro as well as open some ab's for Dustin Lawley to potentially grab some prospect value this year by trying his hand as a catcher for the first time in his career.

The problem is that while the pitching could be special the offense is a little dull, especially in the infield. Though our name to watch there is 2011 Gnats third baseman back for more, Aderlin Rodriguez. While he's going to have to show a lot more hit tool this season, his 17 home runs as a teenager in the SAL were still mighty impressive. Should be interesting to see how long they'll keep the big guy posted at third as he almost definitely profiles as a first base masher. As always, I'm keeping an eye on personal favorite IF Brian Harrison.

The outfield isn't much better, though 2011 Cyclones star Travis Taijeron certainly figures to push Rodriguez in the home run department. And 2011 42nd rounder Greg Pron was an athletic DII star that showed he's worth keeping an eye on by posting an .882 OPS with Kingsport. The two should battle it out for the CF gig.

All in all, interesting group that will hope to have continued success as the San Francisco Giants of the Sally, using a dynamic and dominant pitching staff to make up for the shortcomings of a mediocre offensive unit. I expect we'll see 2011 bonus babies Brandon Nimmo and Phillip Evans at some point following the all star break. But until then, these pitchers are going to have to be pretty damn good.