Sadly, the Mets Minor League season has ended. Which around these parts means the end of another successful season of Daily Minor League Reports*.
*As always, it was a labor of love which wouldn't have been possible without the tireless work of all of my Minor League compatriots, not to mention the enthusiasm of all you readers.
However, that does not mean the end of the best coverage of Mets Minor League action on the internet, found, of course, here at Amazin' Avenue. As we have in the past we'll keep you up to date on all of the offseason happenings around the Mets farm system in our weekly Minor League Monday features. That means trades, Rule 5 draft, winter leagues, and last but not least season reviews, which we will start today with a look at the Mets Rookie-level Kingsport affiliate:
For anyone that followed the system this year it's probably no surprise when I say that it was a tough season for the K-Mets. Managed by former Twins farmhand Jose Leger, Kingsport was arguably the worst team in the Appalachian League in 2012. Despite the fact that they did not finish in last place, they did rank last in the league in both ERA and OPS and featured the worst run differential by a wide margin. It's actually rather surprising that Kingsport didn't come in last; so I guess it's nice that at least they had a little luck on their side, right? Lucky, that is, that they played in the same league as Bristol, whose .292 winning percentage was one of the worst in affiliated baseball.
Ultimately, this was a story of a team without much impact talent, with too many players that belonged on the now-defunct Gulf Coast League affiliate. Kingsport fielded the youngest average pitching staff in the Appy League and the second-youngest offensive unit. Expect to see many of the same names back here next year, but hopefully to better results.
The Prospects (In alphabetical order)
SS Gavin Cecchini - (Drafted in 2012)
Like Brandon Nimmo before him, Gavin Cecchini showed flashes of his solid all-around ability, mixed with the rawness one would expect from a high school draftee. For that reason there's probably not too much we can, or should, take from the Louisiana prep product's debut -- especially as it was abbreviated by a broken finger. However, at least on a cursory level the fact that he could keep his average around .250 against competition that was on average two years older speaks to his very strong hit tool.
The club's 2012 first round selection -- 12th overall -- Cecchini doesn't project as a future standout in any one area of the game. Instead, as a true shortstop prospect -- something that's not easy to find out of high school -- scouts feel he's as good a bet as anyone in his age-group to reach the show. And yet at just 18 years old, his advanced bat offers the potential for a solid all-around offensive game. Now that profile has underwhelmed before -- see, Tim Beckham -- however, in a draft position without much star talent, for the second straight year the club did well to bolster their talent at a premium position.
RHP Miller Diaz - STOCK UP
Diaz had a very solid season for the K-Mets on his way to his very first organizational Sterling Award. The 20-year old Venezuelan led the Kingsport staff in innings, ERA and strikeouts before a late-season cameo in Savannah. In short, the solidly built 6'1" righty features a good fastball that he runs into the mid-90's, which was just too much for hitters at this level. He'll have to further develop his secondary repertoire as a strong fastball with good, not great, command won't be enough as he climbs. But a mid-90's arm is always a welcome thing in an organization that, until recently, has lacked such power, and as he progresses it's fair to imagine a hard-throwing starter-turned-reliever in the mold of Armando Rodriguez.
IF Branden Kaupe - (Drafted in 2012)
Odd pro debut for the Mets 2012 fourth rounder out of a Maui high school. The 18-year old switch-hitting middle infielder absolutely lived up to expectations about advanced plate discipline, walking in a ridiculous 22% of his at bats. The problem is that for the remainder, he struck out in 25% and didn't hit at all, collecting just two extra-base hits over fifty games. Two. While a good approach at the plate is nice to see at such a young age, it's more important that he shows he can actually square up the ball -- despite a rather complicated swing, from both sides -- as no amount of plate discipline will cover that up. As far as his splits he was pretty equally bad from either side of the plate.
Additionally, he didn't seem to get the most out of his excellent athleticism and speed as he stole only three bases and was actually caught just as often. At 5'7" there's already not much power projection here and the Mets have already moved him off of shortstop so his margin for error is a little smaller than most prep draftees. However, like many on this club, Kaupe most certainly belonged in the GCL so we shouldn't hold a tough pro debut against him too much.
CF Bradley Marquez - STOCK DOWN
Like Kaupe, the 19-year old Marquez features some of the best athleticism and speed in the entire system. Drafted in the 16th round, the Mets were able to nab a top tier talent as Marquez was considered a risk, thanks to his commitment to play football for Texas Tech. The risk being that by splitting time a player this raw might not ever develop the requisite baseball skills that come from repetition. And thus far that has been true. Since being drafted two summers ago, Marquez has only logged 30 pro at bats, missing critical time with a quad injury this summer before football abbreviated his season. As such he didn't really have a chance to show much in the nine games he played this season and it'll be springtime before he even thinks about organized baseball again. And even then it will be at least one more football-shortened summer. It's hard to fault the Mets for taking a lottery ticket in the 16th round, but more and more I'm wondering if this arrangement actually has a realistic chance to work out.
LHP Steven Matz - STOCK UP
By now you all know the story of Steven Matz, the big lefty from Long Island with a special arm but a less-than-special ability to stay healthy. This season was a slight uptick in that narrative as we actually saw the now 21-year old Matz get into pro games and even better, dominate when he did. Despite a touch of wildness, it became clear quickly that the '09 second rounder's stuff was not only still there, it was better than before his TJ surgery. In fact, by mid-July Matz looked like he was on the fast track into the organization's top ten prospects. Featuring a mid-90's fastball -- that touched 98 mph -- from the left side, he blew away the competition to the tune of a .158 opponent average over 29 IP.
However, that was the problem; he never reached 30 innings, making only six starts, none after mid-July. After a spring marked by discomfort in his surgically-repaired arm, he was ultimately shut down early due to tightness in his pitching shoulder. Now Matz is going to move up the ranks based on the quality of his explosive stuff alone, but not as much as he should. So many pitching prospects fall by the wayside due to health and in that vain, more arm problems for a kid who's already had a ton of them are a very disconcerting thing no matter how good the stuff looks.
RHP Akeel Morris - STOCK DOWN
As usual the 2010 tenth rounder from the Virgin Islands struck out the world, featuring a K/9 above 11 in his second year with Kingsport. Also not surprising was his troublesome command, as he posted a BB/9 well above 5 for the third straight season. Although what was unexpected was how much better the opposition hit him, posting a .253 opp. average, nearly 100 points better than last season -- at the same level. So after six starts and an ERA nearing 13 it became clear that his current development path was not working. Suddenly he was looking less like the potential blue chip prospect we hoped for last year and more like a live arm whose lack of command might ultimately torpedo his chances.
So his remaining five appearances all came in relief, where the club hoped he would be able to rein in his dynamic, mid-90's fastball in shorter bursts. And while the walks remained, he had far more success, posting a 1.13 ERA over that span. While his electric stuff plays up in short appearances you'd still love to give an arm like this another shot at starting, though he's going to have to prove he can throw strikes at some point if he expects to have success at this, or any, level whatever the role. Expect to see the soon-to-be 20-year old Morris back in Kingsport next season, bouncing between rotation and bullpen as his peripherals dictate.
OF Joe Tuschak - STOCK DOWN
2011 sixth rounder Joe Tuschak was another in the line of athletic prep products from a Mets draft class that included quite a few of them that June. However, the risk with high school players almost always revolves around turning raw tools into usable skills and thus far the soon-to-be 20-year old from PA hasn't been able to do that. Known for his good speed and athleticism, Tuschak managed just a pair of stolen bases this year while knocking just eight extra-base hits in 46 games. As a two-sport star in high school he figured to be rather raw coming out of the gate but after his second summer as a pro -- aside from a strong walk rate (16%) -- there's not a lot of progress to speak of. It should be noted that after struggling last season in his pro debut, Tuschak would have been a clear candidate to return to the GCL in 2012.
LHP Juan Urbina - STOCK DOWN
The highly-touted 19-year old son of former MLB closer Ugueth Urbina was nothing short of a bust this season, perhaps the biggest in the system when you consider his $1 million-plus signing bonus back in '09. After I indicated concerns over some potential overhype last winter, Urbina followed a mediocre 2011 with the K-Mets with an uninspiring spring campaign, leading to his assignment to the Brooklyn bullpen, quickly followed by a demotion back to Kingsport. He managed to get into just nine games -- all in relief no less -- and posted a 5+ ERA, walking 16 guys in just 12.1 IP. Now the 9.00 K/9 is nice, as is the lack of hits allowed. However, at this point I'm wondering where the fastball that was rumored to touch 92 mph even before he signed has vanished to. Working around 87 mph with poor results in Rookie-ball does not a prospect make.
More Names to Watch For
The Mets 2012 14th rounder RHP Chris Flexen reportedly featured fifth round talent, but slid due to second round bonus demands. The Mets paid up and in doing so may have quite a steal on their hands. Flexen was the second-youngest pitcher in the Appy League in 2012 and though he only turned 18 in July, the 6'3", 215 lbs righty is already touching 94 mph on the gun. He also seemed to find his stride allowing just one earned over his last 11 IP. Definite early candidate to jump up rankings in 2013...Speaking of big-bodied Cali prep pitchers, 2011 13th rounder RHP Robert Gsellman and 10th rounder RHP Matt Budgell were excellent for Kingsport this season. Down the stretch Gsellman allowed just two earned over his final four starts while Budgell posted a sub-1 ERA in 20 relief appearances. Both are in the 6'3"-6'4" range and offer a ton of projection, reaching the low-90's as teenagers. Pitchers with that kind of size/stuff/age are always worth watching, same can be said for 2012 7th rounder RHP Corey Oswalt despite his poor debut (8.15 ERA)...At 23 years old, IF Jorge Rivero was quite old for the Appy League, the explanation being that he hails from Cuba, where a conventional path to the show isn't always possible. Rivero led the team in batting (.313) and OPS (.805) while showing a decent power/speed mix for a MI and though It's very possible the upper levels will expose him, stories like this are worth keeping an eye on.
Join us next Minor League Monday for the next installment, where we'll venture up to Brooklyn!