We're now into the top 20 prospects. In this particular group we're beginning to see names that could very easily help the big club in 2013 interspersed with some youngsters that represent some of the highest ceilings in the system.
(As an aside I wanted to discuss a change in thinking for me that you'll see a few times throughout these rankings, relating to some of those high ceiling players. Specifically, IFA's are hard to rank early in their pro careers -- even the high profile, record bonus-type guys. I've found that many prospect evaluators -- including myself -- either abstain from ranking these players, or are extremely conservative if they do -- due to a lack of readily available knowledge. Yet almost invariably, those high profile players end up jumping into premium slots in subsequent rankings after the slightest amount of exposure, good or bad. A recent example would be pitcher Juan Urbina.
I've always considered that effect an inefficiency in prospect ranking. Logically, if a player moves up that many spots based on such little new data, the initial ranking was likely wrong in the first place. Again, that was a product of lack of data, which is something that we on the outside had to live with. However, more recently I've become comfortable with the idea of deferring, to some degree, to those who have that data. Namely the club that signed said players.
This is not completely virgin territory. In fact, this is something we already see with North American high school draftees taken in the early stages of the June draft. Take Brandon Nimmo. After he was drafted in 2011, despite just ten pro games under his belt, the prep product was well represented in most Mets top tens. The key difference here being the additional knowledge available about him -- and most players taken in the draft. That difference makes us feel more comfortable ranking players like Nimmo, pretty much sight unseen.
At this point, my thinking is that if a club sees fit to give an IFA money on par with that of a high profile draftee -- understanding that dollar values do not quite translate equally between the two mediums -- I'm willing to give some benefit of doubt. Especially in the case that a player's general profile fits that of a high round draft pick. Obviously this approach is more art than science, but I do feel it gets us a little closer than the wait-and-see method.)
But I digress. Now on to the rankings:
Becerra was the third player acquired from Toronto in the Dickey trade. He is a 17-year-old international free agent, signed by the Blue Jays back in 2011 for the tidy sum of $1.3M -- tied for the largest bonus ever given to an IFA by the Mets to that point (Fernando Martinez, '05). Aside from being considered by many as one of the top righthanded bats in that class, scouts consider him a potential five-tool outfield prospect, featuring plus-plus speed, an advanced offensive feel, and good raw power. Unfortunately, his pro debut was cut short last summer as he was hit in the face with a pitch. However, it's clear that there is a ton of upside here; in fact, some have even opined that Becerra, not d'Arnaud or Syndergaard, could ultimately be the coup of that deal.
19. SS Ahmed Rosario
In July the Mets signed the 16-year old Dominican shortstop to a club-record $1.75M deal. That's equivalent to a late-first round June draft selection and is actually more than they paid 2012 draftee Kevin Plawecki. IFA and draft dollars aren't exactly one-to-one; however it's clear that Mets brass values Rosario as a premier talent. Fortunately, scouts agree, considering him potentially the top prospect in the DR at the time of the deal. He's viewed as a highly athletic player with a very strong build, good speed, and a potentially impact bat at short -- though his long, lithe frame may ultimately push him to third. In America he'd be a high school junior so obviously he's far away, but based on early reports Rosario could be the top all-around infield talent the Mets have acquired in the international market since Jose Reyes.
18. RHP Gabriel Ynoa
In his first exposure to A-ball, the 6'2", 158 lb. teenager was nothing short of masterful, striking out six guys for every one walk and allowing just a single home run all summer. What's more, his .213 opponent average was one of the top marks in the NYPL and most impressively, he did all this as one of the five youngest pitchers in the league (For reference, Ynoa is actually two months younger than Brandon Nimmo). Despite the fact that this beanpole righty still offers a lot of projection, he is already touching 93 mph with his pinpoint fastball and features a highly advanced change-up. While Michael Fulmer gets the nod as the Mets best teenage pitcher, Ynoa is the clear choice for second.
2012 was a tale of two seasons for the former Gator. Upon return to Binghamton den Dekker absolutely tore apart Double-A pitching to the tune of a .960 OPS. However, upon promotion to Triple-A Den Dekker would go on to lose over .300 points off that OPS -- while watching his strikeout rate skyrocket. He was able to maintain some home run power (.153 ISO), though well below his career norms. Many prospects struggle in their first exposure to a new level; but as a 25-year old, den Dekker has little margin for error -- especially when a nearly 30% strikeout rate indicates a fundamental flaw. On the bright side, his defensive value in center means that he will have an impact on the big league team in some way, shape or form. But at this point the needle is shifting more towards good defensive replacement than everyday outfielder.
16. RHP Cory Mazzoni
It was a somewhat disappointing full season debut for the 23-year-old out of NC State. While a 3.93 ERA in 26 starts might not look awful, underwhelming key indicators -- like an extremely pedestrian strikeout rate and far too many hits allowed -- were not what we expected from a second round selection with mid-90s heat. The good news is that thanks to his excellent command of premium velocity, Mazzoni does profile well as a late-inning reliever. Unless he begins missing a lot more bats very soon, the natural move may be to transition the smallish righty to the bullpen, where he has the chance to help as early as the 2013 season.
Spending the first half of 2012 back in Savannah, the 21-year-old saw offensive improvements across the board. Specifically, his BABIP rose by over 50 points as he squared up balls much more regularly, allowing for large gains in average and power (see .223 ISO). Perhaps even more promising was the fact that he pushed his walk rate up above 8%, a very good sign for a kid with a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. The fact that he maintained an ISO just below .200 upon promotion to High-A speaks to the quality of his raw power, which is the best in the system. What position he'll play is up for debate as humble defensive gains at third have given way to playing time at first. Regardless, if the 6-3, 210-pound righty can continue to build on the strides he made, he should have more than enough bat for either position at the highest levels.
2012 was yet another quietly solid campaign for the 21-year old shortstop. In his first extended exposure to High-A he acquitted himself very nicely, posting career highs in both strikeout (6.6%) and walk (11.3%) rates. Following the mid-season promotion to Double-A Tovar scuffled a bit against the more advanced competition as one of the five youngest players in the league but steadied himself by end of year. However, as always, the story with Tovar is about a glove that profiles as a plus major league tool right now -- something that you don't often say about any minor league position player -- especially not at age 21. The only question remaining is whether the bat will allow him to be a valuable everyday player in the mold of Ruben Tejada or a top-notch defensive specialist in the mold of Philadelphia's Freddy Galvis.
13. C Kevin Plawecki
By season's end the 2012 first round selection — 35th overall — had clearly showed why the Mets valued him so highly. Reports of an advanced approach at the plate came to fruition as he ultimately walked more than he struck out in 2012; his 9.9 BB% was impressive while the 9.5 K% was among the league leaders. Additionally, he balanced that patience and contact with good home run power, leading the Cyclones with seven bombs. He'll need to get some more gap power out of his sturdy 6'2", 205 lb. frame as he knocked just eight doubles all season and slugging just .384, but he shows excellent offensive potential. Additionally, while he's got a strong arm (14/30 CS), he's still got work to do defensively to profile as an everyday catcher at the highest levels.
12. RHP Jacob DeGrom
The former 2010 ninth rounder was, simply put, the biggest surprise in the Mets farm system in 2012, bursting onto the scene as one of the system's most talented arms. DeGrom was already late to pitching after converting from shortstop in college. Add a Tommy John surgery and he was far behind the development curve. Yet upon returning in 2012 DeGrom didn't miss a beat, posting a 2.43 ERA in 19 A-ball starts. Taking full advantage of his athletic 6'4" build, DeGrom possesses a special fastball that he spots extremely well and lives in the low-to-mid-90s, velocity he holds deep into games. He also possesses a useable slider/change combo, which gives him a chance to start long-term. However, should he falter in the slightest as a starter he could be an asset to a big league 'pen almost immediately.
In 53 games for Kingsport the 2012 12th overall pick 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, glean from the Louisiana prep product's debut. (This is a case where it pays to acknowledge our lack of data and, to a degree, defer to the organization's choice to pay the kid $2.3M). Cecchini doesn't project as a future standout in any one area of the game -- atypical of such a high selection. Instead, scouts feel that as a true shortstop prospect he's as good a bet as anyone in his age-group to reach the show -- balancing the relatively low reward with less risk as well.
Check back tomorrow as we wrap this puppy up with the 2013 top ten prospects. Also, be sure to take part in the ongoing AA community prospect rankingss going on currently in the FanPosts section.
Finally, for more prospect information I encourage you to explore the 2012 AA Minor League Season in Review series where I evaluated almost all of these players in a little more detail.