At long last we've reached the final leg of our journey through the Mets farm system, the 2013 top ten prospects.For anyone just getting on board today, catch up on each stage of the process from earlier this week: #11-20, #21-30, #31-40, and #41-50.
In analyzing today's segment of the rankings I was struck on more than one occasion by the sheer amount of talent that the Mets now feature at the top of their farm system. I don't like to compare talent across organizations -- as my knowledge of other teams is obviously less robust -- however, I do feel comfortable saying that this is a more promising overall group of minor league talent than the Mets have possessed in a long time.
With a management team that places a significant emphasis on growth from within and many of the tactical pieces falling into place on the field, it's an exciting time to follow the Mets minor leagues -- perhaps the most exciting since the last great wave of homegrown talent in the mid-'80s. Obviously it's too early to speculate whether this collection of players will experience the same amount of success that group did; however, it's certainly exciting to think that it won't be too much longer before we start finding out.
10. RHP Luis Mateo — Signed with the Mets as in international free agent in 2011.
The 22-year-old was outstanding for the Cyclones in 2012. His name was splashed all over the NYPL leaderboards, leading the circuit in strikeouts per nine (10.43) and placing sixth in walks per nine (1.10). In fact, the Dominican right-hander was the only pitcher in the league who ended up in the top ten in both categories. Simply put, Mateo has a special fastball, on par with some of the best in the system. He regularly worked in the mid-90s and could even dial it up for a few more ticks if need be, showing a plus-major league offering. Paired with a solid high-80s slider, Mateo dominated even when his command was not at its best. Now, his lack of a useable change-up has many forecasting a future late-inning reliever — a role he could fill extremely quickly. Yet, despite a somewhat advanced age due to some drama in his past, the kid has made 25 regular season starts as a professional so I'm not going to put a cap on his long-term role just yet.
9. RHP Jeurys Familia — Signed with the Mets as an amateur free agent in 2007.
The 23-year-old made his major league debut in 2012, showcasing an outstanding, sinking fastball and excellent -- as well as inconsistent -- secondary stuff in an eight-game preview. While he flashed dominance his central issue was the same one that plagued him in Buffalo, that being command. After watching his walks per nine jump above 3.5 at Double-A in 2011, it continued to rise to an ugly 4.80 mark in 28 Triple-A starts. Otherwise, his final numbers were very promising, including 8.4 strikeouts per nine, a solid 3.78 FIP and one of the strongest starter's groundball rates in the IL. Going forward, Familia's role -- for 2013 and beyond -- remains clouded. His swing-and-miss stuff seemed to translate exceptionally well to relief. Oftentimes I've compared him to the Rangers' Alexi Ogando based on the quality of his fastball/slider mix, as well as the inferiority of his change-up. I could easily envision Familia in a similar role for the Mets, though I'd personally rather see him in Las Vegas to work out the command woes in 2013..
8. RHP Rafael Montero - Signed by the Mets as an international free agent in 2011.
The 22-year old was a revelation this season, dominating SAL competition by utilizing his trademark surgical command (see, 1.01 walks per nine). Then in eight starts with St. Lucie he got even better, posting a strikeout per nine just a shade under ten. 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 a tremendous feel for mixing his pitches and will truly throw any pitch in any count, showing polish beyond his years. Remember, this kid won an Organizational Sterling Award in the Gulf Coast League in 2011. Some scouts see him as a reliever long-term thanks to his diminutive build (6', 170 lbs is generous). However, while he may not profile as a future ace, I fully expect that he'll continue having success as a starter all the way up the chain.
7. OF Brandon Nimmo — Drafted by the Mets in the first round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft.
The 19-year-old showed off the kind of natural offensive ability in 2012 that justifies the first round selection. Namely, he posted an extremely impressive 14.3% BB rate (fourth among qualified NYPL batters), especially when paired with his ability to drive the ball in a tough lefthanded power environment (see, .158 ISO). In fact, he was one of the circuit's youngest position players for most of the season yet placed fourth in doubles and third in extra-base hits. He did exhibit some expected rawness, namely a very high 24.3% strikeout rate and a .191/.296/.298 mark against lefties. Big, loping strides gave him enough speed for center, however that speed did not show up on the basepaths and some scouts envisioned a long-term move to a corner. Nonetheless, many scouts were enamored with the mix of tools and polish Nimmo showed in his first full season as he solidified his early billing as a potential impact player in the making.
6. 3B Wilmer Flores — Signed with the Mets as an international free agent in 2007.
In 2012 the 21-year-old demonstrated one of the most advanced hit tools in the entire minors, let alone the Mets farm system, while showcasing the power game we've long awaited as one of the youngest players in Double-A. He continued to make outstanding contact (11% strikeout rate) which, when paired with strong walk rates (7%), consistently put him in good spots to drive the ball. In fact, of any player in Double-A with as low a strikeout rate, Flores ranked second in ISO (.174), trailing only Cardinals uber-prospect Oscar Taveras. The re-emergence of Flores' outstanding bat couldn't have come at a better time as it helped to counteract the continued decline of his defensive value. Finally moving off of shortstop for good, Flores shifted all over the Binghamton infield getting reps at first, second, and third. He'll never offer much in the way of defense, but the good news is that his bat looks like it will play regardless. It's not a huge stretch to imagine Flores as one of the club's better offensive threats by this time next year.
5. RHP Domingo Tapia — Signed by the Mets as an international free agent in 2009.
2012 saw the 20-year-old take the next step as his historically pedestrian strikeouts per nine figure ticked up to a very strong 8.39, thanks to increased reliance on a four-seamer that regularly hit triple-digits. Paired with his Mejia-esque low-to-mid-90s two-seamer -- perhaps the single best fastball in the system -- the 6'4", 200 lbs righty baffled SAL hitters as he notched the fourth-best swinging strikeout rate in the league among starters. And don't be fooled by the so-so 3.98 ERA; Tapia posted the second-best FIP in the SAL (2.68). He was able to do so while maintaining the league's top ground ball rate and the best part was that he maintained his characteristically strong command (2.65 walks per nine). The only problem is that lagging behind the rest of his repertoire was his slurvy breaking ball, which will have to continue to improve if he's to hold onto a starting profile. The good news is that he's still just 20, absolutely oozes projection, and looks like a high-impact major league arm, whatever the role.
4. RHP Michael Fulmer — Drafted by the Mets in the first round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft.
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? Utilizing a special fastball that works in the low-to-mid 90s — 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. 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.
3. RHP Noah Syndergaard — Acquired from the Blue Jays in the trade that sent R.A. Dickey to Toronto in December 2012.
The 20-year-old Texan was almost universally viewed as Toronto's second-best prospect and immediately gave the Mets system a jolt of high-upside pitching talent. Utilizing a mid-90s heavy sinker, a four-seamer that hits 99 MPH and an overhand curve scouts already consider a major league average offering, 6'5", 200 lbs righty has blown away the competition as a pro. In his first full season at Class-A Lansing in 2012, he posted a 2.60 ERA along with a 10+ strikeouts per nine mark and, perhaps most impressively, a sub-3 BB/9 mark; Syndergaard was the only qualifying starter in all of Low-A to do that. As impressive as Michael Fulmer's 2012 season was in Low-A at 19, Syndergaard posted a FIP over a full run lower (2.21) at the same level, also at age 19. Paul DePodesta may have said it best, "You just don't see many guys [Syndergaard's] size at his age command the strike zone the way he has as a professional, especially with big velocity." Syndergaard is on par with Zack Wheeler in terms of his long-term potential.
2. C Travis d'Arnaud — Acquired from the Blue Jays in the trade that sent R.A. Dickey to Toronto in December 2012.
The Mets newest blue-chipper, the 23-year-old catcher gives Mets fans many reasons to be excited. Offensively, he boasts the kind of power and hitting ability that you rarely see from a catcher. In 2012 he batted .333/.380/.595 with 16 home runs in just 67 games in Triple-A, good for a .262 ISO. The strikeout rate remains around the 20% mark, but with that kind of plus-power it's forgivable. Defensively, he's highly mobile taking advantage of an athletic frame and he's nailed an impressive 30% of runners over the last two seasons. The main issue is the semi-serious back and knee issues he's struggled with as a professional. However, In short, d'Arnaud projects as a future organizational cornerstone behind the plate at the major league level. In many ways he's the perfect fit for this organization in that he immediately addresses a number of deficiencies within the system: The absolute dearth of catching talent, right-handed hitting and premium power. What's more, he should be pushing for a major league role by mid-season in 2013.
1. RHP Zack Wheeler — Acquired in the trade that sent Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in July 2011.
In his first full season since the trade that brought him east, the 22-year old showcased the kind of stuff that makes scouts drool. Blessed with a top shelf curve, Wheeler possesses the kind of consistently plus, swing-and-miss secondary offering that most pitching prospects only dream of. Further, his easy, mid-90's fastball has the kind of natural movement that just can't be taught. An 8.45 strikeouts per nine coupled with a .205 opponent average in Triple-A tells you that he could get major league hitters out today. That said, I'd still try to give Wheeler as much of the 2013 season in Las Vegas as possible to try to tighten up that command a bit and continue to firm up the change. However, it's going to be tough to hold him back once he gets going. And that's ok as pitchers with this kind of stuff warrant some degree of learning on the job. I expect we'll see him around the same time we saw Harvey in 2012, around late July to early August.
As usual, thanks to everyone for the enthusiasm and interest, which seems to keep growing every season. It certainly makes the process a lot more enjoyable for me and in my estimation, creates a better experience for the group as a whole. I only know so much, meaning there's a lot that I don't -- and the things that I do are not above question. Which is why the spirited discussion and lively debate are integral to help raise the high-water mark for everyone.
For anyone wondering, I will be posting a compiled top 50 list summarizing the week's progress over the course of the next day or so. As I pointed out yesterday, for anyone who is interested in more detailed prospect-y 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.
And one more time, be sure to take part in the ongoing AA community prospect rankings going on currently in the FanPosts section.