It was an abnormally tough year for the Coney Island faithful in 2013. Accustomed to seeing not only postseason baseball but big name top prospects, Cyclones fans were disappointed on both fronts.
In short, Brooklyn just didn't have enough talent in 2013. The token first rounder, Gavin Cecchini, missed a large chunk of the season due to injury and failed to stand out when he was on the field. And the standard bumper crop of collegiate draftees failed to produce any standout performances -- LJ Mazzilli's cheek bones notwithstanding (eat your heart out, Anthony Recker).
Despite that fact, the Cyclones relied on relatively strong pitching to make a valiant charge late in the summer; alas, they fell short of their fifth-consecutive New York-Penn League playoff berth. Read more about the high level details in our recent 2013 affiliate overview. Additionally, be sure to catch up on the GCL and Kingsport season reviews as well.
But for now, peruse the Brooklyn Cyclones prospect reviews below (listed in alphabetical order):
Patrick Biondi, OF
The 22-year-old was the Mets ninth-round selection in 2013 out of the University of Michigan. As a senior he was a value pick, signing for well-below slot money -- though he brings decent tools despite that fact. Namely, he can fly which makes him a superb baserunner as well as a potential above-average defender in center at the highest levels. He also features good plate discipline, boasting plenty of walks (12.4% walk rate) and solid contact skills (17.7% strikeout rate). He even won the batting title in the prestigious Cape Cod League in 2012, though that hit tool will be challenged against better pitching. Namely, there's real concern that his strictly punch-and-judy bat won't play against high-level competition. With his profile as a potential good defense, high on-base center fielder, the Mets will hope they've stumbled on a poor man's Brett Gardner in Biondi.
Gavin Cecchini, SS
While it's still probably too soon for the air of disappointment materializing around him, Cecchini certainly hasn't done much to endear himself to the fanbase since the Mets braintrust saw fit to draft him 12th overall in 2012. Through two (short) seasons he has a .256 career average with three total extra-base hits, shaky plate discipline, and he's been caught stealing as many times as he's been successful (seven). Part of the problem has been health, as he's missed about 30% of his games as a pro; however, that in itself has to be considered a concern.
In short, the idea of a player with few weaknesses and a high floor has given way to an overall lack of tools and a low ceiling. It's fair to wonder if Sandy dreamed of a player that hedged the risk inherent in drafting a prep product with the capability (read, safety net) to field a premium position at the highest levels. And to be fair, in a weak draft class reports of a potentially plus hit tool at the age of 17 provided upside to dream on -- and still does. Unfortunately, the bat has been relatively underwhelming and without that, there really aren't any other tools on the offensive side worth mentioning. The defense seems fine at short, but 12-overall is a high price to pay for a defense-first middle infielder this far from the majors. On the bright side, he'll still likely be a 20-year-old in Savannah next season, placing him over a year ahead of the development curve with plenty of the requisite pedigree and makeup to move forward.
Jared King, OF
The club's fifth-round selection in 2013, King is an interesting player who many agree may represent the steal of this draft class for the Mets. The 22-year-old switch-hitter was taken as a junior out of Kansas State University where he starred as their middle-of-the-order center fielder for all three years. Though he doesn't have the kind of bat to live up to that profile in pro ball, he does possess the kind of skills to comfortably project as a player at the highest levels.
Namely, King features good contact ability and a very strong eye at the plate (see, 13% walk rate in pro debut). He also plays very strong defense in the outfield. That package will play. The problem is the bat is questionable, especially in terms of his power potential -- despite a very solid, 6'1", 215 lbs build. Additionally, that same build makes it difficult to envision him in a major league center field on a regular basis -- much like Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Even so, King probably has the best shot to play in the majors of anyone the Mets drafted in '13 outside of Dom Smith. Though the ceiling might not be very high, that's good value for a fifth rounder.
L.J. Mazzilli, 2B
The 2013 fourth-rounder out of the University of Connecticut -- and son of Lee Mazzilli -- performed nicely in his first shot at professional pitching, posting a .278/.329/.381 line along with four home runs in 70 games for the Cyclones. Lee's boy pretty much lived up to the pre-draft billing of a solid all-around player with good polish and makeup, but lacking any one standout tool.
That profile will continue to serve him well against the lower levels of minor league competition. However, it also makes it hard to project exactly what kind of long-term role Mazzilli could fit into. Without quite enough glove or bat to project as an everyday guy in the majors -- or enough raw tools to potentially change that fact down the road -- he's most often dumped into the somewhat lazy, albeit fair, catch-all of a Justin Turner-esque utility player.
Matt Oberste, 1B
The club's seventh-round selection floundered in his first taste of professional baseball, though it's far too soon to write him off -- especially considering he didn't really 'play his game' during his first go-around with Brooklyn. Specifically, it was pretty surprising to see a guy known for an excellent hit tool and good plate discipline to bat .208 with just ten walks against 56 strikeouts. In fact, the 22-year-old managed a 30-game hit streak during his senior season at the University of Oklahoma, where he transferred after a couple of seasons of junior college baseball.
In his draft review, Alex Nelson pointed out the glaring similarities between Oberste and another recent Mets draftee, Jayce Boyd. Aside from struggling in his professional debut, Boyd also fits the profile of a patient college bat who has questions about his power projection at first base, but doesn't really fit anywhere else on the field. Regardless, the club would be just fine with another player like Boyd -- who batted .330 with an .871 OPS in 2013 -- and it's relatively safe to say we'll see something of a bounceback from Oberste in 2014.
James Roche, OF
Despite the fact that the 24-year-old outfielder was not drafted after his collegiate career at tiny Franklin Pierce University in 2012, he managed to lead the Cyclones in home runs in 2013 and showcase a decent all-around game that bears watching. In fact, at 6'3", 210 lbs Roche is a strong athlete who also features good speed (see, eight steals in 2013), not to mention a relatively patient approach (9% walk rate). The problem is that for someone that was old for the league, a nearly 26% strikeout rate does not portend for future success against better competition.
Miller Diaz, RHP
After a 2012 where Diaz staked his claim as one of the strongest young arms in the lower levels of the Mets system, he followed up with an even more impressive season as the most electric pitcher on the Cyclones staff. In his first season as a full-time starter the 21-year-old was nothing short of dominant, posting a 2.03 ERA, allowing a single home run, and bringing home the New York-Penn League strikeout crown. In fact, he managed to push his already strong strikeout figures to new heights in 2013 as he whiffed over 30% of batters faced.
He did so thanks to a major league caliber fastball that often flashed plus thanks to its low-to-mid 90s velocity and good downward tilt. In short, he was able to dominate hitters often his senior based on the efficacy of the fastball alone. Unfortunately, the secondary repertoire leaves something to be desired, as does his command which took a step back in '13 (see, 11.8% walk rate). The profile reads very much like a future reliever and though the club will continue to give him every chance to start, Diaz has a good chance to contribute as a major league relief piece in the not-too-distant future thanks to the strength of the heater -- assuming that the command issues don't unravel him at higher levels.
John Gant, RHP
After a couple of middling seasons as a pro the 21-year-old former 21st-rounder out of a Florida high school opened a lot of eyes in 2013 with an outstanding season as one of the best starters in the league. In fact, he not only made the NYPL all-star team, but for the bulk of the season he was the Cyclones' top starter, posting a very strong 2.89 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 71 innings and limiting opposing batters to a .206 average.
The issue is that despite a long, lanky build (6'4", 175 lbs) he still doesn't have the kind of stuff that scouts had hoped would develop when he was drafted back in 2011. He mostly works in the 88-90 MPH range with a so-so curveball, but features a strong change as evidenced by the .174 average against lefties. The hope here is that he adds a few ticks to the heater if he can continue to pack on some bulk along the way. That or a bullpen-induced bump in stuff -- which may be the more likely option as a mostly two-pitch guy. Fun fact: Gant, a Florida resident, had committed to Long Island University before signing with the Mets in 2011.
Robert Gsellman, RHP
The 20-year-old right-hander was outstanding in 2013 and may have been the best all-around starting pitcher on the Cyclones staff. He posted a 2.06 ERA while striking out 64 batters in 70 innings pitched, not to mention an impressive 4% walk rate. In short, the 2011 13th-rounder out of a California high school began to make good on his long-term potential in 2013. At 6'4", 210 lbs Gsellman is beginning to really tap into his size and athleticism, consistently working in the low-90s and touching the mid-90s (he maxed out around 90 MPH when he was drafted). He also features a relatively polished curveball/changeup combo as well as a strong feel for the entire repertoire. The size, strong fastball, and good secondaries are all good signs that if he can continue to maximize his projection Gsellman has a shot as a starter at the highest levels.
Ricky Knapp, RHP
The son of former Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp, the Mets were very happy to grab a pitcher as polished as 21-year-old Ricky Knapp in the eighth round of last June's draft. The Florida Gulf Coast product looks exactly how you'd expect a kid exposed to world-class instruction his entire life. He features very clean mechanics, works both sides of the plate with very strong command, and excels at mixing and matching his entire repertoire regardless of count or situation. He showcased this advanced approach nicely throughout his pro debut, posting a solid 3.76 ERA in 13 appearances (one start).
The problem is that for all the polish, Knapp lacks the one thing that can't be taught: stuff. His fastball works around 90 MPH from the right side and the curve/change-up combo are both solid, but don't project for much more. In short, Knapp features a very average three-pitch mix and at 6', 185 lbs he doesn't boast much projection, never a promising profile for a right-handed starter. The good news is that Knapp has already mastered concepts that most pitchers his age are just learning. Low-level hitters should not be a problem for him, but Double-A will be the major hurdle -- and at that point it's fair to wonder if a full-time move to middle relief might allow for maximized stuff and a better shot for a big league career.
Akeel Morris, RHP
Just as it seemed that the sun was setting on the 2010 tenth-rounder, Morris made a complete reversal from the downward spiral of the last couple seasons and pitched extremely well in 2013. Specifically, after posting a disastrous 7.98 ERA in Kingsport in 2012, he managed a sterling 1.00 ERA as one of the most effective arms on the Brooklyn staff in 2013 -- his first season in nearly full-time relief. As a reliever he saw improvements across the board as his already high strikeout rate pushed above 30% and his walk rate, while still high, continued to come down from 2011 levels.
While Morris remains one of the more dynamic arms in the lower levels of the system, there is still lots of work to be done. Specifically, the effectively wild approach may work in short-season baseball but more advanced hitters won't hesitate to just stop swinging. Additionally, while he seemed to be unlucky with the longball in 2012, he likely benefited from some good luck by allowing just one homer in 2013. It's fair to presume Morris is better suited for a bullpen role where he can air it out in shorter stints and hitters do not have the luxury of facing him more than once. But as usual the key to continued success for Morris lies in his ability to hone the command of his dominant fastball.