In their continuing look at the very best prospects in each and every league of minor league baseball, Baseball America recently cast their gaze to the Rookie-class Appalachian League. As a Mets fans, you should care because not only do the Kingsport Mets play in this league, but the latest vintage of the K-Mets just so happened to include a number of very interesting young players.
Specifically, BA's Clint Longenecker tabbed Mets shortstop prospect and record-breaking bonus recipient Amed Rosario as the tippy-top prospect in the entire Appalachian League -- quite the distinction for a kid that posted a mediocre statistical line in 2013 (.241/279/.358, three home runs, two stolen bases). But as we well know about this distant level of baseball, it's a lot less about the numbers and a lot more about the underlying skills and raw tools. And apparently the 17-year-old Rosario showcased plenty of both.
Here's an excerpt of Longenecker's comments:
"(Rosario) showed star potential in his debut season. With a lanky build, he’s an exceptional athlete with above-average speed...."He could be a star," a scout said. "He is 17 and can drive the ball to right-center field like a man. He has very good feel to hit and his swing generates a lot of leverage. I think he can have 20-25 home run power. I think he can be a shortstop because he has all the tools and he can run.
Rosario makes things look easy defensively, showing good feet around the bag and the range and body control to make any play at shortstop. He has good hands and a plus arm with the ability to throw from all angles...he could remain at shortstop, but he could also profile at third base as he fills out.
Rosario also drew rave reviews for his hitting ability. He has above-average bat speed with natural whip and a rare ability to drive the ball and create loud contact for his age, and he excels at hitting to the opposite field."
Rosario is clearly raw (see, .941 fielding percentage), but to scouts he has the look of one of those moldable pieces of clay with all the trappings of potential stardom. Obviously, a lot of things have to break right for such a thing to happen -- and the safe bet is that they probably won't. However, at the very least such a review is a nice preliminary validation of one of the bigger bets that the Sandy administration has made in terms of acquiring minor league talent, which is something Mets fans can feel good about. That and the fact that the last two no. ones on this list were Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.
But that's not all. Kingsport also played host to a pair of very intriguing young pitchers this summer in Robert Whalen and Chris Flexen. Whalen and Flexen are two of a kind: Big-bodied right-handers, drafted out of high school in the early-teen rounds of the draft -- quite an en vogue profile with the current front office. The pair of 19-year-olds ranked second and third in the Appy League in ERA (minimum 60 innings pitched) and both boasted strikeout percentages in the mid-20s.
More specifically, Whalen posted a 1.87 ERA in 12 starts, limiting opposing hitters to just 50 hits and a single home run in 72.1 innings to go along with 76 strikeouts and just 17 walks.
Flexen -- who garnered the no. position in the AA Preseason Top 50 Prospect Rankings after a promising debut in Kingsport in 2012 -- was nearly as good, posting a 2.09 ERA in 11 starts, allowing 53 hits in 69 innings, as well as 62 strikeouts and 12 walks.
Longenecker's take on Whalen:
"The Mets fine-tuned his mechanics, and those tweaks, combined with a professional throwing program, helped him rediscover his stuff and finish second in the league in ERA. Whalen showed a low-90s fastball that touched 94 mph with above-average movement, and the incorporation of a sinker in addition to his four-seam fastball gave him a 2.4-to-1 groundout-to-flyout ratio. He has an advanced ability to throw strikes, and his offspeed stuff played up because of it, allowing him to use it in fastball counts. He throws a changeup, curveball and slider, and the best of the three is a high-70s curveball with three-quarters tilt that is consistently above-average"
"(Flexen) has an average fastball that sits in the low 90s, and his velocity could improve as he matures. He gets good downhill plane, though the pitch can lack life. Flexen has a solid-average curveball that has improved dramatically, with good depth and late tilt. He also throws an average changeup and a slider. With command of three average or better offerings, polish and a delivery that offers deception, he should advance as a starter."
As we've harped on time and time again, it's a refreshing change of pace that the Mets recent draft strategies target players like Whalen and Flexen. The mid-round high school selection doesn't necessarily bear fruit often, but when it does it's usually far sweeter than what you'd find in the college ranks around that time. These two -- along with guys like Robert Gsellman and John Gant -- could potentially be very good examples of that evaluation.
All told, Kingsport ran out a good group of talent in 2013. In fact, to put it in historical perspective this was the first time that Kingsport placed multiple players on this list in the past ten years. In total, the Mets have had five players appear on this list since 2004 (six, if you count Syndergaard), with Wilmer Flores climbing the highest by being ranked no. two in 2008.
And just because we wouldn't want to feel too good about ourselves -- or maybe because I'm something of a masochist -- I'll leave you with a more disheartening fact, that the Braves have placed no less than 29 -- yes, 29 -- players on this list over that same span. /sigh