The 2015 New York Mets are fortunate to have a wide array of minor league talent from which to draw. This is especially true given their major leaguers’ knack for getting hurt.
Mets fans are having fun watching Noah Syndergaard and Kevin Plawecki get their feet wet in the majors; monitoring the continued development of Travis d'Arnaud (when he isn't hurt) and Jeurys Familia; and speculating about the eventual call-ups of pitcher Steven Matz and outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto.
As we watch these talented players come up and work their way toward potential stardom, our memories drift back to a couple of earlier Mets prospects whose bright futures did not pan out so well.
In 2001, Bill Ballew of Baseball America wrote of Roberts (valued at the time as the Mets’ #8 prospect, right behind a 19-year-old kid from Virginia named David Wright):
"Roberts has a 93-94 mph fastball with excellent movement. It can be overpowering, particularly against righthanders…The Mets were encouraged with the maturity Roberts showed, compared with his brief stint in the majors in 2000."
Ballew went on to project Roberts as a possible fifth starter or a reliever for the 2002 club. Roberts had a decent ‘02 season with the Mets, albeit in a limited sample size resulting from a mid-season injury: the righty finished with 3-1 record, a 2.20 ERA, and 31 strikeouts in 45 innings pitched.
Despite his modest on-field success in 2002, however, Roberts made his first foray into controversy when the press uncovered a picture of him smoking marijuana. This, along with the revelation that several of Roberts’s teammates also enjoyed puffing the magic dragon, inspired this fantastic banner crafted by some creative Mets fans.
After the fallout from the photo (Roberts unsuccessfully tried to prosecute an ex-girlfriend for using the photo as part of an extortion scheme), the reliever went 0-3 with a 3.79 ERA in 19 innings the following year, which was again beset by injury. He last pitched in the majors in 2004, and the results weren’t pretty, as Roberts finished the season with a 17.36 ERA in 4 ⅔ innings pitched.
The Mets released him after the 2004 season, then signed him to a minor league contract; this second chance was rendered moot, however, when before the 2005 season Roberts tested positive for steroids, prompting the team to release him on April 14 of that year. Shortly thereafter, the Yankees picked up Roberts on a minor league deal; he didn’t last long, however, throwing 24 unsuccessful innings for the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate.
Extensive research on Roberts’s current whereabouts proved fruitless, but perhaps he's living the "high life" somewhere—maybe in Colorado or Washington.
Alay Soler defected from Cuba in 2003 and swiftly made his way through the Mets’ minor league system after signing in 2004 as a free agent. Soler made his major league debut on May 24, 2006, against Philadelphia. His pitching line from the day was six innings, five hits, three runs (two earned), five strikeouts, and four walks; not great, but not terrible, especially considering that the Phillies’ lineup featured Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu, and Pat Burrell, most of whom were at or approaching their prime years.
The Soler Dynasty would last approximately six more weeks, highlighted by a complete-game shutout against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. After consecutive blowout losses to the Red Sox and Yankees—his Yankee Stadium debut was particularly ugly, as he lasted 2 ⅔ innings while surrendering eight runs—Soler was sent back to Norfolk. He would never pitch in a major league uniform again: the Mets released the righty before 2007 season, and after brief minor league stints with the Pirates and Astros, Soler pursued employment in the independent leagues.
Soler enjoyed two encores with New York metro-area baseball fans, first with the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks in 2008 and then with the Newark Bears in 2009. (Incidentally, 2009 looks like it was an interesting year for the Bears, as their roster included former major leaguers such as Carl Everett, Armando Benitez, Keith Foulke, Ramiro Mendoza, and Pete Rose Jr.)
Most recently, Soler pitched for the Puerto Rican League’s Criollos de Caguas in the winter of 2011, and tried out for the Mexican League’s Sultanes de Monterrey in 2012.