Over the past few seasons, the Mets' farm system has churned out a number of young players who have gone on to become quality contributors to the current big league club. The list seemed to start with Matt Harvey and continues with the likes of Juan Lagares, Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia, Travis d'Arnaud, Zack Wheeler, Noah Sydergaard, and most recently Steven Matz. It's a pretty talented core of young players, albeit a bit short on impact hitters but the reality is that beggars can't be choosers with prospects.
While all of these players have graduated under the watch of the current front office, led by Sandy Alderson, a number of Mets fans and media commentators have noticed that the majority of them were initially drafted or signed under the previous general manager, Omar Minaya. As we can see, the media raised this point just yesterday on Twitter in a move that appeared to be an attempt to incite the rioting masses:
Sandy Alderson is cute with his quips, but it seems like the improvement the Mets have made are all on Omar's players.— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) July 1, 2015
Okay, Mr. Marchand. I guess there's no disputing that point. The majority of the young players were acquired by the previous regime and were around for Alderson to do as his regime saw fit. A quick look at the current 25-man roster shows that just 11 players were initially drafted, signed, or acquired as a prospect by Alderson's regime and of those players, only three are age 25 or younger (catcher Kevin Plawecki, pitcher Noah Syndergaard, and reliever Logan Verrett). So what gives here? Where are all of Sandy Alderson's young players five seasons into his tenure and is this normal?
First of all, it's only fair to point out that two of Alderson's key acquisitions, Travis d'Arnaud and Zack Wheeler, are both currently on the disabled list with injuries. Another, 21-year-old Dilson Herrera, was just demoted to Las Vegas after a so-so stint in the big leagues. Beyond those three, other contributors like Rafael Montero (DL), Jack Leathersich (AAA), Vic Black (AAA), and Danny Muno (AAA) are 40-man roster members and have seen big league time in 2015 or over the last year. Still, it's easy to wonder why there's no potential above-average talent from this regime on the roster outside of d'Arnaud, Wheeler, and perhaps Herrera in the near-to-medium-term future.
Instead of automatically assuming that that's a bad thing, we can add a little context to the argument by looking back to the 2009 Mets. As the 2015 Mets are year five of the Alderson regime, 2009 was the fifth year of Minaya's tenure as GM. Like we did with Alderson above, let's see which of Minaya's draft picks, international signings, and trades for young players contributed to that 2009 club:
- Daniel Murphy (2006 draft pick) was the only starting regular position player, mostly playing first base and left field, while position prospects Fernando Martinez (IFA) and Josh Thole (2005 draft pick) got small cups of coffee during 2009.
- On the pitching side, Mike Pelfrey (2005 draft pick) pitched a full season in the rotation, while Bobby Parnell (2005 draft pick) racked up 88 innings of work between the pen and rotation. Additionally, Jon Niese (2005 draft pick) made five starts for that club and Darren O'Day (Rule 5 draft pick) tossed three nnings before going on waivers.
Counting up, that's seven Minaya young contributors five years into his tenure, while there are currently ten Alderson young contributors (or in Wheeler's case, would-be contributors) to the 2015 club. We can, however, add two more to Minaya's count as relievers Joe Smith and Eddie Kunz received big league innings before 2009 but didn't pitch for the Mets after that season (Smith because he was traded, Kunz because his career tumbled off a cliff).
So here's a conclusion that I think we can make after this sample (not to mention the majority of front offices five years into their tenures): It takes a really long time to develop players both through the draft and even more so through international free agency, where the players start signing contracts at age 16.
Just take a look at the Mets' roster today for more examples of this. Steven Matz was drafted out of high school in 2009 and just made his MLB debut last Sunday, six years later. Juan Lagares signed as an amateur with the Mets in 2006 and didn't make his big league debut until 2013. Lucas Duda was a college product of the 2007 draft and didn't find a starting role with the Mets until last season.
To complain about the lack of Alderson draft picks on the major league club requires almost a willful ignorance (or perhaps for many just a plain ignorance) to how player development works in the minor leagues. For a handful of players, they'll race through the minor league system and settle into big league jobs at a young age, but those are the exceptions to the rule. It surely wasn't any different in 2009, back in the Minaya regime.
It's also important to point out that the draft strategies of these two regimes were entirely different. Look back at Minaya's draft history and you'll see a large number of college players, especially in the early rounds where the Mets were known for the dubious practice of drafting college relievers with high picks (take a look at the 2006 and 2007 drafts to see disastrous examples of this). During that period, the Mets took a college player five of six times with their first pick (incidentally, the one prep player they drafted with their first pick was Steven Matz), meaning they also should've expected results from their drafts quicker. As illustrated above, that wasn't really the case anyway.
The current regime, meanwhile, has placed a larger emphasis on prep players, drafting them with five of their first six draft picks each year. The only college player they drafted with their first pick in a draft was Michael Conforto, who likely will be the system's top prospect as soon as this offseason.
Now there is one caveat to this argument that some might bring up and that's the current success of the Astros and the Cubs, who have played better than the Mets thanks to their talented young players. While their rebuilding processes have been quicker than the Mets, it should be pointed out that both of those clubs essentially went through full-on tanks for draft picks since 2012, when GMs Jeff Luhnow and Theo Epstein took over their respective clubs.
From 2012-2015, the Astros have selected #1 overall three times before picking #2 overall this year, while the Cubs have picked no lower than #9 in the draft and topped out at #2 overall in 2013, when they selected star hitter Kris Bryant. In comparison, the Mets' highest pick under Alderson's regime was at #10 overall in 2014 and they haven't had a pick in the single digits since 2010 when they drafted Matt Harvey #7 overall. If you've followed the MLB draft, you likely know that the predictability of draft pick falls off considerably through the first 5-10 picks. If you want to disagree with the Mets' strategy of not going through a full tank for those coveted high picks, you absolutely can make that argument, but that's not typically the form that this argument takes (personally, I'd be there with you having seen what the Astros and Cubs look like now).
In sum, while there are plenty of perfectly valid areas in which to criticize Alderson's tenure as Mets general manager, complaining about the lack of young players on the current roster acquired by his regime is bogus. If you've followed the draft or know the way the minor leagues work at all, you realize how long the development process typically takes and the story of Alderson's draft picks likely won't be written for at least another five years after he leaves the GM chair of the Mets.
By that point, it'll be really interesting to see whether the media is championing Sandy's draft picks and complaining about the lack of young talent added by the next general manager.