Evaluating hitters is hard. Unless they hit a lot. Then it’s easy. Steve Sypa and I recently discussed the intricacies of evaluating hitters on the podcast. We like guys with simple, quick, short swings. It helps if you can hit, too, but sometimes that’s hard to tell. The question looms: how do we evaluate hitters without scouting the stat line? I don’t have a great answer for this, but I can explore the question as we look at the state of the farm’s position players.
Potential future all-stars
Amed Rosario, SS
Rosario is the test case Steve and I discussed on the podcast recently, and with good reason. There were many who doubted our placement of Rosario over Gavin Cecchini on the preseason top 25 prospect list. The argument was that he never hit better than league average in any of his spots. It doesn’t take an in-person look to note that he was young for his level at all those stops and that holding his own in those leagues was actually quite impressive. It does help to see him play, see the elite bat speed, see the contact ability, see the glove. Then it starts to make sense. You can see how after some physical maturation and an adjustment period, this kid might hit—a lot.
And that’s just what happened this year. Rosario carved up High-A and then continued to rake when called up to Double-A. He did all this as one of the youngest players in the league. He did all of this because he has perhaps the fastest bat I’ve seen in the minors (I haven’t seen that much). You can’t pitch him inside because he can turn on pretty much anything. He can also take the ball the other way if need be. It’s forced pitchers to pitch him with more care, and Rosario, to his credit, was much more confident and selective at the plate this season. It helps that he is a plus runner and plays a good shortstop, too. That makes it hard not to get overly excited about Rosario. He’s the future shortstop of the New York Mets and could be as soon as early next season.
Desmond Lindsay, OF
I don’t throw Lindsay into this category with anywhere near the same confidence as Rosario, but I think he belongs here all the same. The first thing you notice about Lindsay is his physique; he’s built like a strong safety. And before too long you’ll also notice he wasn’t fully healthy this year. He was held back in extended spring training nursing another hamstring injury, and it was clear he wasn’t fully recovered or confident in the leg to open things up. He was supposed to be a plus runner when the Mets drafted him, so if he can ever get the leg healthy he should be able to play a decent center field, given his athleticism. With the bat, Lindsay has an advanced approach, displaying good plate discipline and plus bat speed. And with his physique, there’s power to dream on. At just 19 years old, Lindsay is the highest-upside outfielder in the system.
Potentially average regulars
An average regular is a guy who plays every day and ends up as about two-win player, as measured by WAR. Think Daniel Murphy before he turned into Babe Ruth. In the parlance of the industry, an average regular is a role-50 player, according to the 20-80 scouting scale.
Dominic Smith, 1B
I’ve written about Smith being a polarizing prospect previously, and he still is, though the range of disagreement has condensed in the past year or so. It doesn’t seem to be a question of if Smith will be a major leaguer, the question is now how good a major leaguer will he be? I suppose I come down on the lower end of that spectrum. I don’t see a star, or even a player as good as Lucas Duda from 2014-2015. Smith debuted a surprising amount of power this year out of his undersized—but sturdy—six-foot frame. It’s also surprising because he doesn’t have elite bat speed. It’s a smooth, controlled swing that is often geared towards going to the opposite field. He has an open stance and is often leaning towards first base as he punches the ball to the opposite field. He has a good eye at the plate and is able to be patient and wait for his pitch. In the field, Smith has smooth actions at first and is good around the bag. He will be a solid-fielding first baseman, albeit with limited range to his right. At present, my concerns about Smith are his ability to handle major league velocity and the limited power potential that is a function of his size, swing, and approach.
Tomas Nido, C
After Thomas Szapucki, Nido was the most surprising breakout player in the Mets’ system. Having not hit much at all in any of his previous stops, he busted out for High-A St. Lucie in 2016, hitting an eye-popping .320/.357/.459. There’s some scouting the stat line here, but we also have this scouting report from Baseball Prospectus and the video found therein. The scouting report is glowing, giving an above average regular OFP (overall future potential) grade to Nido. The video of his batting shows a player who moves his hands a lot but ultimately settles them into an ideally loaded position. He has an extreme weight transfer, which would seem to help add power to his swing without sacrificing his ability to make contact due to a small leg kick and relatively muted stride. His bat speed appears to be above average. Those last few sentences make it sound like I know what I’m talking about, but it’s really just informed guessing while trying to back into a stat line. But it does appear if you add up all the available information you have an interesting prospect who seemingly came out of nowhere.
High risk, high reward
Andres Gimenez, SS
The Mets signed the Venezuelan short stop for $1.2 million at the 2015 July 2 deadline. He spent all of 2016 playing in the Dominican Summer League, hitting a robust .350/.469/.523 while walking twice as often as he struck out. The recent release of Vicente Lupo should teach us not to get overly excited when scouting the stat line of the Dominican Summer League, but Lupo never had the scouting reports to back up the numbers. Ben Badler of Baseball America either saw Gimenez in 2016 or had reports from people who had, and he wrote glowingly about him throughout the year. With this kind of player, one who few people have actually seen, it’s impossible for me to project anything beyond “high upside”. All I can do is gather the available information and present it. For what it’s worth, the Mets are saying great things about him, but this is what you would expect them to do. Entering his age-18 season, Gimenez will come stateside this year, most likely staying in extended spring training before debuting with Kingsport.
Luis Carpio, SS/2B
Carpio missed almost all of 2016 following a torn labrum that seems likely to move his future home to the right side of the infield. There’s nothing to add to our preseason write up; it’s an advanced approach at the plate and a sure middle infielder, but probably a second baseman now given the injury to his throwing arm. A year missed at a critical age is not good. Carpio will still be just 19 years old, though, at the start of next season, so there’s still plenty to dream on here.
Potential part-time/bench players
There are quite a few players who fit this profile in the Mets’ system at present. That’s a good thing. You need as many of these players as possible so you can prevent the Eric Campbells of the world from getting at-bats. Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini both fall into this category, but I have prospect fatigue with them and don’t want to write about them again (I’m bullish on Nimmo generally, bullish on Cecchini’s bat, and hella bearish on Cecchini’s glove).
Peter Alonso, 1B
The most impressive thing I heard about Alonso, the Mets’ 2016 second round draft pick, was his opposite field home run to right field at MCU Park, straight into the ocean wind. That’s some serious pop. I’ve also heard that his swing is going to need some work. My biggest concern with the swing is a pronounced hitch, which is basically just some extra hand movement as he loads up to swing. This adds length to the swing which will affect his ability to catch up with better velocity. Still, he’s very strong and has some of the best power in the system, and an offseason working with the Mets’ coaches could help him tap into that power even further.
Phil Evans, 2B/3B
Evans had the season I thought Jeff McNeil was going to have. After struggling for years, he broke out by hitting .335/.374/.485 at Double-A in his sixth season in the system. Evans has an aggressive approach and likes to swing. It’s a short, quick swing that makes a lot of contact and has surprising power. He’s on the short side at five-feet, ten-inches, but he is a solid five-ten. His body is thick and strong, something that may limit his utility up the middle going forward. I could use a live look at his defense to get a better feel for how he’ll be out there, but I didn’t notice any huge red flags. It would surprise me if Evans makes his major league debut next year, because hopefully there will be several better options ahead of him, but a 2018 ETA in a TJ Rivera-ish role isn’t out of the question.
Other potentially interesting players
I haven’t seen catching prospect Ali Sanchez play at all, but Jeff Paternostro loves him, so take that for what it’s worth. He should start next year in full season ball down in Columbia. The aforementioned Jeff McNeil could have an Evans-like breakout in Double-A next season, provided he’s fully recovered from his sports hernia surgery. Outfielder Wuilmer Becerra had a weird year in St. Lucie, hitting for a ton of average but no power before going down to a shoulder injury that may explain some of the weirdness. If he’s fully recovered he could begin the season in Double-A Binghamton.
I would be reaching if I continued this list any further, but I think it’s apparent that there’s some quality position player talent in the system. There seems to be a good mix of premium talent, high upside players who are years away, and potential role players who are at or near the major league level at present.
Looking at the system as a whole, the state of the farm is good. The Mets have several players who will likely help the 2017 team on the field, such as Robert Gsellman, Rosario, Nimmo, Smith, and Cecchini. There’s a pipeline of talent behind that, including young, high upside guys like Lindsay, Gimenez, and Thomas Szapucki. And then there’s a dozen or so prospects beyond that who could end up playing in the majors some day, or get traded for Kelly Johnson. Given the distribution of talent in the system, I expect the state of the farm to remain healthy for the next couple years.