Season Record: 70-74 (Pacific Coast League Pacific Southern Division, 3rd Place)
Cashman Field, home of the Las Vegas 51s, hosted something a little different in early April: a pair of exhibition games between the Mets and the Cubs in a rematch of the 2015 National League Championship series, a series in which the Mets dominated the National League Central champions. After the two-game series ended, Cashman Field returned to Wally Backman and the Las Vegas 51s, who were coming off a season in which they just fell short of the Pacific Coast League playoff picture.
The 51s never really got out of the box, playing .500 baseball for much of the season. Midway through the year, things got particularly poor for the team, due in part to the talent raid conducted by the Mets throughout the year to fill holes on the major league club due to injuries. The sub-.500 finish seemingly led to the resignation of Wally Backman, though the manager frequently clashed with the Mets’ front office regarding other matters, ranging from public comments about players to how he used those players during games.
Coming into the season, there were still too many questions regarding Brandon Nimmo’s ability to play quality baseball thanks to his relative rawness growing up in Wyoming and various injuries over the years that cost him developmental time. The high-octane offensive environment of the Pacific Coast League certainly played a major part in his excellent numbers, but Nimmo silenced many of his critics by having the best year of his minor league career, ending the season trailing only teammate T.J. Rivera for the Pacific Coast League batting title. Just as important, if not more so, was the lack of pronounced platoon splits in his success, a flaw in his game that has held him back.
An undrafted free agent signed in 2011, T.J. Rivera has done nothing but hit since becoming a member of the organization. All of the stars aligned for Rivera in 2016, and the utility infielder went on to have his best minor league season, winning the Pacific Coast League batting championship over teammates Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchnini. He played an important role in the Mets’ Wild Card push late in the year, and though he does not possess any one overwhelming tool outside of his ability to hit for average, he likely won’t be overlooked as a possible contributor going forward.
Though he ended the season with a 3.97 ERA, Gabriel Ynoa posted the 11th best ERA in the Pacific Coast League among all pitchers that qualified. That the league is so skewed against pitchers makes it all the more noteworthy that Ynoa maintained an ERA below 3.00 for two months. Not possessing the best stuff, the regression hit the Dominican right-hander hard in the second half of the season, but he was still able to turn in a respectable season.
Paul Sewald was the most reliable relief pitcher Wally Backman had to work with during the 2016 season. En route to converting 19 saves, the 2012 draft pick put up one of the best strikeout rates of his career while posting a reasonable walk rate.