20. Andrew Church, RHP
Height: 6'2", Weight: 200 lbs.
DOB: 8/7/94 (22)
Acquired: 2nd round, 2013 Draft (Basic High School, Nevada)
2016: Columbia (Low-A): 9 G (9 GS), 56.2 IP, 38 H, 16 R, 14 ER (2.22 ERA), 10 BB, 52 K / St. Lucie (High-A): 6 G (6 GS), 35.0 IP, 31 H, 16 R, 14 ER (3.60 ERA), 14 H, BB, 22 K / Las Vegas (Triple-A): 1 G (1 GS), 4.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER (6.75 ERA), 1 BB, 4 K
The saga of Andrew Church has been a relatively strange one, and 2016 was no different. After falling off the radar thanks to injuries, Church resurfaced in 2016 and was highly effective in both Columbia, where he spent the bulk of the season, and St. Lucie. His fastball sits 89-91 MPH and touches as high as 95 MPH. Since being drafted, he has sidelined his curveball and instead replaced it with a slider that is more effective thanks to his arm slot. He rounds out his pitching repertoire with a changeup that is still very raw and is a work in progress.
We had largely written off the former second-round pick after he had floundered in extended spring training and short season ball since being drafted. He burst back onto the scene this year, dominating Low-A and holding his own in High-A. He features a fastball that can touch 95, but is probably more of a low 90s offering. His slider appears to be an above average offering, so that combination should get him to at least Double-A as a starter. If his changeup catches up to the slider, and the fastball settles in the higher range he’s shown, it could be an exciting profile.
Church reached Triple-A and posted good peripherals in his four-inning sample, but the rest of his minor league resume remains unimpressive. He also has yet to throw more than 100 innings in a season, making him a likely reliever at the next level. Close to major league ready pitching has some value though, and maybe Dan Warthen makes things play up.
I didn’t really know what to make of Church when the Mets drafted him in the second-round years ago, and to be honest, I still don’t know what to make of him. Despite solid numbers in 2016, I feel a bit pessimistic on Church. Nothing that he throws is exactly plus, his is still raw, and it’s not exactly like the right-hander has a track record. Still, he will be entering his age 22 season, and has time to refine his secondary pitches.
19. Merandy Gonzalez, RHP
Height: 6'1", Weight: 195 lbs.
DOB: 8/9/95 (21)
Acquired: IFA, 2013 (Dominican Republic)
2016: Brooklyn (Short-A): 14 G (14 GS), 69.0 IP, 65 H, 29 R, 22 ER (2.87 ERA), 27 BB, 71 K
Merandy Gonzalez followed up his successful stateside debut down south last season with another excellent season, this time in front of the crowds in Coney Island. Gonzalez’s stocky frame doesn’t lend to much future projection, but the right-hander does not need much, as he already fits the profile of a starting pitcher. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s, topping out as high as 97 MPH. The pitch has great life to it, but Gonzalez sometimes loses his control because he is unable to command it properly. Such bouts of ineffectiveness also had a negative impact on Gonzalez’ ability to stay on the field, as he sometimes was forced to leave starts early due to reaching organizational limits on pitches thrown per inning or per game.
He complements it with an inconsistent curveball that flashes plus at times. Sitting in the high-70s to low-80s, he can throw it for strikes or bury it out of the strike zone, but telegraphs the pitch to opposing batters by slowing down his arm action, making it more hittable than it should be. He rounds out his pitching repertoire with a changeup, but the pitch is crude and lags far behind his curveball in terms of development. It doesn’t have much fade or velocity differential from his fastball, and is, in effect, a slightly slower fastball at this point. The pitched looked better as compared to the very same pitch thrown in 2015, and seemed to improve as the 2016 season went on, meaning that his changeup may improve enough in the near future to be a semi-effective third pitch.
Merandy Gonzalez features one of the best fastballs in the system, touching 96 and sitting 93-94. He has a good curveball and an okay change, which is a good repertoire to have in the Mets’ system given their proclivity for gifting top prospects a slider. It’s a potential starter profile, and worthy of top 20 status in this system.
Getting past rookie ball for the first time, Gonzalez performed nicely over 69 innings, notching more than a strikeout per inning and controlling his walks. The fastball is big enough to work as a starter, but the secondaries are inconsistent. I think he’d move fast as a reliever, but there’s potential for a starter in here.
Merandy Gonzalez’ 2016 was not as exciting as teammate Harol Gonzalez’, but Merandy was no slouch either. It was interesting watching the two succeed in almost completely different ways, with Harol more finesse and Merandy more force. Merandy seems the kind of pitcher that flowers in this system, and it will be exciting to see how much the organization will be able to add to the already solid profile that he is working with.
18. Ricky Knapp, RHP
Height: 6'1", Weight: 215 lbs.
DOB: 5/20/92 (24)
Acquired: 8th round, 2013 Draft (Florida Gulf Coast University)
2016: St. Lucie (High-A): 16 G (15 GS), 105.1 IP, 95 H, 31 R, 25 ER (2.14 ERA), 22 BB, 64 K / Binghamton (Double-A): 6 G (6 GS), 40.1 IP, 31 H, 15 R, 13 ER (2.90 ERA), 10 BB, 40 K / Las Vegas (Triple-A): 3 G (3 GS), 18.0 IP, 22 H, 11 R, 11 ER (5.50 ERA), 7 BB, 11 K
In 2015, Ricky Knapp bounced around between the bullpen and the starting rotation before settling in and excelling as a starter. In 2016, he reprised his role as starter, making starts at three different levels. The son of Rick Knapp, a former pitching coach and coordinator for the Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals, and Las Angeles Dodgers, Ricky Knapp may not be the most physically gifted, but he makes up for that with a high pitching IQ. His fastball sits 88-92, but he commands the pitch well, pitches to the entire strike zone, and is able to add or subtract from it to fool the timing of hitters. He complements it with a variety of secondary pitches, none of which are plus, but neither are any of them terribly fringy, to the point of ineffectiveness. He hides his changeup well, and the pitch has just enough fade to fool batters sitting on the plane it approaches on. His slider and curveball have good movement, and Knapp often changes his arm slot and grip to produce different kinds of trajectories and break for both. His cutter is just enough to keep left-handed hitters honest and on their guard against it. All in all, Knapp has a high baseball IQ, and is a better pitcher than the sum of his individual pitches as a result.
My love of Knapp is well known, at least to the handful of people who listen to the podcast and read my work. It’s an aesthetically pleasing profile, featuring four clear pitches that he knows how to spin well. The fastball is 88-92, with plenty of slack in the delivery to think he can settle in at the high end of that range. If he does, it’s a likely fifth starter with room for more if the secondaries gain consistency.
I remain skeptical on Knapp. His strikeout rate reached interesting levels for a 40 inning stretch at Double-A, but that was sandwiched between unimpressive performances at Advanced-A and Triple-A (Vegas caveats and all). Dan Warthen has built an impressive resume at this point and I think he’ll need to work some more magic on Knapp if he’s to be anything more than a middle reliever.
I first noticed Knapp when he settled into the role of starter and found success in the second half of 2015, and I’ve been a fan since. Nothing the right-hander does will jump off the page at you, but he gets it done nonetheless. He does not have the highest ceiling, but the floor appears high enough to entertain the thought that he’d be able to get major league bats out, though because of his lack of plus-pitches, I don’t know if that will translate into a bullpen role.
17. Phil Evans, INF
Height: 5'9", Weight: 220 lbs.
DOB: 9/10/92 (24)
Acquired: 15th round, 2011 Draft (La Costa Canyon High School, California)
2016: St. Lucie (High-A): 9 G, 33 PA, .143/.273/.143, 0 HR, 0/0 SB, 9.1 strikeout rate, 15.2 walk rate / Binghamton (Double-A): 96 G, 386 PA, .335/.374/.485, 8 HR, 1/2 SB, 15.5 strikeout rate, 4.9 walk rate
The Mets had high hopes for Phil Evans when they drafted him in the 2011 Draft, but a few seasons of injury and ineffectiveness that saw him barely hitting his own weight—or in some cases, not even—decimated his value as a prospect. Evans reemerged with a vengeance in 2016, making the most of the opportunity he was afforded when fellow infielder Jeff McNeil sustained an injury by hitting .335, edging out Aneury Tavarez for the Eastern League batting title by .00012. Still only 24, Evans demonstrated that the potential in his bat when he was drafted is still there. He has an aggressive approach at the plate, using a short, quick stroke to make contact and put balls in play. Over the course of the 2016 season, Evans quietly transformed himself a bit as a hitter, spraying the ball across the entire field and hitting the ball to his pull side with more authority than ever before, keys to sustained success in the future. The changes are certainly reflected in the .384 BABIP he posted over the course of the season, but the question remains just how much of that high BABIP was luck. Defensively, Evans played second base, third base, and shortstop in 2016, but is probably best suited to second base, where his below average arm and range can be masked.
Evans had a breakout season in 2016, something that doesn’t usually happen in Double-A. But Evans has pedigree, and he put it all together this year. He features a short, compact swing that he uses to make a lot contact with his aggressive approach. He won’t walk much because he likes to swing, but it won’t matter much if he continues to make contact at the rate he did this past year. Defensively, he profiles as more of a second or third baseman who can spot you at short in a pinch. It wouldn’t surprise me if Evans makes his major league debut in 2017.
Evan moved up a level to Double-A and dominated, posting a 140 wRC+. A lot of that was BABIP driven, but minor league BABIP is somewhat informative and Evans was spraying line drives all over the place. That .384 mark isn’t going to stick, but it could come down 50 points and still leave Evans as an intriguing infield utility piece that’s relatively close to major league ready.
There’s no doubt that Evans had a great year in Binghamton, but it’s going to take more than one year with a high BABIP to convince me that Evans has turned the corner, especially given how poorly the middle infielder performed in years past. Given the plethora of middle infield options the Mets have clustered near the top, Evans’ reemergence could not come at a more inopportune time to set himself apart from the pack.
16. Peter Alonso, 1B
Height: 6'3", Weight: 225 lbs.
DOB: 12/7/94 (21)
Acquired: 2nd round, 2016 Draft (University of Florida)
2016: 30 G, 123 PA, .321/.382/.587, 5 HR, 0/1 SB, 17.9 strikeout rate, 8.9 walk rate
As an advanced college hitter coming from a division where he regularly faced competition equal to or better than what he saw in the NY-Penn League, Peter Alonso looked like a man among boys. Though his season was cut short to 30 games thanks to his presence in the College World Series with the University of Florida and a broken pinky in early August he led the team in slugging and tied for most home runs- a category he almost certainly would have found himself among league leaders if he qualified with enough at-bats. Alonso’s calling card is power- the right-hander has multiple tape-measure home runs under his belt, and regularly produces major league caliber exit velocity on balls he makes contact on. Therein lies the rub: against premium velocity and more developed breaking balls, the first baseman may struggle to make contact. His swing mechanics are often out of sync, opening his hips early and starting his leg lift too early, leaving his upper half struggling to catch up. Combined with a long swing with bat speed that, while adequate, is not elite, the first baseman may have difficulties making contact. If he demonstrates he can, though, he should remain a middle-of-the-order power threat. Defensively, the right-handed first baseman is athletic enough to adequately man first, though he is limited to the position.
Alonso features the best raw power in the system, but he’ll need to work on his swing if he wants to tap into that power against more advanced competition. His swing is long, and he doesn’t have the bat speed to compensate. If he makes some adjustments--eliminating the hitch, getting shorter and more direct to the ball--he could end up one of the more exciting prospects in the system.
Everyone loves dingerz, and Alonso’s best attribute is his power. However, the swing is long (even to my untrained eye) and he’ll need significant refinement to succeed as he moves up the ladder. Even then there might just not be enough bat speed. That being said, right hand power is always great and something the Mets have been sorely lacking in recent memory. The chance at a righty power bat at first is intriguing.
This right here, this is big Pete Alonso, and he’s got tons of power, and you can’t teach that. I’m higher on Alonso than most, but I believe in the bat and that the changes that need to be made will be made. Alonso isn’t a second-rate player that got by on smoke and mirrors; the right-hander was an elite player on an elite college team. He would not have been able to get to where he was without understanding the game and listening to his coaches, and I do not doubt that he will continue to when they work with him to improve his swing.