In the process of getting to the World Series and being an active participant in the offseason, the Mets organization has gone through quite a bit of turnover in the past year. Several pitching prospects were traded as the team made its way into the postseason, former vice president of player development and scouting Paul DePodesta took a new job with the Cleveland Browns, and former bench coach Bob Geren departed to take the bench coach job with the Dodgers. Despite that turnover, the Mets sound confident about their short- and long-term outlook.
"Not much has changed. We’ve always had a lot of great people here," says Ian Levin, the team’s director of minor league operations. "It just gives them the opportunity to continue to expand what they’ve already been doing."
And with the Mets’ World Series appearance last year and high expectations heading into this season, the goal on the minor league side hasn't changed.
"Our goal today is the same as it was five years ago and the same it should be always: to develop players. So winning games in the minor leagues is nice. That’s certainly a nice byproduct of having good players, but at the end of the day, our goal is to get more Noah Syndergaards and Steven Matzes and Michael Confortos and get them up to the big leagues."
The Mets’ farm system has graduated several significant players recently, which partially explains why the team’s overall system isn’t as highly-touted as it was a year ago. ESPN’s Keith Law slotted the system in at sixteenth in Major League Baseball. Both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus had three Mets prospects on their top 100 and 101 lists, respectively. And because of the rules of prospect eligibility, Steven Matz is still considered eligible. He’s the team’s consensus top prospect heading into the season, even though he’s a major league player at this point.
"Those are opinion-based lists, and people are perfectly entitled to have their opinion. I know we’ve graduated a lot of players to the major league," says Levin, and he points out that those players are still having a big impact on the organization. And to add to his point a bit, it’s worth noting that Dilson Herrera isn’t prospect-eligible but is still very young and could have a bright future ahead of him.
What’s been impressive about the Mets' system over the past few years is that the major league graduations have gone so well, particularly with the pitchers—Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz—and Michael Conforto. None of them have returned to the minor leagues after making the jump. Levin credits the pitching coaches, including Frank Viola, for the pitchers' success.
"Glenn Abbott has worked with a lot of these guys, Ron Romanick, our pitching coordinator, has built a lot of these guys from the ground up, overseen their development for the last couple of years, his program is top notch, and it’s really given the foundation for these guys to have success. So when they do go up, they’re relying on all the things that our great coaches have kind of instilled in them, and they’re able to transition themselves to the major league level. And we’re lucky that once they’ve gotten there, they’ve been ready for it. But I think that’s the preparation they’ve received from our coaches."
As for the players in the system right now, Levin remains confident. He has little doubt about Dominic Smith, whose prospect stock varies widely depending on who you ask. Law ranked him 29th in all of baseball, ahead of Matz on his list, while BA and BP had him at 79 and 86, respectively. The knock on Smith’s play thus far in his minor league career has been his lack of home runs, particularly for a first baseman.
"If you look at him, you watch him in batting practice, and you see him play, he’s got plenty of strength. There’s plenty of home run power in there, and it’ll eventually show itself in games," says Levin. He mentions that Smith has played in very tough environments for left-handed home run power in Savannah and St. Lucie. Combine that with the power that he sees from Smith in practice, and Levin strongly believes the power will show itself in games.
Assuming Smith starts in Double-A Binghamton, which plays fairly neutral and slightly favorably to home run hitters, Smith's in-game power will be put to the test. If it doesn't show up this year, it'd be hard to chalk it up to offensive environment in which he's playing.
If the power does show up, Smith and some of the other highly-rated position player prospects—Amed Rosario and Gavin Cecchini, for example—could help the Mets be the perennial contender that the front office was hoping to build over the past few years. With the major league pitching staff looking as good as it does today, it's hard to imagine the team struggling anytime soon. But if there is, indeed, another Michael Conforto in the system, that'd be a big help in the mid-to-long-term future.
"I think we still have a lot of great players," says Levin. "And a lot of guys that are going to continue to make their way through the system and make that next wave of impact talent."