With Major League Baseball’s amateur draft coming up on June 12, we thought it would be fun to go back in time and look at how things might have turned out in the Sandy Alderson era if the Mets had taken the player I wanted them to take rather than the one they did—assuming there was a difference between those players.
Mets Pick: Brandon Nimmo (13th overall)
I Wanted: Brandon Nimmo (13th overall)
I didn’t follow the draft as closely, Nimmo was considered an out-of-the-box but high-upside pick coming into the draft. After the top two consensus prep outfielders of Bubba Starling and Josh Bell, Nimmo was widely considered to be the third-best high school outfield prospect. He was a well-rounded athlete with an advanced approach at the plate and raw power and fielding ability that many believed would grow into and refine. In the years since, Nimmo never developed the in-game power he was believed to have been capable of developing, and injuries have sapped some of his speed in the field and on the basepaths. But the young outfielder from Wyoming is just beginning his baseball career and still has time to establish his baseball legacy.
Optimal Pick: Jose Fernandez (14th overall, Florida Marlins)
Selected one pick after Nimmo, Jose Fernandez looked to be on his way to being a perennial star before his untimely and tragic death in September 2016. The Cuban refugee was drafted one selection after the Mets’ pick out of Braulio Alonso High School down in Tampa, Florida. The Marlins were impressed by his fastball/curveball combo, two plus pitches that were already good enough to strike out hitters in the major leagues. He was dominant in 2012 and came into the 2013 season as one of the top prospects in baseball.
Following a Marlins fire sale, the 20-year-old unexpectedly made Florida’s Opening Day roster that year, and not only did he survive, he flourished. He posted a 2.19 ERA (176 ERA+) in 172.2 innings, allowing 111 hits, walking 58, and striking out 187. He made the National League All-Star Team, placing third in the voting for the National League Cy Young Award, and winning the National League Rookie of the Year vote. Tommy John surgery cost him most of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, but when he returned to the mound full time in 2016, Fernandez did not miss a beat. In 182.1 innings, the right-hander posted a 2.86 ERA (139 ERA+), allowing 149 hits, walking 55, and striking out 253. He made the National League All-Star Team and placed seventh on the National League Cy Young Award ballot.
Mets Pick: Gavin Cecchini (12th overall)
I Wanted: Courtney Hawkins (13th overall)
Power is something that you can’t teach. You can tweak the mechanics of a player’s swing or his stance at the plate, but a guy either has it or he doesn’t. Courtney Hawkins has plenty of it, and in spades. Thanks to a strong frame, strong wrists and excellent bat speed, he had plus power. In addition, he was athletic enough to play center field and had a strong arm. He was far from a flawless player, as many had concerns about his pitch recognition and swing-and-miss tendencies, and some believed that he would grow out of center. The White Sox didn’t do Hawkins any favors when they put him on an extremely aggressive developmental schedule, promoting him to their High-A affiliate just weeks after graduating high school. Predictably, he was horribly overmatched, and his baseball trajectory suffered as a result—to the point that there Hawkins virtually has no shot at a meaningful major league career.
In my world, the Mets don’t rush him like the White Sox did, and he learns some control with his bat. Instead, they are conservative with the outfielder, starting him in Kingsport and keeping him there the entire year. In 2013, he is promoted to the Brooklyn Cyclones, where his 15 home runs broke Corey Vaughn’s 2010 record of 14. In 2014, he is assigned to the Savannah Sand Gnats and provides a source of power that the team badly needs, punishing Historic Greyson Stadium in the same way Aderlin Rodriguez had in 2011 and 2012. He is promoted midseason to the St. Lucie Mets, but there, the holes in his swing start getting exploited by more advanced pitching. He begins the 2015 season with the St. Lucie Mets once again but is promoted to the Binghamton Mets midseason as he becomes more comfortable talking a walk. He struggles in his first taste in Double-A ball, his already high strikeout rate skyrocketing even higher. He repeats in Binghamton to start the 2016 season and remains there for the entire year. His strikeout rate remains extremely high, but his pitch recognition improves and he learns to draw walks, mitigating his swing-and-miss issues. In September, he receives a cup of coffee and a handful of pinch hitting assignments down the stretch for the Wild Card contenders. He only manages one hit in nine at-bats, but that hit is a towering moonshot that demonstrates the latent power in Hawkins’ bat. He competes in spring training but does not make the Opening Day roster for 2017 and is assigned to the Las Vegas 51s. There, he gets on a run and crushes six home runs in April, prompting unsatisfied Mets fans to call for his promotion in the wake of Curtis Granderson’s slow start to the season.
Optimal Pick: Corey Seager (18th overall)
Despite being selected with 18th draft pick in the 2012 draft, Corey Seager is currently second only to first overall pick Carlos Correa in terms of value generated for his team. At the time, the younger Seager brother was a tall, lean line drive machine, expected to grow into additional in-game power as his frame filled in. Despite his size, he was a plus runner, was rangy, had an excellent arm, and had the tools to be a defensive standout at third base. Because he was an excellent student in high school, many feared he would stay true to his commitment to South Carolina, but the Dodgers were able to convince him to forego college thanks to a $2.35 million signing bonus.
Seager did nothing but impress from the moment he stepped on the field as a professional. His tools translated into elite performance on the field, and he was unanimously considered the number one prospect in baseball by the major publications going into the 2016 season. After a cup of coffee in 2015, Seager began the 2016 season as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ full-time shortstop, and the 22-year-old excelled, hitting .308/.365/.512 in 157 games. He was elected to the National League All-Star Team, was named the National League Rookie of the Year, received NL MVP votes, and won a Silver Slugger Award.
Mets Pick: Dominic Smith (11th overall)
I Wanted: Rob Kaminsky (28th overall)
We’re all human, and as such, we have biases. In regards to baseball, I am and have always been more attracted to the pitching side of things. Getting more specific, there’s nothing more beautiful than a 12-6 curveball. It’s no coincidence that I wore 32 when I played little league as a kid. There’s a reason I was on the sign-Barry Zito bandwagon back in 2007. I have a folder of Clayton Kershaw GIFs. When helium elevated Rob Kaminsky to being projected to be selected somewhere in the late first-round, I couldn’t resist. Yeah, it would have been a bit of a stretch, but we all have our biases.
Though a bit on the shorter side at 5’11”, 190 lbs., Kaminsky’s fastball generally sat in the low 90s, topping out at 95 MPH, which is a bit above average for a left-hander. Complementing the fastball was a curveball that is an absolute beast of a pitch, a high-70s curve with sharp 12-6 break that Baseball America called at the time “number one among high schoolers.” He had a feel for his third pitch, a changeup, but rarely threw it. Mechanically, the New Jersey native was clean, and he was projected to be able to command all three pitches and stay healthy, though concerns about his size and durability over the course of a 30+ start season invariably came up.
In a world where the Mets draft and sign Rob Kaminsky, he impresses early, looking dominant in Kingsport. In 2014 he is assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones, and along with Marcos Molina, Casey Meisner, and Corey Oswalt, forms the strongest pitching staff wearing Brooklyn uniforms since the 2012 team that boasted Luis Cessa, Rainy Lara, Luis Mateo, Gabriel Ynoa, and Hansel Robles. He meets his first real test in 2015 when he is assigned to the St. Lucie Mets to start the year. After a few weeks of scuffling, the Mets receiving sobering news- Kaminsky tore his UCL and needs Tommy John surgery. The left-hander decides against attempting to rehab it and undergoes the procedure late in that spring, missing the rest of the 2015 season and the start of the 2016 season. He returns to the field late in May 2016, but his tenure with the organization is once again cut short, as he is traded after the waiver deadline to Atlanta along with Akeel Morris in exchange for Kelly Johnson in early June.
Optimal Pick: J.P. Crawford (16th overall)
With their first pick, the Philadelphia Phillies drafted the top prep shortstop in the 2013 MLB Draft, J.P. Crawford. At the time, the infielder from Lakewood, California showed no standout tools, but instead was average or slightly above average all around the board. He showed good defensive instincts and it looked like he would be able to handle the defensive rigors of the position as he aged. His speed graded out at average, as did his hit tool and the potential ability to hit for power, making him solid both defensively and offensively.
After an impressive showing that saw him hit a combined .285/.375/.406 between Low-A and Advanced-A as a 19-year-old in 2014, Crawford shot up to the top of most industry top prospect lists. After an equally impressive 2015 split between Advanced-A and Double-A, the infielder found himself in the top ten on most industry top prospect lists. His stock took a hit when his bat struggled in 2016 against Double-A and Triple-A pitching, but thanks to a high-ceiling defensive foundation and an advanced hit tool, the shortstop remains one of the top prospects in baseball.
Mets Pick: Michael Conforto (10th overall)
I Wanted: Touki Toussaint (16th overall, Arizona Diamondbacks)
Remember what I said above about curveballs? Hello.
Toussaint threw a fastball that sat in the low-to-mid 90s, occasionally touching 97 and 98 MPH, with plenty of life. He complemented what was a plus fastball with a curveball that could legitimately be called plus-plus, a vicious 12-6 breaker widely considered to be the best secondary pitch of any pitcher, prep or college, in the 2014 draft class. In addition, his arsenal contained a cutter and a change-up, but both pitches lagged far behind in their development as compared to his fastball and curveball.
Despite possessing two legitimate plus pitches, Toussaint certainly had flaws in his game, and the most glaring one was his command. In addition to his fastball having plenty of life and his curveball plenty of drop, mechanical issues in his delivery often resulted in an inconsistent release point, leading to poor control.
In a world where the Mets draft and sign Touki Toussaint, the Haitian right-hander goes on to fulfill much of the lofty promise heaped upon him. In 2014, he splits his time with the GCL Mets and the Kingsport Mets, but it isn’t until his 2015 season with the Brooklyn Cyclones that he becomes a household name among Mets fans. There, he sets the Brooklyn Cyclones record for most strikeouts in a season, breaking Brad Holt’s record of 96 punchouts. On the flip side, he walks an excessive amount of batters. After his dominant season in Brooklyn, he goes on to have a similar season with the Columbia Fireflies in 2016. During spring training 2017, he gets some advice from Dan Warthen and Frank Viola and makes some adjustments to his mechanics, and once the 2017 season begins, he cuts his walk rate by roughly 25% as he begins the year with St. Lucie.
Optimal Pick: Michael Conforto (10th overall)
A few weeks ago, I would have said that Trea Turner was the optimal pick. Coming into the 2017 season, the Nationals’ dual center fielder and middle infielder hit .329/.361/.539 with 14 home runs and 35 stolen bases in 43 attempts, accruing 3.4 fWAR/3.9 bWAR in 100 games. During that same period, Michael Conforto’s major league resume looked a bit less impressive, hitting .238/.319/.448 with 21 home runs as he accrued 3.4 fWAR/2.5 bWAR, making deciding who has been the better pick a bit difficult.
In 2017 thus far, the two players have had very different seasons, leading Conforto to have the edge. The Mets’ outfielder seems to have finally figured things out, and is on pace to have an All-Star season.
Mets Pick: N/A
I Wanted: ???
I have no problem with the Desmond Lindsay pick, but at the 53rd pick overall, there were too many variables for me to speculate who might still be available to form an opinion.
Optimal Pick: Not signing Michael Cuddyer
In November 2014, Michael Cuddyer signed a two-year with the Mets worth $21 million. In doing so, the Mets surrendered their first-round draft pick, shifting it to the Colorado Rockies in compensation for losing their former outfielder. In 117 games, the veteran hit .259/.309/.391, and during the postseason, he notched one hit in 11 at-bats, walking once and striking out seven times. Following the Mets’ World Series appearance, Cuddyer retired from baseball.
Mets Pick: Justin Dunn (19th overall)
I Wanted: T.J. Zeuch (21st overall, Toronto Blue Jays)
The two players I liked the most, Alex Kiriloff and Blake Rutherford were snatched up at 15 and 18 by the Twins and Yankees, respectively, so I would have selected the best pitcher I felt was still left on the board, University of Pittsburgh right-hander T.J. Zeuch. Standing 6’7” and weighing in at 225 lbs, Zeuch possessed an explosive fastball, sitting in the low-to-mid 90s and topping out as high as 97 MPH. Thanks to his size, he throws downhill, giving his fastball a great deal of sink, leading to a preponderance of groundball—he posted 76.4 and 71.4% ground ball rates, to be exact, in his NCAA and MiLB stints in 2016, respectively.
His slider, taught to him by his father, a standout college pitcher at California State University at Northridge whose career never took off due to a torn rotator cuff, also stood out as a plus pitch. The rest of his arsenal, a curveball and a changeup, lagged behind in their progression, but this is generally the case when it comes to newly-drafted prospects and minor leaguers. Thanks to his father’s wisdom and guidance, the young right-hander was mechanically sound and has grew up being properly cared for as a pitcher care.
In a world where the Mets draft and sign T.J. Zeuch, he is assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones and helps guide the team to a finish over the .500 mark, avoiding a second-consecutive finish below .500 after avoiding it for more than a decade. In 2017, he is assigned to the St. Lucie Mets.
Optimal Pick: Delvin Perez (23rd overall, St. Louis Cardinals)
An industry-consensus top-ten talent for much of the lead-up to the 2016 draft, it was revealed only days before the actual draft that Delvin Perez had supposedly failed a test for performance enhancing drugs. Though there were no questions about the toolsy shortstop’s ability to play defense, there were already questions about his bat—and the steroid allegations certainly did not help—and some questioned his work ethic.
Numerous teams passed on the youngster, but the Cardinals bit, selecting him with the 23rd pick. In his first taste of professional baseball, the 17-year-old hit .294/.352/.393 in 43 games for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, maintaining strong peripherals and stealing 12 bases in 13 attempts. Combined with the glowing reviews his defense gets, the Cardinals may very well have gotten the best early returns on last year’s draft.