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Mets Minor League Players of the Week: Week Fourteen

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What minor league players put up the best numbers this past week, July 8th to July 14th?

Blake Tiberi
Steve Sypa

Pitcher of the Week

Jason Vargas

2018 Season: 9 G (9 GS), 37.2 IP, 55 H, 36 R, 36 ER (8.60 ERA), 14 BB, 32 K (MLB)

Week: 2 G (1 GS), 12 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 19 K (Short-A)

Vargas is clearly healed from his calf strain, having been able to pitch two rehab games with no problem. The question is whether or not he will be able to have success against Major League-caliber hitters. In 37.2 innings before the injury, he struggled mightily, so it will be interesting to see if he will be able to get back on track in the second half. He sustained a hamate injury in his right hand earlier in the year and spent time on the disabled list in April because of it, but because the injury was to his non-pitching hand, it should not have affected his performance on the field when he got back on it.

With a 39-55 record, if the Mets want to entertain being competitive in the second half, Vargas being able to keep the team in games will be an important part of that. Jacob deGrom has pitched just about as well as any pitcher in Mets history through 19 starts, Noah Syndergaard has been electrifying when healthy, and Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler have been solid after shaky starts to the season. While they haven’t been the Mets’ biggest weakness, the team has not been able to find a dependable replacement for Vargas. If the southpaw is able to return to action and give the Mets quality innings every time he takes the mound, that would be a big boon for the team.

If, going forward, Vargas shows that he is unable to pitch at an acceptable level, Seth Lugo should be the first to step in to fill his place. While Lugo has been extremely valuable in the bullpen, he is the only candidate to have had success while filling in as an injury replacement; in five starts, Lugo pitched 23.0 innings and has a 3.91 ERA, with 24 hits, 6 walks, and 27 strikeouts. In four starts, Corey Oswalt pitched 17.2 innings and has a 6.11 ERA, with 14 hits, 6 walks, and 11 strikeouts. In two starts, PJ Conlon pitched 5.2 innings and has a 11.12 ERA, with 12 hits, 2 walks, and 2 strikeouts. In one start, Chris Flexen pitched 6.1 innings and has a 12.79 ERA, with 14 hits, 6 walks, and 3 strikeouts. In one start, Drew Gagnon pitched 4.2 innings and has 11.57, with 7 hits, 1 walk, and 3 strikeouts. The Mets have been hesitant to move Lugo out of the bullpen because he has been extremely effective there, but if Vargas is not effective in the second half, they may have their hand forced.

Hitter of the Week

Blake Tiberi

2018 Season: 80 G, 287 AB, .258/.376/.352, 13 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 26 RBI, 53 BB, 60 K, 5/6 SB (Low-A)

Week: 5 G, 21 AB, .381/.435/.667, 3 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K, 1/1 SB (Low-A)

Drafted in the third-round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of the University of Louisville, Blake Tiberi has yet to really find his footing as a professional. After hitting .340/.387/.553 in 64 games as a member of the Cardinals, Tiberi was assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones and hit .235/.316/.316 in 56 games that summer. He was promoted to the Columbia Fireflies for the 2017 season, and the season began on a strong note with a three-hit night on opening day, but things took a dramatic turn for the worst. He hit the disabled list with arm soreness a few days later, and after being activated a few weeks later, hit the disabled list again. This time, Tommy John surgery was in order, and his 2017 season was a wash. The infielder successfully returned to the field this past April and has been the ironman of the Fireflies, playing in 80 of their 92 games, most on the team.

A third-round pick, Tiberi signed for $500,000, slightly below the slot-value of $596,600. He was not seen as a dump pick designed to save money and had some upside. As a hitter, many evaluators saw his bat and pure ability to hit comparable to the best in the draft class. His ability to hit for power was questionable, but no one doubted his ability to put barrel on ball. Defensively, he was a bit of a mixed bag, excelling in some aspects of the hot corner and having trouble with others. More specifically, he possessed soft hands and an average-to-above-average arm, but his first-step quickness and range were lacking.

Since becoming a professional, he has taken very few steps forward strengthening the weakest aspects of his game and has taken steps back in his strongest. Considered a plus hitter, Tiberi posted a .235 batting average in Brooklyn in 2016 and currently has a .258 this season. While exhaustion from the 2016 collegiate season certain could be pointed to as a reason for his poor performance with the Cyclones, this does not explain his 2018 numbers. A preponderance of ground balls helps explain both poor numbers. In 2016, he had a 55.6 % ground ball percentage. In 2018, he possesses a 35.5 % ground ball percentage. All of the ground balls have contributed to very low BABIPs, explaining his low batting line- in 2016, he had a .265 BABIP and so far this season, he has a .318 BABIP. He is hitting more line drives this season, which can explain why his batting average is up slightly, but the infielder hits too many ground balls, and needs to elevate the ball more in order to see more success in the future.

In-game power was a question mark when Tiberi was drafted, and the left-hander has done little to assuage concerns. Outside of his 2016 season at Louisville, when he hit 10 home runs and slugged .553 in 64 games, he has never displayed much in-game power. In 2015, at Louisville, he hit 4 home runs and slugged .424 in 45 games. In his first year as a professional with the Brooklyn Cyclones, he hit 2 home runs and slugged .316 in 56 games. In 80 games this season with the Columbia Fireflies, he has hit 4 home runs and slugged .352. Given that third base is traditionally a source of power in the infield, the relative lack of power is a big mark against Tiberi’s ability to progress as a professional.

Tiberi’s eye and aggressiveness at the plate shown the most improvement from his collegiate days. In his 2016 season, he posted a 6.7% walk rate. While that is not bad in a vacuum, especially since his strikeout rate was a 7.4%, many believed that he would have trouble drawing walks as a professional. This has turned out not to be the case, and Tiberi has actually improved in that regard. As a Brooklyn Cyclone, he walked at a 9.8% rate and so far this season, he is walking at an impressive 14.9% rate. He has not expanded the strike zone much in an attempt to notch hits and improve his batting line either, as he possesses roughly a 1:1 strikeout:walk ratio.

Past Players of the Week

WEEK ONE 2018 (April 5-14): Justin Dunn/Ty Kelly

WEEK TWO 2018 (April 15-21): Chris Viall/Quinn Brodey

WEEK THREE 2018 (April 22-28): Chris Viall & Tony Dibrell/Peter Alonso

WEEK FOUR 2018 (April 29-May 5): Marcel Renteria/Jeff McNeil

WEEK FIVE 2018 (May 5-May 12): David Peterson/Jhoan Urena

WEEK SIX 2018 (May 13-May 19): Joe Cavallaro/Jeff McNeil

WEEK SEVEN 2018 (May 20-May 26): Mickey Jannis/Peter Alonso

WEEK EIGHT 2018 (May 27-JUNE 2): N/A

WEEK NINE 2018 (JUNE 3-JUNE 9): N/A

WEEK TEN 2018 (JUNE 10-JUNE 16): Justin Dunn/Wilmer Flores

WEEK ELEVEN 2018 (JUNE 17-JUNE 23): Nabil Crismatt/Peter Alonso

WEEK TWELVE 2018 (JUNE 24-JUNE 30): Drew Gagnon/Jeff McNeil

WEEK THIRTEEN 2018 (JULY 1-JUNE 7): Jaison Vilera/Jeff McNeil