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Mets Minor League Players of the Week: Week Twenty

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What minor league players put up the best numbers this past week, August 19th to August 25th?

Jarred Kelenic
Steve Sypa

Pitcher of the Week

Christian James

2018 Season: 14 G (14 GS), 75.2 IP, 59 H, 21 R, 14 ER (1.67 ERA), 18 BB, 49 K (Short-A/High-A/Double-A)

Week: 1 G (1 GS), 8.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K (Short-A)

Christian James
Steve Sypa

In 2016, the Mets drafted and successfully signed five high school pitchers: Cameron Planck in the tenth round, Matt Cleveland in the eleventh round, Christian James in the fourteenth round, Dariel Rivera in the twenty-fourth round, Eric Villanueva in the thirtieth round, and Garrison Bryant in the thirty-sixth round. Of the five, Christian James has had the best career thus far.

After being drafted, the East Lake High School product tossed 17.1 innings with the GCL Mets that year and posted a 0.52 ERA, allowing 11 hits, walking 5, and striking out 15. He was assigned to the Kingsport Mets in 2017 and had a solid year by any measure of the stick. He made 11 starts and in them, he posted a 4.18 ERA in 51.2 IP, allowing 54 hits, walking 16, and striking out 58. Because of his profile as a pitcher and the stats he posted with Kingsport, Amazin’ Avenue named James the Mets’ 20th top prospect.

James’ 2018 began at the end of May, in a spot start for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. The 20-year-old pitched well, giving up a run over four innings, allowing 3 hits, walking 1, and striking out 4. A week later, he made another spot start, this time with the St. Lucie Mets. He pitched well once again, giving up an unearned run over five innings, allowing one hit, walking none, and striking out 5. A few weeks later, he was named the opening day starter for the Brooklyn Cyclones. He has 12 starts under his belt for Brooklyn so far this season, and currently has a 1.76 ERA in 66.2 IP, allowing 55 hits, walking 17, and striking out 40.

His 1.76 ERA is currently second in the New York-Penn League among qualified starters, with only teammate Jaison Vilera posting a lower ERA. His FIP is a bit more unsightly, at 4.05. The main reason for the huge difference between ERA and FIP is James’ strikeout rate. The right-hander currently has a 15% strikeout percentage/5.4 strikeouts per nine innings. In roughly the same amount of innings last season with the Kingsport Mets, James struck out 58 batters in 51.2 IP, which came out to a 25.7 strikeout percentage/10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. His walk rate and home run rate are roughly the same as they were in 2017; only the strikeouts have dropped. Having seen James pitch this season, the drop in his strikeout rate is certainly tied to a pitching repertoire that was less-than-advertised, and almost certainly diminished in quality as compared to prior seasons.

At the time of the 2016 Draft, James possessed a fastball that sat in the high-80s-to-low-90s and topped out as high as 94 MPH, a loopy curveball in the high-60s, a sharper slider thrown in the high-70s, and a changeup. Having seen James pitch multiple times, spread out in starts between June and July, the right-hander’s fastball has been nothing like the one he possessed when he was first drafted. It sat 88-90, touching 91 a handful of times, and featured slight arm-side movement. The rest of his repertoire was true to the information I researched when he was drafted. His slider sat 78-81 and was by far his best secondary pitch, thrown mostly to right-handers down and away to get them fishing. His curveball sat 80-82 and featured lightly floating 12-6 break, appearing more of a get-me-over-pitch than anything else. His changeup sat 83-85 and featured slight arm-side fade.

All in all, James’ command of all of his pitches hasn’t been great, be it intentional or unintentional. He throws too many unnecessary pitchers, nibbling around the plate and rarely challenging hitters. In addition, as is the case with many pitchers his age, he often seemed reluctant to throw inside and at times seemed to pitch in the outer half of the plate almost exclusively. All of this drove up James’ pitch count, limiting the amount innings he was able to pitch, even when he was limiting runs and performing well.

The cause of his vanishing fastball is something I haven’t been able to pinpoint. The right-hander put on weight between the 2017 season and the 2018 season, going from 195 pounds to 210 pounds, and is isn’t exactly good weigh, mainly concentrated in his midsection. While that might signify that there isn’t much projection left in his body as there was a year or two ago, it does not necessarily explain why his fastball is not as fast as it was last season. James future value will hinge on recapturing his fastball velocity, honing his slider, and working on his command.

Hitter of the Week

Jarred Kelenic

2018 Season: 54 G, 210 AB, .290/.378/.481, 61 H, 10 2B, 6 3B, 6 HR, 26 BB, 48 K, 15/16 SB (Rookie-GCL/Rookie-APPY)

Week: 7 G, 26 AB, .500/.567/.808, 13 H, 2 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 2 BB, 6 K, 3/3 SB (Rookie-APPY)

Jarred Kelenic
Steve Sypa

Kelenic is heating up at just the right time. Coming into the week, the Kingsport Mets were virtually tied with the Bristol Pirates for a wild card spot. Kingsport swept the Pirates, and Kelenic was a huge reason why. In the games against Bristol, he went 7-11 with a double, two home runs, two HBPs, five runs scored, and seven runs batted in. In addition to all of that- or maybe because of all of that- he was front and center in the drama between the two teams, being the guy that got plunked after hitting a home run and causing benches to clear and managers to get ejected.

Kelenic said of his hot streak that he is “[doing] what I’ve been doing and that’s hit the ball hard. They’re just starting to find spots, which is great…I’m just trying to stick to the same plan, and that’s just barrel balls and be on time.” The balls are very much falling in for hits and finding spots for the young outfielder, as his BABIP was .611 last week, as opposed to the .250 that it had been for his prior 35 games/128 at-bats with Kingsport. A .611 BABIP is obviously unsustainable high, but .250 is also a bit low for a hitter of his caliber.

I made it down to Pulaski a few weeks ago to see Kingsport play, and thankfully, Kelenic was in the lineup. I would’ve seen him twice, but driving down I-81 through those mountains for the first time was stressful and I didn’t want to make my return trip in the dark, so I skipped the second game I had tickets to. Kelenic went 1-4 with a walk, a strikeout, and a stolen base.

The bat looked good. It’s quick and he gets hard contact, so when he starts learning to lay off stuff he can’t drive and recognizing off-speed pitches a little better, Kelenic is going to have a potent bat. Between his swing and his natural strength, there’s above-average power in there. Neither the hit tool nor the power seem off-the-charts, but they complement each other. He probably isn’t going to develop into a batting champion or a home run king, but hopefully should develop into a player that can post a relatively high batting average with moderate power.

The defense was better than I thought it would be. When he was drafted, there were questions about whether or not he would be able to stay in center field, and at this point, barring a lot of bad weight, I see no reason why he won’t be able to handle it. Kelenic is an athlete, and his defense reminded me a bit of Carlos Beltran. Every catch he made, it didn’t seem urgent, it didn’t seem like he had to rush and got there with a moment to spare; every catch was made almost nonchalantly. He read the ball of the bat well, glided over to the ball with his above-average speed, and made the catches no problem.

After the game, he was getting chewed out and then merely talked to by Sean Ratliff. He singled in his last at-bat, driving a 1-2 pitch down the middle into center, so I’m not really sure what that conversation was about. I’ve heard rumblings that Kelenic is a “passionate” and “fiery” kid, so it’ll be interesting to see if there is anything to that.

This winter, it’s going to be tough ordering Kelenic, Mark Vientos, and Sheryven Newton when we start making our Top 25 lists.

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

WEEK FOURTEEN 2018 (JULY 8-JUNE 14): Jason Vargas/Blake Tiberi

WEEK FIFTEEN 2018 (JULY 15-JUNE 21): Tony Dibrell/Tomas Nido

WEEK SIXTEEN 2018 (JULY 22-JUNE 28): Luc Rennie/Mark Vientos

WEEK SEVENTEEN 2018 (JULY 29-AUGUST 4): Michael Gibbons/Mark Vientos

WEEK EIGHTEEN 2018 (AUGUST 5-AUGUST 11): Garrison Bryant/Peter Alonso

WEEK NINETEEN 2018 (AUGUST 12-AUGUST 18): Nicolas Debora/Matt Winaker