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2018 Mets Minor League Review: Las Vegas 51s

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Reviewing the 2018 Las Vegas 51s season.

Cashman Field
Jonathan Maseng

SEASON RECORD

71-69 (Pacific Coast League Pacific Southern Division, 3rd place)

The 2017 season was one to forget for the Las Vegas 51s. The team ended up with a disappointing 56-86 record, fourth in the Pacific Coast League Pacific South Division, costing manager Pedro Lopez and his coaches their jobs. Pitching was the main reason why the team did as poorly as they did, and the 51s were either at or near the bottom of most pitching-related stats in 2017. The Pacific Coast League- and Las Vegas in particular- has always favored hitters, but the 2017 Las Vegas 51s pitching staff was particularly brutal.

Over the winter, it was announced that the Mets purchased the Syracuse Chiefs and that the team would become their Triple-A affiliate starting in 2019. Moving into a new stadium in 2019, with a new major league affiliate, team executives decided that a rebranding would be in order, and as such, 2018 would be the last year that the Las Vegas 51s operated.

Before the first pitch was thrown, things looked like they would be better for the Las Vegas 51s in their final year. New manager Tony DeFrancesco was a proven winner. On paper, the team looked like they might have one of their strongest pitching rotations in decades, composed of Zack Wheeler, Chris Flexen, Corey Oswalt, Mickey Jannis, and P.J. Conlon. The offense looked like it would be supercharged by free agent sluggers Zach Borenstein and Bryce Brentz.

Unfortunately, things happen. “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft a-gley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain For promis’d joy.” That rotation barely lasted a turn before promotions and demotions occurred. Guys got hurt. Guys underperformed. By the time the All-Star break occurred in early July, the 51s were 42-48, six games under .500. At their worst point, just a few weeks earlier, the 51s had been as far as 14 games under .500.

The 51s were much more successful in the second half of the season, and while it’s difficult to give one individual the credit, the importance of Peter Alonso to the 51s cannot be understated. Promoted to Las Vegas 51s from the Binghamton Rumble Ponies on June 16, the first baseman went .224/.367/.449 in 14 games the month of June, .225/.311/.494 in 23 games in the month of July, .308/.392/.731 in 27 games in the month of August. His 20 home runs in 64 games led the team during that period and were pivotal in numerous wins.

No Alonso home run would be more pivotal than the one he hit on Monday, September 3rd, the last day of the season. Down 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, shortstop Luis Guillorme clubbed a triple that energized and electrified the crowd of 5,353- though many had left by the time Guillorme made it to third standing. Peter Alonso strode to the plate and a tangible sense of excitement swept over the crowd that had been dormant for most of the game. Tyler Beede got his signs and threw a pitch that most certainly must’ve been a mistake; a fat pitch almost literally right down the middle of the plate. Alonso took a mighty hack and deposited the offering beyond the left field wall, walking off the game for Las Vegas and ending the Las Vegas 51s franchise in storybook fashion.

Formerly known as the Las Vegas Stars, the team rebranded as the Las Vegas 51s in 2001. After spending eight years as a Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate and four years as a Toronto Blue Jays affiliate, the Mets and the Las Vegas 51s spent six seasons together, from 2013 to 2018. During that time, the Las Vegas 51s produced a record of 383-380, a .501 winning percentage, and made two playoff appearances, in 2013 and 2014.

MONTH-BY-MONTH BREAKDOWN

April, 10-15

May, 12-18

June, 16-11

July, 14-12

August, 17-12

September, 2-1

TOP HITTER

Patrick Kivlehan

98 G, 354 AB, .314/.372/.588, 111 H, 29 3B, 4 3B, 20 HR, 30 BB, 84 K, 6 HBP, 4/7 SB, .361 BABIP

Playing both football and baseball at Rutgers, Patrick Kivlehan eventually settled on baseball and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the fourth round of the 2012 MLB Draft. He worked his way up their system, making it as high as Triple-A, and after the 2015 season ended, was sent to the Texas Rangers as the player to be named later to complete a trade. Weeks later, at the beginning of the 2016 season, he was traded back to the Mariners in exchange for Justin De Fratus. He was claimed off of waivers by the San Diego Padres that August and promoted to the major leagues at the end of the month, where he logged four hits- including a home run- in sixteen at-bats over five games. His busy year did not end there, as he was claimed by the Reds in late September. He made the Reds’ opening day roster in 2017 and hit .208/.304/.399 in 178 at-bats over 115 games but was outrighted to Triple-A at the end of the year. He elected to become a free agent and signed a minor league contract with the Reds that included an invitation to spring training. He was released from the organization in early May 2018 and then signed with the Mets.

In early September, the Arizona Diamondbacks lost outfielder Jarrod Dyson to a season-ending adductor muscle injury. In third place in a crowded NL West, the team acquired Kivlehan in exchange for cash considerations.

RUNNER UP

Peter Alonso

67 G, 258 AB, .260/.355/.585, 67 H, 19 2B, 1 3B, 21 HR, 33 BB, 78 K, 7 HBP, 0/1 SB, .284 BABIP

After tearing up the Eastern League, Peter Alonso got his well-deserved promotion to Triple-A in mid-June and after going hitless in his first game went on a streak, hitting .375/.464/.792 with three home runs in his next six games. His bat would then go cold, and he hit .095/.269/.143 over the course of his next six games. In extremely miniscule sample sizes, Alonso was on-and-off for most of his 67 games with the 51s; it was only in August that he was solid for the entire month, hitting .308/.392/.731 with 11 home runs in 27 games. While neither batting line was terrible, his .212/.359/.423 in 14 games in June and .225/.311/.494 in 23 games in July were well below the standard we were used to the first baseman producing on the year.

The right-hander adjusted and demonstrated that he has the capability to do so, the hallmark of a major league hitter. While his strikeout rate increased during his time in Triple-A, it was by no means bad- especially when you consider that Alonso is a slugger. His 25.9% strikeout rate would put him on par with major leaguers Michael Conforto (26.2%), Jeimer Candelario & C.J. Cron (26.1%), Trevor Story (25.8%), and Jackie Bradley Jr. & Justin Smoak (24.4%). Likewise, his walk rate also trended in the wrong direction, dropping from 15.8% with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies to 11.0% with the Las Vegas 51s, but that percentage would put him on par with major leaguers Andrew Benintendi (11.4%), Max Kepler, Jed Lowrie & Ben Zobrist (11.2), Freddie Freeman & Brian Dozier (10.9%), and Brett Gardner, Jesus Aguilar & Anthony Rizzo (10.8%). Looking at first baseman who produced similar peripherals, he profiles most similarly to Jesus Aguilar and Cody Bellinger.

TOP PITCHER

Drew Gagnon

27 G (27 GS), 157.2 IP, 151 H, 82 R, 80 ER (4.57 ERA), 43 BB, 167 K, 6 HBP, 0 BLK, 8 WP, .314 BABIP

The Milwaukee Brewers drafted Drew Gagnon out of Cal State Long Beach in the third round of the 2011 MLB Draft, and he slowly climbed up their system for a few years, making it as high as their Triple-A affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. They traded him to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for catcher Jett Bandy, but Gagnon didn’t exactly impress his new organization, posting a 6.25 ERA in 86.1 innings with the Salt Lake Bees, the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. This past December, the right-hander signed with the Mets. After making a single start for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Gagnon was promoted to the Las Vegas 51s, where he spent the majority of his season. On July 10, he was promoted to the major leagues for a spot start. He pitched 4.2 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing 6 runs on 7 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 3.

Gagnon possesses an average fastball, sitting 91-93 MPH, but none of his secondary pitches are better than average, which is why he pitches to mixed results so often and gotten a single MLB start despite having reached Triple-A in 2015. His most effective pitch is a mid-80s slider, but he also mixes in a mid-to-high-70s curveball and a low-80s changeup. He is able to command his fastball and all of his secondary pitches, which is generally how he’s gotten to the doorstep of the major leagues, but because he does not have a bona fide plus pitch, he has seemingly topped out where he currently is.

RUNNER UP

Tim Peterson

32 G (0 GS), 38.2 IP, 29 H, 15 R, 15 ER (3.49 ERA), 10 BB, 55 K, 1 HBP, 0 BLK, 3 WP, .287 BABIP

Drafted by the New York Mets in the 20th round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of the University of Kentucky, Tim Peterson’s road to the majors has been long and arduous. He began his professional career that year, suiting up for the Brooklyn Cyclones, and slowly climbed up the minor league ladder. He came into his own in 2017 while serving as the set-up man for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, posting a 1.14 ERA in 55.1 innings. After looking solid in the Arizona Fall League, he was promoted to the Las Vegas 51s, where he shared closing duties with Jacob Rhame. He was promoted to the major leagues on May 30, and spent the year moving up and down between Triple-A and the MLB.

Peterson possesses a below-average fastball, averaging roughly 90 MPH. He complements it with a changeup and a slider, both of which sit in the low-80s. Despite the below-average stuff, Peterson has been able to get by- and at times, thrive- thanks to his excellent control. In 99.2 innings in Binghamton, Peterson has a cumulative 2.3 BB/9 rate over three years. In 41.1 innings in Las Vegas, he has a cumulative 2.6 BB/9 rate over two years. In 22.2 major league innings in 2018, Peterson posted a 2.0 BB/9.