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2019 Minor league preview: Syracuse Mets

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How will the Syracuse Mets fare this season?

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves
Tim Tebow
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

While their 71-69 record gave them a record over .500 for the first time since 2015, the Las Vegas 51s were eminently forgettable in not only their final season as a Mets affiliate, but in existence. Before the season began, it looked like things might be picking up for the 51s: new manager Tony DeFrancesco was a proven winner, the team had one of its strongest pitching rotations on paper in years, and the offense looked capable of putting up big numbers.

Reality barely matched that rosy picture, and by the time the All-Star Break arrived, the 51s were below .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 Pete Alonso to the 51s cannot be understated. After being promoted to Las Vegas in mid-June, the first baseman hit .260/.355/.585 in 67 games, slugging 21 home runs. Many of those home runs were pivotal to Las Vegas wins, but no Alonso home run would be as important as the one he hit on Monday, September 3rd, the last day of the 2018 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. 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.

The Syracuse Mets will open the 2018 season on Thursday, April 4th at NBT Bank Stadium against the Pawtuckett Red Sox, the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.

THE MANAGERS

Tony DeFrancesco will be reprising his role as manager and has been named the first manager of the inaugural Syracuse Mets. Born in Rockland County, DeFrancesco attended Suffern High School and was drafted by the California Angels in the 30th round of the 1981 MLB Draft. He elected to go to Seton Hall University instead, and after posting a cumulative .343/.417/.508 batting line in the two years he played there, was selected in the 9th round of the 1984 draft by the Boston Red Sox. Over the next nine seasons, he played in the minor league systems of the Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds, hitting a cumulative .232/.321/.306 in 567 games. DeFrancesco retired as a player in 1992 and got his first opportunity to coach two years later, in 1994, managing the Arizona League Athletics. In 2003, DeFrancesco was named manager of the Sacramento River Cats, Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate. He would be tenured there for over a decade, winning eight division titles, four Pacific Coast League Championships, and two Triple-A National Championships. In addition to his years of experience managing in the minor leagues, DeFrancesco has experience at the major league level: he served as the third base coach for the Oakland A’s in 2009, and in August 2012, was named the interim manager of the Houston Astros following Brad Mills’ dismissal.

Flanking DeFrancesco will be Glenn Abbott and Joel Chimelis, who will be serving as pitching and hitting coach, reprising their roles from 2018. Abbott will be entering his ninth season overall within the organization. He made his coaching debut back in 1985 with the Little Falls Mets and stayed with the organization through the 1989 season. After spending 13 seasons as a coach in the Oakland A’s system from 1990-2002, three as a coach in the Texas Rangers system from 2003-2005, and five as a coach in the San Diego Padres system from 2006-2010, he returned to the Mets in 2011, where he served as pitching coach for the Savannah Sand Gnats, the Mets’ Low-A affiliate. From 2012 until 2017, he served as pitching coach for the Binghamton Mets and the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, the Mets’ Double-A affiliate. In 2018, he served as pitching coach for the Las Vegas 51s. The 2019 season will be Joel Chimelis’ second in the New York Mets organization. He began his coaching career in 2004 with the Savannah Sand Gnats, when they were an affiliate for the Montreal Expos. After spending a second year there in 2005, when they were an affiliate for the Washington Nationals, he was hired to coach in the Houston Astros system, where he would spend the next 11 years. From 2006-2010, he served as hitting coach for the Tri-City ValleyCats, the Astros’ Short-A affiliate. In 2011, he served as hitting coach for the Lexington Legends, the Astros’ Low-A affiliate. In 2012, he served as hitting coach for the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Astros’ Double-A affiliate. From 2013-2016, he served as hitting coach for the Quad Cities River Bandits, the Astros’ Low-A affiliate, and in 2017, he reprised his role as hitting coach for the Corpus Christi Hooks. In 2018, he served as hitting coach for the Las Vegas 51s.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

THE HITTERS

The inaugural Syracuse infield has years of experience. Danny Espinosa has 872 MLB games under his belt, Adainy Hechavarria has 811, former prospect Dilson Herrera has 102, and newly converted first baseman Travis Taijeron has 26. David Thompson lost most of the 2018 season due to injury and will be looking to reestablish himself on the depth chart after rediscovering his power stroke and hitting 16 home runs in 2017.

Like the infield, the Syracuse outfield has a death of experience. Former Met prospect Carlos Gomez has 1,427 MLB games under his belt, Rajai Davis has 1,419, Gregor Blanco has 1,060, and Rymer Liriano has 59. Joining them is Tim Tebow, who improbably has risen up the Mets’ minor league ladder mostly on his own merits, and will be looking to have a positive impact on the Syracuse Mets after hitting .273/.336/.399 in 84 games with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.

Behind the plate, veteran Rene Rivera has ten years of major and minor league experience and will be a boon to the Syracuse pitching staff, as well as fellow catcher Colton Plaia.

THE PITCHERS

Pitching was a weakness for the Las Vegas 51s. While the pitchers assigned there over the last few years have generally had modest ceilings, many were simply not suited to pitch in the dry, high-altitude, fly ball-friendly Pacific Coast League environment. Syracuse, which is much more pitcher friendly, may have a profound impact on the Mets’ pitchers. Chris Flexen, Drew Gagnon, and Corey Oswalt will be returning to Triple-A and are likely high on the Mets’ emergency depth chart.

The Syracuse bullpen has a strong internal core consisting of Ty Bashlor, Eric Hanhold, Jacob Rhame, Paul Sewald, Corey Taylor, and Daniel Zamora and should be strengthened by the addition of free agent Hector Santiago.