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2019 Mets Minor League Review: Syracuse Mets

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Reviewing the 2018 Syracuse Mets season.

Syracuse Mets v Lehigh Valley IronPigs Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Season Record

75-66 (International League North Division, 2nd place)

In October 2017, the Mets announced that they had purchased the Syracuse Chiefs, then the Triple-A franchise of the Washington Nationals. Founded in 1934, the Chiefs had been affiliated with numerous teams over the years, and had their fair share of major leaguers, All-Stars, and even Hall of Famers come through over the years. Renamed the Syracuse Mets, the team would become the Triple-A affiliate of the Mets when the 2018 season ended, replacing the Las Vegas 51s, who had been their Triple-A affiliate since 2013.

The 51s franchise ended in storybook fashion, when Peter Alonso hit a walk-off home, but the Syracuse Mets had no such storybook opening, losing their first game in franchise history to the Pawtucket Red Sox 6-3. They would go on to right the ship and would end their first month strong, but swooned during the months of May and June, producing sub .500 records. Business picked up in after the Triple-A All-Star Game in mid-July. The team won 12 of their 20 games after event, and then went 19-10 in August.

Closer and closer they creeped to catching up to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, who maintained a lead in the International League North division for most of the season. With their win on the last day of the season over the Rochester Red Wings combined with Scranton Wilkes-Barre’s loss to the Buffalo Bisons, Syracuse forced a one-game tiebreaker the day after the season ended to determine a division winner. The winner would be the International League North Division champion. The other would go home, as the Durham Bulls had the International League Wild Card locked up.

When Syracuse scored five runs in the top of the first inning, it looked like they were well on their way to taking the division. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre got on the board, but Syracuse negated the run with additional runs of their own, and by the time the fans stood for the seventh inning stretch, the Mets had a commanding 7-1 lead. As any Mets fan who lived through the late-2000s knows, there is no such thing as too large of a lead.

Ervin Santana, who started the game and had already thrown six strong innings, fell apart after coming back out for the seventh. He gave up a solo homer to Kyle Higashioka and then allowed three consecutive singles, loading up the bases. Nick Rumbelow replaced Santana and the merry-go-round continued, with two singles and a bases-loaded walk scoring three more runs. Stephen Nogosek, who had a scoreless streak dating back to May 15th, was brought in to put out the fire, and although an inherited runner scored, he was able to navigate out of the inning without further damage. Despite the fact that it could’ve been worse, what had been a fairly large lead was suddenly a 7-6 ballgame.

The Syracuse bats woke in the top of the eighth, and the team got all of the runs that they gave up back and then some, scoring six runs. With a 13-6 lead, Nogosek went back out for the bottom of the inning, and like Santana an inning before, allowed a solo homer to Kyle Higashioka. He walked two batters and hit a batter before being removed, marring his otherwise strong season. Brooks Pounders allowed all three inherited runners to score while replacing them all on base and was eventually replaced by Eric Hanhold after recording just two outs. Tasked with just recording a single out, Hanhold allowed three runs to score, putting the RailRiders ahead 14-13 in a stunning turn of events. Syracuse went down 1-2-3 in the ninth, and that was that. Improbably, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre scored thirteen runs late inning runs to clinch the International League North Division and send the Syracuse Mets home to pack for the long winter ahead.

Month-By-Month Breakdown

  • April, 15-9
  • May, 12-16
  • June, 12-17
  • July, 13-13
  • August, 19-10
  • September, 2-1

Top Hitter

Travis Taijeron

123 G, 371 AB, .229/.364/.496, 85 H, 21 2B, 3 3B, 24 HR, 64 BB, 165 K, 6/9 SB, .332 BABIP, 119 wRC+

Travis Taijeron was drafted in the 18th round of the 2011 MLB Draft out of Cal Poly Pomona. He was a senior signing, but he had an excellent senior year, hitting .392/.534/.744 with 16 home runs. His junior year there wasn’t half bad either, as he hit .345/.441/.670 with 16 home runs. He hit the ground running when he made his professional debut hitting .299/.387/.557 with the Brooklyn Cyclones. His nine home runs were fifth most in franchise history, behind only Caleb Stewart, Blake Whealy and Noel Devarez (10), Jason Jacobs (12), Frank Corr (13), and Corey Vaughn (14). He was promoted to Savannah Sand Gnats in 2012 and hit well, but after being promoted to the St. Lucie Mets mid-year experienced his first bout of adversity. After hitting .203/.304/.373 for the remainder of the 2012 season, he hit .303/.396/.564 there in 2013, earning a promotion to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. He struggled in Binghamton for the remainder of the 2013 season, as well as the 2014 season, but was promoted to Las Vegas nonetheless for the 2015 season. Aided by the environment, Taijeron hit .274/.393/.536 in 127 games with the 51s, slugging 25 homers. He was just as good in 2016, when he hit .275/.372/.512 with 19 homers, and in 2017, when he hit .272/.383/.525 with 25 homers. His performance got him a cup of coffee with the Mets at the end of the season, but he didn’t really impress at the major league level, hitting .173/.271/.269 in 26 games. A minor league free agent, he signed with Los Angeles in November 2017 and played for their Triple-A affiliate, the Oklahoma City Dodgers, in 2018. He hit .271/.352/.468 with 11 homers in 87 games before becoming a free agent once again. He returned to the Mets for the 2019 season and was one of Syracuse’s offensive leaders, hitting .229/.364/.496 with 24 homers in 123 games.

Taijeron’s power has always real, thanks to a big, sweepy swing. It gets a lot of swings and misses, but when he connects solidly, the ball travels a long way. If Taijeron were able get the strikeouts under control, there would be more wiggle room, but because his swing is very exploitable and his power depends on those big hacks, it is hard to envision him maintaining an acceptable batting average.

A fringy outfielder for most of his career, Taijeron recently transitioned to first base. While, in theory, this makes him slightly more versatile, his first base defense is nothing to write home about and is a net neutral at a position with very little defensive value.

Runner Up

Dilson Herrera

117 G, 407 AB, .248/.330/.501, 101 H, 29 2B, 1 3B, 24 R, 43 BB, 127 K, 12/17 SB, .298 BABIP, 107 wRC+

Originally signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an international rookie out of Cartagena, Colombia in 2010 for $200,000, Dilson Herrera was acquired by the Mets in August 2013, along with reliever Vic Black, in exchange for John Buck, Marlon Byrd and cash. After hitting .265/.330/.421 in 109 games for the West Virginia Power and .316/.417/.316 in a handful of games with the Savannah Sand Gnats at the end of the 2013 season, Herrera was named the Mets’ tenth top prospect coming into the 2014 season. He began the year with the St. Lucie Mets but was promoted to the Binghamton Mets roughly midyear after hitting .307/.355/.410 in 67 games. Herrera played 61 games with Binghamton and hit .340/.406/.560 there before being promoted to the major league ballclub as a September call up. He hit .220/.303/.407 in his 18 games with the Mets, but at just 20-years-old, his future was bright, and Herrera was named the Mets’ fourth top prospect coming into the 2015 season. Herrera began the year with the Las Vegas 51s and spent roughly a month there, hitting .370/.402/.506 in 20 games. He was promoted to the Mets at the beginning of May but was placed on the DL a few weeks later thanks to a fractured finger. He was reactivated in June but spent the rest of the season shuttling up and down from Triple-A to the major leagues and back again, hitting .327/.382/.511 in 81 games with the 51s and .211/.311/.367 in 31 games with the Mets. He spent the entire 2016 season with the 51s, hitting .276/.327/.462 in 86 games, and on August 1st was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, along with Max Wotell, in exchange for Jay Bruce. Assigned to their Triple-A affiliate, the Louisville Bats, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in early September, ending his season prematurely and preventing him from getting a September call up to the Reds. Herrera returned to the field in 2018, but lingering effects from the shoulder surgery bothered him all through the year, and in August, he underwent season-ending surgery on a right shoulder impingement. He returned in 2018 fully healthy and had a good enough showing with Louisville to merit a call up to the Reds. Unfortunately, he struggled in a part-time role in big leagues, hitting .184/.268/.414, ultimately leading to his release at the end of the season. The Mets signed their former top prospect to a minor league contract for the 2019 season and assigned him to Syracuse. On July 2nd, hitting .258/.355/.566 with 17 homers, Herrera opted out of his contract. He re-signed with the Mets roughly a week later, but with the Mets seemingly not signaling to him that he would receive a September call up, Herrera opted out of his contract with the Mets for a second time on September 1st.

As a prospect, Herrera was always considered a well-balanced prospect in terms of his hit-for-average and hit-for-power potential. Thanks to plus bat speed and simple swing, it was believed that he would be able to spray line drives all over the field, and thanks to some pull-side raw power, he would have average home run power for a middle infielder despite being only 5’10”. Over the course of the 2019 season, it became apparent that Herrera was selling out for power, hitting a career-high 24 home runs while hitting for a very low batting average and striking out almost an additional 10% of the time as compared to his other seasons in Triple-A.

Top Pitcher

Drew Gagnon

15 G (15 GS), 88.2 IP, 78 H, 29 R, 23 ER (2.33 ERA), 17 BB, 72 K, .258 BABIP

Drew Gagnon was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 10th round of the 2008 MLB Draft out of Liberty High School in Brentwood California, but he turned them down and instead went to Cal State Long Beach, his mother’s alma mater. In 2011, his junior year, he posted a 2.81 ERA in 99.0 innings with 79 hits, 38 walks, and 84 strikeouts and was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 3rd round of the 2011 MLB Draft, the 294th player selected overall. He and the Brewers agreed to a $340,000 signing bonus and the right-hander was assigned to the Helene Brewers, Milwaukee’s Rookie affiliate in the Pioneer League to start his professional career. Ironically, the Mets were interested in him and were intending on drafting him with their third-round pick, but the Brewers picked right before the Mets and snatched him. For the next five years, he would climb the Brewers’ minor league ladder. While he would post good numbers in Low-A and High-A in 2012, his numbers were generally unremarkable and pedestrian over the course of the rest of his time in the Milwaukee system. On December 13th, 2016, he and catcher Martin Maldonado were traded to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for catcher Jett Bandy. Gagnon spent just a single year in the Angels system before electing to become a minor league free agent, and it wasn’t a particularly good one. He missed a lot of time in August and September due to a right quad strain and ended the year posting a 6.25 ERA in 86.1 innings with the Salt Lake Bees, allowing 95 hits, walking 39, and striking out 83. In December 2017, the right-hander signed a minor league contract with the Mets. He was initially assigned to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, but only pitched a single game there before being promoted to the Las Vegas 51s. In 17 starts from mid-April until early July, Gagnon was one of Las Vegas’ more dependable pitchers, posting a 4.67 ERA. He received his first call up to the majors on July 10th, pitching against the Philadelphia Phillies. He didn’t pitch particularly well against the Phillies that night, and sent back down to Triple-A, returning to the majors in September. He started the 2019 season in Triple-A, but once again spent time in the majors. In his first call up this season, he started a game against Phillies in mid-April and allowed five runs in 5.1 innings, and in his second, from late-April until mid-June, he pitched out of the bullpen and posted a 7.36 ERA in 14.2 innings. While he struggled in the majors, he was one of the more dominant pitchers not only for the Syracuse Mets, but in the entire International League in 209.

Gagnon doesn’t have overpowering stuff, which is why he’s had moderate success in the minors and has had virtually none in the majors. His tops out at 95 MPH, but mainly sits 91-93. His main out pitch is his changeup, a pitch he developed in 2016 when he was messing around with grips that worked for him. It has a lot of tumble, about two more inches than the major league average. Before that, his out pitch was his slider. He’s able to command his stuff and his time in the Pacific Coast League taught him to keep the ball down in the zone- a major reason for his improvement in 2019 as opposed to 2018.

Runner Up

Corey Oswalt

16 G (16 GS), 86.2 IP, 84 H, 35 R, 28 ER (2.91 ERA), 15 BB, 79 K, .304 BABIP

Drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of Madison High School in San Diego, Corey Oswalt climbed up the Mets’ minor league ladder slowly but surely. After years of solid-if-unspectacular numbers, everything came together for the 6’5”, 250-pound right-hander in 2017. Assigned to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, the 23-year-old was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, posting a 2.28 ERA in 134.1 innings pitched, allowing 118 hits, walking 40 walks, and striking out 119. He was promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas to start the 2018 season, and after only a pair of mediocre starts, was promoted to the Mets to make a spot start. Oswalt ended up bouncing up and down between Triple-A and the major leagues for the rest of the year. In 52.1 innings with the 51s, he posted a 6.02 ERA, allowing 58 hits, walking 20, and striking out 52; in 64.2 innings with the Mets, he posted a 5.98 ERA, allowing 69 hits, walking 20, and striking out 45. Oswalt began the season once again in Triple-A and was the first arm to be called up when the Mets needed reinforcements. The right-hander made two appearances for the Mets early in the 2019 season, but seems to fallen out of favor in lieu of other arms. Since being optioned back down to Triple-A in late April, he has spent the entire season with Syracuse, save for pair of rehab assignments in mid-June with the Brooklyn Cyclones. In a season where the International League ERA has risen nearly an entire run as compared to the last few years thanks to the newly introduced “juiced ball”, Oswalt’s 2.91 ERA is second in the league among pitchers with 75 or more innings, behind only teammate Drew Gagnon.

Oswalt’s fastball that sits in the low-90s, averaging roughly 91 MPH. It does not have much movement, and as a result, fools few batters, resulting in few swings-and-misses and plenty of contact. His sinker, which sits at roughly the same speed, gets more swings-and-misses, but does not have heavy sinking action and results in more fly balls than most sinkers. He supplements his fastballs with a changeup and a curveball, both of which are fringe pitches that flash average. The curveball, which sits in the low-to-mid 80s, has shallow break, and the changeup, which also sits in the mid-80s, lacks much fade or fastball velocity separation.