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2019 Mets Minor League Review: Columbia Fireflies

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Reviewing the 2019 Columbia Fireflies season.

Segra Park
Steve Sypa

Season Record

24-42/28-42 (South Atlantic League Southern Division, 7th/6th place)

Coming into the season, expectations were high for the Columbia Fireflies. The Mets were uncharacteristically aggressive with numerous players and assigned numerous young prospects to the team. Mark Vientos (Amazin’ Avenue Top Prospect #3), Ronny Mauricio (Amazin’ Avenue Top Prospect #5), Shervyen Newton (Amazin’ Avenue Top Prospect #6), Thomas Szapucki (Amazin’ Avenue Top Prospect #8), and Simeon Woods Richardson (Amazin’ Avenue Top Prospect #12) all were sent to Columbia, in addition to interesting youngsters who hadn’t quite established their prospect bona fides, such as Bryce Hutchinson, Christian James, Juan Uriarte, Chris Viall, and others. In addition to the excitement surrounding all of these players, the 2019 Columbia Fireflies also welcomed back to the Mets organization 2011 draftee Bradley Marquez, who left to go play football in the NFL but returned to baseball in 2019 when he signed with the Mets again as a free agent in early April.

Things didn’t get off to a good start, as multiple top prospects struggled. As they went, so too did the team. Mark Vientos hit .227/.310/.307, Shervyen Newton hit .136/.208/.182, and the team posted a .333 winning percentage in April. Things weren’t much better in May, as the offense continued to struggle, pitching continued to struggle, and the team went .400. Business occasionally picked up, but at no point in either the first or second half did the team ever really go on a sustained run of success. Despite it all, there were two standouts: Ronny Mauricio and Simeon Woods Richardson.

Just 18-years-old, Mauricio’s assignment had been the most aggressive and surprising; in 2018, he made his professional debut, playing with the GCL Mets for the bulk of the season and getting a cup of coffee promotion to the Kingsport Mets at the end of the year. As one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, Mauricio more than held his own, hitting .268/.307/.357. He slowed down in the second half, hitting .244/.280/.320 as opposed to .291/.333/.393 in the first half, but all in all, the 18-year-old shortstop demonstrated that his upside is extremely high.

On the pitching side, also was one of the youngest players in the league, with just 17.1 professional innings under his belt. Like Mauricio, Woods Richardson had success, posting a 4.25 ERA in 78.1 innings, allowing 78 hits, walking 17, and striking out 97. The right-hander got off to a good start in April, but struggled mightily in May. He mostly righted the ship from then on, posting a 2.09 ERA in June and July, leading to his promotion to the St. Lucie Mets. Of course, he never actually donned a St. Lucie uniform, as he was traded to Toronto along with Anthony Kay in exchange for Marcus Stroman. The Blue Jays assigned him to their High-A organization, the Dunedin Blue Jays, and he posted a 2.54 ERA in 28.1 innings with them, allowing 18 hits, walking 7, and striking out 29.

Month-By-Month Breakdown

April, 8-16

May, 12-18

June, 9-14

July, 11-17

August, 12-17

September, 0-2

Top Hitter

Ronny Mauricio
Steve Sypa

Ronny Mauricio

116 G, 470 AB, .268/.307/.357, 126 H, 20 2B, 5 3B, 4 HR, 23 BB, 99 K, 6/16 SB, .330 BABIP, 93 wRC+

Considered one of the top rookies available during the 2017-2018 international signing period, the Mets and Dominican shortstop Ronny Mauricio agreed to a $2.1 million signing bonus for inking a deal with the organization, breaking the club record previously held by fellow Dominican shortstop Amed Rosario. The talented youngster made his professional debut in 2018, suiting up for the GCL Mets and getting into 49 games down in Florida, hitting .279/.307/.421. The 17-year-old was promoted to the Kingsport Mets to end the season and got into 8 games for them, hitting .233/.286/.333. The Mets were aggressive with Mauricio in 2019, promoting him to Columbia for the season. Though he clearly tired as the season went on, the shortstop held his own, hitting .268/.307/.357 in 116 games. Of note, he hit .290/.333/.394 in 59 games in the first half and .244/.280/.320 in 56 games in the second half.

The switch-hitting Mauricio oozes potential, from his physical presence to his baseball tools. The 18-year-old is 6’3”, 165 lbs. with a leggy, athletic frame, suggesting that he will grow and add muscle in the years to come. Standing slightly open, holding his hands high, Mauricio has a quick, whippy, level stroke from both sides of the plate. As is the case with young switch hitters, his platoon splits reversed themselves; in 2018, he hit for a better average and more power as a left-hander batter, and in 2019, he hit for a better average and for more power as a right-handed batter. The potential for both his ability to hit for average and to hit for power are high, though obviously a lot of it- especially the ability to hit for power- is projection.

Defensively, he reads the ball well off the bat and shows good reaction times and instincts. He has soft hands, has a quick transfer, and possesses a plus arm. His footspeed is below average, but his range does not suffer much because of his quick reactions and instincts. There is concern that he might put on too much muscle as his body matures, forcing him off shortstop, but as long as he remains athletic and agile, he should be able to stick at short.

Runner Up

Mark Vientos
Steve Sypa

Mark Vientos

111 G, 416 AB, .255/.300/.411, 106 H, 27 2B, 1 3B, 12 HR, 22 BB, 120 K, .311 BABIP, 105 wRC+

Mark Vientos has been making a name for himself on the exhibition and showcase circuit for years, earning praise by scouts and evaluators as early as 2013, when he was just 14-years-old. For three years, he played baseball at Flanagan High School, but in 2016, he switched schools and began attending American Heritage High School a few miles away. He only appeared in 26 games for the American Heritage High School Patriots, missing some time in the spring due to a quad injury, but when he was able to get on the field, he hit .417/.467/.523 with one home run and four stolen bases in six attempts. The 17-year-old was considered a borderline first-round talent, but the injury combined with his commitment to the University of Miami caused multiple teams to pass over him in the 2017 MLB Draft. The Mets selected Vientos with their second-round pick and signed him fairly quick, with the two sides agreeing to a $1.5 million signing bonus, slightly above the slot value of $1,094,700. The Mets assigned Vientos to the GCL Mets to begin his professional career and he held his own as one of the youngest players in the league, hitting .259/.316/.397 in 47 games. He played in four games with the Kingsport Mets at the end of the season and then was assigned there for the entire 2018. Once again one of the youngest players in the Appalachian League, Vientos not only held his own but excelled, hitting .287/.389/.489 in 60 games. He walked 37 times, stuck out 43 times, and slugged 11 home runs- the most on the team by a large margin and tied for fourth in the Appalachian League along with Wander Franco and Nolan Gorman. The Mets were aggressive with the third baseman in 2019, promoting him to the Columbia Fireflies. While his season was a bit of a disappointment in terms of the expectations placed on him, Vientos had a respectable year, hitting .255/.300/.411 in 111 games with 12 home runs.

Vientos stands upright and has wide stance at the plate, holding his hands high. His swing can get a bit on the long side, but he has solid bat-to-ball skills, coming to the plate with a plan and generally adjusting depending on the pitcher and what he is given to hit. Of note, Vientos showed an extreme vulnerability to pitches down and away, especially breaking balls, seemingly unable to pick up on their spin. When he is able to make solid contact, he puts a jolt into the ball, regularly posting high exit velocity readings for a player his age.

Though initially drafted as a shortstop, Vientos hasn’t played the position since 2017 and is not expected to move back, instead playing third base. He is not unathletic, but he lacks explosive quick twitch muscle, resulting in a slow first step and below-average lateral quickness. His above-average arm and good instincts allow him to handle the routine play fine at third fine. There is worry that if he continues filling in, he will be forced to move to first base, as he will exhibit even less of a first step and range, but Vientos should be fine for years to come assuming his body does not suddenly and drastically change.

Top Pitcher

Simeon Woods-Richardson

20 G (20 GS), 78.1 IP, 78 H, 44 R, 37 ER (4.25 ERA), 17 BB, 97 K, .358 BABIP

The combination of strong numbers at Fort Bend Kempner High School and solid stuff made Simeon Woods Richardson a lock to be drafted in the 2018 MLB Draft, but the Mets surprised everyone- including Woods Richardson and his family- by drafting the young right-hander in the second round, the 48th pick overall in the draft. The family had no idea the Mets would take his name so early, and were at a local Buffalo Wild Wings when his agent called him to tell him the news. He had a commitment to the University of Texas but elected to sign with the Mets and play professionally after receiving a $1.85 million bonus, roughly $400,000 over slot value. The 17-year-old right-hander made his professional debut with the GCL Mets and was impressive in the 11.1 innings he pitched there. He did not give up a single run, allowed 9 hits, walked 4, and struck out 15. He was promoted to the Kingsport Mets to end the season and in 6.0 innings posted a 4.50 ERA, allowing 6 hits, walking 0, and striking out 11. The Mets were aggressive with his assignment in 2019, promoting him to the Columbia Fireflies, and the right-hander responded. In 20 starts, he posted a 4.25 ERA, allowing 78 hits, walking 17, and striking out 97. In late July, he was promoted to the St. Lucie Mets, but never actually got to pitch for them, as he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, along with Syracuse Mets left-hander Anthony Kay, in exchange for Marcus Stroman.

At 6’3”, 200-pounds, Simeon Woods-Richardson has a solid frame for a pitcher. There is very little room left for additional development, but he is surprisingly developed as a pitcher for someone so young. Throwing from a high-three-quarters arm slot with a whippy arm, his fastball sits in the low-to-mid-90s, 90-94 MPH. Though reports of the pitch sitting or touching higher exist- some that he sits higher and can touch as high as 99 MPH- he did not exhibit this kind of fastball velocity at any point during the 2019 season, and as a result, such claims are dubious at best. The pitch has slight arm-side movement, but when coupled with its high spin rate, fools batters as it appears to move more than it does. Complementing his fastball is a curveball with big 12-6 drop that sits in the mid-to-high-70s and a changeup in the low-to-mid-80s. He is able to command all three pitches, pounding the zone, attacking hitters, and throwing strikes.

Runner Up

Bryce Hutchinson
Steve Sypa

Bryce Hutchinson

31 G (7 GS), 91.2 IP, 91 H, 51 R, 38 ER (3.73 ERA), 29 BB, 71 K, .312 BABIP

In his final year of high school, Bryce Hutchinson transferred from Spruce Creek High School to DeLand High School, where his father was hired as baseball coach. Recovered from a broken hamate bone that limited him the year before, the right-hander helped lead the Bulldogs to the District 2-9A Championship, going 8-1 with a 1.08 ERA and 81 strikeouts. Drafted by the Mets in the 12th round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Hutchinson waited until late June to decide whether or not he was going to sign with the Mets or attend Mississippi State University, a college he felt a connection to due to the presence of the newly-hired coach Gary Henderson. He decided to forego college, signing with the Mets for a $360,000 bonus, making his professional debut in mid-August and throwing limited innings for the 2017 season due to his high school workload and a handful of injuries and set-backs that took their toll on his mind and body. The 2018 season was supposed to be his real foray the professional baseball world but the right-hander underwent arm surgery over the off-season. He was not expected to pitch at all, but Hutchinson worked and rehabbed his way back and was able to salvage the season, making his season debut in July and pitching 20.0 innings with the GCL Mets. After impressing in spring training, the Mets challenged Hutchinson by assigning him to the Columbia Fireflies for the 2019 season. He spent most of the season pitching out of the bullpen or piggybacking fellow young gun Simeon Woods Ricardson, but was transitioned into a purely starting position near the end of the year. As a whole, he posted a 3.73 ERA in 91.2 innings, allowing 91 hits, walking 29, and striking out 71.

Standing an imposing 6’6” and weighing 245 lbs., Hutchinson throws from a high-three-quarters arm slot. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid-90s with slight arm-side run. While he has been known to ramp it up to as high as 95 MPH in short bursts in the past, the pitch has also backed up into the high-80s without life over the course of the 2019 season. He complements his fastball with a low-to-mid-80s slider, a high-70s-to-low-80s curveball, and a low-80s changeup, of which the slider is his best offering.