With Major League Baseball’s amateur draft coming up on June 10, we thought it would be fun to go back in time and look at how things might have turned out if the Mets had taken different players. We are basing the “Optimal Pick” on a multiple of factors, including where the player was drafted vis-à-vis where the Mets were making their selection, if the player has produced major league value, the numbers the player has put up in the minors, and where the player is on recent top prospect lists.
Mets Pick: N/A
Optimal Pick: Walker Buehler (24th round, Los Angeles Dodgers)
In November 2014, Michael Cuddyer signed a two-year with the Mets worth $21 million. In doing so, the Mets surrendered their first-round draft pick, shifting it to the Colorado Rockies in compensation for losing their former outfielder. In 117 games, the veteran hit .259/.309/.391, and during the postseason, he notched one hit in 11 at-bats, walking once and striking out seven times. Following the Mets’ World Series appearance, Cuddyer retired from baseball. If the Mets had no signed Cuddyer, the team would have selected the 15th pick. To date, the middle of the 1st round of the 2015 Draft has shown itself to be lackluster, at best.
With the 15th pick, the Milwaukee Brewers selected outfielder Trent Grisham. With the 16th pick, the New York Yankees selected right-handed pitcher James Kaprielian. With the 17th pick, the Cleveland Indians selected left-handed pitcher Brady Aiken. With the 18 pick, the San Francisco Giants selected right-handed pitcher Phil Bickford. With the 19th pick, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected shortstop Kevin Newman. With the 20th pick, the Oakland Athletics selected shortstop Richie Martin. With the 21st pick, the Kansas City Royals selected right-handed pitcher Ashe Russell. With the 22nd pick, the Detroit Tigers selected right-handed pitcher Beau Burrows. With the 23rd pick, the St. Louis Cardinals selected outfielder Nick Plummer.
With the 24th pick, the Los Angeles Dodgers selected right-handed pitcher Walker Buehler. At the time, the right-hander was one of two potential first-round pick pitchers from Vanderbilt, but thanks to concerns about his durability and long-term role, he was drafted well-behind fellow right-hander Carson Fulmer. Thanks to a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, and a deep repertoire that included a curveball, slider, and changeup- all of which were projected to be average or better pitches- Buehler has remained a starting pitcher despite those concerns. A highly thought of prospect, Los Angeles pushed him hard, and he made his major league debut in 2017, pitching minimal innings at the end of the season. In 2018, with his role on the team more concrete, he burst on the scene, posting a 2.62 ERA in 137.1 innings, allowing 95 hits, walking 37, and striking out 151. He continued pitching exceptionally well in 2019, making his first All-Star team. In 182.1 total innings, Buehler posted a 3.26 ERA, allowing 153 hits, walking 37, and striking out 215. Of note, he threw two complete games, which led the majors.
Mets Pick: Justin Dunn (19th overall)
Optimal Pick: Carter Kieboom (28th overall, Washington Nationals)
Carter Kieboom was barely selected in the 1st round, selected 29th overall, but he has shown the highest returns of all of the players selected in the back half of the 1st round so far. He finished off his high school career at Walton High School in Marietta, Georgia with a flourish, doubling off of first-round draftee Joshua Lowe and coming around to score to give his school the Georgia 6-A state championship and has not missed a beat as a professional. After being drafted by the Nationals, he finished the 2016 by playing 36 games with the GCL Nationals and hit .244/.323/.452. In 2017, between the GCL Nationals, Auburn Doubledays, and Hagerstown Suns, he hit .296/.400/.497, though he was limited to just 61 games because of a hamstring injury. In 2018, he hit .280/.357/.444 split between the Potomac Nationals and the Harrisburg Senators. After getting off to a strong start with the Fresno Grizzlies, Kieboom made his major league debut in April 2019. Appearing in 11 games and accruing 43 plate appearances, he hit .128/.209/.282 before being sent back down to Triple-A, where he hit .289/.391/.458 for the remainder of the season, giving him a total batting line of .303/.409/.493 in 109 games with Fresno.
The youngest of three- brother Spencer is a catcher in the Nationals minor league system and brother Trevor played baseball for University of Georgia and is now an agent at Vanguard Sports Group- Carter has the highest upside. Thanks to plus bat speed and excellent hand-eye coordination, Kieboom barrels the ball repeatedly and hits with authority. These natural gifts allowed him to take more time to refine his eye and approach at the plate, allowing him to take more quality at-bats compared to others of his age and level. He has natural loft in his swing, and projects to have average or better in-game power when his 6’2”, 190 lb. frame starts filling in. While he was drafted as a shortstop and is still playing the position, Kieboom is unlikely to stay a shortstop. Thanks to solid range and an above-average arm, he will have a chance to stick at the position, but it is more likely that he will wind up at third base, where those same qualities will still play up.
Mets Pick: David Peterson (20th overall)
Optimal Pick: Nate Pearson (28th overall, Toronto Blue Jays)
A graduate of Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School in Odessa, Florida, Nate Pearson initially went to 2016 Florida International University after completing high school, but he transferred to the Central Florida Community College. The right-hander barely pitched at Florida International, throwing a total of 33.0 innings over 19 appearances, but was a dominant workhorse at the College of Central Florida. Starting 13 games and throwing 81.0 innings for the College of Central Florida Patriots, Pearson posted a 1.56 ERA in 2017, allowing 60 hits, walking 23, and striking out 118. A draft-eligible sophomore, the Toronto Blue Jays selected him with their first-round pick, 28th overall, and signed him for $2,452,900. The right-hander looked great in his professional debut, posting a 0.90 ERA in 20.0 innings, majority of them with the Low-A Vancouver Canadians. A back injury delayed his 2018 debut, but the worst was yet to come. After finally getting into his first game Pearson lasted just 1.2 innings, getting hit by a comebacker and breaking his arm, ending his season. He returned during the Arizona Fall League and while the numbers weren’t great, showed that his stuff was still there. Fully healthy, Pearson was dominant in 2019. He began the year with High-A Dunedin and ended the year with Triple-A Buffalo, spending the majority of the year with Double-A New Hampshire. At all three levels, he posted a combined 2.30 ERA in 101.2 innings, allowing 63 hits, walking 27, and striking out 119.
Pearson’s fastball is his bread and butter. Easily the best fastball in Toronto’s farm system, the pitch sits in the upper-90s and can touch triple digits. He complements the heat with a slider that is also the best in the Toronto system, a power high-80s offering with tilt that he uses as his primary put away pitch. He rounds his repertoire out with a curveball and a changeup but both pitches are fringe-to-average, with the change a bit more refined than the curve. At 6’6”, 245 lbs., he has the body of a pitcher, but health has been a concern for Pearson since high school. An injury then led to a screw being put in his right elbow, and the back injury in 2017, have led to concerns about his durability. Questions about his ability to command his pitches also haunt the right-hander, as his overall command is spotty at best due to his explosive mechanics.
Mets Pick: Jarred Kelenic (6th overall)
Optimal Pick: Jarred Kelenic (6th overall, New York Mets)
With their highest pick in years, the Mets selected Jarred Kelenic, with the sixth overall pick. The prep outfielder out of Waukesha West High School became the first Wisconsinite to be selected in the top 10 picks of the MLB Draft, and after he signed for $4,500,000, became the highest paid draftee out of the state. The Mets initially assigned him to the GCL Mets, where he hit .413/.451/.609 in 12 games. He was quickly promoted to the Kingsport Mets, where he hit .253/.350/.431 in 44 games, giving him a .286/.371/.468 batting line for the season. With the two teams combined, he drew 26 walks, struck out 50 times, slugged 6 home runs, and stole 15/16 bases. The Seattle Mariners, who drafted at 14, had been planning on drafting him had he not been selected prior. Their infatuation with the outfielder remained into the offseason, and when the Mets and the Mariners agreed on a blockbuster trade that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to Queens, Kelenic was the centerpiece of the trio of players Seattle received. The outfielder has thrived on the west coast, blooming into one of the best players not only in the M’s system, but in all of baseball. Appearing in 50 games with Low-A West Virginia, 46 games in High-A Modesto, and 21 games in Double-A Arkansas, he hit .291/.364/.540 with 50 walks, 111 strikeouts, 23 home runs, and 20 stolen bases in 27 attempts.
At the plate, the left-handed Kelenic has a wide, open stance. His set up is quest, and he has has a smooth left-handed stroke that regularly registers exit velocities in the mid-90s thanks to his outstanding bat speed. When he is able to fully extend and whip the barrel head through the zone, the ball explodes off of his bat with plenty of spin and carry, making him a power threat when he really turns on a pitch, but it also causes his swing to get long. He uses all fields, mostly pulling the ball but going back up the middle and to the opposite field when he can. He still needs work on recognizing spin and recognizing balls that he can drive from balls that he might not necessarily be able to, but the outfielder is a diligent worker and most believe that he will improve on this skill in due time. Looking at defense, Kelenic plays a solid center field. Thanks to his above-average speed, good reads of the ball off the bat, and good routes, he gets to balls quickly, and is able to return the ball to the infield quickly thanks to a strong and accurate arm. He is well proportioned and athletic and is unlikely to add enough mass to his body to force him off the position.
Mets Pick: Brett Baty (12th overall)
Optimal Pick: Brett Baty
The most recent draft combined with the fact that the 2020 season has been delayed, no player has performed in a way to make drafting Brett Baty the non-optimal selection. Bryson Stott, drafted 14th overall by the Phillies, and Corbin Carroll, drafted 16th overall by the Diamondbacks, have both appeared higher than Baty on individual nationally-recognized prospect lists, but neither appear particularly higher than Baty on those lists nor is there national consensus.
At the plate, Baty has a wide base, setting his hands up high and close to his body. Using a moderate leg kick and stride, the ball jumps off his bat with a crack when he makes solid contact. His swing is smooth and easy, generating power through a combination of his own raw strength, his quick bat, and the torque from his lower half. He has a natural feel for hitting and is able to use the entire field, a lesson Kingsport hitting coach Mariano Duncan tried to instill in him by working with him to use the opposite field more. He has a good eye, with an advanced recognition of breaking pitches, and comes to the plate with a plan. He is able to work the count, fouling away pitches, taking close ones, laying off borderline pitches, and generally dueling with the pitcher to get into a favorable count. He is, at times, too passive, and Duncan worked with Baty to be a little more aggressive at the plate during his time at Kingsport.
Defensively, Baty is currently capable third baseman. At 6’3”, 210-pounds, he possesses the body of the prototypical slugging third baseman. His strongest asset there is his arm, which grades out as well above-average and capable of hitting 90 MPH. His mobility is something of a concern, as he lacks much quick-twitch muscle. He is slow to react and reach balls, resulting in balls getting past him, or errors when plays are rushed. Evaluators have concern that he will eventually be forced to move off of third base, either to first base or possibly left or right field, though his below-average speed will be of concern in the outfield as well. Whatever the case may be, he is still young and there are a few years left before any actions may need to be taken.