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State of the System 2020: Third Base

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The Mets have some intriguing third base prospects in their system, although most of them are relatively far from making an impact at the big league level.

Brett Baty
Brett Baty
Chris McShane

Third base is a position typically reserved for power-hitters who have enough arm strength to make the long throws to across the diamond to first but lack the mobility needed to play elsewhere on the infield. It’s an interesting position in that, while it doesn’t require elite foot speed or range, it does require its own highly specialized skill set. Third basemen need to be able to react quickly enough to field some of the hardest hit balls in play the game has to offer, and the footwork to get into a solid enough position to make an accurate throw. Most importantly, third baseman need to hit, and ideally, hit with more than their fair share of power. At the position, the Mets have little depth in the upper levels of the minors, but do have a few promising third base prospects at the lower levels of the organizational ladder.

With few prospects in Triple-A who were capable of playing a passable third base at the big league should an injury occur, the Mets filled the Syracuse infield depth chart with veterans on minor league contracts. Old friend Ruben Tejada got into the most games at the position for Syracuse, and generally performed pretty well. Tejada got into 44 of his 73 games at the position for Syracuse, and hit .326/.404/.471 in 314 International League plate appearances before earning a cup of coffee in Flushing at the end of the season. Behind Tejada, Syracuse played Dilson Herrera, Arismendy Alcantara, and Adeiny Hechavarria at third base at various times before letting each of them move on to other organizations after the 2019 season. Adeiny Hechavarria was designated for assignemnt on August 9 and spent the rest of 2019 as a useful part of the Braves bench, Herrera was picked up by the Orioles before the 2020 season, and Alcantara is currently in the Dodgers organization. With Tejada having signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays for 2020, the Mets have little depth at the position left, although they do have a number of other infield prospects who are capable of playing third base on the bench and in their 60 man player pool. Luis Guillorme played 13 of his 69 games for Syracuse last season at third, and has seen some time there at the big league level as well over the last few seasons. While they may not have much depth in the minor leagues at third base specifically, they do have depth at other infield spots that can cover the position.

Will Toffey played the lion’s share of third base for the Rumble Ponies in 2019, logging 75 games at the position. Originally acquired from the Athletics in the 2018 Jeurys Familia trade, Toffey’s best asset on the diamond is his excellent plate discipline, even if his patience also comes with its fair share of strikeouts. Toffey has walked in more than 14.5% of his plate appearances in each season of his professional career so far to date, which has allowed him to post average to slightly above-average batting lines at each level he’s played in despite limited game power and never hitting for a particularly high batting average. It’s worth noting that Toffey’s 27.9% strikeout rate spiked a bit in his second taste of Double-A in 2019, up from 21.8% in 2018. On the defensive side, Toffey is solid and possesses a strong throwing arm. Aside from Toffey, the Rumble Ponies played Michael Paez and David Thompson a at third semi-regularly, although both spent significant;y more time at second and first base respectively.

The St. Lucie Mets utilized more of a time share at third base in 2019, relying on the combination of Cody Bohanek and Blake Tiberi for more than 50 games each at the position. The Mets acquired Bohanek in the same trade with the Astros that brought J.D. Davis to the Mets prior to the 2019 season. Bohanek is more of a contact hitter than a power hitter, hitting a slightly above-average .229/.348/.340 in 369 plate appearances in the Florida State League in 2019. Bohanek has more than enough arm strength to play the position defensively, but will need to continue to work on lowering his 29.8% strikeout rate to continue to rise up the organizational ladder. The Mets drafted Blake Tiberi out of the University of Louisville in the third round of the 2016 draft. Tiberi was a roughly league-average hitter for the St. Lucie Mets in 2019, hitting .252/.332/.337 with a 10.2% walk rate against a 17.1% strikeout rate. On defense, Tiberi is a bit of a mixed bag at the hot corner, as he has solid hands and a decent arm, despite having undergone Tommy John surgery in 2017.

The Mets situation at third base gets far more interesting from a prospect perspective below the Advanced-A level. The Columbia Fireflies relied almost exclusively on Mark Vientos at third base in 2019. Currently the Mets fifth best prospect, Vientos is among the highest upside players in the Mets system, despite having struggled for large portions of his full-season debut. Originally drafted in the second round of the 2017 MLB draft as one of the youngest players in the draft class, Vientos followed a stellar 2018 with Kingsport with a merely average season with the Fireflies in 2019. Vientos hit a slightly above-average .255/.300/.411 in 454 plates appearances in his first taste of the South Atlantic League, and clearly had a bit of trouble adjusting to the full-season schedule. Offensively, Vientos possesses excellent raw power, which he is able to get into games semi-regularly at present, having hit a career high 12 home runs in 2019. When things are going well at the plate, Vientos uses his large 6’4” frame to hit tape measure shots, and can drive the ball out to virtually any part of the ballpark.

While Vientos certainly has raw power you can dream on, his ability to make consistent enough contact for it to play in games is more of an open question. Vientos struggled to make contact for the first time in 2019, striking out in 24.2% of his plate appearances, and hitting just .255 in the South Atlantic League last season. He also walked less frequently than he had the year prior, posting just a 4.8% walk rate. It’s worth noting that Vientos is still extremely young relative to the players he is competing against, and will be just 20 years old for all of the 2020 season, but his swing is relatively stiff, and has a tendency to get relatively long as a result of his large frame and long levers. Defensively, Vientos is capable of playing adequately at third, largely due to his strong throwing arm, but he doesn’t figure to add much value defensively because of a lack of range.

The Brooklyn Cyclones spread the playing time around at third base in 2019. Jose Peroza played the most there, getting into 26 games and hitting .225/.295/.369 in 122 plate appearances for the Cyclones. Yoel Romero got into 19 of the 54 games he played in the NYPL at third, and hit .251/.326/.377, and Nic Gaddis got into 14 games at the hot corner and hit .184/.273/.224. The Cyclones got some help at third at the end of the season, when 2019 first round draft pick Brett Baty was promoted to the Cyclones to help on their playoff push.

Currently the Mets fourth best prospect, Baty was selected with the 12th overall pick in 2019 out of Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, and assigned him to the GCL to start the year. He quickly hit his way to Kingsport, where he began to slow down a bit, but still held his own, hitting .222/.339/.437 in 186 plate appearances in the Appalachian League. While Baty certainly held his own, he clearly showed signs of fatigue over his first season of pro ball. During his late season time with the Cyclones, Baty often had trouble keeping his body in sync. In many ways, Baty is a similar prospect to Mark Vientos. Baty has prodigious raw power that he has been able to get into games pretty regularly thus far, and has shown an ability to drive the ball to all fields. He has a smooth left-handed swing with excellent bat speed that should allow him to make contact relatively consistently, although there is likely always going to be a good amount of swing and miss in his game.

In addition to his power potential, Baty has shown an excellent understanding of the strike zone so far, having walked 35 times in 228 plate appearances across three levels in 2019. On defense, Baty is currently capable of playing third base at the moment but will have to hit and hit a lot to make an impact down the road. Baty has an extremely strong throwing arm, having hit 90 MPH off the mound before the draft, but has limited mobility and relatively slow reactions. While Baty is older than your average prep infielder, there is significant upside in his offensive profile.

In addition to Baty, the Kingsport Mets also played Jaylen Palmer at third in 2019. Currently the Mets 16th best prospect, Palmer was selected in the twenty-second round of the 2018 out of Holy Cross High School in Flushing, New York. Palmer is an extremely promising athlete, although he is extremely raw on the offensive side of the ball. Palmer hit an above-average .260/.344/.413 in 276 plate appearances for Kingsport in 2019, despite striking out in an alarming 39.1% of his trips to the plate. Palmer is a solid defender at third, and probably could play an adequate shortstop at present, but will need to cut down on his strikeouts to get his elite athleticism to play in games.

In addition to the aforementioned Nic Gaddis and Jose Peroza, the GCL Mets had a pair of interesting prospects play third base for them in 2019. Sign in 2018 out of the Bahamas, Warren Saunders played 13 of his 33 games at third base for the GCL Mets, and generally excelled there, hitting .323/.397/.386 in 147 plate appearances. While he was a bit old for the complex league, he has impressed so far with his athleticism despite being very raw on both sides of the ball. The GCL also worked William Lugo into the mix at third in 2019. Signed by the Mets in the 2018-2019 signing period out of the Dominican Republic for $475,000, Lugo struggled after being pushed to the GCL at just 17 years old. Lugo hit just .158/.280/.219 in 176 plate appearances, although his raw power could prove to be exciting if he continues to develop offensively.

While the Mets don’t have much usable depth at the upper levels of their minor league system, they do have a number of exciting and intriguing prospects at the lower levels. It’s possible that the team ends up with a few useful players down the line if they get a few good outcomes out of that group, and there is even the potential for an impact bat or two if things break particularly well for them.