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Mets Minor League Players of the Week: Week Eight

What minor league players put up the best numbers this past week, June 22nd to June 27th?

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Mets
Mark Vientos
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Vientos

Week: 5 G, 20 AB, .400/.500/1.200, 8 H, 1 2B, 0 3B, 5 HR, 10 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K, 0/0 SB, .250 BABIP

2021 Season: 37 G, 142 AB, .261/.327/.577, 37 H, 9 2B, 0 3B, 12 HR, 32 RBI, 13 BB, 48 K, 0/0 SB, .298 BABIP

In 2017, the Mets selected Mark Vientos with their second-round draft pick and signed him for $1.5 million, roughly $400,000 higher than the MLB assigned slot value for the 59th overall pick. The teen was something of a known quality, having made his name on the exhibition and showcase circuit going back years. Considered by many a borderline first-round talent, the shortstop was available when the Mets made their second pick thanks to a quad injury that cost him some time that spring and a strong commitment to the University of Miami.

He spent most of that season with the GCL Mets, hitting .259/.316/.397 in 47 games and then spent the entire 2018 season in Kingsport, where he hit .287/.389/.489 in 60 games. In 2019, the Mets put Vientos on an aggressive developmental track, assigning the 19-year-old to the Columbia Fireflies. His season was a bit of a disappointment in terms of the expectations placed on him, but he posted a slightly above-average batting line relative to the South Atlantic League, hitting .255/.300/.411 in 111 games with 12 home runs, 22 walks, and 110 strikeouts.

Following the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season due to COVID-19 and the reshuffling of the minor leagues, Vientos was assigned to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies to start the 2021 season, completely skipping Low-A (which would have been St. Lucie had there been a 2020 season, and Brooklyn this season). The second-youngest player in the Double-A Northeast Northeast- only Riley Greene is younger- Vientos got out of the gate extremely slow, hitting .231/.279/.410 with 3 home runs in 21 games in the month of May. He got a few days off at the beginning of June and since returning has done nothing but mash the ball, hitting .300/.382/.767 with 8 home runs through today’s date, giving him a combined .261/.327/.577 batting line with 12 home runs on the season thus far.

This is not the first time that Vientos got off to a slow start. In 2019, his first year in full-season ball, he hit .240/.286/.364 with 5 home runs, 12 walks, and 58 strikeouts in the first half and .270/.315/.464 with 7 home runs, 10 walks, and 51 strikeouts in the second half. The young third baseman may simply be a slow starter, but since we do not have much data to work with as he only has one other year in full-season ball, I can’t say for sure.

What I can say for sure is that, rightly or wrongly, I have always been one of Vientos’ biggest fans. It ended up being a moot point, since he was traded in December, but I had Vientos ranked ahead of Jarred Kelenic in my early 2019 Top Prospect draft (which would’ve looked pretty bad in retrospect). I had Vientos ahead of Brett Baty in my 2020 Top Prospect list. I had Vientos ahead of Brett Baty in my 2021 Top Prospect list. Especially when compared to Baty, who plays the same position and has a very similar, almost identical skillset, I felt that Vientos continually got unfairly glossed over in favor of the shiny new toy. Younger than Baty, Vientos was further along in his professional development, and had posted better numbers than Baty had at the levels they both had competed at.

I’ve seen both Vientos and Baty this year, two games for Vientos and five games for Baty so far this season. I had seen both prior to this season, catching Vientos for five games and Baty for eight in 2019. I saw their strengths and I saw their flaws. Baty seems to have addressed his flaws, showing up to spring training much slimmer and more athletic and making slight changes to his set-up at the plate. Vientos, on the other hand, when I saw him did not. When I saw him in 2019, he showed major problems recognizing spin. Ironically, I saw him at his lowest point of the season so that magnifies his struggles in my minds eye, but he struck out 8 times in 25 plate appearances and half of those strikeouts (4) were on pitches down and away, either breaking balls or fastballs where Vientos was unable to catch up as he was waiting on breaking balls. In the two games I saw him this year, he struck out 4 times in 9 plate appearances, two of them on breaking balls down and away. The bat seemed sluggish and heavy as it had in Columbia in 2019 and Kingsport in 2018. Weirdly enough, I may have seen Vientos once again at his lowest point (albeit, it was a quick two-game look and not sitting in on an entire series).

For what it’s worth, he’s cut down on his strikeout rate. In 16 games, he’s struck out 17 times. Compare that to his May, when he struck out 31 times in 21 games. I sat down and watched every strikeout this month to see what the Bowie, Portland, and Reading batters were still getting him with. Two of those seventeen strikeouts were looking, one on a fastball away and the other on a slider down and away; the rest were swinging.

Of those 15 swinging strikeouts, five were on fastballs, five were on sliders/curveballs, four were on changeups and one was on an off-speed pitch I could not identify. Three strikeouts were on pitches up in the zone or above it and fifteen were on pitches down in the zone or below it. Six strikeouts were on pitches in and eight were on pitches away and three were on pitches right down the middle of the plate. A large percentage of those strikeouts were in his first at-bat, enough for me to raise my eyebrow and think maybe they are by design, that he has been using his first at-bats to get a sense of the pitcher he is facing and get a look at their stuff.

I am far from a hitting coach, and the angle (and quality) of MiLB.TV feeds vary from team to team, so when I went back to look at some video between Vientos earlier in the season and some select at-bats in June, I did not see anything that stuck out to me as being drastically or even subtly different. His stance, stride, swing path, nothing stood out as particularly different to my (admittedly untrained) eye. Am I missing something? Is it just a coincidence that he is having his best month when facing the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Bowie Baysox, the Portland Sea Dogs, and the Reading Fightin Phils, all of whom are in the bottom half of the Double-A Northeast in terms of run prevention and ERA (only Binghamton themselves and the Hartford Yard Goats have been worse this season)?

Credit where credit is due of course. Regardless of if the hits have come off nobodies or if they came off future Hall of Famers, they count all the same. Over the course of an entire season, it all evens out.

Vientos is the second youngest player in the Double-A Northeast Northeast; only Riley Greene is younger. He skipped over an entire developmental level completely and is now figuring his way around after missing out on an entire season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are a fanbase conditioned to pessimism, so maybe letting ourselves be optimistic is harder than it seems.

Oscar Rojas

Week: 1 G (1 GS), 7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER (0.00 ERA), 1 BB, 9 K

2021 Season: 9 G (9 GS), 40.2 IP, 40 H, 20 R, 19 ER (4.20 ERA), 14 BB, 34 K, .310 BABIP (Low-A/High-A)

Born in Uriangato, a city in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, Oscar Rojas was signed by the Mets as an international free agent on May 23, 2017, near the end of the 2017-2018 international free agent signing period. The 18-year-old right-hander was assigned to the Mets’ Dominican Summer League squadron when the league began play a few days later and he posted a 2.18 ERA in seven starts, allowing 27 hits in 33.0 innings, walking 2 and striking out 35. Rojas was promoted stateside in 2018, starting the season with the GCL Mets and earning a promotion to Kingsport at the end of the season after posting a 3.83 ERA in 42.1 innings with 34 hits allowed, 12 walks, and 40 strikeouts. His time in Kingsport was brief, starting and losing a pair of road games against the Danville Braves and the Pulaski Yankees, giving up six earned runs over eight innings with 11 hits allowed, 3 walks, and 2 strikeouts.

Rojas missed the entire 2019 season due to injury and then missed the entire 2020 due to the cancellation of the minor league season due to COVID-19. When the Mexican Pacific League began play at the end of the year, the right-hander played for the Algodoneros de Guasave. Appearing in 13 games for them and making 6 starts, the 21-year-old posted a 1.78 ERA in 35.1 innings, allowing 22 hits, walking 20, and striking out 22. When the 2021 season began, he was initially assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones, but was demoted to the St. Lucie Mets struggling out of the gate and allowing 17 earned runs in 13.0 innings. The move from High-A to Low-A has allowed Rojas to pitch to hitters more appropriate to his talent level, and the right-hander currently has a 0.98 ERA in 27.2 innings, allowing 19 hits, walking 6, and striking out 25.

Rojas is on the shorter side for a pitcher, standing 5’11”. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot, falling off the first-base side of the rubber during his follow-through. Because of his short, squat frame, the right-hander does not throw his pitches with much plane, downward making him susceptible to home runs since so many pitches are hit in the air.

The right-hander generally pitches backwards, throwing his curveball and changeup pitches than his fastball. His curveball sits in the mid-70s-to-low-80s and features floaty 12-6 break. His changeup sits in the low-to-mid-80s and has slightly above-average vertical and horizontal drop rates thanks to its slightly above-average spin rate. His fastball sits 88-93, generally settling in around 90 MPH.

Players of the Week 2021

Week One (May 4-May 8): Francisco Alvarez/Tylor Megill

Week Two (May 9-May 15): Antoine Duplantis/Tylor Megill

Week Three (May 16-May 23): Francisco Alvarez/Franklin Parra

Week Four (May 24-May 30): Mason Williams/Franklyn Kilome

Week Five (June 1-June 6): Brett Baty/Alec Kisena

Week Six (June 8-June 13): Carlos Cortes/Josh Walker

Week Seven (June 15-June 20): Luke Ritter/ Justin Lasko