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2023 Mets Minor League In Memoriam: Catchers

With the deadline to set their 40-man rosters and protect players from the Rule 5 Draft having come and gone, let’s take a look at the minor league players who were released over the course of the 2023 season.

Nick Meyer comes in from the bullpen before a Syracuse Mets game on May 20, 2021.
Nick Meyer
Chris McShane

Gregory Leal

Released: October 31

An unheralded international free agent signing from Maracaibo, Venezuela, Gregory Leal became a professional baseball player on July 2, 2019, then the first day of the international signing period. He did not play that season, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, did not play in 2020 either. Leal finally suited up for a Mets club in June 2021, assigned to the DSL Mets 2. He spent the entire season in the Dominican Summer League, hitting .082/.266/.163 in 28 games with 1 double, 1 home run, and 10 walks to 18 strikeouts. The 19-year-old came stateside in 2022, beginning his season with the FCL Mets and being promoted to St. Lucie Mets and even the Binghamton Rumble Ponies as roster needs dictated. All in all, Leal appeared in 13 games for all three teams combined as a secondary catcher, losing additional playing time due to an injury, and hit .135/.175/.189 with 2 doubles, 2 walks, and 21 strikeouts. Leal did not play much in 2023 either, appearing in just 2 games with the FCL Mets, going 0-2 with 2 strikeouts.

While he certainly was victim of things beyond his control, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, injuries, or the organization placing their needs over his developmental needs and moving him around, Leal simply did not have professional caliber baseball abilities. Far from a marquee name, we can only hope that the signing bonus he did receive was able to provide him and his family some degree of additional comfort in their lives, for however long.

Jose Marcano

Released: November 2

The second Jose Marcano to play for the Mets, the first being infielder Jose M. Marcano who played in the organization from 1981 until 1983, Jose Angel Marcano was signed on May 1, 2021 out of Tucupita, Venezuela. The 17-year-old was assigned to the DSL Mets and appeared in 16 games that year, hitting a solid .316/.409/.395 in 16 games with 3 doubles, 4 stolen bases in 5 attempts, and 4 walks to 7 strikeouts. He remained in the Dominican Summer League in 2022 and his performance took a slight step backwards, coinciding with a change in positions from catcher to the infield. In 22 games, he hit .264/.333/.359 with 2 doubles, 1 home run, 7 stolen bases in 9 attempts, and 5 walks to 16 strikeouts. The Mets kept Marcano in the Dominican Summer League for a third straight season and in 2023, his production plummeted. Appearing in 15 games, he hit .182/.216 /.212 with 1 double, 2 walks, and 7 strikeouts.

A low-priority international signing who was signed long after the 2021 international free agent signing period began, we can only hope that the signing bonus he did receive was able to provide him and his family some degree of additional comfort in their lives, for however long.

Nick Meyer

Released: October 31

A 2015 graduate of Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, Nick Meyer attended Cal Poly and made the opening day line-up, finishing his freshman year with 50 starts, 48 of them behind home plate. He hit .301/.374/.370 with 1 home run, 2 stolen bases in 5 attempts, and drew 18 walks to 13 strikeouts, winning the the Scott Kidd Rookie of the Year Award, the John Orton Gold Glove Award, and the Big West Conference Freshman Field Player of the Year Award. His bat took a step back in his sophomore year, hitting .255/.316/.330 in 55 games with 2 home runs, 6 stolen bases in 9 attempts, and 17 walks to 17 strikeouts, but he remained an excellent defender, winning his second John Orton Gold Glove Award. In 55 games in 2018, his junior season, Meyer hit .344/.408/.428 with 0 home runs, 3 stolen bases in 5 attempts, and 18 walks to 19 strikeouts, winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award and his third-consecutive John Orton Gold Glove Award. Ironically, Meyer was born with a condition called pre-axial polydactyly, meaning he was born with two thumbs on his left hand. He underwent surgery to remove the extra digit when he was two years old, but the procedure was not without side effects, and to this day, he cannot bend his left thumb all the way.

The backstop was considered a day two selection in the 2018 MLB Draft and his name was indeed called on day two of the 2018 MLB Draft, with the Mets selecting him with their sixth round pick. Meyer agreed to a $350,000 signing bonus, roughly $65,000 over the MLB-assigned slot value of $285,200 and finished his season playing with the Brooklyn Cyclones, hitting .226/.275/.270 in 43 games. He was promoted to the St. Lucie Mets in 2019, but missed almost half the season due to injuries, only getting into 64 games and hitting .182/.250/.225. Unlike most players, Meyer played organized baseball in 2020, playing for the Tully Monsters of the City of Champions Cup, a pop-up independent league in Illinois.

Meyer appeared in 62 games with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies and Syracuse Mets in 2021, beginning the 2021 season with Binghamton Rumble Ponies and getting promoted and demoted back down a handful of times. The same thing happened in 2022 as well, appearing in 79 games for the two teams. Over the course of the 2021 and 2022 seasons, Meyer hit a combined .226/.340/.329 with Binghamton and a combined .267/.360/.359 with Syracuse. He spent the entire 2023 season with Syracuse and ended up appearing in 71 games, hitting .217/.309/.309 with 2 doubles, 6 home runs, 6 stolen bases in 7 attempts, and 28 walks to 55 strikeouts.

Meyer was always a defense-first catcher, but his offense was subpar even by “defense first catcher” standards. He also had the “unfortunate” privilege of being on teams with other catching prospects who were given precedence in playing time over him. He began dabbling with other positions in 2023, playing a bit of first base, second base, third base, and even the outfield in order to increase his versatility to the team. Meyer was generally well-liked and well-regarded, and I would not be surprised if he finally does make it to a majors with another team, or eventually goes on to do scouting or coaching in a professional organization.

Fernando Villalobos

Released: October 31

In July 2017, the Chicago Cubs signed Mexican right-hander Florencio Serrano for $1.2 million. Shady accounting practices between Major League Baseball clubs active in scouting and signing Mexican players, Mexico’s Mexican League of Baseball clubs, and the Mexican players involved was exposed shortly after, setting in motion a chain of events that would eventually see that contract nullified by the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball and a freeze put on MLB ballclubs signing any players involved with LMB ballclubs. Caught in the limbo as the two sides negotiated to resume normal relations was Fernando Villalobos, a catcher who played with the Mexico City Red Devils and was expected to sign with the Brewers. Because he was unable to sign with them before the freeze was put in place, he was available to sign when it was lifted in March 2019. With their 2018-2019 international free agent bonus pool augmented by the $500,000 obtained from the Baltimore Orioles when Keon Broxton was traded to them in May 2019, the Mets were able to sign Villalobos before the 2018-2019 signing window closed for $450,000.

The 17-year-old was assigned to the Dominican Summer League for the 2019 season and, playing for both Mets DSL squads, hit .195/.382/.232 in 30 combined games, stealing 5 bases, walking 22 times, and striking out 33 times. After missing the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Villalobos was sent stateside in 2021, appearing in 14 games for the FCL Mets and hitting .132/.214/.237 with 1 home run, 0 stolen bases, and 3 walks to 13 strikeouts. He was promoted to the St. Lucie Mets in 2022 and spent the majority of the season there, making a brief cameo with the Brooklyn Cyclones in mid-June, and hit a combined .152/.346/.276 in 37 games with 4 home runs, 0 stolen bases, and 31 walks to 42 strikeouts. He spent the entire 2023 season with St. Lucie, this time appearing in 44 games and hitting .110/.301/.161 with 3 doubles, 1 home run, 1 stolen base in as many attempts, and 32 walks to 58 strikeouts.

While not considered a premium international talent when he was signed, Villalobos was a sought-after commodity, as evidenced by multiple clubs being interested in signing him and the eventual signing bonus he received with the Mets. Catchers generally do not have linear progressions, due to the fact that they need to learn defense all while adjusting to better pitching, but Villalobos was behind the eight-ball further than most young catchers, as he was a pitcher and corner infielder prior to becoming a catcher in a bid to sign professionally. He just turned 21 on June 24, and while his Mets career may be over, he is certainly young enough to continue his baseball journey elsewhere.