On his own, Drew Gilbert was an excellent return in the Justin Verlander deal, but that’s not all the Mets received. They also scooped up Ryan Clifford, a recent prep draft pick that has rocketed up lists this season while laying waste to the low minors.
A mainstay on amateur U.S. international teams, Clifford was drafted in the eleventh round in 2022, but don’t let that fool you - he received a $1M signing bonus, essentially equivalent to second round money. So far, he’s made that look like a wise investment, demolishing Single-A in both a brief 2022 cameo and in 25 games there to start this season (.337/.448/.457, 177 wRC+) before being promoted. He’s not been quite as dominant overall, but his over the fence power has stated to emerge; Clifford launched 16 HR in 250 PA with High-A Asheville and introduced himself to Brooklyn with one of the longest home runs the level will see this year in his first at bat.
Unsurprisingly, the selling point here is the bat. It’s a borderline elite combination of high-end swing decisions, in-zone contact, and power, and the potential offensive upside here is enormous. Defensively, the outlook is less favorable, with Clifford’s foot speed limiting him to an outfield corner at best and likely first base in the long run. Not ideal, certainly, but the bat is good enough to play anywhere, even the cold corner. The ultimate projection here is a left handed, power-hitting first baseman who could earn a cup of coffee at the big league level by the end of next season and is likely ready for a major league job by 2025.
So far, Prospects Live is the only outlet to rank Clifford within the top-100 prospects in the game, slotting him in at 61. Nevertheless, he seems a strong candidate to rise up national lists this offseason. Baseball Prospectus gave him strong consideration for their midseason top-50 (which he ultimately did not make), a process that largely took place before Clifford’s scorching hot July (.299/.366/.644 w/ 9 HR in 101 PA, 160 wRC+). Baseball America’s updated report is also favorable and there should be ample room for him to rise up once end-of-season graduations are factored in.
There is an another universe where Ryan Clifford, not Drew Gilbert, is the centerpiece of a Verlander trade to Houston. Perhaps there the Mets send less money and get other, lower-level names back (e.g., Spencer Arrighetti, Luis Baez). While that’s a lesser package overall, Clifford on his own is an extremely exciting centerpiece given the upside he’s demonstrated in his first full professional season. He’ll likely be checking in within the top-5 Mets prospects this offseason as part of a drastically revamped system.