In exchange for 2012 Cy Young award-winner R.A. Dickey, the New York Mets acquired two high-level prospects from the Toronto Blue Jays, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and right-hander Noah Syndergaard, as part of a monster seven-player trade.
The Mets also received—wait for it—John Buck from the Blue Jays, as well as a third prospect, 18-year-outfielder Wuilmer Becerra.
While d’Arnaud and Syndergaard ascend towards the major leagues, the lesser-known Becerra may be a work-in-progress for several years. However, by then he may have one of the highest ceilings in the Mets' entire system.
Signed for $1.3 million as an international free agent out of Venezuela in July of 2011, Becerra generated considerable buzz headed into his professional debut last season.
Assigned to the Blue Jays’ rookie-level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League, Becerra batted .250/.359/.375 with four doubles and 7/4 K/BB through his first 10 games. Sadly, an errant pitch from the Yankees’ Graham Stoneburner hit Becerra flush in the face in his 11th career game, breaking his jaw and prematurely ending his season.
When healthy, the 6’4”, 190-pound outfielder’s loudest tools are his speed and power. A right-handed hitter, Becerra employs an upright stance and uses both his height and long arms to generate a leveraged swing.
Furthermore, the nature of his power-oriented, and often reckless, swing causes him to overload before the pitch, which, in turn, results in both an arm bar and bat wrap. As a result, his bat drags through the zone and prevents a favorable point of contact.
Until Becerra modifies his all-too-frequent uppercut through the strike zone, his hit tool will remain fringy and difficult to project. His 39 plate appearances last season are too small of a sample size, and a poor indicator of his true plate discipline. But from what I know about him, Becerra struggles to find a balance between an over-aggressive and passive approach—a common trend among young and inexperienced hitters.
However, given his above-average bat speed and strong wrists, he should be able to make adjustments physically.
Prior to signing with the Blue Jays, Becerra was primarily a shortstop—a testament to his natural athleticism. Since then, however, he’s been moved to the outfield, where both his size and defensive skill set are a cleaner fit.
While his speed isn’t explosive, Becerra is an above-average-to-plus runner at full stride and capable of covering ground in the outfield. His arm is a down tool, which grades as average at best and will presumably limit him to either center or left field.
Fully recovered from his gruesome season-ending injury, Becerra will likely open the 2013 season back in the Gulf Coast League. It may take him some time to regain his rhythm and pitch recognition—and possibly address the psychological impact from taking a pitch to the face—but finishing the year at Short-Season Brooklyn is a possibility.
Until he plays an entire year at a full-season level (Class-A and above), all expectations should be reserved. Becerra’s still incredibly young with a substantial gap between present and future ability, and therefore needs at-bats—lots of them.
Several full seasons in the minor leagues should give him ample time to improve his plate discipline and craft a more contact-oriented swing.
If he can stay on the field and develop at a reasonable pace, Becerra should reach Double-A in late 2014/early 2015, followed by the major leagues in 2016. How good he becomes between now and then is a mystery, but his pure athleticism and raw skills suggest a high ceiling.
Let’s just hope he’s not the next Cesar Puello.