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It ain’t easy being a prospect in the New York Mets’ farm system.
After a fourth-place finish in the National League East for the fourth-consecutive season, the organization is in need of an infusion of young talent. They took a step in the right direction this offseason by cashing in on R.A. Dickey, receiving Travis d’Arnaud, the game’s top catching prospect, and right-hander Noah Syndergaard in return.
The organization also has a crop of sleeper prospects—usually those whose ascent has been sidetracked by injuries or younger players with raw skills and minimal professional experience.
Here’s a look at the New York Mets’ five most under-the-radar prospects headed into the 2013 season.
Becerra signed for $1.3 million as an international free agent out of Venezuela in July of 2011. Assigned to the Blue Jays’ rookie-level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League, he batted .250/.359/.375 with four doubles and 7/4 K/BB through his first 10 games. However, an errant pitch hit Becerra in the face in his 11th career game, breaking his jaw and prematurely ending his season. He was acquired by the Mets as the third prospect—Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard the others—in the deal that sent R.A. Dickey to Toronto.
When healthy, the 6’4”, 190-pound outfielder’s more prominent 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. He tends to overload before the pitch, which, in turn, tenses his body and results in both an arm bar and wrap. He also struggles to find a balance with his power-oriented approach, as is the case with many young hitters. However, given his above-average bat speed and strong wrists, he should be able to make adjustments physically—though they may not be immediate.
Selected in the second round of the 2011 draft out of North Carolina State, Mazzoni reached Double-A Binghamton in his full-season debut last year. After working out of the bullpen in his brief pro debut, the Mets moved Mazzoni into the starting rotation. He registered a 3.25 ERA with 104/36 K/BB in 144.1 innings at High-A St. Lucie in the hitter-friendly Florida State League, but struggled with a 4.46 ERA in 80.2 innings (in which he struck out 56 and walked 20) following a promotion to Double-A.
His fastball will reach 94-95 mph, though he usually sits in the low-90s. When he keeps his pitch count down, Mazzoni, a 6’1”, 190-pound right-hander, can hold his velocity deep into games. He throws his slider with velocity in the mid-80s with solid pace, and it should serve as a second above-average-to-plus pitch. He throws a splitter rather than a changeup, which is currently a fringy pitch.
If the split continues to develop, then Mazzoni could have a future as a fifth starter in the major leagues. If not, he still projects as a solid late-inning reliever.
A 5’10”, 160-pound shortstop, Tovar’s calling card will always be his defense thanks to his plus range, solid glove and strong arm. He makes so much contact that it nearly offsets his lack of plate discipline, as he batted .270/.345/.360 with 32 extra-base hits, 14 stolen bases and 39/40 K/BB last season in 122 games between High and Double-A. His fastest route to the major leagues is probably as a late-inning defensive replacement up the middle.
Rivera may not be the sexiest prospect, however, the 6’1”, 190-pound middle infielder’s above-average hit tool and plate discipline helped him reach High-A St. Lucie in his full-season debut. A non-drafted free agent out of Troy in 2011, the right-handed hitter opened the 2012 season at Low-A Savannah and batted .333/.396/.487 with 23 extra-base hits and 33/26 K/BB in 64 games. He was then promoted to High-A St. Lucie where it was more of the same: .306/.346/.400 with 19 extra-base hits and 38/14 K/BB in 64 games.
Even though Rivera, 24, will never hit for much more than consistent gap power with the occasional long ball, his plate discipline and knack for hard contact project well at higher levels; he knows how to make pitchers work and rarely gives away at-bats. Equally important is his defensive versatility, as Rivera is comfortable at either middle infield position. His bat isn’t sustainable long-term at the hot corner, though he can handle the position defensively if the need arises. He’ll open the 2013 season at Double-A and could reach the major leagues in early-2014 as a utility infielder provided that he continues to rake.
Both a shortstop and pitcher during his career at Stetson, the Mets selected deGrom in the ninth round of the 2010 draft for his potential on the mound. The 6’4”, 185-pound right-hander struggled in his professional debut after he was selected, and then missed the entire 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The 24-year-old's excellent return to the mound this season was overlooked. He registered a 2.51 ERA with 78/14 K/BB in 89.2 innings at Low-A Savannah to open the season, followed by a 2.08 ERA with 18/6 K/BB in 21.2 innings after a promotion to High-A St. Lucie.
With an athletic delivery and smooth arm action, deGrom will run his fastball as high as 94-95 mph, but more commonly sits in the 91-93 mph range. As he continues to gain strength, it’s conceivable that his heater may add a few ticks. Both his slider and changeup were more advanced than expected and influenced his success against left-handed hitters at both levels (.248 BAA at Low-A; .176 BAA at High-A).
He’s one of the more under-the-radar pitching prospects in the National League and should be followed closely during the upcoming season.