Zack Wheeler has gone from all potential to looking like a top-of-the-rotation starter in a very short time.
It is a strange time to be a fan of the New York Mets. Despite playing in the biggest media market in baseball, the team is battling serious financial issues and is unable to spend the kind of money that the fans are used to seeing.
That might actually be a good thing, as the Mets got themselves into trouble when they kept spending big money on free agents and neglecting the farm system.
The team took advantage of R.A Dickey's Cy Young season in 2012 to flip him by trading the 38-year-old to Toronto with one year left on his contract, and received Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard in a seven-player deal.
Even though the depth still isn't there for them, the Mets look a lot better at the top of the farm system than they did just 12 months ago.
When you add to the fact that Matt Harvey, who doesn't have rookie eligibility left, showed true top-of-the-rotation stuff in his brief big league run last season, there is a lot of high-impact young talent making its way to Queens in the not-too-distant future.
Here is a full breakdown of the Mets' farm system entering 2013, including the top prospects who could make an impact in the big leagues this season and a breakout player to watch as the season moves along.
Note: All stats and ages courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted.
No. 1 Zack Wheeler, Starting Pitcher
Age: 22 (Turns 23 on May 30)
19 G (19 starts), 10-6, 3.26 ERA, 116.0 IP, 92 H, 46 R (42 ER), 2 HR, 43 BB, 117 K (Double-A)
6 G (6 starts), 2-2, 33.0 IP, 23 H, 13 R (12 ER), 2 HR, 16 BB, 31 K (Triple-A)
When the Mets acquired Wheeler from San Francisco at the trade deadline in 2011, he was still a lot of promise and upside without dominant results. Since the deal he has tweaked some things mechanically and is closer than ever to reaching his ceiling.
Wheeler works with a plus-plus fastball that he can throw in the high 90s or take a little something off to add movement. His slider and curveball project to be at least above-average offerings, with the former showing good tilt and high 80s velocity.
He is still developing a changeup. At 6'4" he gets easy downhill plane on his fastball, allowing him to keep the ball from being elevated. The command and control still need some refinement for him to become an ace, but at the very worst he will be a No. 2 starter.
No. 2 Travis d'Arnaud, Catcher
67 G, .333/.380/.595, 93 H, 21 2B, 2 3B, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 19 BB, 59 K, 1 SB (Triple-A)
One of the key pieces in the R.A. Dickey trade, d'Arnaud just needs to stay on the field and he will be making his presence felt in New York very soon.
Health has been an issue throughout his minor league career, as he has played in less than 75 games in three of the last five years.
When d'Arnaud is on the field, he is the best catching prospect in baseball. He has bat speed and power to drive the ball to all fields, which will serve him well since he has never been someone who draws a lot of walks. His career-high in the minors was 41 walks in 482 at-bats in 2009.
Behind the plate, d'Arnaud has a strong throwing arm and still-improving receiving skills, and blocks balls very well. He will likely start in Triple-A just to prove he is healthy but should be in New York before June.
No. 3 Noah Syndergaard, Starting Pitcher
27 G (19 starts), 8-5, 2.60 ERA, 103.2 IP, 81 H, 41 R (30 ER), 3 HR, 31 BB, 122 K (Low-A)
Another player the Mets acquired in the Dickey trade, Syndergaard was one of the three big pitching prospects the Blue Jays had at Low A in 2012. (Justin Nicolino, who was traded to Miami, and Aaron Sanchez are the other two.)
Boasting a workhorse frame at 6'5", 200 pounds, Syndergaard has the stuff and polish to pitch at the top of a rotation.
He throws a plus fastball with movement and can really get on top of the ball. His curveball can get loopy at times, but when he learns to control it, it will be a weapon. His changeup projects to be a plus pitch; he just needs to throw it more to develop it.
Because his control is far beyond where it should be given his age, Syndergaard could easily turn into a No. 2 starter. He does need to work on commanding pitches in the zone. If that doesn't come around, he will still have value as a late-inning reliever.
No. 4 Gavin Cecchini, Shortstop
53 G, .246/.311/.330, 47 H, 9 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 22 RBI, 18 BB, 43 K, 5 SB (Rookie)
5 G, .000/.167/.000, 0 H, 1 K (New York-Penn League)
Cecchini was the Mets' top pick in 2012 and projects to be an above-average shortstop at his peak. He doesn't have explosive tools, but the whole package put together looks a lot better than the individual pieces.
As a hitter, he hits a lot of line drives with a quick swing through the zone. He doesn't have a pretty swing, as he tends to move out on his front foot early instead of waiting back for the pitch to come to him. But because he makes a lot of contact, it isn't an issue right now. He won't hit for much power because of his swing and the fact his body doesn't have that kind of muscle in it.
At shortstop, he moves well with good instincts and footwork to get himself in position. His arm isn't great, but it is accurate and he makes all the throws he has to.
No. 5 Brandon Nimmo, Outfielder
Age: 19 (Turns 20 on March 27)
69 G, .248/.372/.406, 66 H, 20 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 40 RBI, 46 BB, 78 K, 1 SB (New York-Penn League)
When the Mets drafted Nimmo with the 13th pick in the 2011 draft, it was a nice shift from the usual low-risk, low-upside college players the team had gotten accustomed to taking in the past. He was always going to need a lot of development time, but his ceiling is high.
Nimmo is already an incredibly patient hitter, which is both a blessing and curse. He has the ability to read pitches and take walks, but he should be a bit more aggressive to start driving pitches and getting his raw power to play more in games.
Even though he isn't a speedy runner, Nimmo has the range to handle center field but he needs to get better at reading the ball off the bat. His arm is average and would play in a corner if his defense doesn't come around.
GM Sandy Alderson has done a strong job of building the farm system, though there is still a lot of work to do.
If there is one thing you can say for the Mets' farm system entering 2013, it's that it is definitely full of promise and intrigue.
While you can say that about virtually every farm system in baseball, the Mets have worked hard over the last year through the draft and trades to make sure that they are adding high-ceiling talent that they used to shy away from.
Two years ago the team drafted high school outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who had to go out of his way to prove himself prior to the draft because his high school didn't have a team, in the first round. His raw tools and ceiling made him a player worthy of the selection, even though the sample to properly judge him was not there.
Take a look at the trades that have been made in the last two years, notably acquiring Zack Wheeler from San Francisco and Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard from Toronto.
The Wheeler deal looks like a steal for the Mets right now, as he showed the promise everyone said he had coming out of high school last season, and all they had to give up was three months of Carlos Beltran to get him.
Moving further down the ranks, you start to see some cracks in the armor. The position players really dry up when you get to the likes of Wilmer Flores, who is a top-10 player in the system.
There also appears to be a lot of potentially dominant relievers with a chance to become starters, though a lot of things will have to go right for the latter to happen.
All told, it is a system that has gotten better in recent years because of trades and better drafts. But there is still a long way to go for the Mets to have an elite prospect pool.
This is really a toss-up and depends on which player you like more between Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud, as both should see a lot of time in New York very soon.
If d'Arnaud hadn't gotten hurt last June, he would have been playing in Toronto shortly after the All-Star break. He has been one of the best catching prospects in baseball, but his career path keeps getting derailed thanks to an inability to stay on the field.
In six minor league seasons, d'Arnaud has played in less than 100 games four times. He has all the tools to be an impact big-leaguer and is ready to play at that level, if not right away, around May-June.
However, because I would like to see d'Arnaud prove he can stay healthy before betting on him, Wheeler is the prospect to bet on in 2013.
Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com summed up Wheeler's evolution last year perfectly, saying that he has gone "from more of a thrower into a complete pitcher."
The raw stuff was always there for Wheeler to be a top-of-the-rotation starter--it was just a matter of him being able to put everything else together. He did that in 2012, making six starts in Triple-A at just 22 years old.
Wheeler is likely to start the season back in Triple-A just to get more experience at that level, not to mention the fact that the Mets aren't going to be very good this season, so there is no reason to rush him. He will get his time in 2013 and form a very nice tandem with Matt Harvey sooner than later.
Michael Fulmer is the kind of pitcher who will never be at the top of a prospect list because his raw stuff isn't that electric. He works with a good mix of pitches, including a fastball with movement, potentially above-average slider and an average changeup.
At nearly 20 years old, Fulmer made quite the impact at Low-A in his first full season. He had a 2.74 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 108 innings pitched. He did walk 38 hitters and give up 92 hits, but there were promising signs as the season went along.
Command and finding a consistent release point, which go hand-in-hand, are critical towards determining Fulmer's ultimate ceiling. Right now he looks the part of a good mid-rotation starter.
Youth is still on Fulmer's side, though this will be an important season for him to at least show some improvement. He needs to work on spotting his fastball better, as he tries to rely solely on movement and tends to leave the ball in the middle of the plate.
If Fulmer can harness the movement on the fastball, as well as find a consistent release point with his pitches, it's possible he could shoot past his ceiling as a No. 3 starter.
This is going to be a huge transition season for the Mets. It would not be a shock to see their top two prospects (Wheeler and d'Arnaud) in Queens before the All-Star break.
That will put a significant dent in their talent pool, but there are a lot of reasons to think that Noah Syndergaard can take the next step in his development to become a potential top-of-the-rotation prospect.
There are also players like Gavin Cecchini and Brandon Nimmo without a lot of experience under their belt who can shoot up the ranks because of their raw ability.
After the top prospects in the system, the Mets just have to hope they can harness something with at least two of them to keep the talent pipeline moving in the right direction. They need to find a way to make this system deeper, be it through the draft in June, trades, international signings, etc.
That outfield the Mets are going to run out there on Opening Day is pathetic and a strong sign of just how dire things have gotten. There doesn't appear to much help at any of those spots coming soon, so it figures to be a long season.
But as long as Matt Harvey shows the same stuff and poise he had last season, Wheeler is able to handle the stage, d'Arnaud can stay healthy and David Wright has another season like he did in 2012, there will be plenty of reasons to keep watching the big league team.