Sandy Alderson has retooled the New York Mets’ outfield for the 2014 season with the acquisitions of Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. These look to be improvements from 2013, but he’ll have to once again revisit that part of the roster next winter.
Granderson signed a multi-year contract and will be in Flushing (if all goes well) through the 2017 season. However, Young inked a one-year agreement—if Juan Lagares (or Eric Young Jr.) work out next year, Alderson will need one player to fill that void, assuming Young isn’t re-signed.
Before scouring the free agent and trade markets, he should take a long look at two outfield prospects that could be on the cusp of being in the major leagues by the end of this season: Dustin Lawley and Cesar Puello.
Baseball America hasn’t tabbed either one of these prospects as one of the ten best in the organization, but the immediate future at Citi Field may include one of them manning a corner outfield spot.
Through three seasons in the minors, Lawley owns a .266/.324/.481 line in 1,214 career at-bats. Out of his 323 career hits, 150 of them have gone for extra bases (89 doubles, 11 triples and 50 home runs). Approximately half the time he records a hit, he’s making the turn and going for extra bases.
Through 122 games in High-A with the St. Lucie Mets, he hit .260/.313/.512 with 25 home runs and 92 RBI. He won the Florida State League home run crown, as well as the player of the year honors. He then made a surprising jump—the Las Vegas 51s were in need of some help, and the organization promoted Lawley all the way to Triple-A.
As a 24-year-old with college baseball experience, he handled this change very well. He appeared in six games before the Pacific Coast League playoffs began, hitting .300/.333/.550.
It’s undetermined whether or not Lawley will be back in Vegas or head to Double-A to start the season. It was a small sample size with the 51s, but he’s proved he can handle the tougher competition. He’ll be turning 25 in April, and this is the perfect time to see what he’s made of.
Cesar Puello is in an entirely different situation. He was a highly regarded international free-agent signing in 2007. It wasn’t until this past year with the Binghamton Mets that he broke out and showed his true potential. The outfielder hit .326/.403/.547 with 16 home runs, 73 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 331 at-bats.
Puello’s 2013 was cut short because he had to serve a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. This saga surrounded him most of the season, and it was impressive to see he could handle himself on the field while his immediate future was being determined off it.
There was never a question about his raw skills—it was whether or not the 22-year-old would ever put it all together over an entire season. He finally did with the B-Mets, but didn’t get to finish the year with the team or participate in the Eastern League playoffs because of his suspension.
He’s currently getting more at-bats in the Dominican Winter League, but the magic he had in Binghamton didn’t hop in his suitcase before traveling south. In 115 at-bats, Puello is hitting .200/.252/.261.
What is most concerning is that he’s drawn only five walks during that time. Puello hasn’t walked much since he joined the Mets in 2008 (100 walks drawn in 1,970 career minor league at-bats), but it continues to be a concern. He’s still young and will likely have more patience at the plate as he matures, but there will need to be tangible evidence.
The evidence was there in 2013 while working with B-Mets hitting coach Luis Natera—Puello walked a career-high 7.4 percent of the time, compared to a 2.8 percent rate in 2012. That is legitimate progress, but it will need to be sustained in 2014 so it doesn’t look like an aberration.
With a relatively thin free-agent market in the outfield for next winter, it could pay great dividends for the Mets to find a solution internally. The standout seasons from Lawley and Puello in 2013 give the organization some options, but their performances this year are critical.
For Lawley, it will be a question as to whether or not he can handle that next level of competition for a prolonged period of time. It would be a waste to put him in Double-A to start the year—as we’ve seen, the Mets take it slow with promoting their prospects. If Lawley is going to have a chance at a September call-up, he needs to start 2014 in Vegas.
As for Puello, the biggest question will be whether or not his breakout season is something he can produce regularly. It was nice to see him put it all together in 2013, but can he do it repeatedly? Is he the player that performed from 2008 through 2012 or the one from last year? He’ll also need to continue improving his patience at the plate, which is an ongoing process.
Neither one of these prospects provide a clear answer to take Chris Young's place in the outfield once his contract is up, but it gives the Mets some young, potentially productive and cheap options to consider and monitor throughout this season.
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