Steven Matz after he was drafted in 2009.
With spring training right around the corner, the New York Mets will have a number of sleeper prospects for fans to watch throughout February and March.
Last week, I wrote about five prospects that are dark-horse candidates to make the Opening Day roster. This list consists of players who have less of a chance to make the roster but have been invited to big league spring training and could make an impact for the Mets at some point in the near future.
These are sleeper prospects, so they aren’t players who will undoubtedly make an impact at the major league level during their careers. They are absent from most of the prospect rankings being released, so players such as Brandon Nimmo and Kevin Plawecki are not included. Also, the only players eligible are members of the 40-man roster or non-roster invitees (which are listed here), as fans will be unable to watch players outside of this categorization.
Often the term “sleeper” indicates that a prospect is unknown but has a high ceiling. For this article, the sleepers are likely recognizable to many fans but have lower ceilings, unlike some of the Mets’ younger prospects who could become elite.
Here are five sleeper prospects for Mets fans to watch in spring training.
Erik Goeddel was a surprising inclusion to the Mets’ new additions to the 40-man roster. Adding Goeddel is a clear indication of the Mets' positive feelings towards him as a prospect, as they were afraid of losing him in the Rule 5 Draft despite his uninspiring numbers.
The Mets drafted Goeddel out of UCLA in the 24th round of the MLB draft but had to offer him $350,000 to sign. While he was a reliever at UCLA, the Mets moved him into the rotation, where he has remained since.
In 2011, former Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein wrote that Goeddel “could profile better, and move quicker as a reliever.” The Mets appear to feel differently, despite his lackluster performance as a starter (he recorded a 4.37 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP as a 24-year old in Double-A Binghamton). Via Mike Kerwick writing for Baseball America (subscription required), Mets vice president of player development Paul DePodesta praised Goeddel’s ability as a starter, claiming he “holds his stuff well deep into games.”
DePodesta is very positive about Goeddel, stating in the same article in December that the Mets “think he’s a big leaguer. And we think he’s close.” DePodesta believes Goeddel has major league-quality stuff, and described it for Kerwick: “He has a plus fastball. We like both his breaking balls—he’s got a curveball and a slider.”
Goeddel has been absent from most prospect lists surrounding the Mets, and understandably so considering his poor minor league performance. However, the Mets are very high on his future, and with his advanced age (he turned 25 in December) he could be making an impact soon.
Goeddel should be interesting to watch in spring training, as most of his appearances will likely be in short-inning stints as a reliever. Goeddel has not produced results as a starter, but he could become an effective reliever in the near future, as he has experience coming out of the bullpen in college and his stuff could tick up as a result.
Based on the Mets' current assessment of Goeddel as a starter, he likely will continue pitching as one to start the season. However, he is definitely a sleeper prospect for Mets fans to keep an eye on as a reliever in spring training.
Steven Matz is less of a sleeper prospect as he has received some recognition in scouting circles, and Mets fans have been aware of him since he was the team’s first pick in the 2009 MLB draft.
Matz, a second-round pick out of high school in Long Island, has been plagued by injuries throughout his career with the Mets. Matz had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and had a setback in 2011, so despite being drafted in 2009, he didn’t make his minor league debut until 2012 when he pitched in just six games.
With all these injuries, Matz had been set aside as a legitimate prospect by many scouts and Mets fans alike, but last year as a 22-year-old in Low-A Savannah, he dominated. He pitched to a 2.62 ERA with 121 strikeouts in 106.1 innings.
Matz didn’t just produce statistically, he did so masterfully while displaying his impressive skill set.
For most lefties, scouts often don’t need to see as much velocity to be impressed, but Matz showed it off anyway. His fastball sat around 93-96 mph with late tail that made him especially tough on opposing hitters. Matz also sports an improving breaking ball and changeup, giving him a legitimate chance to remain a starter rather than be relegated to the bullpen.
Even though he hasn’t pitched above Low-A Savannah, the Mets needed to protect Matz from the Rule 5 Draft and add him to their 40-man roster so that a team couldn’t snag him and use him as a lefty specialist. Matz is still young and could use more development as a starter, but he is one of the system’s more intriguing prospects and will be one of the key players to watch in spring training.
Matz has great potential as a starter, but his injury-riddled past could relegate him to the bullpen. Either way, if Matz can stay healthy he will be an important piece of the Mets’ farm system and future, and watching him in spring training will give fans a taste of his potential.
Cory Vaughn is one of the Mets’ non-roster invitees this spring. He has been a recognizable name among fans since he entered the organization due to his name recognition (his father Greg played professionally for many years) and his powerful bat.
Vaughn was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB draft out of San Diego State and has progressed slowly through the Mets system since. He reached High-A St. Lucie halfway through the 2011 season, but didn’t advance to Double-A Binghamton until 2013.
The power potential is evident with Vaughn, but his high strikeout totals and platoon splits could hurt his major league chances. In 2012 for the St. Lucie Mets he slugged 23 home runs but struck out 114 times and hit just .243. Last season, he was held back by injuries and played in just 92 games, but he struck out 96 times.
Vaughn has a chance to become a successful platoon outfielder or bench player, and as he turns 25 in May, it could be sooner rather than later. At Double-A Binghamton, Vaughn hit an impressive .309/.406/.531 against lefties but just .233/.329/.357 against righties. If Vaughn wants to be an everyday player, he needs to make major strides against right-handed pitching.
Watching Vaughn in spring training will be interesting for fans, as they will get to see his varying approach against righties and lefties. While it is unlikely Vaughn has an All Star-level career, he could still become a valuable piece to a major league team, and he's definitely a player to keep an eye on in spring training.
Dustin Lawley is a similar prospect to Cory Vaughn, as he is also a power-hitting outfielder with big holes in his swing.
Playing in High-A St. Lucie, Lawley led the Florida State League with an impressive 25 home runs and was named the FSL Player of the Year. Lawley has big-time power, as 25 home runs is a lot for any minor league hitter. The fact that the FSL allows the fewest home runs per game of any full-season league in the minors with 1.13 (via Baseball America) makes the total even more impressive.
Despite the impressive power, Lawley’s numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. He was very old for High-A ball as a 24-year-old, and players old for their level often produce above their potential. Also, Lawley hit only .260 and had a dreadful 21.6 percent strikeout rate, a statistic that looks especially poor when taking into account his age in the league.
Lawley comes with plenty of uncertainty, and fans should not expect him to become the Mets’ corner outfielder of the future. However, his power is real, and the Mets’ promotion of Lawley to Triple-A Las Vegas for the PCL playoffs shows the team is not worried about moving him too quickly.
Lawley is definitely a sleeper prospect that Mets fans should watch in spring training. Fans should focus on Lawley’s approach at the plate, and hopefully at some point Lawley will connect and show off his impressive power.
If Lawley cuts down on his strikeouts and maintains his power production (which shouldn’t be a problem at Triple-A Las Vegas), he could be a useful bench piece for the Mets in the near future, although he is more likely destined for a Valentino Pascucci type of career.
Logan Verrett is a low-ceiling right-handed pitcher who could potentially become a solid back-of-the-rotation starter who adds to the Mets’ pitching depth.
The Mets drafted Verrett in the third round of the 2011 MLB draft, and since signing he has been consistently solid, pitching to a 3.61 ERA in 249.1 career innings. What makes Verrett intriguing and gives him a definite shot at a major league career is his control and ability to limit baserunners, as he has an impressive minor league career WHIP of 1.071 with just 44 career walks.
The Baylor University alum received a non-roster invite this spring, and it will be interesting to see how he fares against major league-level hitters. Verrett is held back by his lack of dominant offerings, as he uses a four-pitch mix with his slider being his most effective weapon. If Verrett can get major league hitters out while still throwing strikes at such a high rate, that would bode very well for his future.
While Verrett lacks the potential to become a front-of-the-rotation starter, his feel for pitching and ability to mix his pitches well gives him a chance to have a long major league career. Seeing how he fares against high-level competition should indicate whether or not he is a serious part of the Mets’ pitching depth, and it's definitely something that Mets fans should watch for in the coming months.