New York Mets Prospects Creating the Most Buzz so Far in Spring Training
Upon becoming general manager of the New York Mets prior to the 2011 season, Sandy Alderson has been on a mission to improve the organization’s farm system.
After three years of hard work, Alderson and his front office have seen a significant increase in impact minor league prospects. Keith Law of ESPN.com (insider subscription required) ranks New York’s system as the sixth best in baseball:
The turnaround in this system is remarkable, especially when you consider they have not had a top-10 pick since they took Matt Harvey in 2010, and it puts the Mets in excellent shape relative to the other four teams in their division.
In addition to those already on the 40-man big league roster, there are over 20 non-roster invitees currently in camp for the start of spring training. Position battles are underway, but this is a great time to get a glimpse into the future with what prospects have to offer.
Let’s take a look at the six prospects making the most buzz as New York prepares to begin Grapefruit League play.
It’s hard to believe Jeurys Familia is still a prospect, but the tall right-hander has only logged 23 innings in the big leagues since debuting on September 4, 2012.
His live arm and natural ability gets people excited, but he needs to corral his control to become a successful big-league relief pitcher.
Through those 23 innings in New York, Familia owns a career BB/9 of 7.0. That’s a small sample size, but problem persisted in the minors with a 3.9 BB/9 through 57.62 innings pitched.
He was expected to be a big piece of the bullpen in 2013, but bone chips and loose bodies in his right elbow severely limited his time on the mound.
Anthony DiComo of MLB.com caught manager Terry Collins taking notice of Familia’s drive and determination to be an important piece this season:
He wants to pitch in the Major Leagues bad. He [lives] in a place where if he wants to, he can go work out every day. And yet he flies over here three weeks early to start the process here—to be seen by our coaches that are here and get on the field and do things right.
Now with a clean bill of health, Familia is confident this will be his year. Assistant general manager Paul DePodesta echoed that sentiment to Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News:
We expect him to have a breakout year. Now that he’s healthy, I am excited to see him in camp.
With plenty of young arms vying for spots in the bullpen, Familia’s confidence this spring—along with his mid-90s fastball and low-80s slider—should lead him to an Opening Day roster spot.
Jeff Walters made his presence felt during a record-breaking 2013 with Double-A Binghamton. He went 4-3 with a 2.09 ERA, 1.107 WHIP, 38 saves and 60 strikeouts in 56 innings pitched last year.
Those 38 saves led the Eastern League. They were also enough to anoint him as the single-season and career saves leader in Binghamton Mets history.
Similar to Familia, Walters sports a fastball-slider combination while on the mound. His fastball normally sits in the low-90s, but can pick up more velocity when necessary. He pairs that with a slider that resides in the mid-80s.
Jeffrey Paternostro of Amazin’ Avenue saw Walters in person last season. He felt his control needs to be honed a little more, as well as consistency for his slider. Nonetheless, the Mets added him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule-5 Draft.
Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reported earlier in February that a team insider cited Walters as a possibility to sneak his way onto the Opening Day roster in the bullpen. It would be surprising to see him skip Triple-A on his way to the big leagues, which isn’t standard procedure in New York these days.
Competition does bring out the best in people, and something as simple as improved control could land him in the big leagues as soon as next month.
Without much organizational depth for left-handed relief pitchers (or left-handed pitchers in general), Jack Leathersich will get plenty of consideration this spring.
In 58.1 innings pitched between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas in 2013, the southpaw posted a ridiculous 15.7 K/9 rate. The only problem was that when he wasn’t striking hitters out, he was probably walking them, with a 6.9 BB/9 last season.
Control has always been an issue for Leathersich, but it was magnified last year, specifically in Triple-A.
He still has a chance to break camp in the majors, according to the same team insider cited by Adam Rubin on ESPN New York.
At 23 years old, he has time to get his control issues in check. Matt Eddy of Baseball America provided an interesting take on Leathersich’s 2013 production:
Leathersich faced 90 right-handed batters at Double-A this year and held them to a .107 average with no extra-base hits. Naturally, he got hit harder by them at Triple-A (.261/.386/.493), but his overall strikeout rate versus both sides gives him major league potential. Walks against lefties need to be reigned in, but Leathersich was victimized a bit by bad luck (.533 BABIP), seeing as he didn’t allow an elevated rate of extra-base hits (about one in 10 balls in play). Fewer walks could mean a set-up role in his future.
He’s not on the 40-man roster, but if he gets his walks under control, his ability to make hitters swing and miss could persuade the coaching staff to find him a spot.
Compared to other Dominican-born baseball players, Rafael Montero signed late with the New York Mets. He's made up for that lost time during his rapid ascension through the system.
Montero isn't as tall as some of his fellow pitching prospects—he stands 6'0" and weighs 160 pounds—but his maturity and control of the strike zone are fantastic. The right-hander's fastball lives in the low-90s, but can reach 94 or 95 on occasion. His next best pitch is his changeup, followed by a slider.
A midseason promotion allowed him to throw 88.1 innings in Triple-A, making it all but certain that he could be in the majors by this summer.
He made three appearances in big league spring training last year, making waves by allowing two earned runs over 8.2 innings of work.
Technically, Montero is a part of the competition for the last remaining rotation spot. The presence of Jenrry Mejia, Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan mean he’ll probably be in Vegas to start the year—unless the Mets feel he could be useful in the bullpen.
His flawless mechanics have been the rave in Port St. Lucie. Pitching coaching Dan Warthen did not mince his words while watching him throw live batting practice earlier this week, saying his windup was "f-----g smooth!"
That, amongst other things, has allowed him the honor of kicking off the team’s Grapefruit League schedule Friday against the Washington Nationals.
However, unless he ends up as the starting shortstop, Collins told ESPN New York the 22-year-old won't start 2014 in the big leagues:
I think with what we have on the infield -- you know what? -- if he's not going to get a lot of a playing time, he's got to go play at his age. Because the ceiling on his bat is too high. He's got to go get at-bats.
Flores hasn't played shortstop since 2011, but the Mets will be giving him a long look at his old position this spring.
They're hoping he gained some quickness at the fitness and nutrition camp he attended in Michigan. The true test will come in actual games, as everyone wants to see if his defense can hold up.
Being able to plug Flores' bat into the bottom half of the lineup could make the order much deeper and more potent.
He only hit .211/.248/.295 with one home run and 13 RBI in 27 games for the Mets, but posted a .321/.357/.531 line with 15 home runs and 86 RBI for the Las Vegas 51s in 107 games played prior to being promoted.
Depending on how he performs, the Mets may be confident enough to stop pursuing Stephen Drew or checking in on available players via trade, like Nick Franklin.
Only time will tell.
Noah Syndergaard stands 6'6", 240 pounds, making him an imposing figure on the mound. Things don’t get much easier once he releases a pitch, either.
The right-hander has a fastball that lives anywhere between 95 and 100 miles per hour, including a devastating curveball. He's still working on his changeup, which has been improving since he joined the organization.
That seems to be the only criticism of the Texas native. His mechanics are sound and his control is great for a 21-year-old.
There’s no doubt Syndergaard is creating the most buzz this spring. ESPN New York caught Collins’ comments after his first bullpen of the season. The manager sounded like a kid on Christmas morning:
He had a 97 mph fastball with a hook from hell.
Before he makes his major league debut, Syndergaard will likely first accumulate innings in Triple-A. Fans should anticipate seeing him with the Mets sometime in June or July.
New York will probably delay his promotion long enough to ensure he misses the Super-Two cutoff, as they did with Zack Wheeler last season.
He continued to impress in Thursday's intra-squad game, giving up one run on four hits and five strikeouts in two innings of work.
He’s scheduled to pitch Monday against the Atlanta Braves giving fans a preview of what they can look forward to seeing at Citi Field this summer.
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