New York Mets Complete 2014 Minor League Preview
While the New York Mets major league season began Monday, the minor league season kicks off Thursday.
Even though the Mets are hopeful about this season, fans should still be excited about the team's bright future, as New York boasts a very talented farm system.
On the following slides, there are previews for every Mets affiliate between Triple-A Las Vegas and Short Season-A Brooklyn. For each team there is a hitter to watch, pitcher to watch and under-the-radar prospect, as well as an overview of what to look for from each team.
While fans should be focused on the Mets and hope for a winning season, they should also keep an eye on the minor league affiliates, as there is plenty to be excited about with each minor league level.
Most of the rosters are set for each team, but for a team like Brooklyn that will be composed largely of players drafted in June, I discuss players that I project to be on the roster even though they are not yet officially on the team.
All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference.
Triple-A, Las Vegas 51s
Hitter to Watch: Cesar Puello, OF
Of all the position players in the Mets farm system, Cesar Puello is among the most physically gifted. He has plus raw power, well above-average speed and a cannon in the outfield.
Last season, Puello was able to translate his tools into success on the field prior to serving a suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.
His numbers should be impressive due to Las Vegas’ hitter-friendly ballpark, but fans should focus on his strikeout and walk rates to determine if he is actually improving as a player.
Pitcher to Watch: Noah Syndergaard, RHP
Noah Syndergaard could probably succeed in the big leagues right now, but he still needs to refine his secondary offerings if he wants to be a front-of-the-rotation starter.
Seeing how the big Texan handles the hitter’s paradise in Las Vegas will be key to the success of the Mets farm system this year.
If Syndergaard still dominates Triple-A hitters despite the environment, he could be up sooner rather than later. However, if he struggles at first, seeing how well he handles adversity will be a good indicator about his future success.
Under-the-Radar Prospect: Joel Carreno, RHP
Joel Carreno was a minor league signing this offseason who has the ability to be a solid reliever for a long time.
Ben Badler of Baseball America wrote this offseason that he felt Carreno could be the steal of the minor league free-agent class:
Carreno, who turns 27 in March, throws in the low 90s with a curveball that can help him miss bats, something he did more of in 2013 than ever before, perhaps in part because the Blue Jays made him a full-time reliever for the first time in his career. After striking out 25 percent of batters in his minor league career, Carreno’s strikeout rate jumped to 34 percent last year between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo with a 2.43 composite ERA. Now he’s pitching well for Escogido in the Dominican League.
With the Mets in dire need of bullpen help in the majors, Carreno performing well in Las Vegas would be a great sign for the team’s short-term future.
The Mets have a number of prospects on the verge of making the major leagues, and as a result, their Triple-A roster is full of talent.
Syndergaard and Rafael Montero are exciting young starters, but a pitcher like Jacob deGrom shouldn’t be overlooked as someone who could contribute in the Mets rotation or bullpen in the near future.
Puello is the Mets position prospect in Las Vegas with the highest ceiling, but fans should also keep an eye on Wilmer Flores once he returns to the minors, specifically looking at how he handles shortstop defensively.
Fans should also keep an eye on lower-ceiling prospects like Danny Muno, Zach Lutz and Eric Campbell, as they could eventually become valuable bench pieces for the Mets.
Vic Black came into spring training as a likely part of the Mets Opening Day bullpen but struggled with his command. Watching whether or not his walk rates lower in Las Vegas is crucial for the Mets’ short-term future, especially with the current state of the Mets bullpen.
Carreno, Erik Goeddel and Jeff Walters could also work their way into the Mets bullpen if they succeed. With these pitchers having to deal with the terrible pitching conditions in Las Vegas, seeing which relievers can handle the environment could provide the Mets a valuable bullpen piece this season.
Double-A, Binghamton Mets
Hitter to Watch: Kevin Plawecki, C
The Mets, hopefully, have their catcher of the future in Travis d’Arnaud, but they have another promising young catcher in Kevin Plawecki.
Plawecki is a hit-first catcher with a great knack for making solid contact while almost never striking out, but he lacks any power projection beyond being a consistent doubles hitter.
He raked all of last season, and watching whether or not he can maintain that level of performance as he plays against better competition will determine the Mets catching depth moving forward.
Also, while most feel Plawecki can remain behind the plate, he is still below average defensively. Seeing whether or not he can improve on his footwork behind the plate to help make up for his below-average arm strength will be a key for him this season.
Pitcher to Watch: Jack Leathersich, LHP
Unlike any of the other levels, the pitcher to watch in Binghamton is a reliever. Jack Leathersich has struck out minor leaguers at an absurd rate throughout his career, but he sill walks too many hitters to be successful at the big league level.
Some believed he could work his way into the Mets bullpen this spring as an effective lefty, but he failed to show the front office any semblance of improved command. His assignment to Binghamton further displays the Mets' concern over his command, as he pitched more games in Triple-A than Double-A last season.
As a lefty who can strike out both lefties and righties, Leathersich still has the potential to be a very good reliever at the major league level. Watching whether or not he can improve his command will be a major storyline in Binghamton this season, as the Mets could clearly use Leathersich in Queens if he starts throwing strikes.
Under-the-Radar Prospect: Matt Reynolds, SS/3B
The Mets' second-round pick in 2012 out of the University of Arkansas, Matt Reynolds was a plus defensive third baseman in college with the potential to be an above-average hitter. Since being drafted, he has proven he can handle the shortstop position but has been unexceptional at the plate.
If Reynolds can figure it out offensively while still playing shortstop well, he will become a very valuable part of the Mets farm system.
Unfortunately for Reynolds, Wilfredo Tovar will likely get the most time at shortstop in Binghamton, but the focus for fans watching Reynolds should be on his bat.
Reynolds projected as a solid hitter prior to being drafted, so him turning it around at the plate is definitely within the realm of possibility. If he hits this year, he could be a part of the Mets big league plans at some point in 2015.
While Binghamton was one of the more successful of the Mets affiliates last season, this roster has significantly less talent.
Plawecki is an important part of the farm system moving forward, but the other offensive players are less exciting.
Jayce Boyd is a solid-hitting first baseman, but he is incapable of playing any other position and doesn’t hit for power. Reynolds could make himself interesting by producing at the plate while playing shortstop.
Cory Vaughn, Darrell Ceciliani and Dustin Lawley are all outfielders who bring major league tools to the table but have significant holes in their games. Vaughn and Lawley (who will also see time at third and second) have premium power while Ceciliani is a plus runner. Binghamton will have an interesting outfield with these three, but all of them lack elite potential.
High Single-A, St. Lucie Mets
Hitter to Watch: Brandon Nimmo, OF
Brandon Nimmo is an easy selection as the hitter to watch in St. Lucie, as he is arguably the hitter to watch throughout the whole organization.
Last season at Low-A Savannah, Nimmo had a strange season with elongated periods of success and failure. He started the season scorching hot and looked primed for a midseason promotion to St. Lucie, but late in April, he suffered a hand injury.
After returning from the injury, he was a different hitter at the plate, hitting for much less power while striking out at an alarming rate. However, toward the end of the season, he began to figure it out and finished the year hitting for much greater consistency.
The Mets knew Nimmo would take time to develop, and this could be the year he breaks out. He is healthier and stronger than last season, and he made a great impression after his time at major league spring training.
Fans should focus on how Nimmo improves upon the three greatest weaknesses in his game: how he performs against lefties, if he can cut down on his strikeouts and if he can start hitting for power in games.
Pitcher to Watch: Michael Fulmer, RHP
The St. Lucie pitching staff is full of pitchers to watch, but Michael Fulmer is the most important.
After a great season pitching in full-season ball in 2012, Fulmer seemed primed to build off his success in 2013. However, a nagging knee injury halted his development and Fulmer has become a forgotten entity by many.
If Fulmer stays healthy this season, he could become one of the organization's top prospects by the year’s end. If he can improve the command of his outstanding fastball while refining his secondary offerings, Fulmer will replace the arms that will graduate to the big leagues this season as one of the Mets' elite pitching prospects.
Under-the-Radar Prospect: Domingo Tapia, RHP
In a farm system full of pitching prospects, Domingo Tapia has the best individual pitch in the organization with his fastball. It is consistently 99 to 100 miles per hour with devastating sinking action.
Despite his remarkable fastball, Tapia has a long way to go to be considered a part of the Mets' future. His fastball command is completely unrefined, and his secondary offerings have a long way to go to be considered average.
Tapia’s performance in 2013 was disappointing, but his outstanding arm strength will always give him a chance to become an elite prospect. If Tapia refines any aspect of his game this season, Mets fans should be thrilled.
Despite having one of the most intriguing hitters in the farm system, the St. Lucie Mets are interesting because of their pitching.
Outside of Nimmo, Dilson Herrera is the next best position prospect on the team. Acquired in the Marlon Byrd trade, Herrera is a small second baseman with surprising power. Hopefully, he can maintain his power production while improving his hit tool in St. Lucie.
Third baseman Aderlin Rodriguez has massive power, but he needs to show he can stay at third defensively as well as cut down on his strikeouts if he is going to be considered a part of the Mets’ future.
Tapia and Fulmer will be crucial parts of the staff, but Steven Matz will also be a key member of the rotation. Matz was the darling of spring training, as he impressed evaluators with his mid 90s fastball coming from the left side.
Matz was successful last season in Low-A Savannah, and he has the potential to be a fast-mover through the minors if he can stay healthy, something he was unable to do prior to last season.
Low Single-A, Savannah Sand Gnats
Hitter to Watch: Gavin Cecchini, SS
While I am more excited and intrigued by Dominic Smith, Gavin Cecchini’s development in Savannah is more important at this point in his career.
Cecchini was the Mets’ first-round pick in 2012, and he has been a relative disappointment since joining the organization. His value derives from his ability to play shortstop, but he is not exceptional defensively and has yet to be more than an average singles hitter offensively.
If Cecchini never figures it out at the plate, the Mets will have wasted a high first-round pick on him. He needs to show strides this year in order to prove to the organization that he is a part of the team’s future.
Pitcher to Watch: Chris Flexen, RHP
Chris Flexen is more of an under-the-radar prospect, but the Savannah pitching staff doesn’t have any other pitchers as promising as this young right-hander.
The Mets drafted Flexen in the 14th round out of high school in 2012, but after last season, it is clear he was worthy of a higher selection.
Flexen is tall and lean, as he generates easy mid 90s velocity with his fastball. Like all young starters, he needs to improve his secondary offerings, but he has the potential to be a very good mid-rotation starter.
He dominated the Appalachian League with a 2.09 ERA last season, and it would be a great sign for the Mets if he can continue his success in full-season ball.
Under-the-Radar Prospect: Jared King, OF
Jared King was the Mets fifth-round pick out of Kansas State last season, although he had the talent to go as high as the second round.
King is a switch-hitting outfielder with solid tools all around. He has above-average power, a good hit tool and is generally a plus athlete, with enough speed to play center field if necessary (although he is better suited for a corner outfield spot).
While King wasn’t overwhelmingly impressive last year in Brooklyn, a strong season in Savannah could make him one of the better position player prospects in the organization next year.
Savannah is a must-watch affiliate just for the fact it has two first-round picks in Cecchini and Smith.
While Cecchini’s development this year is more crucial in the short-term, Smith producing while being the youngest player on the team would be a great sign for his future.
Fans shouldn’t be too worried if Smith falters, as his placement in Savannah should be a challenge for him. However, if he meets the challenge and succeeds in Savannah, Mets fans should be ecstatic about his potential.
Along with Smith, Cecchini and King, there are a few other interesting position players on the roster.
LJ Mazzilli, Patrick Biondi and Matt Oberste were drafted as college seniors last year. While they lack star talent, they have the potential to become solid major leaguers, and performing in Savannah is the next necessary step in their paths to the big leagues.
Outside of Flexen, Robert Gsellman, Miller Diaz and Robert Whalen are all pitchers fans should keep an eye on. They also lack star-level ceilings, but they could work their way to the major leagues in a few years if they continue to improve.
Short Season-A, Brooklyn Cyclones
Hitter to Watch: Amed Rosario, SS
Amed Rosario has the highest ceiling among Mets prospects not named Syndergaard, as he has the potential to become a perennial All-Star shortstop with well above-average power.
There are a number of things to watch with Rosario this season, as he is still very raw.
With any shortstop prospect, the question arises as to whether he can handle the position. Seeing whether or not Rosario has the range, arm-strength and instincts for shortstop will be crucial this season.
Rosario is also very raw at the plate. Last season, his swing was way too long as he sold out for power, so watching whether or not he can shorten his swing without sacrificing his ability to drive the ball should be interesting.
Pitcher to Watch: Marcos Molina, RHP
While it isn’t a sure thing that Marcos Molina will be on Brooklyn’s roster, if he makes the team, he will be exciting to watch.
Molina didn’t put up outstanding numbers last season in rookie ball, but he flew into the prospect world when Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks ranked him the Mets’ 10th best prospect.
Molina is tall and athletic with an easy low-to-mid 90s fastball, but beyond that, he is largely an unknown entity at this point. He is so young at just 19 years old, and seeing whether or not his athleticism translates into success on the field should be exciting for Mets fans.
Under-the-Radar Prospect: Champ Stuart, OF
Stuart was drafted in the sixth round by the Mets last year and is intriguing due to his superb athleticism.
The Bahamas native is incredibly raw but incredibly fast, and he could become a dominant defensive center fielder if he develops the proper instincts.
Offensively, Stuart has some pop and a patient approach for a player as raw as he is. The big thing to watch with him at the plate this year will be to see if his hit-tool develops at all. He has the elite speed to be a game-changer in the majors, but it will be useless unless he can get on base consistently.
Despite the fact much of the roster will be composed of players who will be drafted this June, Brooklyn already projects as one of the most exciting teams in the system.
While all the players have a long way to go before reaching the big leagues, a number of them could become stars if they reach their potential.
Rosario is the best prospect on the team as a potential star shortstop, while Molina and Stuart also have the potential to become well above-average big leaguers. Players like outfielder Ivan Wilson and right-handed starter Casey Meisner also have high ceilings and could be among the Mets’ top 10 prospects in the future if they have good seasons.
Some of these players may not make the roster as drafted college players (which could include the 10th overall pick) could force them down a level. Regardless, the Brooklyn Cyclones will have as much talent as any Mets affiliate.
Mets fans who want a glimpse into the future will have the chance this year by visiting Brooklyn, as this will likely be the most talented team the Cyclones have ever had.