U.S. Futures All-Star Matt Harvey of the New York Mets throws a pitch during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field on July 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
New York Mets Top 20 Prospects for 2012
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine of course. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.
A major point to remember is that grades for pitchers do NOT correspond directly to grades for hitters. Many Grade A pitching prospects fail to develop, often due to injuries. Some Grade C pitching prospects turn out much better than expected.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise coming from me, and some C+ prospects turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Matt Harvey, RHP, Grade B+: He can be a number two starter and someone to build around. Some evaluators see him more as a closer if his changeup remains erratic, but I'm cutting him some slack on that issue and am optimistic.
2) Zack Wheeler, RHP, Grade B+: This is actually more like Harvey -A and Wheeler 1-B. They are very close but Harvey is closer to being ready. Like Harvey, I see Wheeler as a future number two starter and staff anchor. He made big strides with his control last year. Like Harvey his changeup needs more work, but I'm optimistic about him given the improvements he's already made.
3) Jeurys Familia, RHP, Grade B: Control still needs work, but took a major step forward towards harnessing his stuff. Could be a number three starter, perhaps more with additional changeup refinement. Could also end up as a fine closer.
4) Brandon Nimmo, OF, Grade B: Borderline B-. One of my favorite players from the 2011 draft. Strong tools, skills are more refined than you think given his Wyoming background. There's some risk here but lots of upside too.
5) Cesar Puello, OF, Grade B-: Tough to grade and I'm not really comfortable with this guy. Tools are very impressive and he started tapping into his power. However his strike zone judgment slipped badly, with a dramatic reduction in his walk rate and increase in strikeouts. Power improvement was cancelled out by loss of OBP, and Double-A pitchers will easily exploit his over-aggressiveness. However, many scouts really like him and think he's going to break through, plus he was just 20 last year. Upside is very high but risk of failure is quite high as well.
6) Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF, Grade B-: Positives here are solid tools, high walk rate, moderate power (secondary average skills). Weaknesses include high strikeout rate and inability to hit left-handed pitching. I've seen him compared to Brett Jackson but Jackson is a better athlete and younger. Kirk looks like a very solid platoon player/fourth outfielder to me. Doesn't have Puello's ceiling but a much higher floor. I've gone back and forth about 10 times between Kirk and Cesar in the 5/6 spots.
7) Jenrry Mejia, RHP, Grade B-: Waiting on Tommy John recovery at this point. I've liked him for awhile but he was handled badly by previous administration and it is still unclear if he's a starter or reliever going forward.
8) Reese Havens, 2B, Grade B-: Borderline C+. I like his power/patience combination and ability to handle second base, but his health care expenses have helped bankrupt the organization. If he manages to avoid injuries he can be a .260 hitter with 15 homers and a fine OBP.
9) Wilmer Flores, 3B-SS, Grade B-: Borderline C+. Still very young at age 20. Switch over to third base increases pressure on his bat. Will he develop sufficient power for that position? He keeps his strikeout rate low but power hasn't blossomed as Mets hoped, granted he was promoted aggressively. Stock is starting to sag but it isn't too late yet.
10) Cory Mazzoni, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline B-: North Carolina State product has sound combination of solid stuff and command. I don't think he got as much attention as he deserved in pitching-rich 2011 draft class and I expect good things from him.
11) Michael Fulmer, RHP, Grade C+: Live-armed Oklahoma high school kid, upside of a number two or three starter, but rather raw. Ceiling higher than Mazzoni but risk of failure is higher as well.
12) Jordan Valdespin, 2B-SS, Grade C+: Will probably rank higher on other lists. Tools and athleticism stand out, developed more power this year, but high-maintenance mercurial personality and sloppy strike zone judgment make me wary that he'll fulfill his potential.
13) Phillip Evans, 2B-SS, Grade C+: Overslot $650,000 bonus for 15th round pick could end up being a bargain if Evans develops as I expect...above-average hitter with some pop and solid glovework at second. Excellent makeup. Need more data, could be much higher next year.
14) Cory Vaughn, OF, Grade C+: Slump in High-A could be related to painful heel injury. I like his tools and he's flashed the skills to make them meaningful. Stock could be considerably higher next year. . .or considerably lower.
15) Darin Gorski, LHP, Grade C+: Excellent statistics in High-A Florida State League (2.08 ERA, 140/29 K/BB) generated by superior command of average fastball and off-speed stuff, refined changeup. Needs to duplicate this in Double-A.
16) Collin McHugh, RHP, Grade C+: McHugh broke out with impressive Double-A season. Average velocity for right-hander but works lower part of the strike zone well, nice assortment of secondary pitches, makeup well-regarded. Could be a fifth starter or long reliever.
17) Domingo Tapia, RHP, Grade C+: Earned some headlines with 99 MPH fastball but struck out just 30 in 50 innings in Appalachian League. High ceiling but needs a lot of work on his secondary pitches.
18) Akeel Morris, RHP, Grade C+: Teammate of Tapia at Kingsport, doesn't throw quite as hard, "just" in the low-to-mid-90s, but secondary stuff is in better shape. Fanned 61 in 51 innings and gave up just 30 hits, but wobbly command led to 38 walks. High ceiling.
19) Danny Muno, SS, Grade C+: Senior out of Fresno State led New York-Penn League in OBP, impressed observers with steady play and makeup. May end up as a utility player but a good one, could get beyond that if he keeps hitting at higher levels.
20) Juan Lagares, OF, Grade C+: Quick bat, improved plate discipline from abysmally awful to merely poor and hit .349/.383/.500 as a result between High-A and Double-A. This was at least partially driven by unsustainable BABIP gains, and I want to see more before buying into him.
21) Logan Verrett, RHP, Grade C+: College pitcher out of Baylor has yet to make pro debut. I saw him pitch in college and I think he has the stuff and command to be a number four starter.
OTHERS: Robert Carson, LHP; Darrell Ceciliani, OF; Albert Cordero, C; Matt den Dekker, OF; Josh Edgin, LHP; Erik Goeddel, RHP; Gilbert Gomez, OF; Chase Huchingson, LHP; Jack Leathersich, LHP; Zach Lutz, 3B; Brad Marquez, OF; Jefry Marte, 3B; Rafael Montero, RHP; Greg Peavey, RHP; Tyler Pill, RHP; Aderlin Rodriguez, 3B; Armando Rodriguez, RHP; Josh Satin, UT; Chris Schwinden, RHP; Juan Urbina, LHP; Taylor Whitenton, RHP.
The Mets farm system has improved and I don't think it gets enough respect. There are some problems that have to be addressed, but they have some strengths as well. The organization is still suffering hangover from the way prospects were managed in the previous administration, but things are looking up.
The entire second half of this list is very fluid. You could make a case to rank Juan Lagares, number 20, as high as 11 or 12. Even spots five through 10 are difficult to rank. How do you weight injury guys like Mejia or Havens in comparison to high-risk-high-upside tools guys like Puello and Flores? It is all a balancing act and every analyst is going to come to a different conclusion.
I like the pitching. Harvey, Wheeler, and Familia are three hard-throwing right-handers with the ability to be staff anchors. The first two aren't far off the A- category, and Familia is a fine prospect in his own right. It may be tempting to rush Harvey and Familia to the majors sometime in 2012, but I think both will be better-positioned to help in 2013. Mejia is something of a forgotten man but I liked him a lot before he got hurt, despite the ridiculous way he was handled in '10.
There are more right-handed arms coming up behind them. Mazzoni, Fulmer, and Verrett from the 2011 draft bring a nice variety of upside and command. Tapia and Morris from Kingsport have very live arms. There are several average-stuff-inning-eater types with McHugh and Chris Schwinden possibly contributing in '12. Whitenton is interesting too but we need to see him at higher levels. Efforts of the previous administration to find talent at smaller colleges didn't bring in any stars, but you need organization arms too and sometimes those guys become real prospects, which a few have in this case.
Left-hander Juan Urbina in the C-category is highly-projectable and picked up velocity this year, although this wasn't reflected in his performance. Darin Gorski was excellent at St. Lucie but we need to see if he can avoid being the next Mark Cohoon. Edgin, Huchingson, and Leatherisch all have southpaw bullpen potential.
Hitting is in tougher condition than the pitching. There are several very high upside players. There is some "shiny new toy" hope regarding Nimmo, but while his selection has been questioned by some, I like him. Products of the Latin American program like Puello, Flores, Valdespin (and Aderlin Rodriguez and Gilbert Gomez) have high upside but have yet to fulfill their potential, with strike zone issues being a persistent theme. Gomez had a nice run at St. Lucie but it was 75 at-bat sample and out of context with the rest of his career. I want to see more.