Thanks for everyone who read my entry the other day. Time to keep things rolling with the second team I think has a chance to turn things around over the next two seasons...
New York Mets (58-67, 3rd in NL East)
The Skinny: Expectations were incredibly low for the 2013 edition of the New York Mets, so in that regard this season could be considered somewhat of a success. For a lineup that essentially amounts to David Wright and Quad-A talent, they've managed to win 58 games and could catch the Nationals within the division (although it helps when you play the Marlins and Phillies every other week). Still, despite heading towards their fifth consecutive losing season, the folks in Queens have a lot to be optimistic about on the horizon.
Is it possible to be underrated playing the Big Apple? The unheralded play of David Wright year after year just might merit such a claim. The All Star third baseman is the cog that makes the Mets lineup go. Despite battling through injuries all season Captain America is on pace for another 20/20 season while slashing .309/.391/.512. Numbers even more impressive when you consider the lineup hitting around him. He'll be 32 in 2015, and although his injury history indicates his performance could be on a downward slope by that point, there are few third baseman who can match even an declining Wrights season output.
Catcher Travis d'Arnaud is probably the only other lock to start on the 2015 squad. Ranked a top-50 prospect by ESPN's Keith Law prior to the season, d'Arnaud is considered one of the top prospects at his position in the game, especially when you consider what he can do with a bat. The .333/.380/.595 line he posted at AAA last season (along with 16 homers in just 67 games) are reminiscent of Mike Piazza, and d'Arnaud could emerge as a player very similar to the former Mets great.
Aside from Wright and d'Arnaud, Eric Young Jr., Juan Lagares and Ike Davis make for interesting cases when it comes to future value. While Young will never compete for a batting title, he gives the team a spark plug atop their order they haven't had since Jose Reyes. He's swiped 90 bags over his four-year career, and has stolen 20 of 24 in just 55 games with the Mets. With a career OPS at .666, he just may get on base enough to be an asset batting atop a National League lineup. Likewise, rookie outfielder Lagares has provided a modest power-speed combo that intrigues the Mets front office. While he hit his way to a .346 average prior to his big league call-up this season, a .378 OBP indicates his tendency to be overly aggressive at the plate (reinforced by his 67:9 strikeout to walk ration posted in the majors). If he can develop some patience at the plate, Lagares could develop into a potential 20/20 player down the road. Potentially.
Is there a more frustrating player than Ike Davis? Is he the player who caught fire second-half of last season (.255 AVG/.542 SLG/20 HR after the break), or the player who's struggles all season long (.206 AVG/.331 SLG/8 HR in 2013)? I don't know, and I can't really say. He's 27, and has the type of minor league track record that points toward a 30-homer, 100-RBI player who can hit around .270 in the heart of a major league lineup. If he gets it together, the Mets lineup has a much more promising outlook.
When all is said and done, it's the Metropolitans' pitching staff that really has fans excited about what the future of their franchise has in store. Wunderkin Matt Harvey is putting on a Cy Young worthy display in just his second season. A record of 9-4 with a 2.25 ERA, minuscule 0.89 WHIP and 187 strikeouts in 171.2 innings just about says it all for #HarveyNight. At 6'4", 225 lbs, the 24-year old phenom as positioned himself to compete with Clayton Kershaw as the the most dominant pitchers in the game for the foreseeable future.
Right on his haunches is rookie Zack Wheeler, who was more coveted than Harvey last season and has been remarkable in his one right. While his numbers (6-2, 3.49 ERA and a 8.0 K/9) don't exactly glow like Harvey's did during his rookie campaign, they don't really illustrate how Wheeler has developed over the season. He's allowed more than three earner runs in just one of his past nine starts, and even more importantly- all eight of those contests have resulted in Mets' wins. I'm a little alarmed at throwing over 100 pitches in his past four outings though. While I'm no advocate for innings limits, there's no reason to push one your future stars too far when you're not in contention. Still, Harvey and Wheeler give the Gotham City a young Batman & Robin combo as formidable as any in baseball.
The rest are enigmas. Jenrry Mejia was a supposed to be big part of the Mets' future when they signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2007. After tearing through the low minors as an 18 year-old, Mejia stumbled through his first stint in AA and has spent the past four years bouncing between the majors and minors with multiple injuries. After returning from an MCL tear in late June, things seemed to click for the youngster and he performed well in relief of Jeremy Hefner (despite pitching through bone spurs in his elbow). The Mets had to shut him down earlier this month when the spurs became too much of a hinderance, and lost Mejia for the rest of 2013. Depending on which version of the Dominican fireballer shows up in Spring of 2014, he could make a strong push for a rotation spot.
I also love Dillon Gee and the aforementioned Hefner. While neither have ace-material, both are quality start machines that would fill out the back-end of any rotation. However, there may not be enough turns to go around considering what the organization has on the horizon...
The Future: The Mets' organization is loaded with a ton of pitching talent. With the graduation of Wheeler in June, 20-year old Noah Syndergaard now sits atop that list in AA-Binghampton. With a name straight out of Elder Scrolls, the Texas native puts up video game numbers as well. His towering 6'7" frame makes for an extended motion that causes his mid-90's fastball to reach the plate even quicker. He commands it and his plus curve with authority, making him one of the best strikeout pitchers in the minors. After dominating at AA this season (6-0, 1.59 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 51 innings) it won't be long before Queens adds this K-machine to their young arsenal.
The second big name to watch is that of Rafael Montero. Pinpoint command of his wicked slider, plus change up and mid-90's fastball have made this international signee one of the fastest-risers in the Mets farm system. Starting out 2012 in A-Savannah, he climbed four levels in two years - Montero made his debut with AAA-Vegas earlier this season and succeeding every step of the way. While he lacks the physical frame to regularly throw 200+ innings a season, he pitches smart and efficiently- generating a lot of ground ball outs and limiting home runs (just 16 in 336.2 professional innings) while striking out just under a batter per inning. He could fit in nicely behind Harvey, Wheeler and eventuall Syndergaard.
While Montero and Syndergaard might have the most immediate impact on the big-league club, there are plenty other quality arms down on the farm. After missing all of 2011 with Tommy John surgery, Jacob Degrom returned to form last season and dominated Florida State League hitters. He's jumped three levels in 2013, and could find his way to New York before long. Another tantalizing prospect is Michael Fulmer, although thinking he could be a factor in 2015 is a bit optimistic. Fulmer is another strikeout artist who works with a high-90's fastball and a plus slider to work the counts. Control has been an issue for the youngster, and while he may not fly up the ladder like fellow 20-year old Syndergaard, the stuff indicates he has a similar ceiling.
While flamethrowers have been heating things up throughout the Mets' system, the bats have cooled down significantly. However, while they don't have a Buxton or Springer like prospect making headlines across the league, there are some interesting names to keep track of in their system.
Brandon Nimmo drew some attention in 2011 when he became the first player drafted in the first round from the state of Wyoming. After an uninspiring 2012 season he fell off the radar which might have been exactly what the young outfielder needed. While he hasn't necessarily wowed anyone with his performance on the field, he's shown true five-tool potential that could be valuable from the center outfielder position. Only six center fielders hit more than 20 home runs last season, and only five are on pace to do so in 2013. Anyone who can bring that kind of pop (and Nimmo has the potential to do so) while hitting around .270 could be a more than serviceable big-league regular.
While he's not exactly in the class of shortstops Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Carlose Correa find themselves in, Gavin Cecchini is better than anything else the Mets have. Mets have had arguably the worst offensive production from the position than any other team in the MLB, generating a league worst 131 total bases. Cecchini, younger brother of Boston's Garin, has the ability to showcase moderate speed while hitting at a decent clip. While he won't win any silver sluggers, reports are that he has an excellent feel for the game and an incredible makeup for someone so young and inexperienced. He may not be the second coming of Reyes, he has the potential to be an adequate contributor at what many see as the weakest position in baseball.
While the rest of the system is relatively void of impact talent, a pair of outfielders in the rookie league offer decent upside. Vicente Lupo and Wuilmer Becerra. Lupo demolished rookie ball last season to the tune of .343/.500/.608 with 10 homers and 12 steals. He's taken a step back this season, but the power/speed combo is there. Likewise, Becerra hasn't really shown the ability the Blue Jays envisioned when they signed him to a 7-figure deal in 2011. But at 6'4", 190 he has the frame and tools to be something special if he puts it together.
I'm not going to speculate on free agent signings or trades, not because they don't happen, but because they're a crapshoot. Yes, Giancarlo Stanton would look great hitting in any lineup, including the Mets, and yes they have the organizational talent to pursue him. But everyone thought the Miami slugger would be on the move in 2013 to New York, Texas or somebody- and he's still in South Beach. I just want to point out that players want to come to The Big Apple- and the Mets have the salary and will to be players.
Conclusion: The National League East was supposed to be baseball's best division this year, instead we could have the Atlanta Braves and four sub-.500 teams. That being said, it may not take much more for the Mets to compete in the not-too-distant future. They have the pitching in place, and their offense (while nothing special) might only a bat or two away from competitive considering the division they're in. I hope so. Call it East-Coast bias, but like Tiger Woods and golf, baseball is better when New York is relevant. The "other team" included.