In a preponderance of trade scenarios, every team wants the same thing – young pitching. And if it’s pitching they want, Flushing might soon become the place to get it. Just not that soon.
Rumors continue to swirl around a possible but unlikely trade scenario between the Mets and Diamondbacks for outfielder Justin Upton. If Seattle’s offer is any indication, the Mets must pay a steep price in high end pitching prospects for Upton, or any other stud.
The Mets have four high level pitching prospects they seemingly will be relying on in the very near future. Of course Matt Harvey made his major league debut last season. The Mets other prized arm is Zach Wheeler. Then ranked below them are Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia, who’s roles are yet still to be determined. It is unlikely the Mets will trade any of these pitchers, soon. Beyond them, you would be hard pressed to find major league ready pitching prospects in Binghampton and Las Vegas enticing enough to anchor a package of prospects.
Buffalo/Las Vegas pitchers Jeremy Hefner and Chris Schwinden had their first taste of the major leagues recently. Raised in San Diego’s system, Hefner progressed through A and AA ball with good walks-to-strikeout numbers, and ERA’s of three and change. But in his first full season at AAA, his walks and hits allowed soared. Over the last three seasons, he has failed to show the impressive strikeout form he exhibited in the low minors. Last year was his first season in the Mets system. With regards to his work in Buffalo, he greatly improved his walks and hits allowed ratios, and a 2.77 era was his lowest in six minor league seasons. After being summoned to the big club, he made twenty six appearances and thirteen starts. But let’s just say he didn’t have the easiest of times. Chris Schwinden is a better known commodity to Mets fans. But his minor league career is even less remarkable than Hefner’s. Chris is not a power pitcher. He is too hittable, but keeps his walks relatively low. It is difficult to argue these two twenty-six year old arms could even be used as complimentary pieces in a potential trade.
Collin McHugh however, represents an appreciable upgrade in talent. Since rookie ball, he’s followed a classic progression through the Mets system. Last season McHugh split time between Binghamton and Buffalo. He led all Binghamton starters last season with a 2.41 era in twelve starts. He then made thirteen starts at AAA, posted a 3.42 era, and struck out 70 batters in 73.2 innings pitched. His 3.5 walks per nine innings average was an uptick however, which tied his minor league high. Mark Cohoon is another pitcher transitioning between Binghamton, and now AAA-Las Vegas. He, like McHugh, is twenty-five years old. In these two pitchers, the Mets might have complimentary pieces.
You have to dig a little deeper into the Mets lower level operations in order to uncover their more promising pitching prospects. Before year’s end, Baseball America released their latest Mets Top Ten Prospects List.
1) – Zach Wheeler – pitcher
2) – Gavin Cecchini – shortstop
3) – Brandon Nimmo – outfield
4) – Luis Mateo – pitcher
5) – Rafael Montero – pitcher
6) – Wilmer Flores – infield
7) – Michael Fulmer – pitcher
8) – Jeurys Familia – pitcher
9) – Domingo Tapia – pitcher
10) – Cory Mazzoni – pitcher
I do not necessarily agree with this list. But I will maintain its integrity for this post. As you can see, the Mets have seven pitchers listed. Zach Wheeler and Jeurys Familia are already spoken for. In the short term, they look to be organizational keepers. After them, Cory Mazzoni has progressed furthest in the system. When the Nationals failed to sign Cory Mazzoni in 2008, the Mets selected him in the 2nd round of the 2011 June draft. With college under his belt, Corey quickly moved through the Mets lower system and arrived in Binghamton last season. Power pitching and double-digit strikeouts marked his time in Brooklyn and St. Lucie. But in the Eastern League, he hit the proverbial pitching wall. The hope is he will adjust, and continue progressing.
That sums up the Mets potential trade “chips” lurking around Binghamton and Las Vegas. If Jeurys Familia or Jenrry Mejia are not included in a package deal, as you see, the Mets AA and AAA operations are hard pressed to supply a top flight major league ready pitching prospect. Some would even argue Familia and Mejia are not enough to anchor a prospect laden package either.
We must dig even deeper for the really good stuff. Luis Mateo, Rafael Montero, Michael Fulmer, and Domingo Tapia all pitched A-ball last season. Which of them, if any, will join Cory Mazzoni in Binghamton this upcoming season is unclear.
Michael Fulmer is a promising nineteen-year old the Mets drafted in the first round, #44 overall, in the 2011 June draft. After a pit stop in rookie ball, he was assigned to Savanna of the South Atlantic League. In his only season thus far, he posted a 2.74 era in twenty one starts. In 108 innings pitched, he surrendered 92 hits, walked 38, and struck out 101 batters.
In 2012, twenty-two year old Rafael Montero split time between Savanna and St. Lucie. In twenty combined starts, he posted an 11-5 record with a 2.36 era. In 122 innings pitched he surrendered 96 hits, only walked 19, and struck out an impressive 110 batters.
Domingo Tapia is twenty-one years old, and is the third in a trio of Savanna Sand Gnats to make Baseball America’s list. In a full season at Savanna, he posted a somewhat lofty 3.98 era. In 108 innings pitched, he struck out 101 batters, issued 32 walks, and limited batters to 92 hits.
I left Luis Mateo (22 yrs.) last for a reason. As a Brooklyn Cyclones season ticket holder, I get first crack at many prospects that come through the Mets farm system. Luis Mateo did indeed have a stellar 2012 season. He made twelve starts and posted a 2.45 era in 73 innings pitched. Here is the eye-popping stuff. He limited hitters to 57 hits, struck out 85 batters, and only walked nine.
Now here’s the thing. After attending Brooklyn games for the last twelve seasons, I can tell you with certainty, the New York Penn League is a pitcher’s league. Many pitchers thrive at this level only to short circuit at double-A. At the plate, many batters in this circuit are still trying to learn how to adjust to, and hit breaking balls. So with command of a lively fastball, and proficiency with a secondary pitch, hurlers have a very distinct edge over hitters.
While superlative pitching ultimately didn’t translate into a championship, Brooklyn’s 2012 starting rotation dominated the New York Penn League. Any one of four other Brooklyn starting pitchers could arguably replace Michael Fulmer, Domingo Tapia, or Rafael Montero on Baseball America’s list. The difference between the New York Penn League and the South Atlantic League is the NYPL is Class-A short season, which kicks off in June after the yearly amateur draft. Where as the SAL plays a traditional Class-A long season, and the talent level is slightly better. That said…..
A Summary of Brooklyn’s 2012 Starting Rotation:
Hansel Robles (22 yrs.) – In 12 starts he posted a 6-1 record, with a 1.11 era. In 72 innings pitched he limited opponents to 47 hits and only issued 10 walks, good for a 1.074 WHiP. He struck out 66 batters.
Gabriel Ynoa (19 yrs.) – In 13 starts he posted a 5-2 record, with a 2.23 era. In 76 innings pitched he limited opponents to 61 hits and only issued 10 walks, good for a stellar 0.926 WHiP. He struck out 64 batters.
Rainy Lara (21 yrs.) – In 12 starts he posted an 8-3 record, with a 2.91 era. In 68 innings pitched he limited opponents to 53 hits and only issued 12 walks, good for a stellar 0.956 WHiP. He struck out 77 batters.
Luis Cessa (20 yrs.) – In 13 starts he posted a 5-4 record, with a 2.49 era. In 72 innings pitched he limited opponents to 64 hits and only issued 13 walks, good for a 1.065 WHiP. He struck out 44 batters.
But many A-class pitchers (as with most players) never pan out once they arrive in AA, or in the Mets case, Binghamton. And even less enjoy success at the AAA level. That is the way things should work. In my view, class-A is a developmental setting that deals in both quality and quantity, and where teaching and learning are order of the day. Then, performance or lack there of either earns you a promotion to AA, or an extended stay in A-ball.
A fading Mets pitching prospect named Dylan Owen is my classic example. In his first season with Brooklyn in 2007, he made thirteen starts, posted a 9-1 record, and finished with a 1.49 era. In 72 innings, he limited opponents to 51 hits and only issued 12 walks, good for a 0.871 WHiP. He struck out 69 batters. The numbers look remarkably similar to today’s Cyclones pitchers, don’t they? Dylan Owen proceeded to regress the further he advanced through the system. Last season with Buffalo he made 28 appearances and 10 starts. In 76 innings pitched, he allowed 81 hits and issued 42 walks for a 1.645 WHiP, and struck out an inferior 36 batters. This scenario is more common than the one where a pitcher continues to shine through all levels on his way towards becoming a star. Until he was acquired and offered a glimmer of hope pitching for Buffalo, Jeremy Hefner’s minor league career almost fizzled out the same way.
In order to sign off any trade involving a prime outfield candidate, organizations ideally want something more than just impressive stats at the AA level. Just like the Mets, they want to envision a better future through any potential return package of prospects. If pitching is the determining factor in any potential trade, the Mets then are still perhaps two seasons away from being able to negotiate that kind of deal. Of course, never say never. One must always remember any player is capable of being traded, and can be dispatched to any team, at any time. Class A standouts are almost always such subjective specimens. But at present, the Mets may not have the discretionary pitching prospects available to anchor such trade. They need a bigger hook to catch a bigger fish. But they do have pitchers that can at least chum the waters, or just sweeten the deal.