On December 18th of 2012, Sandy Alderson flipped Jefry Marte, a then-21-year-old third baseman in the Mets farm system, for Oakland outfielder Collin Cowgill. Marte, who only hit .251/.322/.366 in 513 plate appearances for AA Binghamton, hadn’t been particularly touted as a prospect, and more importantly was blocked anyway by David Wright (and perhaps the emergent Wilmer Flores). That wasn’t important, though, as Oakland GM Billy Beane was more interested in clearing the 40-man roster spot.
Cowgill, then 26, hadn’t done much in the major leagues, but his hard-nosed playing style – reminiscent of former Met Lenny Dykstra – and penchant for getting on base intrigued Alderson. The former quickly endeared himself to Mets fans in spring training, where he won the starting centerfield job and was penciled in as the Mets’ 2013 leadoff hitter. The “More Cowgill!” legend grew on opening day, when he slugged a 7th inning grand slam off Padres reliever Brad Brach.
He didn’t do much after that, getting bumped to AAA Las Vegas in early May and hitting an overall .180/.206/.311 for the Mets before being traded to the Angels on June 25th. In return, the Mets received right-handed center fielder Kyle Johnson, the Angels’ 25th round pick in 2012. Johnson, then 23, was hitting .308/.416/.421 in Low-A Burlington. Shortly after acquiring Johnson, the Mets bumped him to Hi-A St. Lucie, where he hit .278/.344/.380 in 214 plate appearances, also stealing a dozen bases.
On paper, Johnson doesn’t seem like a viable prospect. While his on-base ability has been impressive (.382 career), he’s done so mostly against younger pitching. Now 24, the Mets would be well-served to start Johnson in AA Binghamton, where he would play against prospects closer to his age, and give the team a better assessment of his abilities. He’s fast – 51 steals in 56 attempts in the minors – and has shown pretty good plate discipline (11.1% BB rate in 2013 against 16.1% Ks), albeit against younger pitching.
Prospects like Johnson can be somewhat exciting. On one hand, he has come with little fanfare as a 23-year-old, 25th-round pick playing in A-ball. On the other, his plate discipline and speed are skills that, if they follow, bode well for his future.
Though there was a six-month layover, the Mets essentially traded Jefry Marte for Kyle Johnson. The odds aren’t necessarily in Johnson’s favor, but a good season could end up giving the Mets another asset acquired inexpensively.
And that’s part of the fun of watching the minors. For all the names you already know, there are so many more that can come from nowhere to become part of the future. And Johnson, a relative unknown, could be a name to watch, especially as the Mets try to find long-term solutions for the outfield.