The Unlucky Process of Rebuilding Through The Draft


Simply put, rebuilding through the draft is a convoluted and unlucky process.  Mets fans have recently come to understand this well.

Within the span of 36 major league starts, Matt Harvey came to be viewed as a primary component in future Mets success.  What happened next was an unfortunate and heart-breaking turn, where Harvey partially tore a tendon in his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery scheduled for this Fall.  He will be sidelined for most, if not all of the 2014 season.

February 21, 2012; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; A general view of a New York Mets equipment bag on the warning track during spring training at Digital Domain Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Former general manager Omar Minaya made Matt Harvey the seventh overall selection of the 2010 amateur draft.  As such, he represents the Mets highest selection of the last four years.  The 2010 draft was also the last time the Mets used their top pick to select a pitcher, and/or a college player.  Omar Minaya’s only other first round selections were Ike Davis and Reese Havens in 2008, and in 2005 he selected Mike Pelfrey.  All three were drafted out of college.

Matt Harvey skyrocketed through the Mets farm system.  Also drafted out of college, his big league debut came after pitching in just under two full seasons for Port St. Lucie, Binghamton and Buffalo, where he totaled 46 starts and 245.2 innings pitched.

Team Alderson is responsible for the Mets’ last three drafts.  To date, they have implemented a very different strategy, selecting high school position players with each of their top three picks.  The first noticeable consequence of their change in philosophy is the methodical progression of younger  selections through the minor leagues.

In 2011, Sandy Alderson used his first ever draft pick as general manager of the Mets to select a then 19 year old outfielder named Brandon Nimmo.  Having never formally played high school or college baseball before, he was the 13th overall selection, and after the draft spent just seven games playing rookie ball.  Brandon spent 2012 playing short-A baseball in Brooklyn, and just recently completed a full season with Savannah, where he hit .273 in 480 at-bats, although offset by an impressive .397 OBP.  However, he struck out a whopping 131 times.  Nimmo is chock full-o-promise, and should get promoted to Port St. Lucie, and maybe even begin his third full minor league season at AA-Binghamton – although doubtful.  The Mets are now in the habit of making their prospects touch all levels of the ladder.

The Mets also owned the 44th overall pick of the first round in 2011 (via compensation), and used it to select high school pitcher Michael Fulmer.  He went from rookie ball to Savannah, and finished up last season in Port St. Lucie.  However, his 2013 campaign was riddled by injuries, beginning in the spring with a torn meniscus, and then in August with bicep tendonitis or more simply, a shoulder strain.  Both Nimmo and Fulmer clearly have considerable work ahead of them before their potential arrivals in the big leagues.  Unlike Harvey, there will be no fast track to Flushing for these two top selections.

The next few rounds of the 2011 draft were fruitful.  The Mets selected Cory Mazzoni with their second pick.  He has  made 27 appearances over two seasons for Binghamton, posted a 10-8 record, a 4.43 ERA, and struck out 130 batters in 146.2 innings pitched.  With their third pick, the Mets selected Logan Verrett, who tied for the 2013 Eastern League lead with 12 victories in his first full season with Binghamton.  With their fourth draft pick, the Mets selected the remarkable reliever Jack Leathersich, who thus far has advanced through the Mets system quicker than any of his fellow 2011 draft mates.

Immediately after the draft, Leathersich made a nine game pit stop in Brooklyn.  He then split 2012 between Savannah and St. Lucie.  Leathersich started the 2013 season in Binghamton, where he posted a 1.53 ERA in 29.1 innings, walked 16 batters and struck out 55, for a 16.9 K/9 average.  Leathersich was promoted to AAA Las Vegas in mid-June and made 28 appearances while further losing touch with the strike zone.  His walk rate ballooned to 9.0 per nine innings.  In 29 innings pitched, he walked an equal 29 batters.  Leathersich’s ERA also inflated to just under 8.00, but his rate of strikeouts remained high.  He struck out 47, for a 14.6 K/9 average.

With their number one pick, and 12th overall selection of the 2012 draft, the Mets selected high school shortstop Gavin Cecchini, who just completed this last season with Brooklyn.  He missed most of July with an ankle injury.  In 194 trips to the plate, he batted .273 with eight doubles, 14 RBI’s, and a .319 OBP.  He won’t turn 20 until December.

The Mets may have struck pay dirt though, with their first compensation pick of 2012.  With the 35th overall selection, the Mets opted for a more polished college catcher, Kevin Plawecki.  After two full seasons playing for Brooklyn, Savannah and St. Lucie, Plawecki, 22, boasts a .278 average in 665 total at-bats.  He’s hit 46 doubles, 15 home runs, has 107 RBI’s, and a .376 OBP.  He finished the 2013 season with a combined .390 OBP and .305 batting average in 449 at-bats, with 38 doubles and 80 runs batted in.

In the most recent June draft, the Mets drafted high school first baseman Dominic Smith, 18, with the 11th overall pick.   He played 48 games in the Gulf Coast League, and wrapped up the summer with Kingsport.  In 173 combined at bats, he hit .301 with 13 doubles and 26 runs batted in.

Sandy Alderson has so far seemed content to gamble with his first overall picks.  On the whole, his subsequent round selections appear  much more diligent.  Of all the draftees mentioned here, the one player seemingly on the cusp of graduating to Flushing ahead of the pack appears to be Jack Leathersich.  At his current pace, Kevin Plawecki could also conceivably make the big leagues within two years.

The Mets have two players who have been selected in the first round over the last ten years that still remain with the club – Ike Davis and Matt Harvey. You would have to refer back to the 2001 draft in order to find the only other number one pick, when David Wright was taken in the first round with a compensatory pick.

Over the same ten year span, only three other players drafted within the first ten rounds are currently with the club: Jonathon Niese, Bobby Parnell and Lucas Duda.  After a decade of drafting, the Mets have six players, or roughly a quarter of their current roster, who were drafted within the first ten rounds.  Of those six, Matt Harvey and Bobby Parnell were felled by season ending injuries this season, while both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda have failed somewhat miserably thus far to secure the first base job.

This goes to show rebuilding through the draft is no easy process and far from an exact science.  This tactic can be trying, and far too often, fruitless.  Without delving further into the exact details of Omar Minaya’s draft selections from 2005 through 2010, I can tell you with confidence Team Alderson has drafted a greater quantity of quality prospects.

Although the Mets still lack a premium slugging position player, the farm system is as healthy as it has been since the days Jose Reyes (undrafted free agent), David Wright and Scott Kazmir came through.  After those three made it to the big leagues, a very vibrant system originally inaugurated by Joe McDonald back in the mid-1960’s came to a grinding halt under Steve Phillips.  Without predicting the future, I say with certainty Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi have restarted what used to be a very proud and thriving production line.

Whether on the field or through packaged trades, Sandy Alderson’s drafting efforts have yet to affect the big club.  Instead, the last three seasons have been spent stocking the various levels of the organization with a growing abundance of legitimate prospects.  Continuing along this path can potentially feed the Mets for the next decade to come.  But we’re not there yet.  We need to hold on just a bit longer.

The overall organization is slowly gaining momentum, but the 2014 regular season will not come replete with free agent solutions to all our problems.  In fact, the 2013 season may have presented the club with even more questions and uncertainty than we fans bargained for.  As the continuing eddy of Omar Minaya’s selections never quite materialize into a full whirlwind of high end talent, we are still frustratingly trying to establish a core.  Before long, however, Omar’s 2010 draft may still prove to be his best.  Jeff Walters, Matt den Dekker and Jacob deGrom were all selected after Matt Harvey.

Granted, most of the players called up during 2013 served to create a very refreshing and positive atmosphere in Citi Field, but not much else – not yet.  Victories still win titles, and the Mets’ efforts toward that end slowly continue.

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