Should mounting injuries influence the Mets upcoming June amateur draft strategy?

When MLB’s thirty member clubs assemble for the annual June amateur draft with their varying and respectively distinct agendas, it can be argued the entire process gets reduced to one giant crap shoot.

If the New York Mets accomplished anything during Sandy Alderson’s first four years of rebuilding, they incrementally gained better amateur draft order positioning.

First Round Picks:

  • 2011 – #13 overall
  • 2012 – #12 overall
  • 2013 – #11 overall
  • 2014 – #10 overall

Each time, Alderson drafted a position player, while the overall net results of those drafts are still largely pending – and there in lies the true nature of this entire process.  If the amateur draft has taught us anything through the years, it’s that selecting and developing potential baseball prospects are perhaps two of the more inexact sciences that exist in major team sports today.

It is true, some front offices and certain executives clearly have better eyes for spotting talent and a knack for gauging prospective abilities, thereby consistently providing their respective clubs with major league worthy youngsters, while others just never seem to get it right.  But, it is also true the “can’t miss” prospects come far and few between, and so even the best laid plans can still go awry when selection order and luck become necessary conditions for a potentially successful draft as top tier prospects come off the board. Even then, the merits of any given amateur draft must first be proven through a sometimes lengthy minor league process for both players and organizations alike.

Such remains the case with Brandon Nimmo.  Back in 2011, Sandy Alderson used his #1 pick to select an obscure 18-year-old high school kid playing American Legion ball in Wyoming.  Brandon commenced his pro career in the Gulf Coast League, and has since progressed through each level of the Mets system demonstrating a continued ability to consistently get on base.  Otherwise, he’s a career .271/.382/.398 minor league slasher, with 138 extra base hits over 1,715 total at-bats.

Alderson clearly gambled on Nimmo’s raw ability, and the selection was indeed received with mixed reviews by fans.  Looking back, there are those who would still characterize Nimmo’s overall six year minor league career as rather unremarkable.

Now 23-years-old, Nimmo is presently in his second season with the Las Vegas 51s, for whom he has slashed .288/.390/.443 through 76 total games played.  That in turn begs the question – is he benefiting from playing in the Pacific Coast League? Or is he maturing and improving according to schedule? Or both?  In any event, most Mets fans seem quite forgiving with regards to his methodical development, and remain hopeful he will eventually earn an opportunity to play in Queens.

Then there’s what’s called hitting the mark.

With his second selection of the 2011 draft, Alderson opted for another high school player who has already paid off far more handsomely for the Mets.  Pitcher Michael Fulmer was drafted #44 overall during the compensatory portion of the first round, and by July 2015 was pitching for Binghamton. Paired up with pitching prospect Luis Cessa, Michael Fulmer was traded to the Detroit Tigers just prior to last year’s (non-waiver) trade deadline in exchange for elite slugger Yoenis Cespedes.

The old adage you have to give in order to receive never rang more true.

Fulmer made his major league debut this season with the Tigers, and is performing well beyond even what Mets fans once anticipated.  On June 8 he made his eighth start of the season, and is now 6-1 with a 2.83 ERA and a 9.3 K/9 average.  Moreover, Fulmer has surrendered just one earned run, and a mere 11 hits through his last four starts and 28.1 innings pitched.

Moving down the list of 2011 selections, pitcher Cory Mazzoni was drafted in the second round but failed to distinguished himself in four minor league seasons with the Mets.  He was subsequently traded to the San Diego Padres in 2015 in exchange for reliever Alex Torres, who in turn was granted free agency in the off-season.

Logan Verrett was drafted in the third round and is the lone 2011 class member presently listed on the Mets active roster.  Claimed away by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2014 Rule-5 draft, Verrett was again selected off waivers by the Texas Rangers in April 2015 before being returned to the New York Mets in May.  To date, Logan has been a solid contributor while being utilized in relief and as a spot starter.

Flame throwing reliever Jack Leathersich was drafted in the fifth round, and made his brief MLB debut last season.  By July 30, however, it was determined he required season ending Tommy John surgery.  In November 2015, he was exposed to waivers and claimed away by the Chicago Cubs.

Remaining 2011 class men worthy of mention:

And so went Sandy Alderson’s first June amateur draft with the Mets…

In his fifth season at the helm, Alderson forfeited his 2015 #1 draft pick as a result of signing free agent outfielder Michael Cuddyer during the preceding off-season.

This year, the defending N.L. champs are now realizing the other side of success, slipping down to #19 overall in the first round of this weekend’s (June 9-11) upcoming draft.  However, they earned themselves a compensation pick when free agent Daniel Murphy signed with Washington.

Therefore, the Mets will have four opportunities to select among the top 100 eligible players.

  • 1st Round – #19 and #31 overall
  • 2nd Round – #64 overall
  • 3rd Round – #100 overall

MLB.com    2016 Draft Bonus Pools    Draft Order

It’s worth noting Sandy Alderson will also be drafting far behind his division rivals, as the Phillies own the #1 overall pick, the Braves own the #3 overall pick, while the Marlins own the #7 overall pick.

The next few questions that beg asking:  What strategy should the Mets employ?  Will Sandy Alderson continue drafting a higher rate of high school prospects, or should he pay added attention to more polished college players?  Will mounting injuries influence his top five selections?  And what of the best overall prospect still available approach?

Continuing to use the 2011 draft as a reference, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Fulmer were both drafted out of high school.  As noted, Fulmer debuted five years later, while Nimmo has yet experienced the majors.

On the other hand, catcher Kevin Plawecki and outfielder Michael Conforto are two examples where drafting college players addressed more immediate needs.  Kevin Plawecki was a 2012 first round compensatory pick, selected #34 overall.  Conforto was the 10th overall pick of the 2014 draft.  Both are now in their second seasons with the big club.

If we go position by position, catchers Kevin Plawecki and Travis d’Arnaud are still effectively in competition against one another.  Neither has seized the position despite numerous opportunities. In fact, both stand poised to make the Mets rethink this whole situation should they continue disappointing due to continued injuries, lack of respective performance, or both.  Grudgingly, I feel Sandy Alderson needs to revisit this position with yet another top five selection.

With their 2013 first round pick, the Mets selected high school first base prospect Dominic Smith #11 overall.  Now 20 years old and playing for Binghamton, he has yet to display the power or slugging abilities traditionally required of the position despite being a very good contact hitter.

That’s not welcome news considering Lucas Duda is again proving far too streaky at the plate.   Plus, Duda’s latest back injury only adds another point of contention to his already questionable long-term future with the Mets.

Meanwhile, Sandy Alderson presently has little to no recourse to speak of.  Eric Campbell and Marc Krauss quite simply are not suitable replacements.  Alderson drafted lefty swinging first baseman Dash Winningham in the 8th round of the 2014 draft.  After displaying decent power last season with Kingsport, Dash is off to a slow start so far this season with the Columbia Fireflies. Otherwise, even reasonably touted first basemen will be in very short supply in this year’s draft, so it’s perhaps best if the Mets glossed over this situation until well after the 200th overall selection is made, or even waited till next year with hopes of an improved pool of college first baseman.

Ideally, Dilson Hererra is the heir apparent to Neil Walker at second base, and 2012 first round selection (#12 overall) Gavin Cecchini appears near ready to assume duties at shortstop.  With backlogged talents such as Amed Rosario and L.J. Mazzilli, the Mets seem well stocked up the middle – unlike the more dire infield situation Sandy Alderson inherited back in 2011.

Unfortunately, though, the Mets officially now have a third base dilemma on their hands, and organizationally speaking, they’re in crisis.  David Wright‘s future is growing increasingly uncertain by the day.  Already having to manage spinal stenosis (with a measure of difficulty I might add), Wright must now deal with a herniated disk in his neck.  But these are just the latest in a string of various injuries he’s incurred since the 2011 season.  Meanwhile, he’s not getting any younger.     Wright will turn 34 years old in December.  And nowhere within their minor league system do the Mets have a suitable replacement remotely close to maturity.

David Wright‘s contract obviously binds the Mets hands with regards to how intensely or extensively Sandy Alderson pursues a short-term or potential long-term solution.  And in similar fashion, Wright’s active status will determine much.  His competitive health, or a decision to retire may not arrive in the timeliest of manners.

Wright’s situation aside, eventually the future of third base belongs to either someone already being developed within the organization, someone acquired via trade or free agency (international amateurs included), or some future June amateur prospect as yet to be selected.

For now, the Mets will need to get by with Wilmer Flores and perhaps Matt Reynolds, etc.  Depth wise, Daniel Muno (AAA) would probably be next in line.

Mets organizational depth at 3B:

  • Niuman Romero (AA)
  • Phillip Evans (AA)
  • Jhoan Urena (A+)
  • David Thompson (A)
  • Third base prospect Eudor Garcia was the Mets 2014 4th round draft pick. After spending the remainder of the year at Kingsport, he played with the Savannah Sand Gnats in 2015 where he slashed .296/.340/.442, with 23 doubles, nine home runs, and 59 RBI through 105 games and 398 at-bats. Garcia, however, is presently serving an 80 game suspension handed down in January after after testing positive for PEDs.  He’ll most likely report to Port St. Lucie upon his return later this summer.

Last year, Sandy Alderson drafted the aforementioned David Thompson in the 4th round, who is now playing for the Columbus Fireflies.  But if the Mets were to again prioritize, and this time invest their #1 pick on a third baseman, here is a top ten list of potential high school/college prospects:

  • Nick Senzel
  • Josh Lowe, H.S.
  • Joe Rizzo, H.S.
  • Nolan Jones, H.S.
  • Will Craig
  • Carter Kieboom, H.S.
  • Drew Mendoza, H.S.
  • Cole Stobbe, H.S.
  • Lucas Erceg
  • Bobby Dalbec

The likelihood of Nick Senzel (Tennessee) slipping down to #19 is slim to none.  But should Will Craig (Wake Forest) remain available, I suggest Sandy snatch him up with haste.

Circling back to the 2011 amateur draft, Sandy Alderson did indeed draft a pair of third basemen – keeping in mind the position was nowhere near the priority back then, as it fast appears to becoming now.  Cole Frenzel was drafted in the 7th round, and Dustin Lawley was selected in the 19th round.  Point being, Frenzel lasted four years and never played beyond A+, while Lawley lasted five years, but now plays for the New Jersey Jackals of the independent CanAm League.

Just goes to show…

Moving on, envision an outfield five featuring Juan Lagares, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Travis Taijeron, and Wuilmer Becerra.

As previously noted, Travis Taijeron was also part of Alderson’s 2011 draft.  I got my first full look at Travis when he played for the Brooklyn Cyclones.  He has been grinding his way through the Mets minor league system ever since.  Over six seasons, he’s a career .270/.372/.516 minor league slasher, with 99 home runs and 355 RBI in 569 total games played.

Whether Juan Lagares‘ injury creates an opportunity for Travis remains to be seen.  Otherwise, due to the crowded outfield situation in Queens, Travis appeared destined to play a second full season this year with the Las Vegas 51s, where, so far, Taijeron is slashing .282/.392/.539, with 33 home runs and 133 RBI through 180 total games and 596 at-bats.  And yes, he strikes out a lot.  Who doesn’t?  The Mets nonetheless will not be able to stash him in Vegas much longer.

That said, Curtis Granderson‘s contract expires after next season, and should Yoenis Cespedes opt-in after this season his contract would expire after 2018, which should be just in time for Becerra’s potential arrival.

Minus a first round draft pick in last year’s draft, Alderson selected 18-year-old outfielder Desmond Lindsay in the second round, #53 overall.  I still feel the Mets are thin on outfield prospects, and so Sandy Alderson has my urgent blessings to select a college outfielder with the Mets first round compensation pick.

With two position players in hand, I’d prefer Alderson then weigh a starting pitcher against another position player, and select the better option with this year’s second round pick.  My preference would be a southpaw pitcher.

Before teams resort to rolling the dice on late round prospects, I’d prefer Alderson draft two pitchers, a third baseman, catcher, outfielder, and one other position player as best he can with his first six selections through the first five rounds.  After which, he can start chipping away at the remaining talent on the board knowing you can never draft enough pitching.

What say you?

How would you have Sandy Alderson negotiate through the 2016 June amateur draft?