Zack Wheeler Is The Linchpin to the 2015 Starting Rotation

If you read almost anywhere, the focus of the Mets starting pitching situation is on the return of Matt Harvey and the young guys Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. You may also read a thing or two about how Jacob deGrom will attempt to repeat his amazing Rookie Of The Year 2014 season. Every one of those pitchers deserves every kind word that has been written about them, no question. I am, however, going to take a different direction on the Mets pitching situation.

The past couple seaso, the focus you are seeing with Syndergaard and Matz was resting comfortably on the shoulders of Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was the first blue chip prospect that Sandy Alderson acquired as General Manager of the Mets, some would say he is the crown jewel of Alderson’s reign as GM. I find it fascinating the lack of attention that Wheeler is getting thus far this spring. Given his sort of reserved style, I think this is going to be great for him to take the steps he needs to this spring. Let the media hound Syndergaard, Matz and Harvey.

It is forgotten that Wheeler threw 185 innings of 3,54 ERA baseball in 2014. While he was still inconsistent at times, he made great strides throughout the season. His control has improved, he is still striking out a batter an inning. I am going to make the argument that Zack Wheeler is the linchpin to the Mets pitching success in 2015.

Right now is there a pitcher in this rotation that you are more confident that will give this team a crucial 200 quality innings in 2015? Matt Harvey? Innings count. Jon Niese? How is that arm really? Bartolo Colon? 42 years old. A case can be made for Jacob deGrom, but I think Wheeler is ready to absolutely break out in a huge way this year.

Wheeler to me is that guy that if Harvey needs some time in season to re-adjust can truly take on that “Ace” role in the rotation. This is year 3 for Wheeler in the majors, and that is commonly a break out year for pitchers. The league has adjusted to him, and he has adjusted back. He is in his second season with his revamped delivery, and I expect his walk rate will improve upon the 3.84 per 9 innings it was in 2014.

Yes he has to be more consistent, no doubt. I think the consistency within his delivery that he had to adjust to will translate into more consistency in the strike zone. As you saw in the Marlins game last year, if Zack Wheeler is in the strike zone he is virtually unhittable. He will bring the 98 on the fastball, he will bring the wipe out slider, and he will bring improved command.

I think there is nothing holding Wheeler back from being a 3.00-3.15 ERA pitcher with 200-210 innings pitched. With the questions regarding health of Harvey and Niese, and the age concerns of Colon, Wheeler has to break out in a big way this year. If you have jumped off the Wheeler bandwagon for the new flavors that are in camp making buzz this year, I will re-open the doors for you to hop on. Hop on because 2015 is the year of Zack Wheeler.

St. Lucie To Flushing Top 10 Prospect Countdown: #9 RHP Marcos Molina

Molina

 

RHP Marcos Molina

DOB: March 8th, 1995

Acquired: Signed as International Free Agent in 2012 for $100,000

2014 Stats: Short Season A Brooklyn: 7-3 record, 1.78 ERA, 76 innings, 46 hits allowed, 15 earned runs allowed, 2 home runs allowed, 18 walks, 91 strikeouts

Why Ranked Here: Despite not being a big money international signing, Molina broke on the scene with Brooklyn in 2014 sporting a three pitch mix including a mid 90’s fastball, an above average changeup and a slider that flashed plus.

Check out my interview with Cyclones play by play man Stu Johnson HERE where he and I talk extensively about what he thinks about Molina.

I saw Molina pitch once this summer and the scouting reports I got from a scout matched up pretty well. Molina still has work to do delivery wise as he uses minimal lower body effort, which is not optimal for a future as a starter. By everything I hear he is an extremely hard worker and is committed to his craft. I was told that at the same level Molina compares pretty favorably to Mets closer Jenrry Mejia. They are not the same build, but similar stuff and mechanical concerns.

Molina throws a lot of strikes and doesn’t walk batters, as is evident by his 2.1 BB/9. He maintained his velocity of touching 95 into the 6th inning while locating his change up that has some nice late dip to it. He did use his slider that at times flashed being a wipe out pitch to get strikeouts. The issue with the slider is sometimes it will get a bit slurvy and the break won’t be as sharp.

Molina is one of the highest ceiling prospects in the entire Mets system who has a chance to fly up this list next year. If he can get a little more consistency in his delivery and with his slider, there is #2 starter upside. If not, I think he can be a high leverage late inning reliever ala Mejia.

Where will he start 2015? Low-A Savannah

St Lucie To Flushing Top 10 Prospect Countdown: #10 1B Dominic Smith

Dom Smith

1B Dominic Smith

DOB: June 15, 1995

Acquired: 1st Round (11th overall) in 2013 MLB First Year Player Draft

2014 Stats: Single-A Savannah: .271 BA, .344 OBP, .338 SLG, 52 Runs, 26 Doubles, 1 Home Run, 44 RBI.

Why Ranked Here: When the Mets selected Smith in the 1st round of the draft, they were said to be getting a very advanced high school bat. Here is MLB.com’s scouting report of Smith from draft day:

“The bat is what really stands out for this Southern California high school first baseman. With a terrific approach at the plate and a loose swing, he gets advanced marks for his hittability. Right now, Smith is more of a hit machine, an RBI type, than one who will wow you with his power. There is some pop there, and how high he goes on Draft day may depend on just how much power a team thinks he’ll have in the future. He’s a very solid defender at first, though it’s the fact that some see him as the best pure high school hitter in the class that will get him drafted in the early stages of the Draft. a very advanced high school bat.”

Smith showed a lot of that scouting report in Savannah this year. Defensively it is believed that Smith should be at least an above average first baseman, albeit with no positional flexibility. He has soft hands, good reactions and a quick release when required to throw the ball. Offensively he showed that quality hit tool that scouts raved about. Smith struggled in his first month(adjustment) and his last month(some fatigue), but his batting average/on-base percentage splits for May,June,July were: .320/.398, .301/.363, .292/.375. Smith showed a great ability to manage the strike zone despite his age and experience level, as well as the ability to spray line drives to all fields. He is an incredibly hard working kid with a great understanding of the game and a big desire to improve. I think there definitely was more good signs than bad with Smith’s full season debut.

What Needs To Improve?: I think it’s fairly well known that it is rather tough to make it as a first baseman in the big leagues without power. While I think Smith has some natural loft to his swing that should grow into some power, you are not talking about big time power. The 26 doubles this year was not bad but Smith needs to drive the ball with authority more consistently and show the willingness to turn on an inside pitch and put a charge into it. Savannah is huge park that does not give well to left handed hitters specifically, so I think it will be a benefit for Smith to simply get out of there.  The tough thing for Smith will be maintaining that good strike zone judgment while being aggressive after pitches that he can hit hard.

Where Will He Start 2015?: High-A St. Lucie

Outlook: Smith does lose some momentum as a prospect as the power numbers were not quite there but let’s not give up on a kid who won’t be 20 until June and showed the advanced skills that he did this year. Legit chance he breaks out in a pretty big way being out of Savannah and into a more reasonable atmosphere in Port St. Lucie.

As we begin 2015, what’s next for the Mets?

It’s a brand new year. Mets fans can toast to the great times ahead in 2015. The team showed tons of promise in 2014 with the breakout seasons of Jacob deGrom, Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares. Travis d’Arnaud had an impressive second half after a short stint in AAA. He will likely be an integral part of the teams future. The bullpen looks to be in great shape with Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia and Victor Black at the back end. Josh Edgin took a step forward last season as well. If Bobby Parnell can return to form, he will also be part of the late-inning equation. We all know what Matt Harvey’s return brings to a starting rotation that already consists of deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee. The depth doesn’t end there with Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero and Steve Matz waiting in the wings in Las Vegas. Curtis Granderson will look to bounce back with the help of Kevin Long and a shortened right-center field fence. Michael Cuddyer will mainly play RF and spell Duda at times at 1B vs. tough lefties. Look for John Mayberry to start in LF/RF on those days. The pieces are in place for a successful season. So what’s next?

Dating back to last season, there have been rumors that the Mets have interest in Troy Tulowitzki. While adding Tulowitzki would be a game changer, I don’t expect it to happen. The Mets are without a doubt the best fit trade wise for the Rockies. That coupled with the Mets need for a shortstop makes the match look perfect. However, his injury-riddled past mixed with the price he will likely cost in trade make it a long shot. His contract would be considered a bargain if he could only stay healthy. It will certainly be a situation most fans will be paying attention to as the rest of the offseason unfolds.

If the Mets do indeed find a SS to compete with Wilmer Flores, Seattle seems like the best fit. They have both Chris Taylor and Brad Miller at the SS position. There were rumors that suggested they may use Miller’s left-handed bat in the OF if they didn’t make any more deals. However, Seth Smith was acquired from San Diego last week. This may be lead to a deal of either Miller or Taylor. There were rumors last season that the Mets offered Jon Niese in exchange for Brad Miller. It will be interesting to see if the teams have further dialogue as Spring Training approaches.

Have The Mets Gotten The Sandy Alderson Fans Expected?

Sandy_Alderson_New_York_Mets

 

Ok before you read this, this is not going to be a Sandy Alderson bashing post. In fact, I am one of Sandy’s biggest supporters that you will find. Amidst rumors that the San Diego Padres were working on a trade to acquire outfielder Wil Myers from Tampa Bay, (not implying that Mets should’ve pursued this) I started thinking “Why are the Mets never trying to do anything creative like this?”

When the Mets hired “The Big Three” in Sandy Alderson as GM, J.P. Ricciardi as his right hand man and Paul DePodesta as the head of the scouting department I was thrilled. The Mets were getting away from the Omar Minaya way of just giving up draft picks and signing every which veteran that he could. Basically trying to be the New York Yankees and not succeeding. This was going to be a forward thinking, analytical, and creative front office. What was there not to like?

I was under the understanding that a rebuild was required. There were terrible contracts like Jason Bay, Johan Santana and Oliver Perez still lagging on the Mets payroll. I would argue that Alderson did a good job in general with the rebuild. Fans wanted every which free agent and I was fine with Alderson passing on all of those opportunities to properly rebuild. Over the rebuilding years he acquired Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran, Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, Wuilmer Becerra as the young pieces in an R.A. Dickey trade, and Dilson Herrera and Vic Black for Marlon Byrd and John Buck. You are talking about 2 of your best pitchers going forward, your future at catcher, second base and a possible high leverage, late inning reliever.

Now here is where the questions start. Where are the “Moneyball” type moves that fans were grown to expect under the originator of the perceived “Moneyball” pursuit of undervalued assets? All I have seen from Alderson is the ability to successfully sell off veterans for prospects and sign some free agents to plug holes, while leaving blatant holes wide open.  I understand the payroll issues come from the ownership level, but you can improve the roster without spending absurd amounts of money.

I will say I was actually excited that Alderson signed Michael Cuddyer to a 2 year deal at the expense of the Mets 1st round draft pick right when free agency opened, as it showed that the rebuild was over. He is not a perfect player but he is a fit for the Mets. Whether you want to believe it or not, the Mets need a shortstop. Nothing against Wilmer Flores, but as a fan I want to see better. This team is ready to compete on the merit of it’s starting pitching. I think they are merely a solid bat at shortstop away from being a true playoff contender. The Mets can’t take on the payroll that comes with Troy Tulowitzki and are uninterested in the likes of Jung-Ho Kang and seemingly most of the shortstop free agent market.

Where is the Mets version of a potential Wil Myers trade? Alderson was such a smooth negotiator in all of his deals where he moved his veteran pieces for prospects. Why can’t he find a creative way to obtain a shortstop? I simply do not believe that every trade in the market absolutely requires one of Syndergaard/Wheeler/Jacob deGrom. Didi Gregorius was obtained for Shane Greene, who had a nice run with the Yankees this year but was a pretty pedestrian minor league pitcher.

This is not to compare specific examples of players but why can’t Sandy make an outside of the box move? Everything does not have to be so cut and dry. Alderson can’t figure out a way to get Brad Miller? Jurickson Profar? Ersibel Arruebarruena? These are just examples but I truly expected this front office to do outside of the box, creative things. I cannot think of one move of this quality that the Mets have made. I am challenging Sandy Alderson to show me something different. Show me that the Mets hired the guy that is here to lead the Mets to the World Series. If you give me Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada as the only shortstop options, that is not enough. You stuck your neck out with the Cuddyer move signaling the next wave of the growth of the Mets. Do not stop there. Go obtain a shortstop and show the fan base that 2015 is truly the year for the Mets. I am all about the prospects, but hoarding every one of them is not the way to do it. Prospects are meant to help the Major League team and sometimes that is via trading some of them.

Has Sandy Alderson been all that I had hoped when the Mets hired him? Not entirely.

Mets Select LHP Sean Gilmartin In Rule 5 Draft. Can He Help?

Sean Gilmartin

On the last day of the Winter Meetings in San Diego, Major League Baseball held it’s annual Rule 5 Draft. The basic premise of the Rule 5 Draft is that teams select from other teams minor league systems to find a player that they are willing to carry for the entire following season.

With the 10th pick in this years Rule 5 Draft the Mets selected 24-year-old left handed pitcher Sean Gilmartin from the Minnesota Twins organization. Gilmartin, a former 1st round pick of the Atlanta Braves was traded to the Twins in exchange for catcher Ryan Doumit. This year Minnesota opted to not protect Gilmartin on their 40 man roster, thus making him available for the Mets and other teams. Given the need for another left hander in the bullpen, I think this was an excellent risk taken by the Mets. It is basically a $50,000 look at a guy. If you don’t want to keep him you can either offer him back to the Twins for $25,000 or try to work out a trade that negates the Rule 5 requirements.

But how can Gilmartin help the Mets? There is a need for an additional left hander to go with Josh Edgin, and Gilmartin was awesome vs lefties this season in Triple-A. In 149 at bats against him, he held lefties to a slash line of .201/.219/.235. Yes that is a .454 OPS against!

With numbers like that you would have to assume that he has some seriously good stuff, right? That is not really the case. Gilmartin will now be a converted starting pitcher who had a typical left hander 4 pitch mix. He has a fastball that works in the upper 80’s, topping around 91 MPH with some sink to it. His go to pitch is his change-up that works around the 80 MPH range and has some nice dip to it. He has a slider which he uses a lot to his advantage against the left handed batters and then a slow curve in the low 70’s. He relies on his control and pitching smarts more than blowing away hitters.

While the Gilmartin pick isn’t going to have fans throwing parties, given the interest in guys like Phil Coke or Craig Breslow, I would much rather take a chance on a 24 year old with some upside. While there is no guarantee that Gilmartin will make the team, I think he absolutely can make the team and have a positive impact on the 2015 Mets bullpen.

You can follow Joe DeMayo on Twitter @PSLToFlushing

Listen: Brooklyn Cyclones Review with The Voice Of The Cyclones Stuart Johnson

I had the opportunity to record an interview with the radio play by play man for the Brooklyn Cyclones, Stuart Johnson. Stuart gives some awesome insight on all the top prospects that came through Brooklyn this summer such as Amed Rosario, Marcos Molina, Michael Conforto, Jhoan Urena and more. Click below to take a listen!

Listen: Offseason Preview with Newsday’s Marc Carig

It may be a little dated now that the Mets have signed Michael Cuddyer, but I got to talk to Marc Carig of Newsday late last week to preview the Mets offseason. Click play below to listen to the interview!

Listen: deGrom,Cuddyer,Offseason Preview with Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond

On the day that Jacob deGrom won the 2014 NL Rookie Of The Year and the Mets signed Michael Cuddyer to a 2 year $21 million contract I was joined for a chat by the Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond. Click the play button below to listen to the interview

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