On December 17th Baseball America released their top 10 Mets prospects. If for some reason you didn’t see this list, here it is:
1. Jenrry Mejia, rhp
2. Wilmer Flores, ss
3. Cesar Puello, of
4. Matt Harvey, rhp
5. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, of
6. Reese Havens, 2b
7. Lucas Duda, of/1b
8. Fernando Martinez, of
9. Aderlin Rodriguez, 3b
10. Brad Holt, rhp
I had the chance to conduct a Q+A with Baseball America writer Matt Eddy who came up with the list. Here’s what he had to say:
We spend between three and four weeks pulling together all the material that makes up our Top 30 Prospects features—the chapters in our Prospect Handbook. To be clear about how the process works: We are not trained as scouts and we do not view all players ourselves. We see some of the players here and there—at games or on the web—but we rely on our sources to accurately portray the baseball industry’s various viewpoints. There really is no such thing as consensus in the industry, except when dealing with obvious talents like Bryce Harper or Mike Trout. Some scouts like players who others do not, and vice versa.
We believe that this approach has the benefit of not biasing us with either too much (prospect fatigue) or too little (snap judgments) exposure to the players.
So what goes into our prospect rankings? We consider performance record, we talk with high-ranking officials in the organization as well as scouts and evaluators from other organizations who have no stake in the players’ developments. And our rankings change constantly—or at least mine do. As such, they should be viewed as snapshots, because once you move past the first tier of prospects, you’re kidding yourself if you think you have definitive answers.
The aim of Baseball America always has been to balance a player’s ceiling with his likelihood of reaching that ceiling. It’s more art than science.
PSL2F: What puts Cesar Puello above all the other OF’s in the system? You also said that there was debate as to whether he was even a better prospect than Wilmer Flores. What about Puello’s game makes him stand out among the other OF’s and possibly ahead of Flores?
Matt Eddy: I heard enough praise from enough different sources to feel confident in ranking Cesar Puello ahead of other outfielders in the system. His pure offensive upside is as high as any player in the system other than Wilmer Flores. It remains to be seen whether Puello can reach that ceiling, of course, and his outfield challengers—specifically Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Fernando Martinez and Cory Vaughn—are much closer to their upper limits right now, making them safer choices. But Puello runs, throws and defends better than Martinez or Vaughn, and he’s on par with Nieuwenhis if Kirk settles in a corner. But understand that we’re not projecting Puello to be a better HITTER than Flores, but we do project his game to be much more well-rounded.
PSL2F: Many think Brad Holt is far out of the top 10 prospects based on how terrible his 2010 season was. Keith Law from ESPN labeled him as “a middle reliever at best”, while you have him still maintaining #3 type potential, even if unlikely. What about Holt still keeps you as a believer?
Matt Eddy: Three sources whom I trust advocated for Brad Holt as one of the Mets’ top pitching talents. It’s really as simple as that. “I actually really like this guy even though he’s performed poorly,” one said. “He’ll be fine,” another assured me, adding, “The stuff is there, but mentally he didn’t always show up.” A third opined: “He’d have four good innings and then fall apart.”
Not one person questioned Holt’s stuff. And when he’s locating down in the zone, he throws 90-94 mph with life. He can spin a breaking ball in the high 70s and has shown increasing feel for a low-80s changeup. It’s a matter of focus, not stuff, and while that’s concerning, it doesn’t torpedo his prospect status, at least not for me.
Redemption is a prevailing theme in the movies we watch and the books we read, yet we collectively bail at the first sign of trouble for a baseball prospect. Remember when Ike Davis didn’t homer once in his first 75 games? Or take Gavin Floyd, who in 2005 ran up a 6.16 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in Triple-A at age 22. He wasn’t as wild as Holt was in 2010, but Floyd also was the fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft, so expectations were sky-high. At that point in time, would you have identified Floyd as a future front-line starter for a competitive team?
Holt had a terrible year, and there’s no getting around that. His index of self-destruction—as Bill James has dubbed it—was off the charts: 7.5 walks per nine, 2.00 WHIP, 23 wild pitches in 24 games and most damning, he got worse after a demotion to High-A! But still he showed swing-and-miss stuff (8.2 strikeouts per nine) and allowed just six home runs despite giving up a high rate of hits overall.
Other positives: The quality of Holt’s secondary stuff has improved since the 2008 season, when he blew away the New York-Penn League. Also, he has a fairly clean bill of health, having not sustained an injury to his elbow or shoulder. He has, however, dealt with an ankle injury (in ’09) and a wrist injury (in ’10) that have affected the way he delivers his pitches and caused his velocity to fluctuate.
With an offseason to clear his head, Holt ought to be looking forward to working with the Mets’ new pitching coordinator in 2011 and taking steps toward getting his career back on track.
PSL2F: I am a big Matt Harvey fan, and you rated him highly at #4, and even said he as front of the rotation type potential. Compare Harvey and #1 prospect Jenrry Mejia for me. What are the major differences between the two, and who do you think is a better bet to stick as a big league starter?
Matt Eddy: For a pitcher like Matt Harvey, who has a two-part delivery and struggles to repeat his release point, he has to prove he can throw enough strikes to profile as a major league starter. I’m not implying that he won’t, but then he has yet to throw a pro pitch. The pro workload is significantly different than the amateur one, and the seams on the baseball are not as high as the NCAA version. At the very least, we know Jenrry Mejia is a fine Double-A starter, and that he can fall back to a role as big league reliever, probably a good one
PSL2F: You label the likelihood of Wilmer Flores sticking as an outfielder as “an adventure”, but yet list him as the Mets 2014 left fielder. Do you think he’d be able to play an adequate left field based on his skill-set, or is it just because the other positions are taken? You also labeled him a potential middle of the order bat, what kind of numbers could Mets fans expect if he were to reach his promise?
Matt Eddy: It really is astonishing how slow Flores is—most grade him as a 30 on the 20-80 scouting scale. This won’t be an issue on an infield corner, where reflexes and soft hands are most important, but his lack of speed will hinder him if he must track fly balls in the outfield gaps. Expect Flores to be below-average, but playable, on an outfield corner when he’s big league ready, perhaps in 2013. But he may not have a long career as an outfielder—though Carlos Lee has made a run of it. If Flores truly reaches his ceiling, he could hit .300 with 20-25 homers at his peak
PSL2F: Can you name 4-5 prospects who just missed making the top 10, and what about their game made them fall short?
Matt Eddy: In my opinion, the best upside plays outside BA’s Top 10 are lefties Juan Urbina and Robert Carson and center fielder Darrell Ceciliani. For more on them, I encourage readers to check out our Prospect Handbook or read the chat I conducted for BA subscribers.
Well, OK, I’ll amplify my response on Urbina, who’s just fun to write about. The 17-year-old lefty has a lot going for him—size, projection, feel for a changeup, bloodlines. But as it stands, he’s a pitcher who sits 87-88 mph with no real breaking ball. That’s not a slam-dunk starter profile. Let’s say Urbina never adds the velocity the Mets project, and that his breaking ball never develops. I’m not saying this will come to pass—just that it’s one possible outcome.
The Rays signed a high school lefty out of Arizona in 2008, paying him $300,000 more than the Mets paid Urbina, with the expectation that he’d add velocity and raise his prospect profile. After two pro seasons, 21-year-old Kyle Lobstein still sits in the 86-88 mph range with one dependable secondary pitch. For this reason, I’d like to see Urbina go out and prove himself in full-season ball, like Mejia, Flores and Puello have.
PSL2F: Who from the top 10 do you think has the biggest bust potential? And who has the biggest boom potential?
Matt Eddy: Most bust potential: No. 8 Fernando Martinez. The arthritic knee is concerning, and he hasn’t shown enough of a plan at the plate to profile as a regular.
Most boom potential: It’s gotta be No. 9 Aderlin Rodriguez. He’s got that innate ability to make contact, square up the ball and hit it with authority. As with Flores, we may be able to forgive his defensive liabilities.
PSL2F: Who is a prospect that is a sleeper that people may not be aware of that could potentially burst onto the scene in 2011?
Matt Eddy: Righthander Domingo Tapia struck out a pedestrian 5.6 per nine in the Gulf Coast League, but he’s got serious arm strength, dialing up to 96 mph.
PSL2F: Lastly, new GM Sandy Alderson labeled the farm as middle of the pack, and stressed that they will spend on the draft and international free agency. Do you agree with the sentiment of middle of the pack? And also do you think Alderson and co. will convince the Wilpon’s to spend more in the draft? Or is it just an ownership decision to adhere to slot as much as possible?
Matt Eddy: That assessment is correct. The Mets are a middle-third organization in terms of minor league talent, and probably toward the back of that middle-third, i.e. the 16-20 range. They have more depth this year than they’ve had in the recent past, thanks to their robust international efforts, but they don’t really have the type of blue-chip, can’t-miss prospect you can plan around. Playing in the NL East, which is home to Bryce Harper and Jason Heyward and Mike Stanton and Stephen Strasburg and Domonic Brown and Logan Morrison, only exacerbates the issue.
I cannot speak to the Mets intentions in the 2011 draft, but they have indicated that they intend to spend more than they have in recent drafts.
I’d like to thank Matt for answering all of my questions. Please check out his work at Baseball America, and check out Baseball America’s 2011 Prospect Handbook which was just recently sent to press.