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December 14, 2006

Future Shock

New York Mets Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

image 1

Excellent Prospects
1. Fernando Martinez, cf
2. Philip Humber, rhp
3. Mike Pelfrey, rhp
Very Good Prospects
4. Carlos Gomez, of
Good Prospects
5. Alay Soler, rhp
Average Prospects
6. Jon Niese, lhp
7. Kevin Mulvey, rhp
8. Mike Carp, 1b
9. Deolis Guerra, rhp
10. Joe Smith, rhp

1. Fernando Martinez, cf
DOB: 10/10/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/185
Bats/Throws: L/R
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2005
What he did in 2006: .333/.389/.505 at Low A (211 PA); .250/.250/.250 at Rookie Level (4 PA); .193/.254/.387 at High A (130 PA)
The Good: After receiving the largest bonus in the 2005 international signing season ($1.4 million), Martinez looked to be worth every penny. Both his hitting skills and approach are remarkable for his age, and power should come as he learns how to pull balls. Every tool grades out as average or plus, and he's a sound center fielder with a plus arm.
The Bad: Power is still mostly projection, and some scouts see a swing that is not designed for loft. Struggles against good lefties. Concerns exist about his ability to maintain speed as body fills out, leaving some to project a move to a corner slot.
The Irrelevant: After going homerless against lefthanders in the Sally League, Martinez bashed three in 49 at-bats against southpaws after a late-season promotion to the Florida State League.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: It's hard to figure out where Martinez will bat in the lineup when he's done, but most agree it was be as an impact hitter in the one, two or three slot. It's interesting to note that when the updated PECOTA cards come out, his comps will include Jose Reyes and Miguel Cabrera, so the system doesn't know what he'll end up as either, other than really, really good.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - but remarkably low for a player so young. Even the Mets were surprised as to how quickly Martinez's tools translated on the field.

2. Philip Humber, rhp
DOB: 12/21/82
Height/Weight: 6-4/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2004, Rice
What he did in 2006: 6.75 ERA at Rookie Level (4-7-1-7); 2.37 ERA at High A (38-24-9-36); 2.88 ERA at AA (34.1-25-10-36); 0.00 ERA at MLB (2-0-1-2)
The Good: Return from Tommy John surgery was not only quick, it was remarkable for how quickly the stuff came back. Throws strikes and works all four quadrants of the zone with a low 90s fastball and a hammer curveball, as well as a power change up. All three pitches are capable of generating swings and misses, and Mets brass are still buzzing about the inning of relief against Atlanta during his big league debut when he touched 96 and looked dominant.
The Bad: Control is there, but like many TJ survivors, the command can falter at times. The surgery will be an issue until he pitches a full season.
The Irrelevant: Former big leaguer Robert Ellis, who has had the surgery himself, assisted Humber with his rehab and has earned praise for an unorthodox approach that involves drills in which the pitcher throws underhanded.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 2 starter capable of winning 15-to-18 games annually with an upper-echelon team.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - There's no need to rush Humber, as the Mets rotation is filled, and for now 2005 first-round pick Mike Pelfrey is a little ahead of him in the pecking order. He'll begin 2007 at Triple-A, but will certainly return to the majors at some point.

3. Mike Pelfrey, rhp
DOB: 1/14/84
Height/Weight: 6-7/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2005, Wichita State
What he did in 2006: 1.64 ERA at High A (22-17-2-26); 2.71 ERA at AA (66.1-60-26-77); 2.25 ERA at AAA (8-4-5-6); 5.48 ERA at MLB (21.1-25-12-13)
The Good: Outstanding fastball features plus-plus velocity (92-95 mph, touches 97) and plus-plus movement, as he's capable of adding major cutting or sinking action on it. Height, and therefore downward plane, only adds to Pelfrey's effectiveness. Repeats delivery well and has very good command for such a large pitcher.
The Bad: Breaking ball pulled a bit of a disappearing act in 2006. He had a decent over-the-top curveball in college, but he just never found his feel for it this year, forcing him to pitch primarily off his fastball, which worked in the minors, but hindered his effectiveness during a brief big league look. Changeup is usable, but like the curve, he loses confidence in it, reducing himself to a one-pitch pitcher.
The Irrelevant: As great as the Mets pitching staffs of the 1980s were, Pelfrey became the first Metropolitan to win his first two starts since 1969 (Gary Gentry).
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A frontline starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Higher than it should be. Pelfrey's Arizona Fall League season was cut short by some minor arm soreness, and the organization would like to see if he can find some consistency with his secondary pitches at Triple-A. If they sign Barry Zito, assigning him there to begin the season becomes that much easier.

4. Carlos Gomez, cf
DOB: 12/4/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2002
What he did in 2006: .281/.350/.423 at AA (486 PA)
The Good: Oozing with athleticism, there are people within the Mets organization who think his tools are batter and his ceiling is higher than Martinez or Lastings Milledge. Overmatched initially after the double jump to Double-A, Gomez hit .341 after July 1. Power is not there now, but potential is there once he adds bulk to his long, lanky frame. Excellent base stealer thanks to plus-plus speed which also helps him in centerfield to go along with above-average arm.
The Bad: Still raw as a hitter. Needs a more patient approach, which like his hitting, is something he made great strides with during the second half of the season. Has difficulty facing lefthanders, particularly ones with good breaking pitches.
The Irrelevant: Whether clutch hitting exists or not, Gomez hit .421 (40-for-95) with runners in scoring position in 2006, with a .663 slugging percentage.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An all-star outfielder who nearly matches teammate Jose Reyes on the excitement factor.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - the gap between what Gomez can be and his actual numbers is pretty sizeable, yet scouts are so universal in their praise for him, it's a little easier to think he'll make enough adjustments to be of value in the big leagues. He'll begin the year as a 21-year-old in Triple-A, and should make his big league debut at some point in 2007, though the Mets outfield picture is too confusing to predict anything more.

5. Alay Soler, rhp
DOB: 10/9/79
Height/Weight: 6-1/240
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Cuba, 2004
What he did in 2006: 6.23 ERA at Short-season (4.1-2-2-9); 0.60 ERA at High A (30-13-9-33); 2.75 ERA at AA (19.2-16-3-22); 6.30 ERA at AAA
(10-13-4-12); 6.00 ERA at MLB (45-50-21-23)
The Good: After waiting nearly 18 months to get visa issues resolved, Cuban refugee finally arrived in the states and worked his way to the majors in short order. 88-92 mph fastball is a plus pitch due to command and movement - he uses the pitch primarily to set up his slider, which is among the best in the system.
The Bad: Between being a Cuban defector and the visa problems, Soler is old for a prospect and has little to no projection. The Mets were not thrilled with Soler's conditioning, and some blame the injured calf that slowed him in the second half on it.
The Irrelevant: When pitching for Pinar Del Rio in the Cuban League, Soler was the second part of a nasty 1-2 rotation punch that started with Jose Contreras.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A number three or four starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: While Soler is likely to start the year at Triple-A, it's not as if he's going to get much better. Because of the Mets rotation, he could become a valuable middle reliever in the short-term.

6. Jon Niese, lhp
DOB: 10/27/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Draft: 7th round, 2005, Ohio HS
What he did in 2006: 3.93 ERA at Low A (123.2-121-62-132); 4.50 ERA at High A (10-8-5-10)
The Good: Projectable lefthander averaged more than a strikeout per inning thanks to a 88-91 mph fastball than should gain a tick or two as he matures while also flashing a curveball that can be plus at times.
The Bad: Niese's mechanics need refinement. He upper and lower halves don't coordinate well in his delivery, which some feel led to minor arm soreness towards the end of the season. Changeup is rudimentary, and he often loses snap on his curveball.
The Irrelevant: Niese is a graduate of Defiance High School in Ohio, the same school that produced Dodgers righty Chad Billingsley.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A solid lefthanded starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: As good as Niese was in his pro debut, there's still plenty of work to be done. He'll be a one-step-at-a-time prospect, with the next step being the Florida State League.

7. Kevin Mulvey, rhp
DOB: 5/26/85
Height/Weight: 6-1/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 2nd round, 2006, Villanova
What he did in 2006: 0.00 ERA at Rookie Level (2-1-0-1); 1.35 ERA at AA (13.1-10-5-10)
The Good: Advanced college arm had enough polish for the Mets to feel comfortable sending him to Double-A and the Arizona Fall League after signing. Has four quality pitches with low-90s fastball, good slider and solid curve and changeup. Throws strikes and goes after hitters.
The Bad: Body offers little projection. Scouts love the depth of his arsenal, but wish he had that one offering that graded out as a dependable out pitch.
The Irrelevant: Mulvey's career record in college was 14-16, but it certainly wasn't his fault. In 2006 alone, Villanova was shutout in three of his starts and scored one run in two others.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A average major league starter who can eat up innings, and get to the majors quickly.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Mulvey was expected to go much higher in the draft, and the Mets feel like they moved up 20-30 spots essentially when he fell to them. He'll likely follow the path of highly regarded Mets pitching prospects drafted out of college - beginning his first full season in the Florida State League and moving up to Double-A once the weather warms up.

8. Mike Carp, 1b
DOB: 6/30/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/205
Bats/Throws: L/R
Signed: 9th round, 2004, California HS
What he did in 2006: .287/.379/.450 at High A (.287/.379/.450)
The Good: Big first baseman put up excellent numbers for a 19/20 year old in the Florida State League. Good hand-eye coordination and bat speed allows him to use all fields and let his natural power work for him. Good approach for age. Nice first baseman with soft hands and good instincts.
The Bad: Currently needs a platoon partner after batting .238 with just three home runs in 151 at-bats against lefthanders. Not a stiff by any means, but not especially athletic either.
The Irrelevant: Carp has stolen exactly two bases in each of his pro seasons, not making at attempt in 2006 after May 27 in order to keep the streak alive.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An above-average big league first baseman.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Carp will begin the year as a 20-year-old in Double-A, so while he made great strides in 2006, that pace will need to continue, as coming up as a first baseman is a difficult assignment.

9. Deolis Guerra, rhp
DOB: 4/17/89
Height/Weight: 6-5/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Venezuela, 2005
What he did in 2006: 2.20 ERA at Low A (81.2-59-37-64); 6.14 ERA at High A (7.1-9-6-5)
The Good: The definition of projectable - just look at the size and the birth date. Succeeded in a full-season league at such a young age thanks to an outstanding changeup. Fastball currently in the upper 80s, but it's hard to believe he won't gain some velocity in the next few years.
The Bad: Guerra needs to find more velocity and a breaking ball quickly, as his speed-changing ways will not generate the same success at the upper levels. His control also needs work, with the biggest problem being inconsistent mechanics, specifically with his release point.
The Irrelevant: Guerra allowed three or fewer runs in all 17 Sally League starts, and three only once.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: Some envision a frontline starter, but it's really too early to say.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very high - As good as Guerra's debut was statistically, his stuff still has a long way to go. His development will continue in the Florida State League, a pitching-friendly environment.

10. Joe Smith, rhp
DOB: 3/22/84
Height/Weight: 6-2/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 3rd round, 2006, Wright State
What he did in 2006: 0.45 ERA at Short Season (20-10-3-28); 5.68 ERA at AA (12.2-12-11-12)
The Good: One of the top college closers, Smith reached Double-A in his pro debut after overmatching the New York-Penn League with a 88-91 mph sinker and outstanding slider - both offered from a sidearm delivery.
The Bad: Smith's control can falter at times and like most sidearmers, he has real problems with the opposite side, as Double-A lefties went 10-for-20 against him.
The Irrelevant: Lefthander Brian Anderson, who was the third overall pick in the 1993 draft and went on to a 13-year major league career, is the only major league pitcher to have honed his skills at Wright State.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A sidearming setup man.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. It's hard to project sidearmers for stardom, but Smith could be among the first 2006 draftees to reach the majors. He'll most likely begin the year at Double-A.

The Sleeper

Despite a smallish frame, 2004 draftee Sean Henry has surprising power and solid hitting skills despite having yet to get out of short-season ball. He looked good in a conversion from the middle infield to center field in 2006, and could be an interesting power/speed combination at Low A this year.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Jose Reyes, ss
2. David Wright, 3b
3. Lastings Milledge, cf/lf
4. Fernando Martinez, cf
5. Philip Humber, rhp
6. Mike Pelfrey, rhp
7. Carlos Gomez, of
8. Oliver Perez, rhp
9. John Maine, rhp
10. Ambiorix Burgos, rhp

Yes, I just put Reyes ahead of Wright. In order to stem the flow of angry e-mail (somehow, I get the feeling that's not going to happen) let me proclaim up front that Wright is clearly one of the best young players in the game. That said, I think Reyes is a little better. Reyes' game took a giant leap forward in 2006, and many within the industry believe he's capable of a similar level of improvement in the coming year. If that happens, you're talking about a leadoff man who is pushing 350 total bases or so. If you ask me right now who will win the National League East in 2007, I'll say the Mets in another landslide. If you ask me who the MVP in the NL with be, I just might say Jose Reyes. While the Mets have been willing to discuss Milledge in trade talks, that says more about the organization's depth than any negative feelings about his skills. The attitude, on the other hand, could use some work. Perez and Maine will both likely begin 2007 in the rotation, and with Perez, it's still a coin flip situation where he won't surprise many if he wins 15 games, and won't surprise anyone if he's out of a job by May. Maine is solid and no more, but good enough to carve out a Steve Trachsel kind of career. Picked up during the winter meetings, Burgos has struggled so far in the big leagues, but it's hard to ignore such a young power arm.

It's a top heavy organization, but the Mets don't need much in the way of talent at the big league level. Many of their top young prospects could be used as valuable chips in the mid-season trade market, with Mets fans hoping for something better than 2004's Scott Kazmir/Victor Zambrano debacle.

Next: The Philadelphia Phillies

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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