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February 7, 2008

Future Shock

Mets Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Five-Star Prospects
None
Four-Star Prospects
1. Fernando Martinez, OF
Three-Star Prospects
2. Jon Niese, LHP
3. Eddie Kunz, RHP
4. Wilmer Flores, SS
5. Brant Rustich, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
6. Nathan Vineyard, LHP
7. Scott Moviel, RHP
8. Bobby Parnell, RHP
9. Dan Murphy, 3B
10. Ruben Tejada, SS/2B
11. Stephen Clyne, RHP

Just Missing: Nick Carr, RHP; Nick Evans, 1B; Francisco Pena, C

1. Fernando Martinez, OF
DOB: 10/10/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: L/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2005, Dominican Republic
2007 Stats: .111/.200/.333 at Rookie-Level (3 G); .271/.336/.377 at Double-A (60 G)

Year In Review: Martinez is a high-ceiling outfielder, and was holding his own as an 18-year-old in Double-A before finally getting shut down with a hand contusion that was bothering him all year.
The Good: To hit .271 in Double-A when you are as old as most high school seniors is an impressive feat. Martinez has outstanding bat speed and tremendous power potential to go with a rapidly improving approach, and could develop into a middle-of-the-order force if everything falls right. He's a good athlete with average speed and a solid arm.
The Bad: Martinez is far more about what can be at this point. He puts on a show in batting practice, but he's yet to bring his power into game situations. The Mets have rushed him up through the minors, but injuries have limited him to just 139 games over the two years of his career. While he's playing center field now, his range and instincts are well short of what is needed to play the position at the big league level, and he'll move to a corner--likely before he gets to the big leagues.
Fun Fact: In 16 games batting leadoff for Binghamton, Martinez hit .343, compared to a .243 mark when he hit third.
Perfect World Projection: Scouts have varied opinions on Martinez, but there are a good number out there who see him as an impact player when he can stay healthy and develop.
Timetable: Martinez' breakneck pace through the minors will slow down finally in 2008, as he'll likely return to Double-A, but he'll nevertheless likely be the youngest player at the level. A 2009 big-league debut is a distinct possibility.

2. Jon Niese, LHP
DOB: 10/27/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 7th round, 2005, Defiance Senior HS (OH)
2007 Stats: 4.29 ERA at High-A (134.1-151-31-110)

Year In Review: Suddenly the organization's top pitching prospect after the Santana trade, Niese began last year out of shape, but gained momentum as the season went on, putting up a strong second half.
The Good: Niese's fastball ranges from 88-92 mph, but was consistently sitting in the low 90s in his final outings of the year, and it features good movement. He gets very good shape and spin on his curveball, and his changeup has come leaps and bounds since signing, to the point where it could become a second above-average pitch. His build has drawn some Andy Pettitte comparisons in terms of strength, and he's an aggressive competitor.
The Bad: Niese's fastball is not a knockout pitch, and he often pitches backwards--using his secondary pitches early in the count. He ran out of gas in 2006 and showed up for spring training last year out of shape, so there are some conditioning issues that need to be addressed.
Fun Fact: Only two Defiance High players have been drafted in the history of the school: Niese, and budding Dodgers star Chad Billingsley.
Perfect World Projection: While Niese lacks star power, he has everything it takes to profile as a good No. 3 starter.
Timetable: Some Mets officials feel that Niese is on the verge of a breakout, and he'll get a big test in 2008 with an assignment to Double-A.

3. Eddie Kunz, RHP
DOB: 4/8/86
Height/Weight: 6-5/250
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Oregon State
2007 Stats: 6.75 ERA at Short-season (12-8-8-9)

Year In Review: The closer for last year's College World Series champs was one of the top college relievers on the board, but he struggled in his New York-Penn and Arizona Fall League showings.
The Good: Kunz's big, beefy build has drawn Lee Smith comparisons, and he unleashes a 93-96 mph fastball with heavy sink that is nearly impossible to get lift on, with one official calling it "an absolute cannonball." His hard slider is a second plus pitch when he avoids getting around on it.
The Bad: That big, beefy build has also drawn some concerns about his conditioning. He's gotten some criticism for his lack of a killer instinct, as he seems to lose confidence when things start going wrong, making bad outings worse. His control is erratic, and he often sweeps his slider across the plate, losing vertical break.
Fun Fact: Left-handers facing Kunz in the Arizona Fall League went 9-for-16 with five walks.
Perfect World Projection: Kunz profiles as a late-inning reliever, one with some closer possibilities.
Timetable: Kunz is a bit raw compared to most quick-moving college relievers, and he's slated to begin the year in the Florida State League, with the opportunity to move up to Double-A once the weather warms up if he pitches well.

4. Wilmer Flores, SS
DOB: 8/6/91
Height/Weight: 6-3/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2007, Venezuela
2007 Stats: Did not play

Year In Review: One of the top international prospects this summer, Flores signed with the Mets for $700,000.
The Good: Flores has a huge frame and the potential for plus-plus raw power to go with the hitting skills to make consistent hard contact. Defensively, he has soft hands and an above-average arm. He's an average runner.
The Bad: Flores will almost certainly outgrow shortstop, as he's already big, just 17 years old, and has a thick lower half. Looking forward, he has the hands and arm to profile well at the hot corner.
Fun Fact: Flores was born on the same day that English scientist Tim Berners-Lee first released papers describing his idea for the World Wide Web.
Perfect World Projection: Flores has impact potential with the bat, but with an optimistic MLB ETA of 2011-12, there's still a long way between the current and the potential future.
Timetable: The Mets have no expectations for Flores in 2008 beyond him getting acclimated to professional baseball and getting some at-bats in the Gulf Coast League.

5. Brant Rustich, RHP
DOB: 1/23/85
Height/Weight: 6-6/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2007, UCLA
2007 Stats: 0.87 ERA at Rookie-level (10.1-6-1-10); 2.13 ERA at Short-season (12.2-4-1-11)

Year In Review: Rarely successful in four years of college, the Mets found Rustich's stuff too good to pass up in the second round, and he responded to that faith by delivering a strong pro debut.
The Good: Rustich grades out extremely well on a scouting level. He's a big, physical power pitcher who consistently pumps out mid-90s heat and can miss bats with his power slider. He also has a decent changeup.
The Bad: Rustich never pitched well at UCLA, finishing his college career with a 6.10 ERA in 72 games. He always had tremendous command and control problems, so his ability to throw strikes during his first 23 pro innings was borderline shocking, and he went back to his wild ways in the Hawaiian Winter League, surrendering 11 free passes in 17 innings. His mechanics are herky-jerky, and he has problems maintaining a consistent release point.
Fun Fact: Right-handed batters facing Rustich in the New York-Penn League went 0-for-24.
Perfect World Projection: Rustich's raw abilities provide a high ceiling, but his poor track record paints him as a high-risk/high-reward type of talent.
Timetable: Rustich's future likely lies in the bullpen, but he'll probably begin his first full season as a starter in the High-A Florida State League in order to log more innings.

6. Nathan Vineyard, LHP
DOB: 10/3/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Woodland HS (GA)
2007 Stats: 5.27 ERA at Rookie-level (27.1-30-9-33)

Year In Review: The second-best arm in Georgia went in the sandwich round to New York, and showed the rare ability to average more than a strikeout and a hit allowed per inning in his pro debut.
The Good: Vineyard's sum is greater than his parts, and he has more polish that most teenage arms. He has an average fastball, a decent slider, and good feel for a changeup, and all of his pitches grade up a tick because of his ability to command them. His classic pitching frame and clean mechanics allow for some projection as well.
The Bad: Vineyard doesn't really have a go-to offering that projects as a consistent big-league out pitch. He's a fly-ball pitcher who needs to use the lower half of the strike zone more. He often gets off to slow starts in his games, not finding his stuff and command for the first few innings.
Fun Fact: In a pair of outings against the GCL Marlins, Vineyard fired seven shutout innings while giving up just three hits. Against the rest of the league, he had an ERA of 7.08.
Perfect World Projection: There are some understandable comparisons of Vineyard to Niese, and both have a ceiling as middle-rotation starters.
Timetable: Vineyard is ready for a full-season assignment to Low-A.

7. Scott Moviel, RHP
DOB: 5/7/88
Height/Weight: 6-11/235
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2007, St. Edward HS (OH)
2007 Stats: 3.38 ERA at Rookie-level (40-45-11-37)

Year In Review: The best high school pitcher in Ohio surprised with his ability to make adjustments as a professional.
The Good: As a nearly seven foot-tall right-hander, Moviel offers plenty to dream on. His fastball acts like a sinker because his height creates a strong downward plane, and while it currently has average velocity, he should be able to add a few ticks to it as he bulks up and refines his mechanics. He gets good spin on a slow, looping curveball, and he worked hard with coaches on developing his changeup, which he had never thrown until signing.
The Bad: Moviel is a project. Like most big, young pitchers, he struggles with finding consistent mechanics. His changeup is still in the drawing board stage, and his curveball can flatten out at times. His repertoire has no horizontal element to it, and some wonder if he'd be better off with a slider because of his power profile.
Fun Fact: An all-boys Catholic school near Cleveland, St. Edwards has alumni that include a number of NFL players and former talk show maven Phil Donahue.
Perfect World Projection: Moviel's ceiling is considerable, and higher than many pitchers ranked above him.
Timetable: Moviel's showing in spring training will determine if he's ready for a full-season assignment. Chances are good that he'll begin the year in extended spring training and pitch in Brooklyn once the short-season leagues kick off.

8. Bobby Parnell, RHP
DOB: 9/8/84
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 9th round, 2005, Charleston Southern University
2007 Stats: 3.25 ERA at High-A (55.1-56-22-62); 4.77 ERA at Double-A (88.2-98-38-74)

Year In Review: Ninth-round find from 2005 dominated in the Florida State League but met with some bumps in the road following a promotion to Double-A.
The Good: Parnell has one of the best pure arms in the system, routinely sitting in the 92-94 mph range with his sinking fastball and hitting 97 with regularity. He pounds the bottom half of the strike zone with the pitch, leading to a high ground-ball ratio, and his slider shows as plus at times.
The Bad: Most project Parnell to be a reliever in the end. His changeup is well below average, and his fastball/slider combination profiles much better in a bullpen role, as his stamina is below average. He struggled with his command at Double-A, and began elevating his pitches at times when he overthrew.
Fun Fact: Parnell was born in Salisbury, North Carolina, where Cheerwine is manufactured. Cheerwine is a sticky, very fizzy, very cherry soft drink available primarily in the South, and if you haven't had one, you're missing out.
Perfect World Projection: Parnell has late-inning potential as a reliever, but his ceiling ends at set-up man.
Timetable: Parnell will likely go back to Double-A in 2008, but could go to Triple-A if a move to the bullpen is imminent.

9. Dan Murphy, 3B
DOB: 4/1/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 13th round, 2006, Jacksonville University
2007 Stats: .285/.338/.430 at High-A (135 G)

Year In Review: The Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year in 2006 put up solid numbers in his full-season debut despite playing in the pitching-friendly Florida State League.
The Good: Murphy has the best pitch recognition in the system and advanced hitting skills, with a smooth stroke and nice barrel control leading to a low strikeout rate. He has gap power now, and some projection for more down the road. He brings a grinder's mentality to the park and plays hard.
The Bad: Murphy is neither toolsy nor athletic. He split time between third base and the outfield in college, and his defense at the hot corner is rough--he needs to make considerable improvement in his footwork and throws to avoid getting branded as a first-base/left-field type. His power ceiling is debatable, especially considering the positions at which he can play.
Fun Fact: While more than 60 players have been drafted out of Jacksonville University, only two, Ivan Cruz and Paul Runge, have ever hit a home run in the big leagues, with Runge holding the alumni career mark with four.
Perfect World Projection: Murphy could end up as a solid left-handed bench bat, or a second-divison starter on a corner.
Timetable: Murphy will begin the year at Double-A, but he'll need another strong season for the Mets to start wondering about where he fits in their future plans.

10. Ruben Tejada, 2B/SS
DOB: 9/1/89
Height/Weight: 5-11/165
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2006, Panama
2007 Stats: .283/.401/.367 at Rookie-level (35 G)

Year In Review: A previously obscure Panamanian, Tejada put up a .400+ on-base percentage in the Gulf Coast League in his stateside debut.
The Good: Tejada earns high praise from Mets officials for his advanced approach (he walked more than he struck out) and his baseball intelligence. He has a line-drive bat and uses all fields, and he shows excellent fundamentals defensively.
The Bad: Unlike most Latin American teenagers, Tejada isn't especially toolsy. He has little power or projection for any, and his speed and arm are both no more that average, leaving him with the likely profile of a second baseman in the end.
Fun Fact: Tejada hit just .186 with the bases empty, but more than doubled that with a .377 mark with runners on base.
Perfect World Projection: An everyday second baseman and ideal No. 2 hitter in the lineup.
Timetable: Tejada might lack upside, but his polish is more than enough to handle a full-season debut at Low-A as an 18-year-old.

11. Stephen Clyne, RHP
DOB: 9/22/84
Height/Weight: 6-2/215
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2007, Clemson
2007 Stats: 2.05 ERA at Short-season (26.1-21-19-30)

Year In Review: Clyne's was a solid college reliever, and he had no problem adjusting to pro ball, making an impressive debut in the New York-Penn League.
The Good: While not quite a sidearmer, Clyne's low three-quarters delivery gives right-handed batters fits, as he sits in the low 90s with his sinking fastball, a pitch that touched 95 mph on occasion as a pro. He has a tight 84-86 mph slider that's also effective because of the arm angle, and he's shown no signs of lingering injury troubles following a Tommy John procedure four years ago.
The Bad: For a pitcher like Clyne, you have to take the good with the bad. Left-handers simply see the ball too long against him, and hit him hard. He's also tentative when facing lefties, and gives up too many walks. These kind of problems are rarely correctable for a pitcher like Clyne, so his ceiling ends at situational reliever.
Fun Fact: Pro batters facing Clyne with runners in scoring position and two outs went 1-for-16 with seven whiffs.
Perfect World Projection: Can you say "ROOGY"?
Timetable: Clyne will likely begin his year in the Florida State League, and while his ceiling is limited, he could move up quickly.

The Sleeper: Highly regarded out of high school, first baseman Lucas Duda had a nondescript career at Southern California. He looked good after signing as a seventh-round pick, however, and hit .340/.390/.660 in the Hawaiian Winter League.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)

1. Jose Reyes, SS
2. Fernando Martinez, OF
3. Mike Pelfrey, RHP
4. Jon Niese, LHP
5. Eddie Kunz, RHP
6. Wilmer Flores, SS
7. Ambiorix Burgos, RHP
8. Brant Rustich, RHP
9. Joe Smith, RHP
10. Nathan Vineyard, LHP

The fact that Reyes is still eligible for this list says something about his youth and talent, as he enters the year as a 24-year-old with 715 career hits and 234 stolen bases. In six years, he'll be 30, and totals of 1800 and 600 at that time aren't out of reach--he really could end up with some Hall-worthy totals 15 years from now. Pelfrey has been a pretty massive disappointment because of his inability to find any sort of consistency with his secondary pitches; he's either going to get it, and get it soon, or a move to the bullpen could be in order. Burgos will miss most, if not all of 2008 recovering from Tommy John surgery. His ranking here says a lot about his raw arm strength, but also how weak this system is. Joe Smith is basically Stephen Clyne with a little less stuff and a lot more pitchability.

As one official with the team put it, the recent Johan Santana deal "ripped the heart" out of the Mets system, but at the same time, New York just added the best pitcher in baseball to the organization. This is one of the worst collections of talent as it stands right now, but it's also bad in a very different way from, say, the Astros. Right now, the Mets' system might be just as bad, but at the same time, it does have more young players capable of taking a step forward this year and making the organization look better 12 months from now.

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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