With injuries to the rotation deflating optimism that arose from their recent stretch of winning baseball, the Mets' focus has shifted to the farm not just for reinforcements, but perhaps for ammunition for a deadline deal that can fortify the big-league staff.
So what better time to put the Mets' top prospects in the petri dish and track their development. Baseball America and John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com both agreed on the Mets top prospects heading into 2007, though there were minor discrepancies in how they were ranked. The top prospects are: OF Fernando Martinez, P Mike Pelfrey, P Phil Humber, OF Carlos Gomez, P Jon Niese, P Deolis Guerra, P Kevin Mulvey and 1B Mike Carp.
Martinez -- just 18 years old in Double-A -- had a .713 OPS before breaking his hand recently (he's out about six weeks). This does not seem like the production one would expect from a prospect many listed as one of baseball's top 25. But we have nothing to compare Martinez to. He's three years younger than when David Wright was in Double-A, and a year younger than was Jose Reyes at that stage. Martinez is young enough to have graduated high school last month.
The Mets believe in pushing players and getting them to experience failure so they can learn to cope with it before reaching the bigs. Martinez did that in May, rebounding from a bad April to post a .324/.387/.426 line. Then the injury bug hit Martinez in June, just as it had last year. Because of his youth, I think the reasonable approach is to magnify the positives and minimize the negatives when it comes to his stat analysis. Martinez has cleared the low-bar of expectations we should have had for him in Binghamton. His 100 at-bat May is what we would expect from a future star at age 18 in that level of competition.
Pelfrey was viewed by some as the Mets' best prospect. He's a groundball pitcher, but the explosive fastball has been missing -- and not missing enough bats -- even in Triple-A New Orleans, where Pelfrey's struck out only 29 in 36 2/3 innings. Pelfrey is a one-pitch pitcher with not enough command of that one pitch. I'm working on getting stats on how often pitchers get their fastball over the plate. I think command of the fastball -- or lack thereof -- is what separates the good young pitchers from the ones who struggle. But that's just supposition until I see the data.
Humber has a broader repertoire and has shown signs of big-league command with a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last 10 starts. He seems to have gotten unlucky on balls in play and is pitching in a hitting environment in the Pacific Coast Leauge. So I'm not going to put too much stock in the 4.00-ish ERA. I'd like to see more dominance, but recognize that he missed most of the last two years due to Tommy John surgery.
Gomez really deserves his own column. It's interesting to consider what Jim Callis of Baseball America said about Gomez during a recent ESPN chat. "His ceiling is huge and this year, with the way he's performed, I have more belief that he can reach it. He's definitely ahead of Milledge on the Mets' depth chart and I bet Milledge gets dealt in the next six months."
Now, I like Milledge and can't understand why the Mets would consider moving him given that they'll likely need two starting outfielders next year to replace Moises Alou -- who Gomez has already replaced -- and Shawn Green, who's hitting with a Wiffleball bat again). But, yes, Gomez has been borderline spectacular when you consider that he turned 21 in December. But Milledge -- rounding into shape after a long-bout of foot trouble -- turned 22 in April. (Maybe the Mets and Callis view Endy Chavez as a regular, but I see him as a really good fourth outfielder.)
Niese, 20, has been held back -- comparatively speaking -- in Class A Advanced. But that's sure not old. He's been getting groundballs, but his hit ratio suggests either the St. Lucie defense is lacking or he's been very unlucky. He's given up just four homers in 73 innings, but power is typically the last skill that hitters develop, so we can't put that homer-rate in a big-league context. He does have three times as many strikeouts as walks, so I'm inclined to discount the ugly 5.00-plus ERA.
Guerra, like Martinez, is in unchartered territory. He turned 18 in April and should have just graduated high school. He's also difficult to analyze because of some minor shoulder tendinitis that's made his year one of stops and starts. I haven't heard recent velocity reports, but he hit 95 mph in the early spring. Still, you'd think that would translate into something better than the seven strikeouts per nine innings that he's averaged. Again, though, I think you have to magnify any positives in projecting players so young for their professional level.
The other guys haven't played like top prospects, but were not regarded as such by most objective observers. Carp just turned 21 and is not showing plus-power in Double-A with four homers, 32 strikeouts and 10 walks in 127 at-bats.
Mulvey, 22, has yielded one homer in about 87 Double-A innings. But he's striking out less than six batters per nine innings, which makes me bearish on his prospects of developing into even a mid-rotation starter.
There are two guys of note not on the preseason lists. Pitcher Robert Parnell and catcher Francisco Pena.
Parnell, 22, showed explosive stuff in Class A Advanced, but has lost his strikeout mojo since moving up to Double-A.
Pena has a .614 OPS in Class A, but, again, we're flying blind with him because he doesn't turn 18 until October. So you can forget about comparing him to his league mates now or in the past.