The Mets paid for Johan Santana out of their farm system, losing, by most accounts, four of their top five prospects. Let's look more closely at what remains with the help one of the country's top minor league analysts.
Deric McKamey is a graduate of MLB's scout school and advisor to the St. Louis Cardinals. Most importantly for us, he authors the annual Minor League Baseball Analyst, a sabermetric look at more 1,000 big-league prospects.
McKamey says the Mets retained their top prospect, outfielder Fernando Martinez, who he expects to start in right at Citi Field at some point during the 2009 season.
McKamey says the 19-year-old lefty hitter projects to have superior power while being a plus-average bat and an average defender. "His range and arm may not play up in center," McKamey says.
McKamey also notes that Martinez's "spread stance limits leg drive" and that he lacks plate discipline, "though he makes contact."
Martinez had a 78-percent contact rate in Double-A last year, impressively nearly holding his percentage from low-A and high-A in 2006.
The next-best Mets prospect is 21-year-old lefty Jonathan Niese, whom McKamey slotted just behind and Phil Humber and ahead of Kevin Mulvey, both ex-Mets after the Santana trade.
McKamey likes Niese's projectability. He lacks any great pitch, but has a plus fastball and curve along with a developing change up.
"He's showing better fastball command and his change showed improved deception. He pitches above his stuff and knows how to win."
Niese's strikeout rate declined from over nine batters per innings to 7.4, but his command (at least as far as strikeout-to-walk ratio) improved from just over 2.0 to 3.5 at the higher level he pitched at in 2007.
McKamey expects Niese to make his big-league debut in 2009, eventually rising to the level of No. 3 starter.
The second-best position prospect on McKamey's Mets board is 18-year-old shortstop Reuben Tejada.
"He's an exciting athlete with plus speed and a solid hitting approach. He's also incredibly patient for his age."
Last year, in rookie ball, Tejada, who bats right handed, walked 14 percent of the time, which is more than he whiffed.
Tejada also projects as a great defensive shortstop, getting McKamey's highest rating there as well as for speed and batting average. Unfortunately, due to his smaller size, Tejada's "unlikely to ever develop more than average power." McKamey's ETA for Tejada to be a starting big-league shortstop and top-of-the-order hitter is 2012.
Next up is 6-foot-11 righty Scott Moviel, whom McKamey sees as a No. 2 starter who should emerge by 2012.
"He creates a frightening downward plane and extends well to the plate," McKamey says.
Moviel showed solid command (2.5 walks per nine innings) in his big-league debut, along with a top-rated fastball, which already touches
93 mph. "His curveball also has the potential to be a plus pitch."
Moviel "doesn't always repeat his high three-quarters delivery," McKamey notes, but that's not uncommon with tall pitchers.
McKamey sees 19-year-old lefty Nate Vineyard, a 2007 draftee, as a No. 3 starter who should reach the bigs in 2012. His best pitch now is a slider, which grades out at the highest level. His fastball is above average and he has a developing change.
Vineyard "gets easy velocity" from a "fluid delivery" with "good movement." His slider is a "legitimate strikeout pitch."
McKamey sees righty Robert Parnell as having the ceiling of No. 4 starter and righty relievers Brant Rustich and Eddie Kunz more as setup men than closers, though both should be ready for big-league roles in 2009.
Rustich and Kunz both hit 94 with their heaters and have top-rated sliders, though Rustich throws his much harder (high 80s). Kunz, the Mets' top pick last year, has "questionable" aggressiveness and, McKamey continues, "his arm action is stiff, which hinders his durability in the bullpen." Rustich, though, has a "strong frame and natural arm strength, which provides durability."
The remaining Mets position player with the most upside, according to McKamey's "2008 Minor League Baseball Analyst," is second baseman Hector Pellot, who projects as a starting second baseman who should reach the majors by 2010.
Pellot, 21 and a righty hitter, is a "live-bodied athlete with plus speed and improving offense." He stole 35 bases in 53 attempts last year and sports plus defensive skills across the board.
The Mets clearly need to develop high-end prospects both on the mound and in the field. This upcoming draft presents a great opportunity, with the Mets owning the 18th and 22nd picks as well as a sandwich pick between Rounds 1 and 2.
A key will be the Mets' willingness to pay above the slot, which means scooping up players who fall because of signing issues. Omar Minaya has indicated this offseason that the Mets might change their approach from "being good citizens" to acting aggressively like the Yankees have in getting guys like Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy when the majority of teams thought they were asking for too much money.
It's important to note that the Mets haven't had a first-round pick since 2005, when they did pay above the slot for Mike Pelfrey. While there's no rule for overpaying a player relative to where he's drafted, the process is discouraged by Major League Baseball. Teams ignoring these wishes in addition to the Yankees include the Red Sox, Angels and Tigers.
A recent study by Baseball America's Jim Callis showed that teams generally experience much better than expected results from players who are paid well above the slot.
McKamey's book can be purchased on Amazon or through BaseballHQ.com.