Assessing a team's Arizona Fall League roster gives a good sense of the pizazz of their prospects. Last year, scouts couldn't be blamed for looking past the roster the Mets fielded and toward those soothing desert landscapes. But this year's group has improved along with the Mets Minor League fortunes, highlighted by second baseman in training Daniel Murphy.
Here are some observations of Murphy and the rest of the best of the Mets 2008 AFL roster courtesy of a National League scout and our friends at Baseball America, editor John Manuel and AFL reporter Kary Booher.
We already knew Murphy can hit. He finished at .397/.487/.619 in an AFL campaign cut short by a hamstring injury that should fully heal by Spring Training. That line is a fair translation of his big league numbers considering the level of competition in the AFL is about Double A-plus.
I asked our experts what they thought about Keith Hernandez's anointing Murphy in September as the Mets future No. 3 hitter.
"That's getting a little carried away," our National League scout says. "Murphy has good bat speed, is short to the ball and judges the strike zone, which should allow him to hit for average. But I'm not convinced he is much more than a 15-20 homer hitter. I don't think his bat is solid enough to play left field."
Baseball America's Manuel agrees.
"To me he's more Ryan Church, a corner outfielder who will hit but perhaps not for power and average as a three-hole hitter should. I see him as .300 with 15 homers one year, .270 with 20-25 homers the next."
That's sweet for a second baseman, assuming the reviews of his AFL trial are good enough.
"He is below average at second base with fringe-average range and stiff hands," says our NL scout. "Third base is his best position."
Baseball America's Booher adds, "He showed some signs that he might be able to pull it off, but even his fall league manager said he was pretty raw over there. He just may not have enough range and agility."
Scouts generally like Murphy and gave off the impression they were pulling for him to succeed at second. But the skills were lacking.
Says Manuel, "The scouts and Minor League managers I've talked to A, believe he'll hit, B, love his grinder mentality and C, doubt his ability to play second effectively in the Majors."
On to the rest of the Mets' AFL notables, led by left-handed hitting catcher Josh Thole, who turned 22 last month. Thole finished at .319/.400/.420 after hitting .300/.382/.427 at High A St. Lucie.
Our NL scout thinks he has a relatively modest big-league future. "Thole is an extreme contact hitter whose bat plane isn't conducive to power. Defensively, he's average: solid receiving skills and average arm strength. I see him more as a platoon catcher given his left-handed bat."
Manuel thinks that defensive assessment is a minority opinion, but agrees with the offensive assessment.
"He's got a decent swing with a good approach but is just not a guy scouts think will drive the ball consistently for power. Defensively, he's a backup at best, fringe-average or below-average in most aspects."
Jason Vargas was a surprising addition to the AFL roster, given his big-league experience.
Says our scout, "In the outing I saw in the AFL, he was pretty solid in mixing his pitches and disrupting timing. I give him an excellent chance to resume his role as a backend starter."
Bobby Parnell, who we saw in September as the Mets bullpen imploded, looked good, as well. But he not viewed as having a future in the rotation. He finished the AFL season allowing no homers in 20 innings with 20 Ks and 9 walks (2.25 ERA).
"I like Parnell better as a reliever, where he could dominate with his fastball and slider; both of which have outstanding movement," says our scout. "He throws with a bit of effort and doesn't change speeds real well, so the move [to the pen] would probably boost his peripheral numbers."
Adds Manuel, "Parnell reached 97 mph with his fastball in the past; one of his problems as a starter is the inconsistency of his velocity, from start to start and even within games, I've had scouts say he'd be 88-92 early and up to 95-96 late."
Our scout clocked the 24-year-old righty's fastball this fall from 87 to 95 mph.
Tobi Stoner is another righty who will turn 24 next week who had similar peripherals to Parnell: 0 homers in 19-plus innings with 7 walks and 15 Ks (3.66 ERA).
"I would rate the fastball/cutter/curveball as average pitches, with the slider being slightly below," our scout says. "Stoner is athletic and has good arm action, but tends to rush through his delivery. He profiles as a long reliever for me."
Manuel thinks Stoner has "back-of-the-rotation stuff at best, but has a chance."
Eddie Kunz really struggled (three homers, 24 hits and 10 walks in 14-plus innings).
"I've never been that high on Kunz," says our scout, who has specialized in rating amateur draft talent. "His velocity is solid and has a solid ground ball/fly ball ratio. But doesn't pitch aggressively and can be predictable late in the count."
Manuel agrees, "He's always going to be a volatile guy in terms of his performance because he's not particularly athletic, loses his slot and gets hittable."
Manuel spent a lot of time focusing on the Hawaii Winter League, so I asked him about Scott Shaw, a 22-year-old righty with size (6-foot-5, 230) and solid numbers last summer and in Hawaii (32-plus innings, 12 hits, 9 walks, 35 Ks).
"Shaw pitches backward a lot -- 87-88 mph fastball, touching 90 with lots of changeups and curves. He had a huge year since signing, including throwing more than 100 innings pitched. I wouldn't read too much into the stats but he had a great debut and will more than likely be fast-tracked next year, probably to St. Lucie, maybe higher because he's shown a 160-inning workload is something he can now handle."