As with most of our positions so far, really all but shortstop, there’s a clear top prospect at the position. This time it's 2014 first-round pick Michael Conforto. This is one of the thinnest areas in the Mets’ system, a problem exacerbated by the fact that teams must play two corner outfielders per game.
Corner outfield remains an area of need for the Mets. Despite the addition of Curtis Granderson last winter, by Fangraph’s WAR, Mets’ cornermen ranked 18th in baseball at 3.1 total WAR contributed.
This should not be a surprise, but playoff teams had productive outfields. Among playoff teams, only the Cardinals derived less value (2.1 fWAR) in 2014 than the Mets did, from their corner spots. The teams with the five most productive outfield corners (the Orioles, Dodgers, Royals, Athletics and Tigers) all made the playoffs. Of the top ten corner outfields in baseball, six made the playoffs. In total, playoff teams derived 9.95 wins, on average, from their corner outfielders in 2014. Non playoffs teams were stuck at 2.3. We could play this game for any position, but for the corner outfield, the relationship between reaching the playoffs is stronger. This makes intuitive sense, of course, since we’re aggregating across two positions instead of one. Among the top 10 teams by first base and second base production in 2014, only three made the playoffs. Among the top ten teams in the big leagues at short, six made the playoffs. At third base and centerfield, five of the top 10 went to the tournament.
The List - Corner OF
- Michael Conforto
- Wuilmer Becerra
- Cesar Puello
- Kyle Johnson
- Victor Cruzado
- Jared King
After the Mets selected Conforto with the 10th overall pick in the June 2014, it took over a month for the first-rounder to appear in a game with the Brooklyn Cyclones. In 42 games as a Cyclone, Conforto hit .331 with a .403 on-base percentage and a .448 slugging percentage. He drew walks in 8.6 percent of his plate appearances and struck out in 15.6 percent while bopping 10 doubles and three home runs. The Mets promoted Conforto, along with the left side of the Brooklyn infield, to Savannah to help the Gnats with their playoff run, which lasted only two games. Conforto was 3-for-9 with two doubles, for what it's worth, with Savannah.
Conforto is surely one of the Mets’ top 10 prospects, and I expect him to land in the top 5 in most major rankings coming into this season.
Conforto’s strength: he hits. It’s a simple swing without much extraneous movement. His hand load is very short. He starts balanced, and his stride is short, even though he lands a little closed. He brings his hands down to the ball and then up to a high finish. There’s enough bat speed here and strength on contact to do damage. Conforto struggled on pitches in during the second half of his tenure in Brooklyn. Moving from a closed landing, to one where his feet are more parallel with home plate could help him on the inner half. The good news for Conforto is that minor league pitchers mostly work away.
Almost all of Conforto’s value will be tied very closely to his bat. He’s thickly built at 6’1” and 210 lbs. He’s a decent enough runner now, but will not steal more than a handful of bases a season in the big leagues. Defensively, he will have enough range for left, but has given no indication that his range will be any better than average. His arm looked short in infield/outfield, but played up to average in games thanks to accuracy and release. For example, he threw out a runner at home in the very short left field in Asheville in game one of the SAL playoffs.
In all, there’s a big leaguer here, and a potential contributor on a playoff team as an averagish left-fielder who could potentially put together a few above average seasons in his peak.
Becerra, the last piece of the R.A. Dickey swap which also netted the Mets Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, hit .300 with a .351 on-base percentage and a .469 slugging percentage in 58 games in the Appalachian League this year. He struck out in 24 percent of his plate appearances and walked in 6.1 percent.
If everything comes together, Becerra could be an above average rightfielder for a long time. He’s a lean 6’4”, with broad shoulders with plenty of room to add strength through his core. He’s an above-average runner with an above-average arm. These are tools to play an above average right field.
At the plate, when I saw him in Kingsport, he was hitting out of a very wide base and began his swing with a leg kick and a pronounced weight transfer. In games, his long swing left him late repeatedly in a brief look. At times, he was reduced to using his hands only. The good news, is that the hands worked well. In BP, when he had more time to get everything moving in the same direction, he showed average or better power. Now the downside. He chased fastballs up and breaking stuff away. He’ll need to clean up his swing. That’s to be expected. He’s young. He’s also far away.
Becerra was arrested for drag racing over the July 4 weekend, but the incident did not appear to hamper his 2014 season in any meaningful way and the Mets were mum on any team disciplinary actions immediately following his arrest.
Becerra should head to Savannah to begin his first full season in 2015. If everything clicks here, he could be a very good big leaguer.
In an environment in Las Vegas where everyone else rakes, Puello did not. In his age 23 season, he hit .252 in 105 games with the 51s with a .355 on-base percentage and a .393 slugging percentage. That’s the bad.
However, I still think there’s a big leaguer in here. He’s big and strong. He’s fast (13 for 14 stealing bases in Triple-A) and plays hard.
Other reasons for optimism for finding a big league role for Puello:
1. His 8.1 percent walk rate was his highest of any professional season. He has improved markedly in this area.
2. He crushed left-handed pitching.
3. He will be a defensive asset.
4. He hit .326/.403/.547 in Double-A in 2013 before his Biogenesis suspension. There is a little track record here.
His left/right splits were big.
|14 v. LHP||109||.312||.409||.532||7.9||21.3||3.1||.385|
|14 v. RHP||209||.220||.326||.321||8.2||18.4||1.2||.267|
The outfielder the Mets picked up from the Angels in the Colin Cowgill trade, Johnson put up a 104 wRC+ in over 400 plate appearances for Double-A Binghamton thanks to a .344 on-base percentage and .384 slugging rate. He walked in 10 percent of his plate appearances and stole 12 bases. He does not hit for power, but he slaps the ball around, knows the strike zone and can run.
He’s not an everyday guy in the big leagues, but might sneak onto a roster as a 25th man.
In his age-22 season, Cruzado hit .273 with a .371 on-base percentage and a .404 slugging percentage for Savannah in over 420 PA. A switch hitter who is more effective from the left side, Cruzado had a tendency to get jumpy from the right. He also dealt with some nagging finger issues that might have harmed his bat control.
He played a strong right field in Grayson Stadium’s big outfield, and showed off a terrific arm.
At 23 in 2015, he will start in St. Lucie where he will be old for the league.
Shortly after proposing to his fiancée before a game in Savannah in May, King broke his right foot. When he returned near the end of June, the Mets sent the 22-year-old to advanced Single-A St. Lucie, rather than back to Savannah.
In the second half, King hit .287 with a .343 on-base percentage and .392 slugging percentage in 49 games with St. Lucie. He drew a walk in 7.6 percent of his plate appearances, and struck out in 18 percent, while hitting two home runs. I just don’t see enough power here to play on a corner everyday. I could say the same about Johnson and Cruzado, both of whom are ranked ahead of King, but both of provide much more defensive value.
King will play in Double-A, and likely as soon as 2015, but I don’t know where he fits on a big league roster.