At the big league level, center field is not an area of need. Following Juan Lagares’ Gold Glove win on Tuesday night, the rest of baseball recognized and made official what Mets fans already knew: Lagares is a sublime defender. A league average hitter in 2014, Lagares provided roughly double the value (always use “rough” when talking about single year defensive estimates) with his glove as with his bat on his way to becoming, by fWAR, the Mets’ most valuable position player.
- Brandon Nimmo
- Champ Stuart
- Ivan Wilson
- Ricardo Cespedes
- Darrell Ceciliani
- John Mora
The 2011 first-round pick hit his way out of advanced Single-A and finished at Double-A in the season in which he turned 21. He hit .322 with a .448 on-base percentage and a .458 slugging mark in 62 games in advanced Single-A. His numbers in Double-A took a dive, as he hit just .238 with a .339 on-base percentage and slugged .396 in 65 games.
At the plate, Nimmo is an extremely patient hitter who is growing into his power as evidenced by his 10 home runs in 2014. An off-season working out at IMG before the 2014 season made him visibly stronger, with results that translated on the field. He has cleaned up his swing and generates good bat speed and leverage with the ball making that nice, loud sound when he connects. He’s not a super bat speed guy, or a super strength guy, but has enough of both to be dangerous on any pitch he squares up and even ones he does not.
However, the decline in his numbers in Double-A is overstated. His batting average on balls on play dipped from .401 in the FSL to .283 in the Eastern League. Some of that is the result of facing better competition and better defenders, and some of that is more closely tied to chance. Meanwhile, there were other positive developments in his profile. He stayed extremely patient. He walked 18 percent of the time in advanced Single-A and 13 percent in Double-A. His strikeout rate did not explode: he fanned in 18 percent of his PA in advanced Single-A and only 19 percent in Double-A. Meanwhile, he showed off a little more home run power. His home run rate rose in the Eastern League from 1.4 percent of his plate appearances in the FSL to 2.2 percent in Double-A, and his other extra-base hit rate was consistent.
In fact, much of the decline in Nimmo’s Double-A performance can be traced to his performance against lefties. He hit .152, with a .278 OBP and .239 SLG against lefties in 92 AB in Double-A with a .194 BABIP. Meanwhile, he bopped .293, with a .385 OBP and .493 SLG in 140 AB against RHP in Double-A. He walked in 13 percent of his plate appearances against pitchers of both hands, but struck out more against southpaws, 22 percent versus 16 percent. As Nimmo himself has pointed out since he began his professional career, he really had never seen any good left-handed pitching as an amateur. Platoon splits will likely always be an issue for him, but his patience and further experience will keep him competitive against lefties moving forward.
Defensively, I thought Nimmo was moving better in 2014 than he ever had as a professional. He looked smoother, with a quicker first step. On the move, he has long loping strides that eat up ground. One talent observer, who used to be with the Mets, but is no longer, was especially impressed by the improvement Nimmo, had made in the outfield on his “closing speed.” The bet here is that Nimmo can play a major league centerfield.
With Lagares in center, Nimmo might be forced to make his MLB debut on a corner. Nimmo does not have a classic right-fielder’s arm, but his range, after he learns how balls hook and slice on a corner, would be well above-average.
If Nimmo is not the top position player in the Mets system, he’s one of the top handful. He will likely start 2015 in Triple-A.
Oh, and he’s a terrific quote. If he becomes as good a hitter as he is a talker, he will be an All-Star.
If I had to pick one player to compete in the modern decathalon, in the Mets system, it would be Champ Stuart.
Let's get his out of the way first: He’s a plus defender. He’s lighting fast. He can go get the baseball. He has an above-average arm in center, although he can make mistakes when he gets over aggressive with it.
Stuart uses his speed on the bases. In 2014, he was 29-for-33 stealing bases overall and 22-for-23 from June 30 onward. He scored from second on a sac fly. He’s a full effort guy who is very fun to watch.
If he hits at all, he’s going to be a big leaguer. In 2014, in Savannah, he hit .256 with a .341 on-base and a .340 slugging percentage. More evidence of his speed: he had as many triples (5) as doubles (5). When he put the ball in the gap, he got an opportunity to show off his speed. He walked in a healthy 10 percent of his plate appearances, but struck out in an alarmingly high 29 percent. His swing can get long. The Mets worked with him in extended spring training on hitting the inside of the ball to stay short. However, he still had a tendency to collapse his back side and shoulder which added length and put his barrel under the ball.
Stuart, at age 22, will start in advanced Single-A.
If he hits at all, he’s a big leaguer, and a pretty good one.
If Stuart was my first pick in a decathalon among Mets prospects, Wilson, the Mets’ third-round pick in 2013, would be a very close second. At 6’3”, 225 lbs, he’s bigger and stronger than Stuart. But the size might serve him well in the throwing events. Back to baseball, Wilson is a plus runner who has room to add more strength across his broad shoulders.
The good news: he hit 11 home runs in Kingsport in 58 games. One third of his hits were home runs, and half of his August hits went over the wall. When he connects, the ball goes. Now the bad news: he hit just .176 overall and .154 in August, when he had 12 hits in 25 games. He struck out 99 times, a rate of 47 percent. At Amazin Avenue, Jeff Paternostro has pointed out that there is basically no precedent for a player striking out that much in the Appalachian League becoming a productive big leaguer.
Wilson has the speed, arm, defense and power. If he can figure out how to keep his average above .220 at upper levels, he’ll have a long big league career. That’s a big if.
I’d like to see the Mets spend the money to help send Wilson to IMG. He could use the baseball reps over the winter and the structure really helped Nimmo whereas Wilson worked out at his old high school last winter.
The Mets signed Cespedes for $750,000 in the summer of 2013. Baseball America called the 6’0” left-handed hitter’s speed and arm strength “solid.”
In his professional debut, Cespedes, at age 17, hit .266 with a .311 on-base and a .335 slugging percentage in 54 games in the Dominican Summer League.
Cespedes will be one of the players to watch on the Mets’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2015.
Ceciliani, a fourth-round pick in 2009, repeated Double-A in 2014 in his age 24 season. Over his two years as a B-Met, he’s hit .278 with a .326 on-base and .392 slugging percentage.
He can play center or left, but does not have the arm for right. He’s barely an average runner, but can hang in center in the minors.
He should get a look at Triple-A in 2015, where he might have to split time. He does not have the range to play center in the big leagues, nor does his bat profile on the corner. He could well sneak onto a big league roster here and there as outfield depth.