John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
It was after midnight when a long-time scout of amateur talent finally had a couple of minutes to get on the phone, as the first day of the MLB Draft was coming to conclusion. I wanted to talk to this guy because it was only a few days ago that he had touted Brett Baty as one of a few players he was hoping his team would select.
"He's about as dynamic a hitter as I can remember seeing when you consider his combination of power and pure hitting ability," the scout told me then. "I think he'll be there and he'd be a great get."
Turned out Baty wasn't there when that scout's team picked, because the Mets grabbed the lefty-slugging high school third baseman from Texas with the 12th pick Monday night.
"They're not going to be sorry, I can tell you that," the scout said afterward. "He has big-time power but he's also a polished hitter. He has strike-zone recognition, he gets the barrel to the ball consistently, using the whole field, and he can hit it a mile.
"I thought he'd get to us because the age thing was an issue for some teams, but the Mets recognized the talent. I never saw his age as a factor because he should move up the ladder quickly. I could see him in the big leagues in two or three years."
"The age thing" was a reference to Baty being 19, a year older than most high school draftees, which may have caused some teams to downgrade his projectability a bit.
As the scout noted, however, it could also help him reach the big leagues sooner than most high school draftees.
"You know who else was 19 (when he was drafted)?" the scout asked. "Jarred Kelenic."
Technically that's not true. Kelenic, selected by the Mets as the sixth overall pick last year and then famously traded to the Mariners in the deal for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, didn't turn 19 until July, but the scout's point is correct: like Baty, Kelenic was a year older than than other high schoolers.
"Nobody seems to think his age is a problem," the scout said of Kelenic. "I've gotta give the Mets their due. They're drafting talent. (Pete) Alonso is another good call: they took a chance on him having a plus-plus tool, with his power, and it's paying off.
"They've got some good young position players. If they had kept Kelenic they'd be loaded."
Mets fans don't need to be reminded that Kelenic is thriving in the minors with the Mariners. Especially after Seattle GM Jerry DiPoto recently fanned the flames by saying the young outfielder, just promoted to high Class A, "is really advanced" and looks like he'll arrive in the big leagues "much sooner than we would've anticipated."
Yes, the decision to trade Kelenic could wind up haunting Van Wagenen and the Mets for years.
Still, as the scout said, the Mets have been making good calls on their high draft picks in recent years. The recent development of Dom Smith, together with Alonso's arrival, have helped change the narrative, at least to some degree, that the Sandy Alderson regime drafted poorly for too many years.
Though Brandon Nimmo has struggled this season, it may be due to the neck injury that was only recently diagnosed, and certainly he doesn't look like the bust he once did. As a result, going back to Alderson's first draft in 2011, only Gavin Cecchini in 2012 looks like a complete mistake among the first-rounders.
Others like Smith and Michael Conforto are paying dividends. Pitcher Justin Dunn, who was also included in the Cano/Diaz trade, is pitching well in the minors for the Mariners. Another pitcher, Anthony Kay, is dominating in Double-A for the Mets, to the point where he could be called up sometime in the second half of the season to help save the season.
With all of this in mind, Mets' people had been predicting that Van Wagenen wouldn't go out of his way to make presence felt in overseeing his first draft, especially since scouting director Tommy Tanous and most of the organization's scouts had stayed in place when the new GM took over.
"I'm sure Brodie will have opinions," one Mets person said a few days ago. "And there is more emphasis in the organization on analytics now. But I think he'll be smart enough to listen to the guys in the trenches."
Whatever the process, Van Wagenen apparently didn't force a first-round pick of a college player for the sake of a faster return. Instead it seems he and the Mets made something of a bold choice, betting that Baty's prowess as a high school hitter had more to do with his talent than his age.
At least one longtime scout was envious.