John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
These are giddy days for Mets' scouts, as the remarkable turnaround to this season is built largely around homegrown players, while their 2019 amateur draft received high grades from evaluators.
Indeed, the perception of the Mets' drafts over the last several years has improved dramatically, thanks to the recent emergence of Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, and Dom Smith, as well as Brandon Nimmo before his neck injury this season and the foundation-like presence of Michael Conforto in the middle of the lineup.
For that matter, VP of scouting Tommy Tanous says his department recently completed a study showing the Mets have produced more current big-league players, including some with other teams, than any organization in baseball since 2011.
All of which sets up a kicker of sorts to Marcus Stroman's first start at Citi Field on Friday night, as the Mets begin a highly-anticipated series with the Nationals.
That is, in 2012, the Sandy Alderson regime passed on Stroman, who was selected out of Duke with the 22nd pick of the Draft by the Blue Jays. Instead, the Mets, with the 12th overall pick, took high school shortstop Gavin Cecchini, who never lived up to projections and remains in the minors at age 25.
"We knew Stroman had great potential," Tanous said by phone on Thursday. "The whole industry knew he had great stuff. But at the time we were focused on taking a position player. If you looked at our system at the time, we were depleted in position players."
With since-departed Paul DePodesta overseeing the draft for Alderson, the Mets took position players as first-rounders their first four drafts, beginning in 2011: Nimmo, Cecchini, Smith, and Conforto.
At the time, the Mets were obviously well aware that Stroman was a local kid from Long Island, same as their own Steven Matz. Yet, in truth, even if they'd been more open to taking a pitcher with that 12th pick, it may have been Lucas Giolito, selected 16th by the Nationals, or Michael Wacha, taken 19th by the Cardinals.
The reason was simple: for all of Stroman's talent, his height, at 5-foot-7, was the source of much debate about whether he would develop into a front-line starting pitcher.
Even the Blue Jays can't say they were sure about Stroman. After all, they had two first-round picks that year, and with the 17th pick, they took a high school outfielder named D.J. Davis, who has yet to make it to the Majors.
Then, with the 22nd pick, the Blue Jays weren't sure whether to take Stroman, as Marc Tramuta recalls. Now the Mets' scouting director, Tramuta was a national cross-checking scout for Toronto in 2012, and he remembers the debate over whether to take the Duke right-hander.
"You know how scouting can be," Tramuta said by phone on Thursday. "There are biases. The bias against short right-handed pitchers is always whether they can be starters or they'll wind up being relievers.
"But our area scout in North Carolina that year, John Hendricks, kept telling us all year, 'This guy can be a starter.' And when you saw him, his stuff was electric. Back then, he was a four-seam fastball guy who overpowered hitters, and he had great makeup that was similar to what it is now: he was scared of nobody and he was going to let you know it, in a good way."
In the end, the combination of Stroman's stuff, his makeup, and his athleticism convinced the Blue Jays to take a chance on him, and obviously the pick paid off for them.
"I think we all knew he was going to be a major leaguer," Tramuta said. "But it's a credit to him that he elevated himself to such a top-level starter. As a scout, you're gratified to see that, and now I'm excited that he's a Met."
To get Stroman, of course, the Mets gave up two more pitchers scouted and drafted by Tanous and Tramuta in recent years, 2016 first-round pick Anthony Kay out of UConn and last year's second-round pick, Simeon Woods-Richardson.
Between that trade and GM Brodie Van Wagenen's deal for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, which cost the Mets two more first-round picks, 2016 pitcher Justin Dunn and 2018 outfielder Jarred Kelenic, the organizational depth has been thinned out significantly.
But the bottom line is the Mets' scouts have been producing talent, and not just in the draft, if you consider current shortstop Amed Rosario, signed out of the Dominican Republic, as well as highly-touted top prospect Ronny Mauricio, also out of the DR.
In fact, in a case of a scout being a scout, Tanous changed the conversation on Thursday from what Alonso and McNeil are doing to make a point of how excited he is about another international player -- 17-year old Venezuelan catcher Francisco Alvarez, who's hitting .338 in low Class A Kingsport.
"As a staff we're proud of what we've been able to do," Tanous said. "It's great to see the work pay off. We're out scouting for next year's draft, but we're keeping track of this whole run, watching what guys like Alonso, McNeil, Conforto and the others are doing."
Yes, it has been quite a run lately for the Mets, and by extension the scouting department. And if 2012 stands out as their only glaring error in the last decade, at least as first-rounders go, perhaps Stroman is here to remedy the decision to pass on him that year.
The way things are going for the Mets these days, it would be quite fitting.