Scouting the Double A Yankees – Mets Hitters: Havens/Den Dekker/Adams/Almonte

June 13, 2012

I posted a report yesterday about the pitchers I saw during the two games I saw between the B-Mets and Trenton Thunder. This report is about the hitters I saw. One hitter, Matt Den Dekker, was subsequently promoted to Triple-A Buffalo right after the series with Trenton. It’s funny, but the same thing happened with Jordany Valdespin, who was promoted immediately after I saw him play last year in Trenton.

If an B-Mets players want me to come out next time they are in town, I do take donations.

I asked one of the B-Mets players on Sunday when Den Dekker was getting the promotion, and the kid smiled, likely knowing it was soon. Looking at the Buffalo roster that night it was apparent Den Dekker was better than a couple of the Bison outfielders. And the success Kirk Nieuwenhuis has had in the majors was probably another factor to push the other left-handed hitting center fielder.

The B-Mets show a deep lineup, with one player, Josh Rodriguez, having 14 plate appearances (PAs)  in 2011 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. There is power from the top through the seven spot, and a nice mix of right-handed and left handed hitters.

Reese Havens

Once again Havens will not have a full season of baseball, having missed most of April with another injury, this time a bad back/oblique. However, he is healthy for now, and back with Binghamton. Being the top pick in 2008, many Mets fans had hoped Havens would already be in the majors by now or at least knocking on the door.

Havens showed his quick bat once again, and his swing is similar Yankees Triple-A second baseman Corban Joseph. He homered and singled on Saturday night, but also struck out five times in 10 PAs. His inability to make consistent contact is recognition of pitch location, specifically the upper and lower levels of the strike zone. Once Havens gets more reps his recognition will improve and so will his contact rates and offensive output.

In the field, Havens showed more range than he had last year, grabbing two ground balls clearly destined for center field.

However, another injury or two and it might be too late for Havens to have a decent career. He needs to stay on the field and get his reps. He’s not as good a hitter as Jason Kipnis of Cleveland, but has potential to be Kipnis lite.

Matt Den Dekker

As mentioned above, Den Dekker was promoted to Buffalo after the series with Trenton. Den Dekker has improved his power this season, banging out eight home runs, 21 doubles and four triples. His bat is much quicker than last year, with an improved swing path, much more direct to the ball.

In my notes from last season, I had written Den Dekker swung at lots of bad pitches, mostly breaking pitches in the dirt. However, these last two games showed to be a more patient (but still aggressive) hitter. He recognized pitches out of the zone, but was aggressive early in the count to attack hittable pitches. If you have read any of my prior pieces, you know I love aggressive hitters early in the count.

Den Dekker will be a doubles machine at the higher levels, with his above average speed as much as his gap power and ability to hit line drives down the RF line. His fourth inning double saw him get behind 0-2 to Brett Marshall but banged a hanging slider into the RF corner. He was also aggressive on other first pitches throughout the series.

Funny, but even though Den Dekker is a pretty good outfielder, more to his great speed rather than his initial routes*, during night games I have twice seen him muff long drives to centerfield in Trenton – once last season and once this past Saturday night.

*Some people think that route running is very important. It is important, but not for really fast guys. I have seen outfielders such as Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson and Den Dekker change their routes during fly balls, but turn on that “extra gear” to outrun the ball. Curtis Granderson is pretty good in center field, but always seems to change his routes. Routes are more important to slower outfielders who can’t outrun the ball. It is one of the more difficult skills to master in baseball.

If Den Dekker continues to hit in Buffalo and Jason Bay continues to struggle in the majors, don’t be surprised if Den Dekker gets a call in August.

Jefry Marte

Marte has skills to hit, with quick and strong hands, with good lower body movement to drive the ball. However, based upon the way he carried himself, it appears that Marte lacks drive. I only saw three PAs since Marte appeared to hurt his hand during a swing and was removed in Saturday night’s game. (UPDATE: Actually, Marte hurt his hand on a ground ball which popped up and hit his hand. A ball which almost took his face off.)

Anyway, his power numbers are improving each season, and will continue as he ages and gets naturally stronger. Some people feel they need to write a kid off if he doesn’t produce huge power numbers at the lower levels, but Marte was 17/18 to begin in Low-A Savannah (19 his second season) and not many kids translate raw power to games at that level. In addition, Marte is not listed on any top Mets prospect list, which might build into his favor and he has to work to get noticed again.

Marte might be one of those guys whose power readily improves as he matures – both physically and mentally. Give him time, let him play and he likely will surprise people.

Juan Lagares

Lagares is a guy who does lots of things decent, but nothing great. He started to hit last season in time split between High-A and Double-A, but is aggressive in that he doesn’t walk much or strikeout. But even with this aggressiveness, there is simply no power production, and his swing seems to bear out that it will not get there, either.

Lagares shows good range in the outfield, with a strong throwing arm, but without any significant offensive tools, his defense might get him to the majors, but it won’t be as a full-time starter.

David Adams

Finally back on the field after basically two seasons off from a busted ankle, Adams showed why the Yankees have been patient with the RHH hitter.

Adams showed tremendous plate discipline, the ability to recognize pitches early out of the hand, and the intelligence to read the pitcher based upon what was thrown to prior hitters. Over the two games, Adams consistently took very tough sliders off the outside part of the plate, not even twitching towards the pitch. Once, after a particularly tough slider from Greg Peavey, I blurted out “Wow, tough pitch!”

Adams also took tough change ups and fastballs just off the plate Friday night from left-handed Darin Gorski, waiting patiently for his pitch when ahead in the count.

It was when he got his pitch did Adams pounce. Despite going 1-7, a double, walk, K, and sac fly, Adams hit the ball hard three other times. He has quick hands, nice lower body rotation and remained balanced throughout his swing. He hit the ball hard to left and right field, ahead and behind the count, hammering a two-strike pitch from Peavey on the outside corner to RF for a sac fly.

He hasn’t hit for power yet this season, but with more reps the power will come back.

Adams also is a better fielder than I thought. He gets to ground balls well, has good hands and turns a quick double play, not flinching when a runner was charging towards second base. This was important since his injury was a lower body one, and second baseman sometimes get their legs taken out from them.

Adams has potential to help the Yankees (or another major league team) within two years, or be trade bait for an outfielder. With Cano in New York and Corban Joseph moving ahead of him, it’s not like the Yankees have much room at the second base area. However, Adams has played some third base in the past, and it is likely he could begin taking some reps there later in the season.

Zoilo Almonte

I was surprised when Zoilo Almonte performed well in spring training and began to become talked about in the blogosphere about possibly being the next Yankee starting outfielder. Even Joe Girardi heaped praise on Z.A.

Why was I surprised? I just don’t think Almonte is major league caliber. I saw him last summer after his promotion to Trenton and saw a guy who constantly got beat on hard stuff inside, then waved (and missed) at the better breaking balls he finally began to see. Looking at his career numbers, I noticed Almonte (like many hitters before him – Brett Gardner was one), who struggled at a new level when promoted but when they started the next year at that same level begins to produce.

But Almonte is the same hitter as he was last season, and has not yet produced at Double-A.

He was late on inside fastballs, and while he didn’t wave at many breaking balls out of the zone, there were a couple of instances where he was overmatched, like the first pitch slider from Adrian Rosario in the 10th inning on Sunday.

Almonte has some tools, but is prone to get on hot streaks and then cool off.  Zoilo is not going to replace Swisher in RF anytime soon, and likely will not help the Yankees in any significant way down the road. I like Melky Mesa much more than either of the Almonte’s.

Melky Mesa

There once was a time I thought Melky Mesa could strike out 200 times in a full season at Double-A. In fact, if both stayed healthy, I predicted he and Bradley Suttle would combine for 350 Ks in Trenton. But both were hurt part of the year in 2011. And Suttle has basically retired.

I saw last year that Mesa began to lay off many out of the zone off speed pitches at Trenton. He was also becoming more selective on pitches in the zone, too. However, he did continue to strike out at alarming rates, usually around 30%. That is not good for a guy who can really run, and should pattern his game more around his legs.

Mesa was even more selective this past weekend. A big at bat was his working a two-out walk in the bottom of the 10th inning, eventually scoring the winning run in Sunday’s game. He regularly took pitches just off the plate, both fastballs and breaking pitches, and used his hand speed to hammer a few pitches in his zone. Mesa has no trouble catching up to good fastballs, and with his bat speed and slight loft in his swing, he does put good backspin on the ball and hit some major league quality deep fly balls.

Many of those will eventually go out of the park. He does have seven home runs already this season, playing half his games in the challenging Waterfront Park.

Mesa has tremendous speed, a great throwing arm and covers lots of ground in CF. With the lack of quality outfielders at their higher levels, it is time to give Mesa an opportunity to test his newfound plate discipline at the Triple-A level.

Cody Johnson

I saw Johnson last year and he was a mess. Bounced his hands up and down, huge hitch and went from A to C on his swing with a big layover at B. After all this movement, he couldn’t hit anything inside with any velocity. He went for 34% Ks in 2008 and progressed each year to a high of 41% last season.

It was amazing then when I saw Johnson in April of this year, and his hands started down near his back hip, raised up slightly on ball travel, then Johnson would flick his hands out (a la Rod Carew) on his swing. This new style produced much better contact rates, lots of base hits, quite a few home runs and mucho less strikeouts. Thunder hitting coach Tom Slater helped Johnson with his new approach, something which begun in the offseason.

All good things for Johnson and his team.

However, to my surprise Johnson was back to his old (and less productive) ways this past weekend. He was in the midst of a huge slump (3 for 30, 17 Ks) entering the B-Mets series. I do not know if Johnson reverted back to his old way after his slump began or whether the new/old method of hitting precipitated the slump.

Whatever the reason, Johnson is back to missing fastballs, striking out lots and making very little contact. Johnson whiffed three times Sunday afternoon, getting pummeled by belt high fastballs over the middle of the plate by Greg Peavey. He did hit two balls hard, but the pitchers mistakenly threw him off speed pitches over the outer two-thirds allowing Johnson to quicken his bat.

His bat path is once again A to B to C, which translates to many more Ks down the road.

Johnson will hit his home runs because he has immense power in hitting mistakes, but he might want to revert bakc to the shorter swing path if he wants to move up and succeed in the organization.


Scouting the Double-A level Yankees – Mets pitchers: Gorski/Peavey/Marshall

June 12, 2012

After a few solid weeks of scouting high school and college games, and watching my former college and high school teams win their respective National and State titles, I am back to watching the pro game and will begin evaluating various minor (and major) league talent.

I saw two games between the Double-A Binghamton Mets and Trenton Thunder, the Yankees affiliate. It’s my second trip to Trenton.I travelled to Trenton earlier in the season, watching the April 21, 2012 Double-A game between the Trenton Thunder and Harrisburg Senators. You can see my report on that game here.

Unfortunately, I did not get to see top prospect Zack Wheeler pitch or the underrated Collin McHugh throw. Here is a report o n McHugh from last year. See, the Mets now have a SIX man rotation at Binghamton. I would bet big money the Mets pitchers don’t like it one bit.  

I will discuss the Yankees – Mets pitchers first.

On Saturday night, Binghamton’s Darin Gorski matched up against Shaeffer Hall, a guy who is always on the mound when I go to see a game. See April game link above. Hall seems to have lower velocity readings every time I see him (FB now around 84) and gets hit around quite often when he doesn’t get the calls on the corner. His future is maybe as a lefty reliever since his breaking pitch is usually pretty good against LHH.

Darin Gorski

Gorski is a tall left hander (6’4”, 200 lb.) who’s big out pitch is a very nice change up. He was not on the radar until last season, when he posted an 11-3, 2.08 ERA record with a WHIP below 1.00.

People have reasoned that Gorski’s ascent up the prospect ladder was because he was too old for the FSL (he was 23 last year), and I love that argument from people who never played baseball. Regardless of age, an ERA around 2.00 is pretty damn good no matter where you are pitching in pro baseball. It’s not like he was 23 and pitching against high school kids. Most of the FSL lineups consist of pretty good talent, guys who are trying to become major league ball players, and whether they are a year or two younger than Gorski should not be considered a “negative” on Gorski’s success.

Anyway, during this 2012 campaign Gorski has decent numbers at Double-A. Over 11 appearances, Gorski has a 4-3 record with an ERA under 4.00. His impressive hit numbers have remained steady in Double-A (7.9 H/9), but his walk rate has jumped (4.0/9 IP), and K/rate has dropped a little (7.2/9 IP).

Saturday night Gorski was pretty good, limiting the Thunder lineup to seven hits, very few which were hit hard, walking none and striking out four.

Gorski was usually 88-91, a few times bumping up but was back to the velocity of his 2009-2010 seasons. There was some talk of him consistently sitting in the low 90s last season, but I did not see this Saturday night. He could extend his stride more and clean up his timing to get this velocity back. His breaking ball (slurvy curve/slider) was ineffective with no bite and Gorski seemed to give up on it as the night wore on. That is something he should NOT do, especially in a game like this which was over by the middle innings.

However, what I did see was an impressive change up, a pitch which constantly kept the Thunder hitters off-balance. This pitch has nice drop (almost looking like a split without the tumble), but not much fade. When they weren’t swinging and missing this pitch, the hitters were hitting lazy fly balls. This change up is likely the reason Gorski has a significant fly ball rate, and low BABIP.

He simply doesn’t allow a whole lot of hard hit balls.

He showed a good ability to throw fastballs to spots on both sides of the plate, and was not afraid to come inside versus right-handed hitters, even backing up an inside fastball to a RHH with another. He did get three of his strikeouts on called third strikes against RHH.

I like Gorski as he has a pitchability factor, but unless he gets control of his breaking ball, his future is limited. I do believe guys can be two-pitch pitchers, but they both have to be plus and without some fade to his change, hitters at the higher levels will learn to lay off the pitch or just wait for it. And without a consistent breaking ball, Gorski likely does not have a future as a lefty reliever.

One interesting feature about Gorski is his success against teams not located in New Hampshire. In three starts against the Fisher Cats, Gorski is 0-2, 11.70 ERA with almost three runners per inning. Against other teams, he has darn good numbers.

In Sunday’s game, the mound matchup was pretty good with the B-Mets Greg Peavey opposing Brett Marshall. Both were drafted out of high school by the Yankees, but while Marshall eagerly signed (almost a million bucks will do that), Peavey went to Oregon State and was later selected by the Mets.

Greg Peavey

Peavey went five innings (99 pitches), and was consistently 90-92 with several 93s. He threw a sharp breaking curveball, much like a slider with severe downward break. Quite a few times he tended to get on the side of it, with the pitch flattening out and backing up. He went after most hitters, especially the weaker ones and was in trouble only once. However, except for the contact challenged Cody Johnson, Peavey didn’t get many swing and misses.

Peavey fields his position very well, twice going after slow dribblers down the 3rd base line showing good athleticism. What I liked about both plays was that Peavey got his chest over the ball both times, not simply reaching for it, which oftentimes leads to dropping the ball before the throw or making a bad throw via improper balance.

Peavey didn’t show much consistency, can’t put guys away and from the one start I have seen, doesn’t have much of a chance to start for the big club if he continues this trend.

Armando Rodriguez

Since Peavey only went five innings, the bullpen needed to get in some overtime. The first guy out of the pen was Armando Rodriguez, a hulking figure who basically said “Here it is, see if you can hit it” with a 92-93 MPH fastball, which seemed to get up to the hitter even faster and has a natural cutting action. According to a couple B-Mets I spoke with, Rodriguez simply attempts to throws it over the middle of the plate. But on this day, he was peppering the outside corner to every RHH on pitch after pitch with his fastball, getting lots of called strikes and weak contact over his three very efficient innings.

He located a slider pretty well, too, but it’s not a great pitch. It’s basically a pitch which is a velocity change to his fastball. I am surprised he didn’t throw a change up much, because I was told Rodriguez was working on one and it showed promise. Rodriguez (who is reminiscent of another Armando Mets fans should know), up until this season has been a starter his entire career, but with a plethora of Mets minor league starting pitchers, was switched to the bullpen. His already impressive numbers are now even better.

If Rodriguez can continue locate that fastball to the outside corner like he did Sunday, and improve his slider, Rodriguez could be an option in the major league bullpen down the road.

Adrian Rosario

After A-Rod’s three solid innings and a shaky 9th inning by former top arm Brad Holt, B-Mets closer Adrian Rosario came in to close out the game. Rosario was part of the K-Rod trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. He is a wiry 6”4”, 180 pound, 22-year-old RHP with a solid fastball which ranged from 92-94 with several 95s. He showed a good change up around 85 with solid movement and a sharp breaking slider thrown at 82. Rosario throws from the extreme first base side of the rubber, has solid arm action and drives straight to the plate. Very clean all around.

Rosario got the first two outs in the 9th, but then allowed a bloop single to right field based solely on the notorious “no doubles” defense where the outfielders were playing on the warning track. He ended up walking the next hitter, throwing a wild pitch and giving up a game winning two-run soft line drive single.

What impressed me about Rosario was his first pitch to Zoilo Almonte with two outs, nobody on. After starting both prior hitters with popping fastballs, Rosario began Almonte with a sharp breaking slider to garner a quick swing and miss. He then came in to Almonte with a fastball, jamming him.

What I didn’t like was him not locating pitches to either of the first two hitters. He got behind on David Adams before Adams lined out and after all other pitchers this day were getting Cody Johnson out on inside fastballs, Rosario allowed him to get his arms out and drive a deep flyball to left center.

Rosario has potential and is a guy to keep an eye on. If he can continue to work ahead, his solid change up and slider will be even more effective.

Brett Marshall

When Brett Marshall was drafted, he was paid big money to keep him from a Rice University commitment. He started slowly, had Tommy John surgery, and then completely revamped his mechanics and mindset. Credit Danny Borrell, who had lots of one-on-one time with Marshall during his rehab, for this transformation. Borrell improved Marshall’s mechanics and talked the Yankees brass into allowing Brett to scrap his curveball and throw the slider – even after the TJS.

Marshall is much different now than he was two years ago. He looks more mature on the mound with natural aging filling out his formerly thinner frame.

With his new, smoother mechanics Marshall was pumping his fastball anywhere from 91-93, but rarely topping that. He effortlessly moved the ball in and out, mixing in all of his pitches just in the first inning!

He threw hard biting sliders to both LHHs Reese Havens and Matt Den Dekker, striking out both. The nasty slider (mostly 83-84 MPH), darted to the back foot of each lefty hitter. On one occasion in the third inning, Marshall got on the side of a slider to Havens then threw another one down and in on the next pitch for a swing and miss. Marshall realized he overthrew the first one, then relaxed and threw a better pitch. The slider was tough to hit all day long, heading to the back foot to LHH, and mostly right on the outside corner to RHH.

He flashed a pretty good change up, too, anywhere from 79-81 MPH. This was thrown to right and lefty hitters, getting swings and misses from each side. However, the pitch was somewhat easily seen out of his hand with the fingers spread out above the ball. He did get a few up, some which were hit as fly balls to the outfield.

Marshall was efficient all day long, throwing strikes with all his pitches, making one mistake on a hanging slider which Den Dekker hit into the right field corner for a double. He later scored on a wild pitch when Marshall overthrew a change for a wild pitch, one pitch after getting the hitter to swing and miss on a great change up.

It was a pretty dominating performance, especially considering the B-Mets put out a darn good lineup which banged out 19 hits and 12 runs the night before, and 15 hits and nine runs two nights earlier. Over his last seven starts, Marshall has thrown 47 innings (at least 6 IP in each), allowing 35 hits, 14 walks and 29 Ks. His ERA over this stretch is 1.67, with most of the damage coming in two starts. Some people have lamented his lack of strikeouts over his career, but he did show strikeout stuff and generates lots of weak ground balls.

The Yankees are clearly limiting Marshall’s innings as they pulled him after six great innings, and he had only throws 80 pitches. I heard the Yankees are high on Marshall and have no plans to trade him. If this is true, there is no reason to take him out in a game like this which he was dominating. They need to find out if he can get through the 7th inning, what I call the “money inning” as by consistently going seven innings in the majors, a pitcher will get the really big money come free agent contract time.  By getting through the 7th inning, starting pitchers help their teams in many ways; one major way is letting most of a major league bullpen rest for a night.

Most teams at this level would be wise to start getting starters and relievers into the major league mode, getting the better pitchers more work rather than allowing mop up guys (guys who have NO shot at the majors) “get their work in.” But that is a piece for another day.

Yankee Relievers

The Yankees used multiple relievers this weekend. On Friday night, Ryan Pope and Kelvin Perez got pounded. Perez has had a good year number wise, and although he did hit 95 Saturday night I have never been a fan of his. He is all over the place with no significant out pitch. Because Perez couldn’t get out of his first inning, Ryan Flannery threw 1.2 perfect innings throwing a splitter which acts much like a sharp dropping curve ball, moving down and away to RHH. He doesn’t throw as hard as I had him two years ago; sitting 88-90, but his split is a legitimate out pitch. He has worked his way very slowly through the system, and I hope he gets a shot before its too late.

Backing up Marshall on Sunday was Preston Claiborne, who was 93-95 with good pop, a change of pace slider with little bite but a pretty good change up having significant drop and fade. He threw inside very well and generally worked low in the zone all day. If he can limit walks, he is the type of relief guy the Yankees like with two solid offerings.


New York Mets GM Sandy Alderson Should Build Around David Wright

December 12, 2011

Pretty much all major sports, but especially, baseball, are copycat sports. If something works for one organization, then others follow the lead. However, due to the long history of baseball and the ingrained ideas and traits, it often takes longer for new ideas to be implemented.

Billy Beane began using low cost players who had high value qualities, but after MoneyBall came out, every team followed suit. And because Beane doesn’t know much about on field talent, the Oakland A’s stink once again.

Since the Yankees were always in the playoffs, they have not had many top of the draft picks. Brian Cashman began taking high upside talent in later rounds, then offering them bigger bonuses to sign. David Robertson was one such pick in 2006, and Dellin Betances was plucked away from a Vanderbilt scholarship using that same method in the same ’06 draft. Teams then began following suit with higher bonuses for top talent taken in later rounds.

The Texas Rangers have made the World Series for two consecutive seasons, with a potent offense and a good bullpen, but without a true ace pitcher who can be the proverbial shutdown guy, thus helping to avoid long losing streaks. Most of the best teams in baseball have an ace, but Texas won the past two seasons without one. C.J. Wilson was not an ace and the Rangers pounded their opponents into submission quite often.

Many people believe the 2012 New York Mets will not contend for a playoff spot, and include me as one of them. Not because they are devoid of talent, because some of their young guys are pretty good, but primarily due to the strength of the other teams within their division.

The Phillies have a great rotation and despite some aging, no current shortstop, and injury issues to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (likely out for the 2012 season), they still have enough talent to earn a postseason spot. Plus, GM Ruben Amaro appears to make moves which improve their team, like signing their homegrown talent, trading for three top pitchers, and then signing Lee again last year.

The Atlanta Braves have good young talent, and except for a late season collapse, would have made the postseason. And they have good young pitching in the minors, and are willing to give them ample chances to pitch. They are good like that. Maybe Fredi Gonzalez shouldn’t overwork his top three bullpen guys as much, though.

The Washington Nationals are improving, have a good young mound duo in Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, both of who came back very strong from Tommy John surgery. They also have an owner with a ton of money and an itch to win before his D-Day. They could use a young, lefty power bat…

The Miami Marlins are also better with the three big free agent splashes in Heath Bell, Jose Reyes* and Mark Buehrle joining a young core of Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Coghlan, and Mike Stanton.

*It is amazing that the Mets lost one of their franchise players and are not even getting a first round pick back in return. Since the Marlins have the 9th pick in the 2012 draft, that pick is protected. The Mets will get the Marlins 2nd round pick plus the supplemental pick. Biggest problem with not trading Reyes at last year’s trade deadline was Sandy Alderson not seeing the variable of a bad team with a top pick signing Reyes. Tough thing to predict, but doesn’t a GM and his people have to look for every possibility?

Since the Mets were not so good last season, lost Reyes, and are unsure whether Johan Santana (a huge Minaya mistake) will pitch in 2012, they are not supposed to be good this year either. With those factors and with every other team in the division having better rosters, it is a perfect time to stick with the kids who began to produce last year and made the 2011 Mets somewhat fun to watch.

Since the team might be a last place squad, many Mets fans and pundits want the last bastion of their quality teams from 2006-2008, David Wright, to be traded. They want more trades like the Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler deal; to get younger, cheaper talent to try and win in 2014 and beyond. The Mets GM is actively looking to make trades but has indicated David Wright is not getting dealt.

And that is a very smart move.

Sandy Alderson has seen what has recently helped teams win. In 2010, it was a very strong top three in the rotation (and dominant bullpen) which propelled the San Francisco Giants, and then he saw the Arizona Diamondbacks use good, young starters (and a dominant bullpen) to win the NL West in 2011.

And he also saw the aforementioned Texas Rangers win with a solid, but not great rotation, great power lineup (and dominant bullpen) to win the AL Pennant the past two years. He also saw the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Rangers in the 2011 World Series with a mediocre rotation and a dominant bullpen.

As I mentioned earlier, MLB is a copycat league. Without a solid top three in the 2012 rotation, Alderson has smartly used his limited resources to secure a solid bullpen. He signed former closer Jon Rauch and current closer Frank Francisco and traded for Ramon Ramirez, who was a big part of that 2010 Giants World Series bullpen.

The Mets 2011 bullpen had a 4.33 ERA, ranked 28th of the 30 major league teams. These bullpen additions should help improve those numbers. With holdovers Bobby Parnell and Pedro Beato, who will not be pressured to get key outs late, the Mets now have a nice stable of power arms.

And despite Reyes’ departure, Alderson also sees a pretty good power offense. With Ike Davis (ankle), Lucas Duda (concussion) and David Wright (back) healthy again, and Jason Bay (another Minaya mistake) still in the fold, the Mets have four sluggers who might combine for 80-100 HRs. Add in a healthy Daniel Murphy, who is a solid hitter, and there are five guys who can drive in runs.

The key is health as none of the above players, except Bay, had 450 plate appearances in 2011.

Alderson performed magic when he shortened the Citi Field dimensions, likely adding power numbers to each of the hitters, but especially Wright, who has acknowledged the previously larger dimensions have hurt his numbers. By stating that Wright was not available in a trade and moving the fences in, Alderson clearly has indicated he wants Wright to remain a Met. Look for Alderson to try and extend Wright early next year.

And like the Texas Rangers have with Elvis Andrus, the 2012 will have a young shortstop, known for his glove, but has improved on the other side of the ball. His on base skills have clearly improved and he showed a knack for getting key hits.

Ruben Tejada should not be forced to win the shortstop job in spring training. He should be given the job prior to spring training. Let him have the knowledge that he will be the glue of a solid infield, which will give him immense confidence. Keith Hernandez always said the key to his 1979 NL MVP season was that his manager, Ken Boyer, told him no matter what happened early in the season, he was still going to be the Cardinal first baseman.

The overall key to the Mets future is definitely the young starters still in the minors, guys like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia and possible Michael Fulmer, last year’s second round pick.

But to win now and stay competitive in 2012 and 2013, the Mets need to punish opponents on offense, keep the game close and win it late with a solid bullpen. That formula will not work every time in Citi Field, but it has shown to consistently win games for teams around the league.

But the offense needs to stay healthy, too, and Wright needs to wipe away his past demons and know he has a pretty good supporting cast, and need not do it alone.

The time to trade Wright was a few years ago, when the Boston Red Sox desperately needed a third baseman and actually had quality young talent to trade. Here is a Wright trade proposal I made two seasons ago.

Not moving Wright is just another sickly feather in Omar Minaya’s cap, probably the worst GM in the history of baseball.

Since Wright can void the last year of his current deal if he is traded, if the Mets tried to trade Wright they would not get a Beltran-type return, let alone a Dan Haren or Mark Teixeira type return. While, those types of trades could occur as recently as two years ago, those deals are never going to happen anymore as teams are over-valuing their young players. Wright is best served to stay in New York.

Alderson knows this and is making the smart move, for the team this season and for the Mets future.


Scouting Review: Collin McHugh, Jordany Valdespin, Graham Stoneburner

August 12, 2011

Earlier this week I attended games between the locals Double A affiliates, with the Binghamton Mets visiting the Yankees’ Trenton Thunder. I saw the Thunder a few games early in the season, then one game a few weeks ago. I like to see teams in different parts of the season to ascertain whether kids have made adjustments to become better players. Also, kids at this level have been promoted and new players have been brought up to replace them.

Seeing teams before and after the all-star breaks hit on both of the above situations as most teams make the standard promotions after kids have played in their all-star games, like relatively new Thunder player Rob Lyerly.

In addition, I wanted to finally see the New York Mets top prospect, RHP Matt Harvey, who will be profiled in my next piece.

Taking the hill for the B-Mets was Collin McHugh, coming into the game with a 4-2, 3.75 record with two saves, including a three-inning save in his last appearance. His delivery is similar to Jake Peavy’s of the Chicago White Sox, but without the Peavy velocity. McHugh sat 88-90 and hit 91 on a couple occasions when it appeared he needed “a boost.” His fastball had good movement, often down and away to a RHH.

McHugh worked the fastball in and out, showing good command. When he missed, he usually missed off the plate, especially when working inside. He showed a nice moving cutter which broke in nicely on lefties, with slider action but thrown harder in the 84-86 range. One Thunder player commented that this was a new pitch for McHugh, having previously faced him in the NY-Penn, Sally and Florida State Leagues.

But the pitch that garnered the most swings and misses was a slow, downward breaking curve ball, thrown at 72-74 and used primarily with two strikes. He did not throw it that often, and you sometimes forgot he had the pitch in his arsenal until he broke it out for a key whiff.

McHugh does not have that superb “upside” that so many analysts and scouts love and thrive on, but McHugh does know how to pitch, has good command and does strike guys out, averaging 9.2 K/9 for his pro career. He has started and relieved in most seasons and could make a decent back-end of the rotation type pitcher, throwing the ball like Dillon Gee but with better strikeout rates.

The first night saw Graham Stoneburner on the mound for the Thunder. Two starts ago I reported reduced velocity for Stoner, something which I attributed to possible shoulder issues based upon his delivery. This game saw Stoneburner sit at 88-90 again with a few pumps at 92, similar to what I saw last time out. He was victimized by the tightest strike zone in the entire world by home plate umpire Scott Mahoney, culminating in a conversation between the two as the pitcher left the mound after the fifth inning.

Stoneburner left his slider up on occasion, with several hard hit balls the result, including a towering two-run home run by B-Mets RF Raul Reyes to straight away center. In addition to power, Reyes also showed good range playing right field, tracking balls deep into the corner near the fence and also coming in well on a right center field bloop.

Men were on base all night against Stoneburner but when he needed to make a pitch, he usually did with key strikeouts against Jordany Valdespin and Allan Dykstra on wicked sliders down and in. I found out that Stoneburner does not have any shoulder issues and through most of his career he has pitched in the 88-92 range, sometimes ratcheting up to 95 when he needed to.

While I have seen him hit 95 consistently in Staten Island, Charleston and Tampa, I must have been extremely lucky to see those games. 

I saw Jordany Valdespin play in the AFL last season**. You can read about my positional player 2010 AFL thoughts here.

**As an aside, in this AFL piece, I was pretty high on Jason Kipnis, who showed great bat speed and surprising power for a guy of his stature. Since being brought up by Cleveland a few weeks ago, he has hit .295/.358/.656/1.018 OPS with six HRs, but has also whiffed in nearly a third of his plate appearances.

Back to the Mets. To quote: “Valdespin showed great tools, but little in the way of how to play. He turned on a Jeremy Jeffress 99 MPH fastball like it wasn’t even an issue and showed good range and throwing arm on several plays. But he is inconsistent from play-to-play, showing a lack of concentration. He also swings at nearly everything and has poor hitting mechanics.”

With those poor mechanics, Valdespin usually leans and drifts, moving his upper body toward the pitcher, taking his legs out of the swing, which reduces the opportunity of any power.

What a difference a year makes. Valdespin showed better hitting mechanics, staying back and using his legs more. His upper body stayed on top of his legs and allowed his hands to get through the zone better. His quick bat, and now the use of his legs, has allowed him to hit 15 HRs so far and slug .483, the highest of his pro career.

Valdespin also showed better selectivity at the plate. For example, after getting ahead of Stoneburner 2-0 in the count, he took a slider on the inside corner for a called strike, and then got a fastball on the outer third which he fouled back. The Valdespin of the 2010 AFL would have gone after that 2-0 pitchers pitch, likely getting himself out. Facing the left-handed Josh Romanski in his fourth PA, Valdy calmly went with the pitch to line a single to left field.

His play-to-play concentration in the field appeared improved, with Valdy being in proper ready position before each pitch. He showed the good range and throwing arm I saw last fall, fielding balls in the 5.5 hole and up the middle. On the latter, on the run he fielded the ball near the bag, and with a strong throw across his body he nailed the runner at first base. Valdespin also moved his feet well on the routine ground ball, getting in front and wasn’t content to simply play the ball off to the side.

It appears that new Binghamton manager, former major league second baseman Wally Backman, a gamer if there ever was one, has had an effect on the 24-year-old Jordany. Also, don’t underestimate the development capabilities of the new Mets regime in this transformation.

I expected to see him again Wednesday night, but after Tuesday’s game, Valdespin was promoted to Triple A Buffalo, where he was 2-4, with a double.

With the uncertainty of Jose Reyes after this season, the Mets would benefit greatly if Valdespin continued his improvement.


Minnesota Twins Offer Better Deal for Seattle Mariners Than Do The New York Mets

June 25, 2010

I wrote a piece on Wednesday night about how the Seattle Mariners traded Cliff Lee to the Minnesota Twins for minor league catcher Wilson Ramos, left-handed pitcher Brian Duensing and a low-level minor league outfielder.

The trade disintegrated when Ramos got hurt last Saturday playing for Triple A Rochester.

Once Ramos returns to active duty (he is day-to-day with a strained oblique), the trade will be consummated like a new bride on her wedding night.

It is no coincidence that the Twins pitched Duensing for 3.1 innings last night in relief of a very ineffective Twins starter Nick Blackburn. It was 3.1 scoreless innings of relief by the way, where the lefty allowed three hits while striking out three Milwaukee Brewers hitters.

It basically cements the deal for Lee, with the only obstacle coming in the form of the New York Mets. With the Philadelphia Phillies floundering, the Mets believe they have a real shot of winning the NL Eastern division this season.

Renting Cliff Lee will not only help them achieve that goal, but when combined with a healthy return of outfielder Carlos Beltran, it would help them get to a World Series.

Never forget that Omar Minaya will strip an entire franchise’s farm system for one pitcher he feels can put him over the top. He already did it in 2002 when he was GM of the Montreal Expos.

Back then he TRADED Cliff Lee as part of a package of young players for right handed pitcher Bartolo Colon.

The Mariners could get greedy and, by using the Mets as leverage, try to wrest more away from the Twins.

But oftentimes the greedy get what they deserve, and that is usually something not nearly as good as what they had in pocket.

Why would the Mariners trade with the Mets anyway? The Mets have nothing the Mariners need, who, for starters, want a young catcher with the potential to start right away.

Ramos fits that bill. But is that why the Mets brought up catcher Josh Thole the other day, to show him off in the big leagues? The Mariners will have a few scouts in town this weekend scouting the Twins and can get a look at Thole. The Mariners will also be in town next week when they come in to play the Yankees.

But while Thole has rebounded well from a horrible April, he is very young defensively behind the plate and does not hit for much power (10 career HR’s in 3+ minor league seasons).

The Mariners also want a left-handed starting pitcher. While Duensing is not a complete youngster (he is 27), he does have good major league experience and can step right into Lee’s spot in the rotation–maybe throwing to Ramos. The Mets only have Jonathan Niese as a starting left-handed pitcher, and with his pretty good season thus far in 2010, it does not look like he is going anywhere.

The Mets do have other prospects they would give up for their rental, including a package built around prospects such as Ruben Tejada, Fernando Martinez, Wilmer Flores, and Jeurys Familia.

But although these players are good, none are what the Mariners are seeking, so the Twins deal makes better sense for the Mariners.

But if the Mets give them ALL of those prospects, then you might have a deal.


New York Mets: It’s About Time The Youngsters Are Getting Their Shot

April 25, 2010

Since becoming the New York Mets General Manager in 2004, Omar Minaya signed free agents Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner, Luis Castillo, Francisco Rodriguez, Oliver Perez and Jason Bay.

In addition, Omar signed veterans Elmer Dessens, Livan Hernandez, Tim Redding, Cory Sullivan, Mike Lamb, Angel Berroa and other assorted has-been players.

Those in the second group were all signed in an effort to find “lightning in a bottle.” And all of the second group of guys stink as major league players.

Some of those players in the first category (usually multi-year deal guys) stink as well. Why?

Because they did not help the Mets team get to a World Series, let alone win one. Wait, they almost did in 2006, but the veteran free agent Beltran took a called third strike from St. Louis Cardinals rookie-closer (at the time) Adam Wainwright made Beltran look silly.

Carlos also took the first pitch fastball right down the middle for strike one, immediately getting himself in the hole. I wonder if the “work the pitcher” guys out there in the blogosphere would like to have that pitch back.

At that time, Wainwright was a young pitcher with all of 77 major league innings under his belt. Tony LaRussa was not afraid of using his young players.

Omar Minaya and the New York Mets are. Or should I say were.

With the promotion of Ike Davis to play first base, during his first major league game, the Mets had five players (David Wright, Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Jonathan Niese and Davis) as homegrown Mets starters, plus the final relief pitcher Jenrry Mejia.

A game which  saw the Mets win 6-1.

If you wanted, you could also include Jeff Francoeur as “homegrown” since the Mets traded Lastings Milledge to the Washington Nationals for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider, then spun Church off to get Frenchy from the Atlanta Braves. Francoeur has provided a stabilizing influence in right field, has played great defensively, and despite a recent 0-24 slump, has now shown moderate signs of being more selective at the plate.

He has a big run-scoring double today, a big 3-1 Mets victory.

His biggest contribution is the presence he has brought to a clubhouse desperately in need of a strong personality. Wright and the Latin contigent have not provided that since the Minaya regime began.

Francoeur is still only 26 and was a former first round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves.

Minaya, who is on the hot seat as GM and NEEDS to make the playoffs this year or at least have his team show vast improvement over last season.

And that insurgence has been helped by the play of Met young players promoted from their won system. I have consistently gotten on Minaya for his free agent signings, losing first round draft picks, and still not getting anywhere with other teams forgotten players.

And then Minaya signed Bay to a four-year, $66 million contract this off season.

Would Minaya have been better served by not thinking of saving his ownshort-term neck by signing Bay, and looking instead to improve the Mets over the long-term? With that I mean letting all the young guys play.

Instead of Niese trying to make the team as a fifth starter, give the job to him. Let him get a full season of major league ball under his belt. Thus far in 2010, Niese, despite walking too many hitters on occasion, has pitched pretty well. Then let young Jenrry Mejia develop in the minors as another homegrown starting pitcher.

With Mike Pelfrey those three could be 60% of a current rotation.

Minaya might have been better served letting the Wilpon’s keep their $66 million they gave Bay and, similar to what good teams do, invest it in signing some of this young talent (Pelfrey, Niese, Davis) in two to three years on a longer term basis.

It’s all about the Mets future, except in Minaya’s mind.


Why the New York Mets Jenrry Mejia was always ticketed for the 2010 Bullpen

March 27, 2010

This spring has brought us more stories of the Joba Rules. It has also created more pitchers likely to go under similar rules and talked about in “Is he (pick your guy) best suited as a starter or a reliever?”

Most relievers are failed starting pitchers. The New York Yankees closer extraordinaire Mariano Rivera is one such example. At 25 years of age, Rivera started 10 games in 1995 (the season before Joe Torre became manager), producing a 3-3 record, 5.94 ERA and 1.680 WHIP.

While their were flashes of brilliance, such as this July 4th (George’s Birthday) eight inning, 11 strikeout, zero run gem*, their were obvious duds, too, like three of his first four career starts when he gave up more earned runs than innings pitched in each of those contests.

*It is interesting to see that during that game, Rivera threw eight solid innings and was pulled after 129 pitches. His ninth inning replacement was John Wetteland, the first of many times the Rivera-Wetteland combination would help win a game for the Yankees.

We will never know if Rivera would have developed into a starting pitcher, as potential starters need more than 10 career major league starts to have a proper evaluation.

Besides the perpetual Joba starter/reliever story this 2010 spring training, the biggest starter/reliever conflict has occurred with the other New York team, the Mets.

Their 20 year old flame thrower Jenrry Mejia has been talked about as a top Mets pitching prospect for at least two seasons now. In his brief professional career, Mejia has been in 47 games, starting 40 of them. The only seven relief appearances for Mejia came in 2007, his first pro season as a 17 year old, when the Mets were slowly breaking him in.

Over the last two seasons Mejia has appeared in 33 games, and started all 33.

But at lest for this season, the Mets envision Mejia as a relief pitcher due to some dominant outings this spring.

They are making Mejia a relief pitcher despite the Mets lack of adequate starting pitchers in their organization, and seeing what happened to Joba over the last two seasons, as he was jerked around by the Yankees.

Many Met fans do not like it, and they are staged a protest to support keeping Mejia a starting pitcher.

As mentioned earlier, Mejia has only been a starter the last two seasons. In year one he advanced from Rookie Ball in the Gulf Coast League up to Short Season ball in Brooklyn, where he faced mainly recent college draftees.

Mejia fared pretty well that year producing a 2-0 record, 0.60 ERA, 0.800 WHIP in Rookie ball and a 3-2 record, 3.49 ERA, 1.147 WHIP in Brooklyn. Really good as he was still only 18!

In 2009, the Mets jumped Mejia to High A St. Lucie in the perennially pitching rich Florida State League (FSL), and Jenrry did not disappoint. He went 4-1 in 9 starts, with a 1.97 ERA and 1.132 WHIP.

At a tougher level, Mejia significantly improved his pitching numbers from one season to the next, just what an organization wants to see out of a young player.

After the great start in the FSL, Mejia was moved to Double A Binghamton, where he went 0-5, 4.47 ERA, 1.511 WHIP in 10 starts. In 44 innings, Mejia (still only 19!) struck out 47 hitters.

That Double A jump is the biggest a minor league player will make. If you can make it their (Double A) you can make it anywhere, meaning the majors.

After the successful adjustment Mejia made from his A ball stint in 2008 to 2009, the biggest no-brainer then is to see how your best #1 starting candidate pitching prospect (sorry Jonathan Niese), will fare starting his 2010 season in Double A Binghamton.

Will Mejia again adjust to the Double A hitters, and begin to pitch well early on? And with the annual terrible April weather in the Northeast, Mejia has the elements on his side, too, as pitchers usually fare better in early season nasty weather, especially when all hitters have been used to the Florida sunshine.

Wouldn’t this advantage allow him to gain confidence early and give the Mets another potentially major league ready starting pitcher if not later in 2010, but the following season?

We may never find out due to the inabilities of Mets General Manager Omar Minaya*. Coming off the debacle that was September 2008, and last season’s full-year disaster, the GM and manager Jerry Manuel NEED TO WIN NOW.

*Remember that Minaya was given his first GM job by MLB to be the GM of the Montreal Expos. He pretty much ruined that organization (now the Washington Nationals), but they are showing sign of getting things together, seven years after Minaya took the helm. Ironic that the Nats are now showing some young promise, and the Mets now being run by Minaya are starting to crumble.

That is why they signed Jason Bay in the off season instead of shoring up the starting pitching, and why Mejia will be in the Mets bullpen to begin the 2010 season. Minaya would have been better served to protect the franchise by saving the money spent on Bay, allowing all the kids Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis, Jonathan Niese, Josh Thole, etc. to play and develop instead of trying to win a very tough NL East in 2010.

But Minaya and Manuel (the lousy version of the M&M boys) need to win now to save their jobs. If the Mets get off to a slow start in 2010, they both could be fired by June 1. If that happens, neither one will ever get another chance at their current roles with any other organization.

This is it for both of them. Last chance.

There is an old sports cliché which states a team never wants to face a desperate opponent, because that opponent will do anything to win. Manuel and Minaya are desperate people. When asked by a reported if he was desperate and crazy to bring Mejia north as a reliever, the very honest Manuel has said he “Yeah, I am both of those.”

The Wilpon ownership never should have allowed their GM and field manager to come back for 2010 for the same reason. The Mets M&M boys will do anything to win this season, and that includes ruin the Mets for the future.

The game of baseball is about starting pitching. The teams with the best starters will usually win.

Mejia in the bullpen gives the Mets the best chance to win in 2010, but his bullpen gig in 2010 will hamper the Mets development in future years.

With the injuries last season Minaya did not have good enough replacements in the minors to make the necessary moves to improve a bad situation. He continually spent for free agents trying to win now, and it pushed the Mets into a bad overall organization, similar to a Ponzi scheme.

Like Bernie Madoff** in pulling in more investors to pay older investors, the Mets constantly needed to replenish their older resources (Delgado) with more expensive resources (Bay), in order to win now.

**Ironic how the Mets ownership was moved to keep Minaya and his Ponzi player scheme due to his guaranteed salary in order to save money, when much of their family fortune was lost to the same Ponzi type scheme run by Madoff.

Back in early March when Manuel said that Mejia reminded him of Rivera, with a sharp cutter, people took that as Mejia was going to be the Mets 8th inning guy. With the entire talk surrounding starter vs. reliever, it appears Manuel began to listen (and believe) to all that talk.

The primary reason why starters fail is that they have a limited amount of pitches in their repertoire. Guys like Rivera (and all time saves leader Trevor Hoffman) can become good relief pitchers is they have a master of one or two pitches which translates well to shorter stints in a game. Has Mejia mastered his pitches yet?

Often the second or third time through a lineup as a starter, the lack of different pitches leads to getting hit hard. Mejia has four pitches, including an exploding mid-90’s fastball, and has a cutter, curve and change up. He also can sink the fastball as a fifth pitch.

In seeing him pitch this spring, Mejia needs to get more command of the off speed pitches, and he doesn’t seem to use his curve that much. That shows a lack of feel for the pitch, and is something that can be worked on down in the minors.

Mets starting catcher Rod Barajas said “You’d like to get him more seasoning down there, make him use those pitches. I think he could get major-league hitters out on a regular basis. With that fastball, he definitely can have success. But the second and third time he faces clubs, if they can just sit on one pitch, it’s going to be tough for him.”

Mejia has made hitters look bad this spring, but has faced mostly non starters so far. Up until this past week, Mejia has faced only six hitters who have had over 300 at bats in the major leagues. But the last week or two of spring training is when the regulars are going to play most of the games.

Mejia did not do well yesterday in the Mets game against the Florida Marlins when he faced seven hitters, allowing three hits and a run. That appearance was against the Marlins regulars.

That 1.1 inning appearance is another telling sign that the Mets are going to take Mejia north with them as a reliever. If teams were going to use a pitcher as a starter, they would allow him to throw more innings in each appearance to get him ready for the season.

In developing a starter for the season, a team extends the innings each appearance to allow him to throw at least 5-6 innings in the first regular season start.

However, Mejia has not been extended out, never pitching more than into a second innings in any appearance this spring. He also has been used back to back days this past week, something the Mets would not do unless they were going to use him in the bullpen.

The Mets are in a difficult division, with Philadelphia, Atlanta and Florida all capable of winning the division. While I am not saying the Mets are not in the hunt, they have a lot more questions than the other three teams. Plus, after Johan Santana, their starting pitching stinks.

And when the starting pitching is terrible, you need better starters. No amount of capable relief pitchers will help you win many games. That is why Mejia needs to start the season in Double A to continue his development as a starter. To see if he can replicate the advancements he made the prior season.

While Mejia did well early in the week throwing in back to back games, they were in front of about 6,000 vacationing sunbathers. How will Mejia react to a situation in front of 45,000 serious baseball fans? If Mejia does wilt under the major league New York pressure, will the Mets send him down to Double A and convert him back as a starter?

We shall see. But it would be better for the Mets if Mejia made his major league debut later in 2010 as a called up starting pitcher who dominated Double A, or in 2011 when he is informed by new Mets manager Bobby Valentine that he made the team.

But it shouldn’t be at the beginning of this season as a reliever.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.