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February 18, 2009
  
Changing Speeds: Will the Mets Slow Down Prospect Timetables?
by: Mike Newman on Feb 18, 2009 7:04 AM | Filed under: Articles

Nothing says spring training like Livan Hernandez and his size-52 pants taking ground balls at half-speed! This spring, Port St. Lucie will be home to the Livan Hernandez circus filled with $2.99 McDonald’s value meals and 500-foot blasts from the opposing team. In weeks past, I’d spend the next 900 or so words blasting the organization for even inviting a player of Hernandez’ ilk to camp. However, seeing Hernandez in Mets blue and orange is actually a welcome sight.

Personally, I’m relieved to know Jonathan Niese is not in competition for a rotation spot. I’m happy the Mets have added enough outfield fillers to allow Nick Evans more development time. Bobby Parnell? Eddie Kunz? What’s the rush?

Now if only the Mets’ slowing down their prospects at upper levels will lead to a trickle-down effect throughout the organization.

When I wrote my piece last week on where the top-20 Mets prospects could end up, my fellow MetsGeek writer James Kannengieser’s response to the piece left me thinking about why I view so many of the Mets’ moves in such a negative light.

Maybe I should simply focus on the Mets’ 25-man roster for 2009 instead of viewing the entire organization as one big depth chart which begins in rookie ball and ends in New York. It would make the idea of signing Francisco Rodriguez much easier to accept since I would not know the Mets drafted enough “future closers” to fill a Ringling Brothers Circus clown car over the past few years.

Maybe Omar Minaya shouldn’t be public enemy number one in my eyes. Maybe that designation should be reserved for Tony Bernazard, whose philosophy of rushing big-time minor league talents makes absolutely no sense and has already proven disastrous in Seattle.

If I were writing about the Texas Rangers who currently sport the best minor league system in baseball, my knowledge of minors would be a blessing. With the Mets’ recent organizational woes, it may very well be a curse.

With that said, are the Mets starting to turn it around? Did the Mets’ brass learn from watching the Yankees hype Phillip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy only to spend $250 million on two starters while still waiting for Chamberlain to throw a season’s worth of innings.

What about Clay Buchholz, the no-hit phenom, whose prospect status was significantly better than Jonathan Niese and still fell on his face to the tune of a 6.75 ERA and 1.76 WHIP?

Soft-hitting shortstop Ruben Tejada fell victim to the Mets’ approach to player development in 2008 as the 19-year old spent the season struggling, and failing to keep his head above water in the Florida State League. It may be a few years until we know whether or not 2008 stunted Tejada’s overall growth as a player, but if he crashes and burns, we will likely know why.

At 20, Fernando Martinez has logged 230 minor league games and less than a thousand minor league at bats, but has close to 600 at bats in Double-A with mixed results. Injuries aside, no one would argue Martinez’ being severely rushed which has left him arguably minor league baseball’s top enigma. As with Tejada, it will be years before we know how much, if any damage speeding up his development curve will cause to his career, but I’ve yet to come across a prospect analyst who thinks it can do anything but harm.

Heading into 2009, I’ll be watching whether Niese being in Triple-A causes a ripple effect throughout the organization and allows Dillon Gee to spend a few more starts in Double-A and Bradley Holt to spend at least half a season in Port St. Lucie before a second-half push.

If the Mets’ signing of veterans to fill the final few spots on the roster spurs the organization to be more careful with top prospects, then my negativity about the farm system will be kept to a minimum all summer. Unfortunately, a good bit of damage has already been done. For the sake of Fernando Martinez, Ruben Tejada, and others, I hope it’s not irreparable.


11 Responses to “Changing Speeds: Will the Mets Slow Down Prospect Timetables?”

  1. Comment posted by Dave in Spain on February 18, 2009 at 10:51 am (#930719)

    Mike- while I disagree with some of your previous pessimistic evaluations, I think this article is dead on. I hope Omar and Co give the prospects time to develop properly this year, instead of pushing them in a headlong rush to NY. Well stated!

  2. Comment posted by JamesSC on February 18, 2009 at 12:25 pm (#930808)

    Yep, I want to say the same thing, I disagreed heavily with your pessimistic evaluations in the past, but I agree heartily that the Mets have rushed too many of their prospects in recent years which really makes no sense considering where we are as a team. I am not as certain I agree with you that it really stunts their longterm approach, but what I think it definitely does is deflate their value outside of the organization for trades and in the fans’ perspective of the player.

    Before last year how far had Pelfrey fallen in the perceived view of him as a player because he was rushed into duty too early in his career. It will cost us money in the long run as he will become an FA earlier and it cost us some of his value as a potential trade chip (which may be a good thing in his case since it caused us to keep him).

    I will disagree with one other point, I don’t find it a bad thing if we have a legion of “potential closers” in our minors, that seems to make a lot of sense to me actually. We have a pretty good and rather young rotation and a lot of bullpen holes, if we have a lot of bullpen depth that will be peppering the team in the next 2-4 years that sounds like a blessing to me.

  3. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on February 18, 2009 at 2:00 pm (#930878)

    ESPECIALLY with F! I still have as much faith in the kid as I can in someone only in Double-A but… rushing him and allowing that rush to turn the NYC media against him and (hence) turn Minaya against him, we just can’t let that happen.

    Even putting aside the fact that he has to be slowed down because of his injury issues, dammit, the plan should’ve been to only trade away one of F/Milledge/Gomez along the way and here we are with only one left.

    Losing one of those guys to get Santana made a lot of sense, of course, but to dump a second of them for basically nothing as forced by a disappointed NYC media… bad news all around.

    This is basically the one offensive chip left in the high minors after a series of weird mistakes. Gotta make F! count.

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  5. Comment posted by Mike Newman on February 18, 2009 at 3:04 pm (#930918)

    Having quality minor league relievers is one thing, but I’ve previously outlined the players the Mets passed up on for guys who will likely never pitch in high leverage situations for the Mets. Top 100 prospects like Andrew Lambo, Jason Donald, and others who were drafted just after the Mets picked one of many relievers. It was terrible handling of a minor league system made to look even worse by their paying 12+ million per to a closer when the spot was supposed to be filled by a high pick.

  6. Comment posted by Dave in Spain on February 18, 2009 at 3:12 pm (#930923)

    lfm- I know you love Milledge, but he hasn´t exactly set the world on fire yet (neither has Gomez). Maybe he will, but Church and Schneider weren´t ¨nothing¨– they are two needed starters. Church outperformed Milledge last year (before his injury). Who knows what will happen next year…
    My beef with Omar was losing Jesus Flores in the draft. He was the best catching prospect we had, and we had two catchers who were up for FA in one years time. How he could not protect Flores is beyond me. Imagine now if we had Flores just starting his career as a regular, instead of a big question mark after the season…

  7. Comment posted by JamesSC on February 18, 2009 at 4:00 pm (#930954)

    My beef with Omar was losing Jesus Flores in the draft. He was the best catching prospect we had, and we had two catchers who were up for FA in one years time. How he could not protect Flores is beyond me. Imagine now if we had Flores just starting his career as a regular, instead of a big question mark after the season…

    I think even Omar would admit that was a definite mistake. We had dead weight galour to let him go.

    Having quality minor league relievers is one thing, but I’ve previously outlined the players the Mets passed up on for guys who will likely never pitch in high leverage situations for the Mets. Top 100 prospects like Andrew Lambo, Jason Donald, and others who were drafted just after the Mets picked one of many relievers. It was terrible handling of a minor league system made to look even worse by their paying 12+ million per to a closer when the spot was supposed to be filled by a high pick.

    I get troubled by this sort of thing because it is ALWAYS easy to see this sort of thing in hindsight. I have no problem with an organizational philosophy where when all things being equal in terms of talent to focus on pitching. Now obviously there were some misreads in the drafts, and I see your overall point, but when you start argueing about specific players after your slot in a draft after a selection that becomes a much bigger gray area to me to argue about.

    Even “perfect” teams are going to miss players on draft day.

  8. Comment posted by Gina on February 18, 2009 at 4:12 pm (#930959)

    I don’t think the problem is focusing on pitching, it’s the type of pitchers they focus on. They seem to focus heavy on quick turn around low upside reliever types. And to be honest while focusing on pitching is a bad thing the success rate for pitchers is a bit lower than with hitters. Too many things can go wrong. I would think teams are better off focusing on hitters, who usually don’t have to worry about the 20 different ligaments in their arm they could destroy.

    Also Gomez’s bat is past awful but his defense is so good it does make up for it. He saved enough runs in the outfield to still be an above average player. And Milledge struggled last year but he still posted a .740 OPS at 23 while struggling from a few injuries, that’s not exactly terrible, and there’s really no reason to think he won’t continue to improve.

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  10. Comment posted by Mike Newman on February 18, 2009 at 4:52 pm (#931018)

    Gina, you are right on!

    As for hindsight, nobody argued these picks were questionable when they were originally made. Looking at who became top 100 prospects is hindsight, but NOBODY thinks players drafted like Smith, Rustich, Kunz, etc. were the right players at the right time. They were considered reaches when much better talents with higher ceilings remained on the board.

  11. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on February 18, 2009 at 8:45 pm (#931103)

    If getting the corpse of Pudge Rodriguez for cheap is a better option than Schneider at this point, he clearly wasn’t worth it and…

    Even though, yes, Milledge is still clearly developing, he’s still charting out as an everyday rightfielder which… I still see no evidence of Church being.

    You traded an everyday rightfielder for a part of a rightfield platoon and a catcher less valuable than a dregs free-agent pick-up a half a week into spring training.

    I consider that to be a failed trade.

    I concede that Milledge might never be a star but his floor is still a serviceable everyday six hitter and… that’s more than the combined value of Church and the Schnide as they’ve showed themselves so far in the orange and blue unis.

  12. Comment posted by argonbunnies on February 19, 2009 at 1:49 pm (#931308)

    Mike, I’m gonna have to out-pessimism you on this one. I agree that it’d be nice if the AAA stockpile of bodies caused the Mets to keep their younger guys on reasonable paces, but I don’t see it happening. The Mets have been consistently bombarding F! with “you’ll be in the big leagues soon!” talk to the point where he’s completely bought into it. He said in the D.R. that he figures he’s going to AAA, but with a good spring, who knows, maybe the majors? This for a kid who didn’t exactly tear up AA.

    So now the Mets have a choice between:
    a) Risking F!’s development by taking him out of AA before he’s learned to control the strike zone, identify breaking balls, hit breaking balls, and hit lefties. I think the pitchers in AAA have better secondary stuff and are better at hitting the edges of the zone, so who knows whether F! even has the foundation to build off of for that challenge.
    b) Risking F!’s confidence by shocking him with a “demotion” to repeat AA.

    The obvious solution is to choose (b) and explain it to F! in clear terms that won’t leave him worrying and doubting. But when have we seen the Minaya administration do anything like that?

  13. Comment posted by argonbunnies on February 19, 2009 at 1:54 pm (#931311)

    Odds that a given drafted relief pitcher prospect will ever be much better than the relievers who can be had for peanuts off the scrap heap every year: small.

    Payoff for beating the odds and having an avg-to-good reliever instead of an avg-to-bad one: also small.

    Chance that a Kunz will turn into the next Mo Rivera: not worth mentioning.

    DON’T DRAFT RELIEF PROSPECTS. Just sign a Rudy Seanez to fill out your pen, and use your picks on players with better combos of odds and upside.

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