You don’t typically think of January as being an exciting month for the New York Mets, or for baseball as a sport in general. This January, however, has been really exciting in terms of the potential future of the Mets organization, as MLB prospect list season has smiled upon them this year.
I’ve spent this month going through multiple top prospects lists, and while no two opinions are the same, the overall optimism about the Mets’ farm system is present throughout for many minor league talent evaluators.
I looked specifically at the great work done by Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo on MLB.com, John Sickels on MinorLeagueBall.com, Jason Parks on BaseballProspectus.com, and Keith Law on ESPN.com. (The last of which requires an ESPN Insider subscription to view.)
All of them seem to agree that 6’6 right-hander Noah Syndergaard (left in the photo above) is the jewel of the Mets system entering 2014. Both he and catcher Travis d’Arnaud came to the Mets from Toronto in the R.A. Dickey trade last winter, fondly remembered on the Daily Stache here.
The two ex-Blue Jays farmhands have been pretty much universally regarded as the top two prospects in the Mets’ system, and two of the better prospects in all of baseball. However, the overall depth and quality of the Mets farm system is now as good as it’s been in a long time.
Callis and Mayo had three Mets in their top 100 prospects list on MLB.com, as did Jason Parks on BaseballProspectus.com’s top 101. John Sickels did not do a top overall list, but gave three Mets prospects a B+ grade or better, and Law actually had a whopping five Mets in his top 100.
Syndergaard and d’Arnaud were the top two on all four lists, and two of the lists had right-hander Rafael Montero (center in the photo above) third. Law had outfielder Brandon Nimmo (right in the photo above) on his top 100 list, while Parks had infielder Wilmer Flores as his third Met instead of Montero.
Syndergaard was the lone Met prospect to get an “A- (borderline A)” grade from Sickels, who said he “loves” the big righty and can see him being a number two starter in the majors, which is a high ceiling for any prospect. Callis and Mayo said that the young man nicknamed “Thor” has “potential to be a frontline starter” and “on track to follow the path Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler blazed to Queens as soon as this summer.”
Ranked #11 overall by MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus, Law ranked Syndergaard #24 overall, saying he’s “at least a quality third starter” already who still has room for further improvement. I think it’s fair to expect Syndergaard to make his MLB debut in June.
Travis d'Arnaud, who made his MLB debut late last season and will be the Mets' primary catcher this year, is still rookie-eligible and still one of the top catching prospects in baseball. Callis and Mayo ranked d'Arnaud #22 overall, praising his pitch framing abilities and agility behind the plate on defense. However, his bat is what makes him a special player, and the MLB.com guys expect him to hit for average and for power in the Majors.
Sickels gave d’Arnaud a “B+ (borderline A-)” grade, saying that he expects d’Arnaud to be “a solid major league starting catcher with power and good defense” while cautioning that the batting average and on-base percentage could be a little erratic. Parks ranked d’Arnaud #48, and Law had him #36.
Law said he’d be top-10 if not for injury-shortened seasons in the past, calling him an “impact player on both sides of the ball." Law praised d'Arnaud's “outstanding” receiving and pitch-framing skills, and his above-average power and throwing arm. Keeping things in perspective, Law said that even a catcher who hits .240 with power and premium defense is still a highly valuable commodity, and he thinks d’Arnaud may hit 20-25 home runs per season.
Interestingly enough, just one spot after d’Arnaud on Law’s list was 18-year-old first base prospect Dominic Smith, who the Mets drafted just seven months ago in the 2013 draft. Law called Smith the best pure hitter in that draft class, and he praised Smith's defense, giving his defense a grade of 70 out of a possible 80. While most players his age usually go to short-season ball (Brooklyn, in the Mets’ case), Smith may go straight to full season A-ball due to his advanced approach on both sides of the ball.
It’s hard not to be really excited about Smith, who even if he’s a fast riser still won’t be in the big leagues until late 2016 or opening day 2017, when he’d be 21 years old. Callis said that he “loves” his bat and that Smith was “very close” to making his top 100, while Parks said that the 18-year-old was “in the mix” for his top 101 already as well. Sickels gave Smith a “B” grade and said that “sources I trust are enthralled with his pure hitting skills.” Sickels said that when a player of Smith’s skill-set max out, they turn into Keith Hernandez-type players, whereas James Loney might be a more conservative comparison for such a young player who still has a lot of chapters to write in his story.
Right-hander Rafael Montero has been a fast riser through the Mets farm system since signing with the Mets as a 20-year-old in 2011. That’s usually considered very old by international prospects standards, but what he lacked in youth and experience he more than made up for in polish and poise. Montero was in A-ball as recently as 2012, yet he finished 2013 with eight straight dominant performances in Triple-A Las Vegas.
Montero has excellent command of his pitches, and that’s helped put him on the map as MLB.com’s 85th ranked prospect overall and Keith Law’s 60th. Sickels gave him “B+ (borderline A-)” grade, saying that “it’s really hard to do what he did at Las Vegas,” giving him number three starter potential. He could make his MLB debut in June, soon after Syndergaard does.
The last prospect that was on the radar of these top prospects lists is Wilmer Flores, the 22-year-old hitter without a true defensive position that made his MLB debut last season. His inability to really play a position on a National League team really hampers him, but Jason Parks ranked him #71 overall on his top 101, as he’s higher on his overall potential than most. Sickels ranked Flores sixth among his top 20 Mets prospects, and he’s probably around the next 50 or so on the other lists, if they were to go that far.
Law said that Flores, catcher Kevin Plawecki and outfielder Cesar Puello were in his “just missed” range, as he seems to be higher on the Mets’ overall farm system than most. In fact, just three years after ranking the Mets’ farm system 26th out of 30 in all of baseball, Law ranked the Mets sixth overall in 2014.
Even though the postseason seems out of the Mets’ grasp right now, a turnaround over the next few seasons doesn’t seem unreasonable. Last year, three of the Mets’ top four minor-league affiliates made the postseason. Triple-A Las Vegas and Double-A Binghamton won division titles, while A-ball Savannah won their league championship.
January has been kind to the Mets in 2014. Hopefully, with the talent they've got in their farm system and the talent that's already graduated up to the Majors, future Octobers will be kind to them as well.