Adam Rubin of the Daily News has been covering the Mets since 2003. He also writes extensively about the Mets minor league prospects for Baseball America. For the third straight year, he takes some time to answer a few questions for Mets Merized Online. Please check out his blog, Surfing The Mets for the latest Mets news.
1. I really loved your piece on Wilmer Flores the other day. My first question focuses on the Mets minor leagues. Do the Mets have a “catcher of the future” in the system, and if so, when can we expect to see him?
Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro are both free agents after the 2009 season, and it looks like the Mets will have to go outside the system next offseason if they want to upgrade. Mike Nickeas, who came from the Rangers a few years ago in exchange for Victor Diaz, was the top defensive catcher in the system last season, but he hit just .210 in 214 at-bats between Triple-A New Orleans and Double-A Binghamton. The top two prospects are Francisco Pena, Tony’s son, and Josh Thole. Dock Doyle, taken in last year’s draft, also has impressed as a hitter. Pena is still a teenager, and was just at low-A Savannah last season. He hit .264 in his second season with the Sand Gnats, but has underwhelmed. Pena’s throws to second are fairly accurate. But while he’s been timed as quick as 1.90 to 1.95 seconds on occasion throwing to second base, he has widely inconsistent ranges. Pena’s weight also has been an issue, though reports from the instructional league suggested Pena made dramatic improvements in his physical shape. Thole is a great story. He was a catcher in high school in Illinois, but was more of a first baseman in the Mets’ system. When Sean McCraw struggled at the plate to open the St. Lucie season, Thole got a chance to start and ended up being a Florida State League All-Star while hitting .300. Thole should start at Double-A Binghamton this year. Because he’s inexperienced behind the plate, he has significant work to do to catch up technique-wise.
2. It seems like the Mets are serious about having Jon Niese as the fifth starter to open the season. What is the backup plan for Niese if he initially fails and gets sent down to AAA, much like Pelfrey did in his rookie year?
Mets officials have said they intend to bring in a low-cost pitcher in January, whether that’s on a minor-league contract or one that allows for being cut in spring training with the Mets only on the hook for 30 or 45 days pay. Bobby Parnell should be a factor, too, though he’s projected to wind up in the bullpen. I imagine Nelson Figueroa would be on the fringes of that competition as well, though I’m sure they’d pursue a trade in spring training if it came to that.
3. Currently, Pedro Feliciano is the only lefty in the Mets bullpen. We have been hearing all the Derek Lowe and Oliver Perez rumors, but absolutely nothing regarding another left handed reliever. Will the Mets promote from within to fill the need or do they have their sights set on a potential trade target or free agent?
I asked Mets officials during the winter meetings whether they intended to bring in another lefthander once Scott Schoeneweis is dealt, especially considering the division has players such as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. I bet it’s a consideration, but they seemed to indicate one lefthander would be passable considering they should be able to lock down the eighth and ninth innings with J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez and will be less reliant on matchups. They’re going to have to sign someone at least to sit at Triple-A Buffalo, though. Beyond, say, Mike Antonini, who was a starter at Double-A Binghamton last season, I’d have trouble identifying left-handers in the upper levels of the system. Even Willie Collazo is gone, having signed with the Marlins. I’d have to check on Adam Bostick’s status.
4. Will the new stadium be as friendly to pitchers as Shea was, and is there any word on whether it will favor lefthanded or right-handed hitters?
The hope was that Citi Field would be a comparable pitchers’ park to Shea, even though the walls are much more quirky. The Mets quietly brought David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans there late in the season for a batting practice session to make sure the balls were traveling as intended, since it’s hard to predict. Jeff Wilpon told me that they can put up padding atop the walls, where the railings are, to add about five feet in height if it’s too hitter-friendly.
5. You have been covering the Mets for a long time now. You’ve seen well over a couple of dozen different players in left and right field, going all the way back to the days of Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Roger Cedeno. What’s your take on Ryan Church as the everyday right fielder, and the Tatis/Murphy platoon in left for 2009?
Ryan Church, before the second concussion, was making a case to be the Mets’ MVP. I suspect he’ll be fine with an offseason without trauma. Whether Fernando Tatis can duplicate last year’s performance is a question even some Mets officials have, though obviously you can’t know 100% that Daniel Murphy is going to continue at last year’s level either. I’d be more concerned about left field. But there will be Fernando Martinez and Nick Evans sitting at Triple-A Buffalo. And if the Mets need to make a trading-deadline maneuver, that’s doable.