Prospect Pulse: Left-Handed Hitters

An article by posted on August 21, 2011

There has been quite a bit of discussion on MMO about the drafting of Brandon Nimmo. Some fans are happy about the pick and think Sandy did right to draft the lefty swinging, 18-year-old CF from Wyoming. Others criticize the pick, calling him a “reach,” some wanted the Mets to draft a high-ceiling catcher, Blake Swihart’s name came up in quite a few comment threads. Others screamed that with a draft so deep in pitching, how could we even think about taking anything but a pitcher? Especially with pitchers Jed Bradley, Sonny Gray, Matt Barnes and Taylor Guerrieri, still available when the Mets drafted at 13.

I can see the wisdom in taking a top level pitching prospect, and under the right circumstances, I could see wisdom in drafting a catcher with the first pick. However, there is one area of the Mets minor league system that needs a makeover just as badly as any other, and that area is left-handed run production. The Mets aren’t known for a lot of things, but one thing they really aren’t known for, is producing left-handed hitters. Of course there is Ike Davis, and the newly minted big Duda. But what about before that? The last homegrown left-handed power hitter was Darryl Strawberry, and before that, “The Hammer” John Milner.

The Mets have had some great left-handed hitters in their history but most were acquired by trade or free agency, and some were actually switch hitters, like Hojo, Lee Mazzilli, and Beltran. There was Rusty Staub, Keith Hernandez, Robin Ventura, and John Olerud, all great lefties and run producers, and all developed by other organizations. How does it look in the Mets farm system right now? If you look at the hitting in the upper levels of the system today, the thing that stands out overall, is the lack of quality left-handed hitters. Here take a look, these are the best ones:

The Power Guys

Reese Havens - Since the Mets made Havens their second, 1st round pick in the 2008 draft (after Ike Davis, and 22nd overall), everybody has heard what a great hitter this guy is. Many call him the second coming of Rogers Hornsby. There’s just been two problems with Havens so far. First he couldn’t stay at his native position of shortstop, because of his lack of range and foot speed, so he was moved to 2B at the start of 2010. Second, he can’t stay on the field, he is constantly injured and has averaged only 50 games, and 186 AB’s per season over his four minor league seasons. He has a lifetime .269/.367/.460 slash line, which shows some promise and pop, for a second baseman. If only he can stay on the field, the numbers say he could be something special.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis - Captain Kirk, as he is affectionately known to Mets fans, was one of the “fast risers” in the Mets system before he injured the labrum of his non-throwing shoulder while making a diving catch in June. Before that he was considered the Mets best outfield prospect, and a borderline 5-tool guy. Some wondered whether his speed would be adequate for CF, and if he did have to move to a corner OF spot in the big leagues, would his power warrant playing in a power position such as RF? In 1500 lifetime minor league AB’s over four seasons, Captain Kirk has a slash line of .280/.354/.465. The key to his further development, once he recovers from surgery, is to cut down on his strikeouts. His lifetime K/BB ratio of 388/159 indicates just how far he needs to go. Chances are, a strong start to 2012, and he could be called up to the big club by mid-season.

Fernando Martinez - You know this guy. They are going to rename the Disabled List after him. Not only has FMart, been on the DL like forty times for his career, (he’s already been on it three or four times this season alone), but he seems to have reached a plateau, at AAA, at age 22. This is his second injury plagued season at Buffalo, and at the time of his most recent DL stint, he was hitting a mere .260 with 8 HR’s and 30 RBI’s. The guy has chronic bad knees, and he has totally stalled in his development. I think it’s time for Sandy to either trade him, or if that isn’t possible, simply pull the plug on this ill-fated, sci-fi experiment.

Allan Dykstra - This is the player Sandy got from San Diego in exchange for “Fast” Eddie Kunz, before the season began. He came with the label a “poor man’s Lucas Duda.” The 6’5″, former 2008 1st round draft pick of San Diego, did not play much after signing in 2008, but has now logged 3 full minor league seasons, and is presently playing 1B for Bingo, in AA. For his minor league career, Dykstra’s slash line looks like: .242/.387/.424. At the same point in his minor league career, Duda’s stats compared favorably to Dykstra’s except BA, where Duda was around 20 points higher. Dykstra obviously has a lot of power, 17 HR’s and 67 RBI’s in 345 AB’s at Bingo this year attest to that, and his 66 walks show a pretty good eye at the plate. The big problem is holes in his swing, as his 116 strikeouts so far this year clearly indicate. If he can close those holes up a bit, he could become a very interesting prospect one day soon.

The Top of the Order Guys

These players really don’t compare favorably to Nimmo. These are table-setters, not middle of the order guys, but they have offensive upsides from the left side of the plate, so let’s take a quick look at them too:

Jordany Valdespin – well you can’t say it hasn’t been exciting to follow the madcap escapades of this 2007 IFA signing out of the Dominican Republic. His stellar hitting talents have never been in doubt, but what’s between his ears has. He has been suspended repeatedly over the course of his minor league career, as disciplinary actions, for not listening to his coaches, arguing with his coaches, not hustling, and generally behaving like a child. Now 23 years old, he was just rewarded for a fabulous offensive season at Bingo by being called up to AAA Buffalo. This season, he has already surpassed his best career stats in every single offensive category except 3B’s and OBP. In 445 AB’s he is hitting .288, with 62 Runs, 128 Hits, 27 2B’s, 3 3B’s, 15 HR’s, 52 RBI’s, 206 TB’s and a .463 SLG. He has also chipped in 33 SB’s, but has also been caught stealing 16 times! His hitting ranks very high for a middle infielder, but until he can cut down on his errors, 32 in 117 games this year, he will remain at AAA. Hopefully the behavioral problems will end with maturity, otherwise a trade will be the final act in “Spin’s” Met career.

Matt Den Dekker – Den Dekker was the Mets 2010 5th round draft pick, out of the University of Florida. He started this, his second pro season, at St Lucie, high A. After 267 AB’s and a .296 BA, he was promoted at mid-season to Bingo. He started out in AA struggling mightily, and only recently has begun to hit the way he is capable. After 210 AA AB’s, he is hitting .245 with 8 HR’s and 25 RBI’s, but is hitting .290 over his last ten games. The biggest problem for him is the strikeout. In 477 total AB’s this season, he has struck out a staggering 134 times, with only 47 walks, for an OBP of .347. Den Dekker is a very good fielding center-fielder, but if he is going to keep climbing the ladder he must cut way down on his strikeouts, increase his walks, and thereby bring up what is an abysmal OBP for a lead-off hitter.

Darrell Ceciliani – This 21 year-old center-fielder, who the Mets made their 4th round draft pick out of Columbia Basin Community College (Wash) in 2009, is still very raw, and if he does reach the majors, it won’t be before 2014. This year he has been the Savannah Sand Gnats everyday center-fielder. In three full seasons, (two short season, and this one) he has amassed 800 lifetime minor league AB’s, with a lifetime .283 BA. He has a .358 OBP, and a .403 SLG%, but his problem so far has also been too many K’s. His K/BB ratio reads: 173/78, and for a lead-off hitter those numbers need to improve.

Final Thoughts

I don’t know about you, but there is nothing here that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, in regards to future left-handed power bats coming up through the system. Apparently we are just as much in need, in that respect, as we are with pitching and catching. When you consider this, the Nimmo pick doesn’t look quite so crazy. As for these guys listed above, if I had to bet the house on one of them making it, I would say Captain Kirk is the closest to being a “safe bet”. He’s definitely the most complete, and “polished” player here. Havens would be second if he can just stay healthy. The rest are players with flaws, and how they address those issues will determine if they ever do find success in the bigs. As for Nimmo, I for one am glad he’s a Met. Very few other players drafted this year, had the same skill set and the high grades that Nimmo had, he was very unique in this draft, and a lot of other teams wanted him. Within two years he could very well be our number one prospect, and in one year he may exhibit as much upside, as anyone else in the system.

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