Prospect Pulse – The Shortstops

An article by posted on August 30, 2011

When the 2011 MLB season does finally come to a close, it will be time for the Mets to sit down with Reyes’ agents, and try and get a deal done to keep Jose Reyes in Flushing. It has to be a top priority for the front office heading into the off-season, but at the same time, no one is holding a gun to Sandy’s head and telling him to give Jose whatever he wants, either. Cooler heads will prevail, and say what you want about Sandy, he is a pretty cool customer, and he will not over-pay for the injury-prone star SS.

If the unthinkable does happen, and Reyes is lured away by some foolish bunch of yay-whoos like the Nats, with their big fat checkbook and lack of common sense, where would we turn to fill the rather large smoking crater at short? If you look at the list of upcoming free agents for 2012 (the one’s without team or player options), the first thing you notice is, you wouldn’t want any of those guys playing SS for the Mets. You know the guys I’m talking about: Edgar Renteria (35), Orlando Cabrera (37), Alex Gonzalez (34), Clint Barmes (33), Miguel Tejada (38), Jack Wilson (34), Cesar Izturis (32), Omar Infante (30), etc. etc. This list goes on, but it doesn’t get better.

Given the choice of those guys, or Ruben Tejada (21), I think most Mets fans would take their chances with Tejada. Especially with the kind of growth and development he has exhibited over the last year. In 216 AB’s for the Mets in 2010, Tejada was clearly over-matched by big league pitching with an OPS of .588. So far this season in 226 AB’s Tejada has improved his OPS to .702. His strikeouts are the same in each year, but his walks are up by nearly fifty per cent, and he is driving in more runs.

This seems like a good time to analyze the SS position in the Mets farm system and see if it can be ranked good or bad, solid or shaky.

ON THE RISE

Jordany Valdespin - This is a player who has been written about adnausium, including by yours truly, here’s what I wrote about him a few weeks ago:

“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.”

When I wrote that, I wasn’t thinking how different things would look if the team was actually trying to replace Reyes. In this scenario, they would have to give Valdespin a long hard look, and every opportunity to win the job from Tejada, since Valdespin has so much more offensive upside working for him.

Danny Muno - The Mets made Muno their 8th round pick in 2011 out of Fresno St. The 5’11″ 175 lb., 22-year-old middle infielder has nailed down the SS position for the Cyclones this year. He has played solid defense, while showing off a potent bat and destroying NYP pitching to the tune of a .335 BA and an OPS of .931, in 200 AB’s. Muno is a “gamer” who does whatever it takes to win, and should have the inside track in the battle for the starting SS job in Savannah next year.

Another player who has elevated his SS stock this season, has been new-comer Juan Carlos Gamboa. Signed as an IFA out of Mexico in 2010, this 5’7″ 152 lb., lefty swinging 20-year-old SS, has taken to professional baseball in the USA like a duck to water. He started the season in the shortstop rotation for St Lucie, in the GCL. After distinguishing himself by hitting .340 in his first 17 games, he was promoted to rookie level Kingsport of the Appalachian League. Now with 18 games at Kingsport, he is hitting .288, but over his last ten games he is hitting a blistering .368, with a 1.036 OPS during that brief time. Gamboa has a fairly complete game, a good defender with solid range and a plus throwing arm, he runs well, and despite his diminutive size, he shows extra-base power. He will definitely be a long-term project, but one worth keeping an eye on.

GREAT GLOVE, NO HIT

Wilfredo Tovar - Tovar was an IFA in 2007 from Venezuela. At 5’10″ 160 lbs. he is still finding himself at the plate, but with the glove, he has no equal in the entire Mets system. This young man, recently turned 20, can flat out pick it. He has soft hands and quickness, he fluidly ranges far to either direction to reach balls that most shortstops wave at when it goes by them. His arm can make the throws from all the angles, and his ball travels true to the first baseman with consistency and regularity. His errors are still slightly high,15 in 2011, but he is playing in a long season league at the age of 19 and 20, and he absolutely shows great promise. With the bat Tovar had a miserably slow start to his season, but he has worked hard all year, and now with just weeks remaining in the Savannah regular season, he is on fire at the plate. In his last ten games, Tovar is hitting .439, 18 for 41, with 8 runs, 5 2B’s, 1 HR, 6 RBI’s and an OPS of 1.099. The hot streak has raised his season average from .236 to .255 in 467 total AB’s. This strong finish will go a long way toward helping Tovar springboard to the next level, the pitching rich Florida State League in 2012.

Ismael Tijerina - A 22-year-old IFA signing in 2007 from Mexico, Tijernia is a classic good glove, no hit kinda guy. This year he started out as the starter in Brooklyn, but since he is hitting only .233 for the year, was replaced by a much hotter hitting Danny Muno. Time will tell if Tijernia’s bat starts to catch up to his glove, otherwise an organizational back-up is in the cards for him.

Randoll Santana - This 2009 IFA signing out of the Dominican Republic is another very slick fielder with excellent range, soft hands, and a plus arm. As a hitter the 20-year-old Santana, has the potential to drive the ball into the gaps, but first must develop his pitch recognition and learn to hit off-speed pitches. In a little over 100 AB’s this season Santana is hitting just .215 but his fielding percentage at SS is a very promising .969.

DESTINED TO MOVE

The highest ranked prospect on this list is Wilmer Flores, but no one actually believes that Wilmer will remain at shortstop for very much longer. His range is in question, his speed and quickness too, and he doesn’t have the strongest throwing arm in the world. His technique has also been called into question, and experts all seem to think, that a move off of SS for Flores, is not a question of if, as much as it is when. The only real debate is where he should be moved to. Many say 3B is the natural landing spot, where others say that he will only be able to play 1B. Still others say his final home will be a corner outfield spot, perhaps RF. In any case, for him to remain at SS, and continue to progress until he is given the starting job at Citifield one day, is an extreme long-shot.

Another player who will not remain at SS full-time is 2009 3rd round draft pick out of Florida Southern, 23-year-old Robbie Shields. Shields was working his way back from 2009 TJS when he injured his back this year and has been on the DL since July 28th. He is a good hitting infielder but has more value as a utility player than a SS. If he can get back on track after losing so much time in his career to injury, Shields will be used at 2B and 3B, in addition to short. Hopefully he can come back healthy in 2012 because his age combined with all the lost playing time, has hurt him a great deal. He could be running out of time in his Mets career.

Brad Marquez - The Mets went over-slot to draft Marquez with their 16th round draft pick this year, out of Odessa HS (Tex). A two sport athlete, Marquez would only sign with the Mets if they would allow him to honor his commitment to play college football at Texas Tech. In a recent interview with MMO’s Joe D., Marquez confided that although he was drafted as a SS, he would be starting his pro baseball career in the OF.

“I’ve been told that I will start in the outfield and that I was drafted as a center fielder so that’s where I’m going to start out.”

If Marquez does make it to the big leagues, it will not be as a shortstop.

OLD GUY IN A YOUNG GUYS LEAGUE

Brandon Brown - Like Shields, Brown too is an offensive first middle infielder, who will most likely be a utility player, and will play plenty of 2B. His ability to play short combined with his power and hitting ability make him a versatile player and one to keep an eye on as he advances through the minors. This year the 2010 22nd round draft pick from the University of South Alabama, is hitting .325 for Brooklyn with 6 HR’s, 16 RBI’s and an OPS of .887, in 126 AB’s. At 24 years-old, Brown needs to open 2012 in a long season league, and make his move fast, because time is working against him.

TJ Rivera - The 23-year-old infielder is rather old for the rookie leagues, and the non-drafted free agent who grew up in the Bronx has his work cut out for him trying to separate himself from the pack. A utility role could give him added value. He is off to a good start in limited playing time this year, hitting .300 in 130 AB’s between Kingsport and Brooklyn, but will have to break out of the box fast in 2012, or risk being left in the dust.

Justin Schafer - Ditto Justin Schafer, who is working his way back from injury this year. The former 34th round 2010 draft pick out of the UC Davis, despite being 23-years-old, has never played above the short-season level. He also needs to get off to a fast start next year or he’ll be gone as well.

Chad Zurcher - is another player who is hard to gauge at this point in his career. The 2011 31st round draft pick, is another 23-year-old, playing with younger players in the rookie league. In about 100 AB’s he is hitting .286, but will have to show something next year to warrant being kept around.

JURY IS STILL OUT

Carlos Leyva - Was drafted in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft out of Cal State Dominguez Hills. The lefty swinging SS, turned 22 at the beginning of this season, and has had very limited exposure in his first taste of professional baseball. In brief stints with the GCL Mets, Kingsport and Brooklyn this year, Leyva has gotten only 88 AB’s for a combined BA of .227. Next year will be his chance to distinguish himself, as he competes for playing time at the crowded lower levels of the system.

Jorge Rivero - A 6’0″ 183 lb., 22-year-old switch-hitting SS, who was an IFA signing from Cuba in 2011, opened the season in the DSL. After getting off to a good start there, hitting .292 in 37 games, he was promoted stateside and assigned to the GCL Mets. So far Rivero has seen limited playing time, batting .232, with 1 HR and 7 RBI’s in 95 AB’s. Like Leyva, Rivero will be given an opportunity next year, to show what he can do.

NEW KID IN TOWN

Phillip Evans - The Mets also went over-slot to sign their 15th round draft pick in this years’ draft, Phillip Evans, a highly ranked SS out of La Costa Canyon HS, Carlsbad, CA. He signed the day before the deadline for amateur players to sign, and was immediately sent to the GCL to begin his professional career.

At St Lucie he got off to a good start, going 5 for his first 15 AB’s, with 2 2B’s. Since his promotion to Kingsport a few days ago, Evans has gone 2 for 8 with one 2B. Evans is a very talented young shortstop, with tremendous upside, and like Brandon Nimmo, just the kind of young player that the Mets need if they are to build a productive farm system.

FINAL THOUGHTS

With Tejada in the bigs now, and Valdespin, Tovar, Evans and Muno, the Mets do have a little bit of depth at the SS position, particularly in the lower levels of their minor league system. I wouldn’t say the SS situation is bad, although I don’t know if I’d say it was good, or well-stocked either. Probably somewhere in the middle of the pack. However, the next Jose Reyes is not to be found there, and other than Tejada, the rest are still pretty far from the majors. The only one to have played above low A ball is Valdespin, and his defense must undergo a transformation, before the team is willing to put him out there at short in Citifield. All this really only makes one thing crystal clear. The Mets have to resign Jose Reyes. Even if Tejada does continue to improve, he’ll never be able to field like Reyes, and just who is going to bat lead-off? Besides that, can you imagine if the Phrillies signed him?

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