Prospect Pulse: Arizona Fall League

An article by posted on September 26, 2011

When the Mets announced their 2011 entries in the Arizona Fall League recently, people said, “Who are these guys?” and “Aren’t the Mets supposed to send their best prospects to the AFL?” Well frankly, they did. At least in nearly every case they sent the best prospects that they could.

The Mets apparent strategy in selecting this year’s participants, entails sending guys who are on the verge of a breakthrough year. Players who had good or great years in 2011 and seem poised to move quickly. They are also using it as a tool to showcase certain players that they are trying to make decisions on regarding the 40-man roster.

The Mets are permitted to send three pitchers, and three position players. They will all be playing for the Peoria Javelinas, managed by 2011 St. Lucie manager, Pedro Lopez. Let’s take a look at a few top guys they sent home instead, and the six players who were selected to go:

OUTFIELD

Juan Lagares had a bust out year in 2011 that has been well documented on this site. There is no more deserving OF prospect, and none with a hotter hand right now than Juan Lagares, coming off the year he just had. In two stops, St. Lucie (A+), and Binghamton (AA), Lagares batted .349.

No other OF prospect came close to his numbers except “Captain” Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who finished the year on the DL recovering from labrum surgery on his shoulder. FMart was a non-factor this year, also ending the year on the DL. Cory Vaughn (.255 in A ball), Cesar Puello (.259 in A ball), and Matt Den Dekker (.235 at AA) all had poor seasons. Sean Ratliff was injured in ST and missed the entire season. Darrell Ceciliani had a fabulous season, but in low A ball.

The hope is that Lagares will use a successful 2011 season to his advantage when he gets to the AFL, and use a positive performance there as a springboard into 2012 at AAA Buffalo. They also have a decision to make on whether to add Lagares to the 40- man roster, or expose him in the Rule 5 Draft, where he would likely be lost to another team.

CATCHER

Perhaps the weakest position in the Mets minor league system, the team elected not to send any backstops to Arizona this year.

SECOND BASE

Initially the Mets chose Reese Havens to go to Arizona, but he was a late scratch. The reason is a little complicated but it actually makes a lot of sense as far as the player’s development and future health. Havens 2010 season was ruined by oblique injuries. A second opinion during the off-season determined that Havens had a problem with two of his ribs grating on each other and that was what caused his problems in 2010. The solution was to remove a short section of rib with surgery last winter. Havens claims it was his inability to work out last off-season, and do any baseball activities, that kept him from getting into baseball shape for the 2011 season. This led to soreness and back issues which landed him on the DL in the middle of the season.

He came back late in the year and played everyday down the stretch, but when the season was over he had lost about 20 lbs. and it was decided that he needed to devote the entire off-season into getting strong again, putting back the weight, and working on endurance, strength, and stamina. He was replaced in Arizona by a young shortstop, which was a surprise to some.

SHORTSTOP

Another weak position in the Mets system. There was really only three possible candidates for the high level of play in the AFL. Jordany Valdespin who is not nearly good enough as a fielder at this time to be considered an everyday shortstop in the bigs. He also has serious attitude issues that has necessitated disciplinary action by the Mets in each of his minor league seasons so far, including this year when he was disciplined several times by Wally Backman,and was dogging it in front of Tim Teufel late in the year at Buffalo. It might be as simple as the team not wanting to reward him for playing a non-hustling, arrogant style of baseball.

Wilmer Flores had an uninspiring year at St. Lucie, and is expected to be moved off shortstop any time now. The player chosen to replace Havens is Wifredo Tovar who, of these three, profiles to have the best chance of making the major leagues as a shortstop, depending on the development of his bat. Tovar has a pretty decent glove, and as a 20-year-old in low A ball, hit a modest .251 this year, but was hitting much better by the end of the season. The Mets thinking in challenging Tovar in the AFL is that perhaps they can accelerate Tovar’s development next season. They are also trying to decide if they should add him to the 40-man roster, and are hoping they have another Ruben Tejada on their hands. Sending Tovar to Arizona is a calculating decision to jump-start a premium position that has very little organizational depth.

THIRD BASE

Jefry Marte toiled for the 2009 and 2010 seasons at Savannah, low A. His development those years was moving forward at a snail’s pace, as he hit .233 and .264 respectively. His 2011 season at St. Lucie doesn’t knock your eyes out on paper, but his overall game got much stronger. He made modest improvements in his fielding, going from a horrendous fielder to just a really bad fielder. But he hit with a small amount of consistency for the entire season, avoiding the huge slumps that befell him so often in the past. He finished hitting .248 in 283 AB’s, with career highs in Hits, 2B’s, HR’s (7), RBI’s (54), SB’s, and walks. He also had a greatly improved CS rate, caught only twice with 14 stolen bases. The thinking here is probably to get Marte a positive experience against top competition so that he doesn’t spend a second year at St. Lucie next year. Like Lagares and Tovar, Marte is another player who must be added to the 40-man roster this winter or be left unprotected.

The Mets highest ranked 3B prospect is Aderlin Rodriguez, but after a season in which he hit only .221 at Savannah, he was not even considered for the fall league.

STARTERS

Collin McHugh split his season between St. Lucie and Bingo, going a combined 9-4 with a 3.84 ERA. In 2010 McHugh tossed a total of 132 IP, but when the 2011 season ended, he had only thrown 129 IP. The Mets must feel a need to “stretch him out” a bit and would likely hope to see him make an additional 3 or 4 starts for Peoria.
McHugh must also be added to the big league 40-man roster this winter, or be left unprotected, so the additional starts will help in evaluating him.

Taylor Whitenton went 5-5 this season, with a 2.49 ERA, which led the South Atlantic League. Despite putting himself on the prospect map with his performance, he only accumulated 112 IP for the year. After throwing 110 innings in 2010, 112 are just not enough to build arm-strength, so an additional 6 starts will go towards getting him up to the 135 to 150 innings plateau.

Matt Harvey was not sent to Arizona, most likely because he threw what was for him a career high 135 IP this year, and the Mets don’t want him to get any more work in. After an off-season of rest, Harvey will be on pace to throw 150 to a 165 IP next year.

Jeurys Familia also will not be in Arizona, even though he only pitched 124 innings this year. He missed nearly a month of the season with elbow tendonitis. Therefore, the Mets are going to be very cautious with him and see that he gets his rest this winter.

RELIEVERS

The selection of RHP Erik Turgeon to fill the third pitcher spot for the Mets, is totally mystifying to me. Considering they had other reliever choices like Brad Holt, Rhiner Cruz, Josh Stinson, and Erik Niesen.

Perhaps the recent 50-game suspension of pitcher Brandon Moore, who was supposed to pitch in Arizona, for testing positive for an “abusive drug”, left the Mets in a lurch to find someone last minute. But Turgeon?

He was a virtual workhorse out of the Bingo pen in 2011, throwing 73 innings. But his record was a pedestrian 5-4 with a 5.33 ERA, his H/9 was 11.3, and his K/9 a lowly 6.4. The 24-year-old will be left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft this winter.

NOTE

The AFL kicks off the 2011 season on October 4th, and the season ends with the championship game on November 19th.

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