With September here, and the 2011 baseball season slipping from their grasp, the Mets find themselves on the outside looking in at the play-off picture, for the fifth season in a row. Despite the Amazin’s winning 7 of their last 8 games, they are completely out of contention, and will likely be playing out the string, without making much of a whimper. It’s another depressing season for Mets fans, and will more than likely be a long and frustrating winter as well. Whether Sandy Alderson and Co. will add to the payroll, to keep Reyes, and perhaps even acquire some significant players to help fill some of the many holes on the roster, is up for conjecture. Inquiring minds want to know. But with the Einhorn deal falling through, something tells me, that all the money coming off the books this year will not be invested back into the team.
We will pretty much be left to our own devices to improve this team, and at least for the next year, any additions will likely be made by bringing up players from the farm. They’re cheap, which appeals to the Wilpons, and they play hard, which appeals to the front office and fans. But do they represent an improvement, or another season of slow, gradual rebuilding?
Regardless, every year we rely heavily on our minor leagues to provide replacements when players go down. Lets see if there is any “in house” help on the horizon. What I’ve done here is projected the Buffalo Bison’s 2012 Opening Day roster, barring trades and injuries of course, and I have presumed AAA promotions to: Gronauer, Dykstra, Havens and Reyes, and starting pitchers: Harvey, Familia, and McHugh.
2012 BUFFALO BISONS – POSITION PLAYERS
Mike Nickeas - After hitting .283 at Bingo in 2010, Nickeas has only hit .214 in 200 AAA AB’s. He never figured to hit much, but the organization loves the way he handles young pitchers, calls games, plays defense, and mentors younger catchers. No doubt he will be the first back-stop called up next year if anything befalls either of the two big league catchers (whoever they are). Nickeas was called up Thursday to fill in for the banged-up Josh Thole.
Kai Gronauer - The 24-year-old German back-stop is known for his defense, game calling, and throwing out would-be base-stealers. His bat has lagged a little behind in his developmental curve because he has only been playing baseball for 9 years. But 2010 was a breakthrough season for him as a hitter, when he hit .291 combined between Savannah, and St Lucie. 2011 in AA started slowly for Kai at the plate and then he went down in early May with a bad hamstring injury that cost him three months of the season. He’s been back about a month and is hitting .248 in 149 AB’s. He could be kept back in Bingo for the start of 2012, but with no real talent at the catching position in the upper levels of the farm system, he has a fairly unimpeded path to the starting catcher job at AAA. All he needs to do is stay healthy and hit a little bit and he may be making his debut this year at Citifield. I guess that would make him the first German national to play for the Mets, no? Actually, no, I mean yes, he is the first German national to play for the Mets. The great Tobi Stoner was born in Germany, but his parents were in the millitary, and he’s a US citizen. The first German born Met player, was Ron Gardenhire. Yes, that Ron Gardenhire.
Allan Dykstra - The 6’5″ slugging lefty is enjoying a marvelous season in the run production categories at Bingo. In 378 AB’s he is hitting .259 with 17 HR’s and 71 RBI’s (9th in the EL). His OPS is a healthy .844, but with a K/BB ratio of 128/69, (8th in the league in striking out, 5th place in the EL in walks) it’s easy to see where he needs to improve. He needs to cut way down on his strikeouts, and until he does, he will remain in the minors. In order for Dykstra to procure the starting job in Buffalo next year, he will have to unseat the King. The legendary Valentino Pascucci has been handling the positon ever since Nick Evans went to the big leagues for good. Val is leading the team in HR’s with 21 (6th in the league), and RBI’s with 91 (2nd in the league), not to mention AB’s: 430, runs: 58, hits: 112, 2B’s: 29, TB’s: 206, walks: 75 (2nd in the league) and K’s: 143.
Josh Satin - Satin continues to hit at every level he plays and has a .307 BA for his career, his lifetime OBP is .397. This season, split between AA and AAA, his slash line is .322/.411/.493. He is a September call-up for the Mets, and has been added to the 40 man roster, so we should get to see his debut any day now at Citi. Next year he should be in the ST mix as a back-up 1B-2B-3B and PH, but with Evans blocking his path, he will probably spend 2012 as insurance for the big club, as he works on his defense at AAA, while playing 1B, 2B, and 3B.
Reese Havens - Havens will be embroiled in a fierce competition for the Mets 2B job in 2012. If they manage to retain Jose Reyes, the inside edge for 2B goes to Ruben Tejada, with Justin Turner, Daniel Murphy, Jordany Valdespin, and Havens all vying for the job. On natural ability and a balanced game, Havens may be the best baseball player here. His sweet left-handed stroke, is ideal for not just hitting, but hitting for power. And being a natural shortstop, he has made a fairly seamless transition to 2B. He just needs to stay healthy in order to open some eyes, and he could force his way into the picture anytime in 2012.
Jordany Valdespin - Not to beat a dead horse, as I recently described Valdespin in detail, in both the LH hitter post, and the Shortstop post, so all I’m going to say about him is since he is finishing this year at Buffalo, it makes perfect sense for him to man shortstop there next year. As far as him being able to help the Mets next year, the question right now is whether he can improve enough in three areas to warrant a call-up to the bigs. First he needs to cut down on his errors, second he needs to stop getting caught stealing so much, even if it means running less often, and third the coaching staff must decide that he has left his lack of maturity issues behind for good.
Zach Lutz - What do I want for xmas? I want Zach Lutz to play a full season with no injuries, just to see what kind of numbers he can put up. The guy absolutely rakes, but he has been snake-bit with injuries. He would have been perfect to call up once DWright went down, but Lutz was on the DL the same time Wright was. If he can stay on the field next season he is just a phone call away from Citi and could be called up anytime to play 1B, 3B, or righty PH duties.
Luis Figueroa – It could be Luis Hernandez too, they are both having good seasons at Buffalo this year and would both be stable veteran influences on the youngsters in the Herd infield. Either one could play infield at Citi, in an emergency.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis - Captain Kirk returns from labrum surgery on his left shoulder, hopefully doesn’t miss a beat, and picks up right where he left off before his injury last May. The hope is that since the injury was to his non-throwing shoulder that his return will be sooner rather than later. At the time he went down he was the best player on the Buffalo squad, hitting .298, with a .908 OPS. His task at the time was to cut down on his strikeouts, and as soon as he makes progress in that regard he will be ready for prime time.
Raul Reyes – Reyes has enjoyed a breakout season this year achieving career highs in every offensive category except 3B’s and walks. He is finishing the year at Buffalo and next year will have the chance to unseat FMart and send him to the bench, or at the very best DH. If he is able to win a starting job for the Herd, and can manage to cut down on his strikeouts, Reyes could be ready to debut at Citi next year also.
FMart - What can you say about a guy who visits the DL as often as he does? The honeymoon may very well be over. Alas Fernando, we hardly knew ye! Good luck, wherever you wind up.
Juan Lagares - 2011 has been a breakout season for Lagares in the truest sense of the word. After totally demolishing the Florida State League in the first half, with a .338/.380/.494 slash line, he went to Bingo and started hitting even better, to the tune of .376/.397/.523. He is off to the Arizona Fall League after the regular season, and barring a total meltdown, should be starting in LF for the Herd next year. This guy is coming very fast now and has a well-rounded game. It may sound like a broken record, but there is no reason why he can’t break-in at Citi sometime next year too.
Brahiam Maldonado - Expect Maldonado to get plenty of AB’s out of the DH spot for the Herd next year. He has nothing left to prove at AA. This year he is 2nd in the Eastern League in HR’s with 28. Sixth in TB’s with 214, 8th in RBI’s with 74. What hurts is his .224 BA, and 142 strikeouts, (3rd in the league). No way will he be called up to the Mets next year, not with all the OF help in front of him.
Mike Baxter - Baxter was a solid pick-up for the new regime. He filled in with the big club until very recently, and should be brought back up in September. Look for him to provide depth for Buffalo and the big club again in 2012.
2012 BUFFALO BISONS – STARTING ROTATION
SP1: Matt Harvey - I can’t believe I’m projecting Harvey to be the “ace” at AAA already, after only one year of pro ball, but his performance at AA this year has been gaining momentum and he seems up for the challenge. After completely dominating the Florida State League in the first half, he was promoted to AA Bingo at the end of June. It was then that he ran into his first adversity as a professional, losing his first three Eastern League decisions, and getting knocked around pretty good. But being the perfectionist that he is, Harvey was quick to adjust to the league, and turned a corner with his start on July 28th. Since that night, in his last six starts, he is 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA. In 34 IP, he has given up 25 hits, and only 1 HR, and his K/BB ratio is 34/11. Harvey will get one more start this season, which will bring his innings total to nearly 140, about 65 of which were at AA. With his advanced pitching capability, and ability to make quick adjustments, I don’t think it’s a stretch to see him opening the season with Buffalo. Considering how far Harvey has progressed in his first year, his first start at Citi can’t be that far off.
SP2: Jeurys Familia - With 22 GS this season, split between St Lucie (6 starts), and Bingo (16 starts with one remaining), Familia has shown why he is one of the four top pitchers in the Mets system. Frequently hitting triple digits with his fastball is no small feat for a young starting pitcher. And while the team is trying to bring him along slowly, how can they not start him at Buffalo next year, the way he has simply dominated the hitters in AA? The Mets will add him to the quickly filling up 40-man roster this winter, and he may force their hand at some point next season, and earn a call-up. He is too good to ignore, and with this kind of talent, anything is possible. Could this be the guy to throw the Mets’ first no-no in their history? He has the stuff.
SP3: Collin McHugh - As I wrote earlier this week about McHugh, in the Breakout 2012 piece:
“Talk about flying under the radar. This 24-year-old RHP was drafted by the Mets in the 18th round of the 2008 draft, out of Berry College. In 64 GS in his minor league career, McHugh has a lifetime record of 24-14, with a 3.48 ERA. A K/9 of 9.3, a BB/9 of 2.9, and a HR/9 of 0.4. After 6 starts in St Lucie this year, McHugh was promoted to AA Binghamton. There he has gone 8-2 with a 2.89 ERA (4th in the EL) in 16 GS. In 93 IP, he has 100 K’s and 32 BB’s, and has only surrendered 78 hits and 2 HR’s. McHugh was rewarded Tuesday for his excellent season when he was invited to participate for the Mets in the Arizona Fall League.”
I am quite certain that the sole purpose of the Mets sending McHugh to the Arizona Fall League, is so he can be better prepared to make the jump to AAA in 2012. Don’t look for him to be promoted anytime next year to the bigs however, as he needs to establish himself in Buffalo and show the kind of consistency he has had in 2011, before he gets a call-up ahead of Harvey or Familia. He pitched Thursday night and had his best game of the year, to go 8-2, in his final AA start: 9 IP, 5 hits, 1 ER, 11 K’s and 2 BB’s.
SP4: Chris Schwinden - Schwinden has emerged as the “ace” of the Buffalo rotation this year, going 8-7 with a 3.95 ERA in 25 GS. He has put himself squarely on the “prospect map” as a RHP in the Dillon Gee mold. The chief difference between the two, is where Gee relies heavily on his change-up as an out-pitch, Schwinnie uses a hard-breaking curveball. He will be a super long-shot to make the Mets out of ST next year, and will probably be a “holdover” in the Herd’s rotation, but should definitely get his first big league opportunity at some point during the 2012 campaign, whether in the rotation or the bullpen is tough to say.
SP5: Mark Cohoon - What can you say about the season that the Mets’ 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, has had to endure? He has really, really struggled. Just when it seems like he is on the verge of finding his old form, he gets his brains beat out by International League hitting. Since joining the Herd rotation, in mid-May, the south-paw has been remarkably ineffective. In 17 AAA GS over 88 IP, he has a dismal record of 4-10, with an ERA of 6.01. He has been raked for 110 hits, 59 ER’s, 9 HR’s, 38 walks and only 49 K’s, and opponents are hitting .316 against him. Now some would say, “this guy is awful just get rid of him!” But what are we actually talking about here? The 5th rotation spot on the Buffalo Bisons? If you don’t live in Buffalo, then who cares? After all, he was pitcher of the year last year, he is left-handed, and he is breathing. Cohoon has shown himself to be a resourceful pitcher before. Last year when he first joined Bingo, he got his lunch eaten a few times, but he managed to make the necessary adjustments to succeed there. With luck he can possibly do the same thing again next year, but he needs the opportunity first, so lets give him a couple months worth of starts, and see if he can do more than just hold down the fort until Mejia returns around mid-season. As for helping the Mets next season? It ain’t gonna happen, but if he does pitch well for the Herd in 2012, he could be in this conversation for real, this time next year.
2012 BUFFALO BISONS – BULLPEN
CLOSER: Dale Thayer - No self-respecting Met fan could ever forgive Thayer for what he did on June 8th. Pitching in a tie game in the ninth inning against the Brewers, he surrendered the final run when Nyjer Morgan doubled in Craig Counsell to give the Brewers a 7-6 win, and stick the Mets, and Thayer with the loss. Of course Jason Isringhausen allowed the Brew-Crew to tie the game in the 8th, when they scored 4 runs capped by a Prince Fielder homerun. Thayer was shipped back to Buffalo three days later. Fast-forward…. to now. Thayer has been the Herd’s closer all year (although with a 60-79 record, there isn’t much to close). And yet, Thayer has done a terrific job, in 69 IP, he has a record of 4-3, and an ERA of 2.74, with 21 saves, in 53 games. He has a K/BB ratio of 66/15, an 0.97 WHIP, and opponents are hitting only .212 off him. Since there isn’t much in the way of closers at the AAA level, the Mets would be extremely wise to bring back the veteran right-hander for next season, to close games for the Herd, provide depth in case of problems in the big league pen, and most importantly, provide a buffer, and a security blanket for the Mets top reliever, pitching prospect…..
RP: Brad Holt - The enigmatic 6’4″ right-hander with the “perfect pitchers body” and the power fastball, has been a real head-scratcher so far. After breaking out of the box like a runaway train for Brooklyn, as a starter, making his professional debut in 2008, Holt ran into a brick wall the following season. For 9 games in 2009 he did fine for St Lucie, but then when called up to Bingo, all-hell-broke-loose. He suddenly couldn’t get anybody out. The remainder of ’09 he pitched to a record of 3-6 with a 6.21 ERA. In 2010, after starting out in AA going 1-5 with an alarming 10.20 ERA, he was demoted to St Lucie where he didn’t do much better, going 2-9, 7.48 ERA. 2011 hasn’t been eye-popping, but he is definitely making progress. His overall numbers this year are average, 8-7 with a 4.67 ERA, but most of the runs he gave up were in the first half when he was being utilized as a starter. Since being converted to a relief pitcher full-time, he has been quietly doing a superb job in one and two inning stints. In his last ten games out of the pen Holt is: 4-0 with a 3.07 ERA, and opponents are hitting .179 off him. The biggest improvement Holt has made is in his increased command, which has resulted in fewer walks, and that was crucial for him. If he can keep moving forward, and make the necessary adjustments to the higher caliber of play at AAA, he could emerge as a “relief ace” for Buffalo, a real lock down, 8th inning guy, which is exactly what the Mets see him as in the bigs. Will he be a help to the Mets at sometime in 2012 as a bullpen option? Why the heck not? He’s got the talent, hopefully his mechanics will fall into line.
RP: Josh Stinson - 2010 really put Stinson on the map with a big year at Bingo, he finished the year at Buffalo, going 11-5 combined with a 3.90 ERA. 2011 started terribly for the 6’4″ right-hander. In 13 starts for Buffalo he was 3-7 with a 7.44 ERA. He was sent to Bingo to figure things out, was moved to the pen, and in his last 10 games has gone 2-1 with a 1.38 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 14/3, with opponents hitting .159 off him. That is how he just earned himself a call-up to the Mets, making his MLB debut Friday night, going 1.2 IP with 2 hits and 2 K’s against the Nats. Stinson is definitely in the bullpen mix in ST 2012, and will be on the Mets at some time next year.
RP: John Lujan - Lujan has done a fine job over the last two seasons bouncing back and forth between Bingo and Buffalo, pretty much filling in, and getting the job done wherever he has pitched. In 2011, he appeared in 15 games for Bingo, before being called up to Buffalo, where he has pitched in 35 games. Overall this year, his record is 3-6 with a 2.79 ERA. Is he an option for the Mets in 2012? No, not really, but he has proven himself to be a valuable organizational guy, and will probably be retained.
RP: Dylan Owen - This Dylan seemed to stall when he got to AAA in 2010, going 3-4 with a 7.11 ERA. 2011 has been a little better as his record of 6-7 and 4.26 ERA show, but is it enough? He has been able to hold down a rotation spot this year for the Herd, but next year will probably be a different story, with the arrival of new arms from AA. Owen still has value, and a bit of upside, so he should still see plenty of action next year in the AAA pen, and as an extra starter. He is not an option for the Mets next year, but could put himself back into the prospect discussion with a strong start.
RP: Pat Misch - Sure why not, since Misch has proven to be a valuable organizational guy, and has versatility. He can be effective as a starter or reliever (at AAA), and he is left-handed. Of course if the Mets are forced to bring him up next year, it should be a signal that the season is over. Just kidding Pat.
RP: Justin Hampson - Hampson has actually had a pretty decent year for the Herd, and he’s a lefty. He has gone 3-3 with a 3.41 ERA over 58 IP, and lefties are hitting only .216 against him. If he gets a ST invite in 2012, he could emerge as a dark-horse candidate for the pen.
Hopefully, I’m not “sipping the Kool-Aid” but it seems like there are some interesting possibilities here. A handful of high-end pitchers who throw hard, a few infielders with upside, and an interesting stable of young outfielders, make for a nice mix of talent with considerable flexibility. There actually could be a little help on the way in 2012. Are these guys going to come up and win a pennant for us? Not this year, but we are starting to get a look at the potential building blocks of a winning team.