Prospect Pulse: The 2012 Savannah Sand Gnats

An article by posted on January 18, 2012

With a little more than a month to go before the start of Spring Training, the time has finally arrived for Petey’s 2012 Mets’ Long Season Minor League Roster Preview! Woooo Hooooo! I know that all winter long, you’ve been anxiously awaiting this series in which Petey either impresses the pants off people, or makes a complete ass of himself! You choose! But choose wisely Grasshopper.

So, without further adieu, I proudly present you with Part 1: The 2012 Savannah Sand Gnats:

CATCHERS

Camden Maron (C) – Of all the Mets catchers playing in the lower levels of the minor leagues, Maron is clearly the best prospect of the bunch. Very raw when drafted in the 34th round of the 2009 draft from Hicksville (NY) High School, he has excelled at learning the basics of catching mechanics and techniques, and is fast becoming a solid force behind the plate. He receives the ball well, exhibits proper mechanics with his transfer and throws, and has a strong accurate throwing arm. And get this Mets fans, he even blocks balls in the dirt! Can you imagine? As far as his hitting, think Macky Sasser, only with a real high OBP, because he takes walks. He is a left-handed hitting hacker with a good eye at the plate, if you can possibly imagine such a thing. In 201 AB’s for Kingsport last year, Maron scored 38 runs and had 64 hits for a .318 batting average. But at the same time, while striking out 34 times, he walked 38 times for an OBP of .434, good for second in the Appalachian League.

Jeff Glenn (C) – Another catcher drafted out of high school by the Mets in the 2009 draft. This time it was the 9th round and the Mets plucked Glenn out of high school in Winter Haven, FL. A righty hitter, Glenn caddied for Maron last season at Kingsport, with 157 AB’s, in which he batted .255 with 3 HR’s and 19 RBI’s. An athletic catcher, Glenn still has some things to work on defensively, like teaching his 6’3″ frame to make quicker throws to second, but he should be a good compliment to Maron in handling the back-stop duties once again.

Xorge Carrillo (C) I doubt they will have the luxury of carrying three catchers, but if they decide to, Carrillo will more than likely be the guy. In 92 AB’s last year as Brooklyn’s primary catcher, the right-handed hitter from Arizona State hit .217.

INFIELDERS

Aderlin Rodriguez (1B) - This guy needs to get back on track after a year in which his career was stuck in reverse. He will more than likely be staying behind in Savannah for a second season. One big problem for Rodriguez was his 44 errors at 3B last year. The remedy? Well they couldn’t fashion him a glove made out of a garbage can, so they are moving him across the diamond. No not into the opposing dugout! To first base! I guess they figure he’s not as likely to make errors over there. We’ll see. The other issue for the righty slugger has been contact. Or lack there-of. He hit a miserable .221 last year and struck out 106 times in 516 AB’s. He has to stop chasing crappy pitches in the dirt, and out of the strike zone, and get himself into more favorable hitting counts. But the good news is, he’s strong, 6’3″, he did manage to hit 17 HR’s and drive in 78 last season, and he is only 20 years-old. Stay tuned.

Phillip Evans (2B) - What is not to like about this kid? He barely got his feet wet in pro ball last year, after being drafted by the Mets right out of high school, but this player has such an abundance of natural talent, that I fully expect him to be able to hold down a starting middle infield spot for the Gnats next season. He has a short, well-balanced, compact swing, with good speed through the hitting zone due to his strong hands and wrists. In the infield he makes all the right moves with his soft hands, quickness, footwork, and solid throwing arm. He even exhibits signs of leadership qualities. Next year will go along way to showing that Evans was an absolute steal in the 15th round of last years draft.

J.C. Gamboa (SS) - I’d be listing Evans as the shortstop if it weren’t for this guy. The lefty-hitting Gamboa is poised to simply explode onto the scene next year at Savannah. The mighty-mite from Mexico is only 5’7″ and about a buck fifty-five, but he makes all the plays from short with a great deal of style and athleticism, has a very strong throwing arm, and hits with surprising pop. I can’t wait to see him display his wares on the stage at Historic Grayson Stadium, for an entire season!

Dustin Lawley (3B) – In 2011 Lawley got 232 AB’s for Kingsport before getting called up to Savannah to be bench help for the SAL play-offs. He hit .284 while scoring 37 runs, with 66 hits, 17 2B’s, 3 3B’s, 9 HR’s, 43 RBI’s, and an OPS of .825. After leading his team in nearly every offensive category last year, he is a no-brainer to be playing everyday in Savannah in 2012. The question is, where? He split his time between CF and 3B in 2011, but with the log-jam of outfielders caused by combining elements from Kingsport and Brooklyn, I would expect him to be the Savannah third baseman next year.

Cole Frenzel (1B/DH) - I expect Frenzel to make the team mainly on the strength of his left-handed power bat coming off the bench. He can be used to spell or platoon with Rodriguez at first, and could be used as the primary DH. Last year as Brooklyn’s regular first-baseman, Frenzel struggled a bit as he tried to get acclimated to pro ball, hitting .238 in 160 AB’s with 1 HR and 20 RBI’s.

T.J. Rivera (INF) - Signed as a free-agent by the Mets last year, this 23-year-old Bronx native is a good solid ball-player who can handle the glove at 2B, 3B, and short. He can swing the bat a little too, and is a good steady influence on his teammates. He would be ideal to back up in the Savannah infield next year.

Brandon Brown (INF) - Another very serviceable player who can handle any of the infield positions. Last season at Brooklyn, he mashed 6 HR’s in just 142 AB’s, while hitting .303. The problem is both he and Rivera bat right-handed, and play the same positions so they both might not make the team.

OUTFIELDERS

Travis Taijeron (LF) - Last year’s starting left-fielder for the Cyclones, Taijeron busted out of the gate in his professional debut. A NYPL All-Star, the 6’2″ righty slugger swatted .299 in 194 AB’s, leading the team in 3B’s (5), HR’s (9), RBI’s (44), and SLG% (.557). He was also 2nd in OBP with a .387, behind only Danny Muno. Although he spent some time in CF last year out of necessity, he is better suited for the corners, and the emergence of Tillman Pugh should take care of CF moving forward.

Tillman Pugh (CF) - This will be the year when the 23 year-old speedster from Oakland, CA, who grew up idolizing Rickey Henderson, breaks out with a real opportunity in a long-season league. It’s time to take the brakes off him, put him in CF and just let him play. Tillman Pugh interview

Charley Thurber (RF) - The Cyclones starting right-fielder from last year, the lefty-hitting Thurber has a good eye at the plate and is a good contact hitter right now. He should emerge as a power threat at some point, as he grows into his 6’4″ frame. He has a gun for a throwing arm, and he just needs to play everyday. Charley Thurber interview

Greg Pron (OF) - The 6’6″ Pron had a great year at Kingsport in 2011 as their starting right-fielder. In 211 AB’s he scored 42 runs, with 67 hits, 14 2B’s 1 3B, 7 HR’s, 34 RBI’s, 6 SB’s, an OBP of .389, and a SLG% of .493. As a righty hitting slugger, he could fill in for Thurber against tough lefties, and could be used in a rotation between the two corner outfield spots, and DH.

Julio Concepcion (OF) – Playing time may be hard to come by, but the 6’4″ left-fielder deserves a shot at long season ball, even if it’s coming off the bench. Last year at Kingsport he batted .299 in 241 AB’s with 32 runs, 72 hits, 15 2B’s, 3 3B’s, 2 HR’s, 33 RBI’s, and 4 SB’s.

Brandon Nimmo (OF) – If Nimmo gets a look see in the long-season South Atlantic League, I doubt the Mets would throw him to the wolves right away. I could see them easing him in gradually as a fourth outfielder, to give him time to soak everything in. Remember this is the kid that didn’t play actual high school ball growing up in Wyoming, and he is brand new to professional baseball. He may even be left behind in extended ST. But if he does make the Sand Gnats, it would only be until the short-season leagues begin in June.

STARTING PITCHERS

Juan Urbina (SP1) - Entering his third professional season, the 18-year-old lefty seems poised for a big year, his first in a long-season league. Urbina got bumped around in the first half of his 2011 season, but finished strong to really help his confidence going into this year. In a recent interview with MMO, Urbina described his arsenal for us: “Fastball, curveball and change-up. This year I hit 95 mph, but I was from 90 to 93 mph most of the time.” Urbina will be fronting a very young, but very talented rotation at Savannah this year.

Dom Tapia (SP2) - Tapia brings his 100 mph heat to the South Atlantic League. The 6’4″ fire-balling right-hander, who actually just turned 20, will be lighting up radar guns all over the Sally League, and if he can add some off-speed stuff to his repertoire look out!

Bret Mitchell (SP3) - The “old man” of the staff, or the one that’s not still a teenager, is Mitchell. A very talented right-hander from Minnesota. In a recent interview with MMO Bret detailed his pitches: “I have a four pitch arsenal of: fastball, curveball, slider, change. My fastball is high 80′s – low 90′s. My curve is a 12-6, which I use for my out pitch. I started throwing my change-up last year, and I give it a lot of the credit for my success last year. My slider is my 4th pitch. It is hard, and I use it as another way to keep hitters unbalanced. My approach to pitching is attacking early, throw strikes, mix pitches and set a tempo.” I look for Mitchell to have a big year as one of the anchors of this rotation.

Akeel Morris (SP4) - Another teenager with an explosive fastball. I talked with Akeel for an exclusive MMO interview in October and this is what he told me about his arsenal: “As of now I’m throwing a fastball, curveball and a change up. My fastball is usually low to mid 90′s, it peaked at 96 this season. Curveball is mid to upper 70′s, and change up is upper 70′s to low 80′s.” Like with the other youngsters on this list, much depends on the development of his off-speed stuff, but this year will be a big opportunity for Morris to show what he can do.

Rafael Montero (SP5) - There has been a great deal of buzz around the organization about this Montero kid. A right-hander that throws in the mid-90′s. Somehow I get the feeling he will emerge from the competition to grab the last rotation spot. Having just turned 21 in October, he’s not another member of the Kiddie Korp., but he shows plenty of upside just the same. If he winds up in the pen, or in extended, some other candidates to fill the fifth rotation spot would be right-handers: Marco Camarena and Jacob Lugo, or lefty Carlos Vazquez.

BULLPEN

T.J. Chism (LHP) - Chism will anchor a very talented bullpen at Savannah this year. He should be one of the team’s closers, if he pitches as well as he did last year for Brooklyn. In 2011 he went: 3-0 with a 1.14 ERA, and 6 saves. His WHIP was 0.88, and his opponents batting average was .179. In a recent interview with MMO, T.J. described his pitches: “I throw a 2-seam and 4-seam fastball which I usually work around 87-89 topping out around 91 from a 3/4 arm slot. A change-up and slider which range anywhere from 75-80 mph depending on how I feel that day. My change-up and slider really excelled when I moved to the 3/4 arm slot during the beginning of my second year. And I was able to locate my fastball alot better as well.”

Jeremy Gould (LHP) - The perfect second lefty for the Savannah pen will be Gould, who also had a superb year in Brooklyn in 2011. The 6’4″ south-paw pitched to a record of 1-3 with a 3.26 ERA, with 46 K’s and 10 walks in 30 IP’s.

Todd Weldon (RHP) - Weldon shared the closer duties with Chism last year at Brooklyn, and that tandem worked really well. For Weldon’s part he went: 2-1 with a 2.56 ERA, and 6 saves. Opposing hitters batted only .193 off him and he turned in a WHIP of 1.01.

Steve Winnick (RHP) - Winnick put up some good numbers at Brooklyn last year as well. A record of 4-0 with an ERA of 2.97, a WHIP of 1.05 and opponent’s batting average of .203 should get the 6’1″ right-hander an opportunity at Savannah.

Tyson Seng (RHP) - The same thing I said about Winnick could be said about Seng, who went: 3-1 with a 0.90 ERA, and chipped in 2 saves. In 30 IP’s he struck out 32 while walking only 5, and his WHIP was 1.07.

Jeffrey Walters (RHP) - A starter for Brooklyn in 2011, Walters pitched with uneven results. He had trouble getting past the fifth inning in most starts, and wound up with 14 starts, going 4-6 with a 3.32 ERA. He does have a very “live” arm though and the Mets are rather intrigued by the guy, so this year would be a good time to try him out of the pen either as a set-up man, or a long-man.

Carlos Vazquez (LHP) - The other candidate for the long-man position in the Savannah pen will be Vazquez who, like Walters, was also in the Brooklyn rotation in 2011. He went 4-2 with a 3.61 ERA in 14 starts. As with Walters, Vazquez was never able to pitch deep into games, and would be better served in the pen. At 5’11″ 180 lbs., there are also questions as to whether the left-hander’s body would hold up through the rigors of being a starter. I got to see him pitch last season and he showed a good fastball/curveball combination. If he can add a third pitch it will go along way towards helping him this year.

Well there you have it. Interesting prospects all around the diamond, a very strong outfield, talented young starters and an experienced quality bullpen. This team looks very strong for next year. Other than a predominately right-handed rotation, there is very good lefty-righty balance in the line-up and the bullpen. Perhaps I’m sipping the Kool-Aid, but I like this roster and think the Gnats will have a very good chance at a third consecutive Division Championship in 2012. Go Gnats!

Check back in a few days when I will unveil the 2012 St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League.

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