Since his call-up to the bigs and a dazzling Major League debut by Matt Harvey last week, the Mets top pitching prospects rankings needed to be revised. So I scratched Mr. Harvey’s name off, and did a redo of the order with their recent performances this season factored in. After doing this, I quickly noticed that several players like lefty Steve Matz and righty Michael Fulmer, have soared up the charts. Here’s the latest ranking of the 10 best Mets minor league pitching prospects:
Zack Wheeler – The reigning number one prospect in the system has done nothing this year to change his status. Despite struggling badly in his last two starts, Wheeler is a top talent, and a few bad performances is not going to alter that fact. The guy has hair-raising stuff. He may have hit a little bit of a wall in the dog days of summer this year, but keep in mind that he is already less than four innings shy of his career high for innings pitched in one season of 115, which he threw last year. This year he is already over 109 innings in a greatly reduced span of time. He projects at this pace to throw around 150 innings this year and that is just about where he should be. But building up arm strength is not an exact science and sometimes it requires one to take a step back before advancing forward. That’s baseball. For the year so far Wheeler is 9-6 with a 3.29 ERA in 18 game starts. He features a K/BB ratio of 106/39, his WHIP is 1.16, and his opponents batting average is .227.
Michael Fulmer – This kid is one of the true feel-good stories in the Mets system this year. Drafted last year out of high school as the 1st-round sandwich pick, acquired when the Yankees signed Perpetual Pedro away from us after the 2010 season, Fulmer’s development this year has been exactly what you would hope for from a player with talent like he’s got. His fastball is already a plus-pitch sitting in the mid-nineties, he also throws a power curve with a knee-buckling 12-6 break. If he masters his change-up over the next several years he should be making his debut at Citifield as a 22-year-old someday. Presently he leads the South Atlantic League in ERA with a 2.51, and has a 6-5 record to go with it, this against much older competition. Fulmer can’t be expected to throw more than 100 innings this year, and is already up to 86 on the year, so it won’t be much longer until he is shut down until September instructs.
Domingo Tapia – My decision to place this guy at number three is bound to raise some eyebrows, but when you consider his skill-set, it’s hard to ignore a talent like this. The 6’4″ right-hander got off to an uneven start to the year back in April, but since then has been one of the best pitchers in the South Atlantic League. Blessed with a fastball that tops out at 100 mph, Tapia also features enough sink to have a 3.20 GO/AO ratio, which means he gets a little over three ground-balls for every fly-ball he gives up. In his last ten games in the SAL, the 20-year-old Tapia has shown off his true potential going 4-1 with a 2.50 ERA.
Steve Matz – After two years in limbo trying to work his way back from TJS, Matz is finally able to get his career going forward. Unfortunately, he didn’t enjoy the quick recovery from that surgery that Jenrry Mejia did. For Mejia he was back on the mound in just ten months. For Matz, after a year of rehab, he was shut down for 2011 because of complications (pain) in the elbow. After resting all winter Matz went to 2012 spring training with a ton of optimism and was throwing well, but there was still pain, and something didn’t feel quite right. He was sent back to Mobile, to Dr. Andrews again but the examination was inconclusive. There were three scenarios, they could go in and clean out the elbow, or they could redo the TJS, or he could go back to training camp and just let it rip like it’s 1999. They opted for the least medically invasive option, figuring they could always fall back to the other options later if necessary. Matz headed back to St. Lucie with the intention of cranking it up one more time, and letting it rip. He did and guess what? No pain. For the first time in years Matz could let it go at full velocity without feeling pain in his elbow. He began the year rusty, like you would expect from someone who had their elbow reconstructed and hadn’t pitched in over two years. But after three forgettable starts, Matz has thrown three gems in a row, and has completely dominated the Appalachian League hitters he’s faced. In the last three starts Matz is 2-0 over 18 innings, with no runs allowed, five hits, eight walks and 23 strikeouts. Why is he ranked so high on this list you may ask? Well he is clearly the best left-handed pitching prospect in the system, and as a 21-year-old lefty who can throw in the upper-nineties, with promising secondary offerings, Matz profiles unlike any other pitcher in our system, and a lot of other team’s systems too. If he stays healthy now moving forward, expect great things from this kid over the next several years.
Jeurys Familia – Just because Familia has moved from the number three pitching prospect back to number five, in no way means I think lesser of him as a prospect. I am still extremely high on this guy, it’s just that for a guy that’s only been pitching for six years, and to be now at AAA as a 22-year-old, it doesn’t worry me in the least that he has been a little inconsistent and hit a few speed-bumps this year. It is his first time being exposed to AAA hitters and I’m sure it has been a learning experience for him. I fully expect two things for Familia next year. I expect him to spend a second season in Buffalo in 2013, and I expect the results to be much better for him. Extend the guy’s ETA to 2014 if you will, and he’ll be ready for the bigs as a 24-year-old, nothing wrong with that. For the year, his record stands at 7-6 with a 4.57 ERA in 21 game starts. It is not so much that he has been hit hard, his H/9 is at 9.1, it’s his overall command that has been the problem for him. Always pitching from behind in the count, which of course leads to very high pitch counts, and having to throw fastballs for strikes, while pitching under stress. Familia’s BB/9 this year has been a near career high 5.3. Until that number comes down below 4.0, Familia will find himself banished to AAA.
Jenrry Mejia – He looks like a pitcher, but acts more like a yo-yo the way he is being moved back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. Who here thinks they should just put Jenrry in the starting rotation and leave him there? Raise your hands. I thought so, it’s unanimous. Until we see him start for a full year, we will never know what we have in this guy. Now answer me this. Why is it so hard for the Mets three-headed-monster to realize the same thing? Leave the guy alone and let him start for a full year at AAA, and if you need relief help, go out and acquire some. That’s what GM’s do Sandy, they don’t try and jam a square peg in a round hole.
Collin McHugh – The quiet man. McHugh hardly gets any hype or fanfare at all. All he does is keep getting guys out, no matter where you send him to pitch. McHugh doesn’t dazzle ’em with any one particular plus-pitch, but with a solid five-pitch arsenal combined with keeping the ball down, and a bull-dog mentality on the mound, he has been a proven winner, a tireless worker, and is drawing closer to a big league call-up every time he pitches. The Mets were extremely lucky they didn’t lose McHugh, who they left unprotected in last year’s Rule V draft. They absolutely must protect him by placing him on the 40-man this year in order not to lose him. Therefore he will be a prime candidate for a September call-up this year, and appears at the age of 25, to be primed for his big league debut. At AAA this year, in eight starts covering 44.1 innings, he is 1-3 with a 3.86 ERA, a 45/17 K/BB ratio, and opponents are hitting just .237 against him.
Rafael Montero – A scintillating combination of power and control, Montero although very young, has already placed himself in the Mets prospect spotlight as he navigates his way through the levels of A-ball this year. In just two seasons in the Mets farm system, Montero has started 30 games, and hurled almost 180 innings, the rough equivalent to a full season in the bigs. In those games he has a lifetime ERA of 2.36, and a record of 14-9. What’s even more impressive is his 0.976 WHIP, his 1.5 BB/9, and his K/BB ratio of 5.41. Since the Mets promoted the 21-year-old righty from Savannah to St, Lucie, Montero has made six game starts, and has gone 3-2, with a 2.43 ERA. Enjoying one of the finest seasons of any pitcher in the Mets system this year, Montero has a combined record of 9-5 with a 2.49 ERA in 18 starts, and a K/BB ratio of 91/16.
Cory Mazzoni – The 2nd-round draft pick from the 2011 draft, Mazzoni followed a very similar path this year as Matt Harvey a year earlier, starting his first full season in advanced-A and getting promoted to AA around mid-season. Drafted out of a major college program Mazzoni pitched very sparingly last year, but this season he hit the ground running. In the first half, pitching in the starting rotation for St. Lucie, Mazzoni made 12 starts, going 5-1 with a 3.25 ERA. He was promoted to Binghamton in the middle of June, and has made an additional seven starts, going 4-3 with a 3.21 ERA. Mazzoni throws in the low-90’s and has spent this season working to refine his off-speed offerings. There is no reason to think that Mazzoni isn’t on a similar timeframe as Familia, preparing for spring training 2014, to fight it out for a big league spot.
Luis Mateo – Here is a 6’3″ right-hander who throws with a smooth, effortless motion and like Montero, has that desirable combination of power and control. He first garnered attention last year while pitching in the Dominican Summer League. In 13 starts there he went 6-1 with a 2.00 ERA, and a gaudy K/BB ratio of 80/5. This year he came stateside and made a significant jump to A-ball, emerging as the ace of the staff in Brooklyn. He has made seven game starts for the Cyclones, going 4-2 with a 2.08 ERA, and a 0.74 WHIP. In 43+ innings, he has a H/9 ratio of 5.4, a HR/9 of 0.4, a BB/9 of 1.2, a K/9 of 10.0, and a K/BB ratio of 8.00. With Savannah starters like Fulmer and Tapia due to be shut down soon when they reach their innings limits, the 22-year-old Mateo would be a very likely candidate to be sent there to replace one of them for the stretch run.
Honorable Mentions: Tyler Pill, Logan Verrett, Darin Gorski