When you dig deeper than the 56-86 record the Las Vegas 51s produced during the 2017 season, you find that the New York Mets Triple-A affiliate might have been as dysfunctional as the big league club.
Pedro Lopez, highly respected by most in the industry, was promoted to be the manager of the 51s to replace Wally Backman. Lopez had previously spent five seasons with Double-A Binghamton, where he became the winningest manager in team history.
The 51s team roster to start the season was a mess on the pitching side and that only got worse when the injury bug hit the parent club.
No need to apologize if none of them ring a bell, Boscan has thrown over 1,100 minor league innings while Hand and Atkins were both signed out of Indy ball. In July, the Mets were forced to sign another Indy ball arm to eat innings in Vegas in Jonathan Albaladejo.
Vegas finished 30 games under .500, in last place and had the second worst ERA in the Pacific Coast League at 5.40. None of this is really surprising when you consider the talent outside of position players Amed Rosario, Dominic Smith, Travis Taijeron and Kevin Plawecki.
The win-loss record isn’t the big issue though, it’s always possible to develop prospects into major league players despite a team struggling overall.
No, the big issue was how the season was handled by new manager, Pedro Lopez.
I started hearing rumblings early this summer about dysfunction in the 51s clubhouse with Lopez playing favorites which upset both coaches and players alike.
Then Sandy Alderson got to the podium for his end of the year press conference and said that the Vegas staff will see a “major shakeup.”
“I was disappointed with the performance of some of these players and their preparation for playing at the major league level,” Alderson said.
This led me to talk to a few people I trusted about what Alderson said to see what he could be talking about.
According to one source, Lopez was the big culprit and the issues started as early as May with him losing some of the clubhouse. For what it’s worth, the 51s went 8-20 in May.
I was also told Lopez was “overmatched” and “overwhelmed” with his new job at the highest minor league level.
The concerns became that Lopez was playing favorites with Hispanic players and that was dividing the team. I was also told all he cared about “was himself and his records.”
Part of the reason most believe that Backman was moved on from was his incessant need to win at the Triple-A level instead of worrying about player development. Looks like his successor is guilty of the same.
51s hitting coach Jack Voigt announced on Twitter that he was not coming back for a fourth season with Las Vegas despite seeing positive results from top prospect Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith. In 2016, the top two hitters by average in the PCL were Brandon Nimmo and T.J. Rivera, both who have now proved they can also hold their own in the majors.
It’s also been reported that Vegas pitching coach Frank Viola is expected to move on after seven seasons in the organization including four seasons with the 51s.
Many have been surprised by Viola’s lack of inclusion in the search for a new Mets pitching coach to replace Dan Warthen. I’ve been told Viola became frustrated with the lack of a major league coaching opportunity and had become “mentally complacent.”
Looks like the major shakeup has begun and it has extended to Pedro Lopez who seems to be at the head of the issues in Vegas that led to the lack of preparation for young players at the major league level.
Earlier today, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweeted that former Houston Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco will be at the helm for the 51s in 2018, meaning Lopez’s days as Las Vegas’ skipper are done after one short and very disappointing season.
Now, Sandy Alderson must find a manager for the big league team as well, and he’ll get one last chance to find that sustained success he promised seven years ago. Somehow he’ll be tasked with resurrecting some magic from the ashes of a 2017 season that was unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.
As for Lopez, he had a great run in Binghamton, but he ran out of luck when his journey took him to Las Vegas.