Mets Merized Online » Interviews http://metsmerizedonline.com Sun, 07 Feb 2016 21:08:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.13 Featured Post: Jim Callis Talks Mets Prospects With MMO http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/featured-post-jim-callis-talks-mets-prospects-with-mmo.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/featured-post-jim-callis-talks-mets-prospects-with-mmo.html/#comments Sat, 06 Feb 2016 18:35:11 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=205244 mets batter silhouette hitter netting

Update: MLB Pipeline released their Top 100 Prospects last night with four Mets on the list: Gavin Cecchini #87, Amed Rosario #79, Dominic Smith #51, and Steven Matz at #15. Full write up to come. 

The following is an interview I conducted with the great Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline who you can follow on Twitter at @JimCallisMLB. Jim was kind enough to answer a number of questions about the Mets minor league system and many of our top prospects and sleepers. Please enjoy.

Mike – Would you say this years rookie class in MLB that included Michael Conforto and Noah Syndergaard was the best you have ever seen?

Jim – I would say that based on the talent of the rookies and how well so many of them performed in the big leagues. Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Miguel Sano, Kyle Schwarber and on and on and on.

MikeGavin Cecchini had a breakout season with the bat this year but struggled in the field, is he someone who surprised you this year? Can you see him as an everyday MLB shortstop?

Jim – The Mets have pushed him pretty aggressively, and it seemed like he finally caught his breath in 2015 and started to hit. I think he is an everyday shortstop, though the floor still jumps out at me more than the ceiling. Solid defender, should hit for some average with a little bit of power and a few walks.

Mike – The Mets graduated and traded away a bunch of prospect talent in 2015, where would you rank their current system as a whole?

Jim – Though the system did get thinned out with graduations and trades, there’s still some intriguing talent, particularly with position players like Dominic Smith, Amed Rosario and Cecchini. Technically, Matz still counts as a prospect until he gets another 15 big league innings. I haven’t stacked up all the farm systems against each other yet, but I’d expect that when I do the Mets will fall in the 11-20 range somewhere.

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Mike – The R.A. Dickey trades seems to be the gift that keeps on giving with Wuilmer Becerra. Is he close to being a Top 100 prospect?

Jim – He’s not close to being a Top 100 guy yet, but he does have that kind of upside, just needs to polish up his tools. He fits the right field profile nicely. That trade keeps looking better and better for the Mets. Syndergaard alone would have been a sweet return.

Mike – Who is one Mets prospect that we won’t see on any Top 10 lists but you really like?

Jim – The system has lost some of its depth, so I don’t know if I’d say I “really like” anyone outside the consensus Top 10. But I am intrigued by Milton Ramos, who has a chance to be a very good defender. We’ll see how he hits.

Mike – I got to watch Robert Gsellman numerous times this year and was impressed with this ability to stay away from barrel contact despite low strikeout numbers. What do you see his potential as?

Jim – No. 5 starter at best. I’m not a big fan of guys who lack a plus pitch and don’t miss bats. Gsellman deserves credit for succeeding in Double-A but I’m skeptical as to how his stuff will play in the big leagues.

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MikeDominic Smith had six home runs this year but led the Florida State League with 33 doubles. Do you think he can be a 15-20 home run guy in the big leagues?

Jim – Definitely. I saw him in the Arizona Fall League and thought he was one of the best hitters there. He has power, you can see it in batting practice, but he’s focusing on developing as a hitter. It’s an easy swing with an up-the-middle approach, and he’ll hit homers as he gets more comfortable and aggressive about turning on pitches.

Mike – Who has a better chance of becoming a MLB starter: Gabriel Ynoa, Seth Lugo, or Mickey Jannis?

Jim – I’ll say Lugo because he misses more bats. Don’t see any of them as big league starters though.

Mike – Is Amed Rosario finally the answer to all the Mets hopes at shortstop?

Jim – Yes. Good defender, plus runner, chance to do some damage offensively once he gets stronger. Cecchini is a safer bet and will get their first but Rosario should be the better player.

MikeLuis Guillorme had an MVP season in the South Atlantic League, any chance he hits enough to be an everyday player?

Jim – Sure. He had an impressive 2015, and while he won’t hit for much power, he makes contact and controls the strike zone. That said, I don’t see him pushing Rosario off shortstop in New York.

Mike – The Mets went heavy on lefty pitchers in the 2015 draft? Which one do you think has the brightest future?

Jim – I like Thomas Szapucki the best, based on reports I heard on him versus Max Wotell, though Wotell went higher and had a better brief pro debut.

Mike – Who has the best raw power in the Mets farm system?

Jim – They don’t have a guy who really jumps out. In terms of usable power, I bet it’s Dominic Smith in the long run.

Great to hear Jim reconfirm what many of us think about Rosario, that he will be the Mets future shortstop and hopefully there for a long-time. As you can tell the Mets have built themselves some serious depth at the shortstop position with talents like Rosario, Cecchini, Ramos, and Guillorme.

That is without mentioning middle infielder Luis Carpio who had a great 2015 season and is jumping up prospect lists. The Mets also spent big on the infield in the 2015 international free agent period getting two of the best shortstop prospects in Gregory Guerrero and Andres Gimenez.

The Mets farm system has certainly taken a hit from graduations and trades but I think the Mets had a very good draft last year while supplementing that with the two talents I mentioned above. They also have a slew of intriguing toolsy young players in the lower levels including Carpio, catcher Ali Sanchez, outfielder Ricardo Cespedes, and pitcher Ronald Guedez.

I want to thank Jim for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers. For more on the minors be sure to check out MMO partner site MetsMinors.net.

MLB Pipeline recently released their Top 10 first base prospects with Smith coming in at number three. They also did their Top 10 left-handed pitchers and they had Matz at number three behind Julio Urias and Blake Snell.

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MMO Exclusive: Talkin’ Baseball With Mets Pitching Prospect Seth Lugo http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/11/mmo-exclusive-talkin-baseball-with-mets-pitching-prospect-seth-lugo.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/11/mmo-exclusive-talkin-baseball-with-mets-pitching-prospect-seth-lugo.html/#comments Sun, 22 Nov 2015 14:00:39 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=200657 SethLugo_Binghamton_7j2ycxo1_r39gro0z

Yesterday the Mets added four players to their 40-man roster to protect them from the December 10th Rule 5 draft and one of them was starting pitcher Seth Lugo. The right-hander started a career high 24 games this year combined between the Binghamton Mets and Las Vegas 51′s.

He went 8-7 with 3.84 ERA and 1.250 WHIP while leading all Mets minor league pitchers with 127 strikeouts in 136 innings. His 8.01 K/9 in AA was good for fifth in the Eastern League for starting pitchers with at least 100 innings and he got even better with a 10.0 K/9 in AAA (27 innings).

The Mets drafted Lugo in the 34th round of the 2011 draft from the Centenary College of Louisiana. He caught the eye of Mets associate scout Jimmy Nelson who suggested Lugo to Tommy Jackson who is the Mets amateur scout in the deep south area. Jackson was able to see Lugo who struggled during his senior year (3-7, 5.57 ERA) two weeks before the draft according to an interview done by Mets beat writer Mike Vorkunov.

He had a solid pro debut with the Kingsport Mets of the Appalachian League making 11 appearances (10 starts) pitching to a 3.66 ERA when the league run average was 5.21. That offseason his career took a turn for the worse when he found out after numerous MRI’s that he had spondylolisthesis which is the forward displacement of a vertebra.

Doctors told Seth that he might never pitch again he underwent a lumbar fusion and surgery that lasted nearly ten hours. The surgery took him out of the entire 2012 season as he stayed bedridden for three months.

Somehow he beat the long odds to return to the mound in 2013 making 12 starts between the Brooklyn Cyclones and Savannah Sand Gnats. In 2014, Lugo pitched a career high 105 innings in 27 games including four starts and picked up three saves.

This year when I saw Lugo pitch in person I was struck by hhis ability to get batters out without the necessity of a blazing fastball. All the contact against him was weak, the opposing hitters were unable to square up any of his pitches. I talked to two American League scouts the day after his start and they both said they liked Lugos’ pitchability. They also both said they had him labeled with 4/5 starter potential in the big leagues.

MMO – First off just want to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions and congrats on being added to the Mets 40-man roster.

Seth – Thank you.

MMO - What was it like to make it to AAA this year and play for a manager like Wally?

Seth - It was pretty awesome. It was great to play with a bunch of older guys with a ton of experience. I felt like everyday I was able to bring in some new information and just see the game a little differently. Play for Wally was pretty cool. I could definitely tell he was an old school type coach and it made me feel more mature and professional playing for a guy like that. Wally was great.

MMO - For people that haven’t seen you pitch before can you tell me a little bit about what you throw and how you like to attack hitters/lineup?

Seth - Well I think I’m a lot different than a lot of pitchers. I like to try to induce a lot of early contact with a 2 seamer and my slider/change up. If I do get ahead in the count, I like to turn my stuff up a notch and bring my 4 seamer about 4-7 mph faster than my 2 seamer and I mix my curveball in for a swing and miss in the dirt or freeze them with it in the zone. I’ve always relied on my curveball in the dirt and my fastball up out of the zone for strikeout situations.

MMO - The first time I saw you (in Portland) I was impressed with your ability to stay away from the barrel of bats. And you weren’t afraid to throw any pitch in any count. What do you think you need to improve on to be able to pitch at the Major League level?

Seth - That’s come with maturity and my control of mechanics. I think I need to just keep perfecting my mechanics and work on my control with my secondary pitches. Also, I plan to really work on my 2 seamer movement this offseason… I’m really hitting the gym hard this offseason so hopefully I can bring in a little more velocity next year. Confidence is always a must so I also have to just keep my head up and stay confident that everything I’m doing is going to put me in the position I want to be in.

MMO - You are participating in the Barwis program, is it your first time?

Seth – Yes, I am in Florida right now for the program.

MMO - What is a normal day like in the program, do you have a specialized workout being a pitcher?

Seth - Well, we start with a pretty intense warm up and by the time were finished with it, everyone is sweating heavily and out of breath. Then we go into our workout, and yes the pitchers have a separate routine than the position players. It usual lasts about an hour and a half and its full of heavy lifting, explosive movements, and then core/flexibility/balance exercises, in a superset order. We’re constantly moving and there are no breaks until we’re finished. It is definitely the most rigorous workout I’ve ever been put through. After we finish with the weight and resistance stuff we go into sprints for about 10 minutes which is the most exhausting part in my opinion. It usually takes us about 3 hours nonstop to complete the workouts.

MMO - When the Mets drafted you were you surprised?

Seth - I was actually pretty confident that I would get drafted. My head coach hooked me up with a workout for a Mets scout and I knew that I threw very well when I went to it so I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder as the draft was going on.

MMO - When you found out about the severe nature of your back injury do you think you could have thrown a baseball for the last time and what was it like for you to have to experience something like that early in your career?

Seth – It was rough for me. The doctors and trainers told me that the odds coming back from the surgery weren’t the greatest but other people had come back from it and had full careers. After that I didn’t care about odds, I knew I could do it if someone else already had. It was very hard mentally on me though, not being able to play and having to basically lay around doing nothing for a few months. But at the same time I think it helped drive me and pushed me to come back better than ever. Do I think the surgery set me back some? Yea I do but it also showed me what it was like to miss a season and watch everyone else progress while I sat at home. So I think in the long run, having the surgery at an early point in my career helped me more than it hurt me.

MMO - How close did you follow the Mets playoff run and have you talked to any of those guys to congratulate them?

Seth - Oh, I was watching every pitch of it. No I haven’t talked to any of the guys. I figured everyone they’ve ever known has been trying to get in touch with them. If I was in their shoes I think I’d like some peace and quiet so I figured I’d wait until I see them in spring training to congratulate their season.

MMO – Who were your favorite teams/players to watch when your were growing up?

Seth - It’s funny, I never caught once in my life but Pudge was always my favorite player. I grew up going to Rangers games and watching him so I was always a big Rangers and Ivan Rodriguez fan.

MMO - Thank you for answering my questions and hope to see you at Citi Field soon!

Seth - You’re welcome and thank you very much.

For more Mets minor league coverage head over to MetsMinors.net

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MMO Exclusive With LHP Josh Smoker http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/11/mmo-exclusive-with-lhp-josh-smoker.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/11/mmo-exclusive-with-lhp-josh-smoker.html/#comments Sat, 14 Nov 2015 15:30:22 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=199503 josh smoker

On November 5th the Mets officially added left-handed pitcher Josh Smoker to their 40-man roster. Smoker was a supplemental first round pick (31st overall, six slots ahead of Travis d’Arnaud) of the Washington Nationals in 2007 out of Calhoun High School in Georgia.

Josh struggled in the 2012 season, he allowed eight runs in just 9.2 innings topping out at High-A Potomac. He then sat out the entire 2013 season after having the second shoulder surgery in his career (first one in 2008) and elected free agency in November of 2013.

With no other available options Josh signed with the Rockford Aviators of the Frontier League to pitch in 2014. He was able to make it through the season healthy but struggled with his command walking 23 in 29 innings.

Smoker started his Mets career with the Savannah Sand Gnats after signing a minor league deal during the last week of Spring Training. He also pitched for the St. Lucie Mets while finishing the season in AA with the Binghamton Mets. Overall this year he was 3-0 with six saves with a 3.12 ERA and 1.184 WHIP while striking out 60 batters in 49 innings.

I watched Josh pitch multiple times this season for the B’Mets and his stuff will definitely play at the Major League level. He gets his fastball up to the 96-97 MPH range and even hit 100 a few times. He has a very good split-change that makes him effective against righties and isn’t afraid to throw it down in the count.

This season lefties actually hitter better against him with a .641 OPS compared to a .547 OPS for righties. He has been working on a slider to try and counter the success lefties have had against him.

MMO: Congrats on being added to the 40-man roster! How did you find out the news from the Mets

Josh: They informed me the afternoon of the fifth (official day he was added) by telephone. It was a very surreal moment. I’ll never forget it.

MMO: You and the family going to celebrate the big news? You really have turned into a story that a lot of Mets fans are clinging too and rooting for to succeed.

Josh: Believe it or not my parents are actually in Disney world right now and we’re there when we received the news. Haha my wife and I are planning on going to dinner tonight. I’ve had more support from the Mets fans this season and offseason then I’ve had my whole career. It’s very humbling and genuinely means the world to me. I also can’t thank the Mets enough for taking the chance on me last spring when nobody else even considered it. I will be forever great full to them. Class act organization.

MMO: Towards the end of the year when B’Mets season was over you must have heard some of the chatter about you possibly being called up?

Josh: I had heard that it was a possibility but I had no control over that. My job was to go out every time I got the ball and put the team in a situation to win. A call up would have been awesome but at the same time I’m happy to just be given the opportunity to continue to play the game i love.

MMO: During your last week or so of the season you started to get hit a little, was that the league seeing you for a second time or a little bit of fatigue from you?

Josh: I could definitely feel my body starting to get tired. It was the first full season I had pitched in 3 years so I could feel my body starting to fatigue.

Smoker Josh

MMO: Did you follow much of the Mets playoff run? Have you talked to any of those guys to congratulate them or anything like that?

Josh: Every game. I was pulling hard for them. I haven’t. I’m really good friends with Zack Wheeler so we were keeping up with them consistently but haven’t gotten the chance to speak with any of the other guys.

MMO: Are you and Wheeler from the same area?

Josh: We are, we’ve worked out together for the last few years.

MMO: What do you think of the Mets starting pitching?

Josh: It IS the the best in baseball. To have the velocity and secondary pitches those guys have and the command to go with it is unheard of. If I was a hitter on any other team I would not look forward to heading into Citi Field knowing I was going to be facing that.

MMO: How does it feel to finally be 100% healthy?

Josh: Feels good, great to get out on the mound without my arm hitting. To be able to go out and throw the way I know that I can feels good.

MMO: How did you come about being signed by the Mets?

Josh: I have a contact (Paul Fletcher) in Atlanta and I needed to throw a bullpen one day so he came out. He is actually the pitching coach for the New York Revolution and made a phone call after catching me. He had done some work with the Mets before and called their scout Steve Barningham. Steve then called me and wanted me to throw a bullpen for him. The Mets like what they saw and the rest is history.

MMO: After that did you head down to extended Spring Training?

Josh: Yes, I signed the last week of Spring Training then I was in extended for about two weeks before they sent me to Savannah (Sand Gnats, Low-A).

MMO: What was is like being a former first round pick having to go and pitch in the Independent League?

Josh: Some times you got to do what you have to do. Honestly at that point I was out of options because I wasn’t getting any looks from affiliated teams. I was still coming off shoulder surgery so I wasn’t 100% yet and my velocity wasn’t back either. I am glad I did it, it was good to get my feet wet again.

MMO: Have you made any mechanical changes since being in the Mets organization?

Josh: Only thing I have done is change my hand slot, before I was set up high so I brought my glove down and got a little arm pump going. Helped me get on top of the ball better which improved my command.

MMO: You hit 97 MPH regularly this year, is that something to pay attention to that much?

Josh: As first I was to have an idea where I was at health wise coming off surgery but now that I have a good idea about where my arm strength is I try not to pay too much attention to it.

MMO: Did you talk to your Binghamton Mets teammate Dario Alvarez at all about the similar paths you guys have taken?

Josh: We actually went through the exact same steps, always good to have someone like that to talk to especially in a new organization. Not just him though, all the coaches and players make it a pleasure to the field every day. Baseball has become fun again, it’s almost like it is a game again.

MMO: What do you think you need to improve on to get to the Major League level?

Josh: Me being a lefty I think it would be good for me to have a slider, I have thrown a breaking ball in the past but it was almost too loopy. It has gotten a lot better, still not quite where I want it to be, but definitely improved. I’m going to work extremely hard on that pitch this offseason so that going into spring I’ll have something I can offer to lefties.

MMO: Thank you for answering all my questions. Congrats again, good luck next year and hopefully see you in Spring Training.

Josh: My pleasure Michael. Thanks a lot and take care.

For more interviews with Mets minor leaguers head over to MetsMinors.net

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MMO’s Clayton Collier Talks Mets With Brian Cristiano http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/11/mmos-clayton-collier-talks-mets-with-brian-cristiano.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/11/mmos-clayton-collier-talks-mets-with-brian-cristiano.html/#comments Fri, 06 Nov 2015 01:26:14 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=199321 Flores Wilmer

It’s all about the Mets these days in New York, and despite how the Fall Classic ended everyone agrees that the Mets made huge strides in 2015 and all in all this was an exciting season for the team and the fans.

On that note, Brian Cristiano, CEO of Bold Worldwide spoke with our Senior Editor at Metsmerized Online, Clayton Collier, on the very popular YouTube series #OutOfScope.

The two of them discussed the New York Mets, MLB, the popularity of MMO, and what to look out for from the team in regards to social media and marketing in 2016.

Clayton also gives his perspective on what the Mets did right and where the team can improve in 2016.

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MMO Exclusive: Talkin’ Mets With @GrafixJoker http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/mmo-exclusive-talkin-mets-with-grafixjoker.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/mmo-exclusive-talkin-mets-with-grafixjoker.html/#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2015 13:34:33 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=197254 IMG_20151020_091932

I had a chance to do an interview with diehard Mets fan and popular artist Joe Maracic more popularly known as @GrafixJoker on Twitter. He’s also the designer of the many different Mets cartoon images you’ve seen all over social media and even on SNY Monday night. Enjoy my Q&A with this passionate Mets fan who has been entertaining fellow fans all year long with his fun and clever Mets caricatures.

1. I think the first question on everybody’s mind is how did it all begin? What was the motivation behind those incredible and fun Mets toon graphics? Who was the first, was the plan always to keep adding more as the season wore on?

Up until this season I was painting some Mets players but during Spring Training the entire “Dark Knight Matt Harvey” inspired me to sketch this.

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When I drew Harvey there was no real plan. After I fine tuned the sketch and shared it on social media I was getting responses like “where’s deGrom?” or “who’s next?”. Some Mets fans on Twitter even gave me ideas on future characters.

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2. It’s amazing how you seem to catch the true essence of each player by their expression or the pose they strike. How do you do that?

Thanks. I guess it came from studying the human model for almost 8 hours a day back in art school. This was more for my charcoal drawings and oil paintings but it has come in handy for these toons, though these guys are much shorter. I watch just about every game and study the players plus search past images of them online.

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3. Alright, let’s talk some Mets. What were your expectations going into the season and at what point did you stop and think a postseason run was no longer just a faint possibility but clearly a reality?

I thought playoffs were maybe a possibility at the beginning of the season because we had the pitching. The hitting was what scared me and during the season it had me doubting they could do it. When the Mets thankfully failed to trade Flores instead getting Cespedes, Uribe, and Johnson I knew our hitting would have to improve. What I didn’t know was how hot Cespedes would get and how great the clubhouse chemistry would become. Mets suddenly looked not only like a playoff team, but a squad that was going on a special run.

4. If you could choose one moment or game that stood out as a turning point, what is it?

The trade that never happened. You had to feel horrible for Wilmer during that game and a bit frustrated as a fan. After that night, a fire was lit under the team and the new additions of course helped.

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5. What an incredible postseason by Daniel Murphy. Are you a big Murphy fan and do you think the Mets should bring him back for the 2016 season?

I’m a huge Murphy fan. His play in the field frustrated me at times, but what a bat in this lineup. I want Murphy back. Even before this amazing playoff run he’s on I wanted him back. The question is does Sandy want him back? This I doubt since he isn’t a Sandy type player. The Mets could have already made a decision on Murph before the playoffs, just like the Yankees did with Hideki Matsui in 2009 before he won the World Series MVP. They didn’t bring him back, and he too played on another level.

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6. If you had to choose a current Mets Core-Four, which four central players would make your untouchable list and be the foundation for this team.

DeGrom, Syndergaard, Harvey, Matz. Pitching wins. I know some fans are fed up with Harvey, but the more pitching the better. Matz looks like he could be something special, as long as he gets good sleep.

7. Which Mets player turned in the most surprising season?

I think Syndergaard. We all knew he had great stuff but his composure on the mound for a rookie is amazing.

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8. What was your most memorable moment of the regular season and describe why?

The Cespedes rally parakeet game. It had it all; drama, excitement, and humor. I love that bird almost as much as the raccoon. By the way, is anyone feeding those little critters?

9. What was your most memorable moment of the postseason thus far?

Jacob deGrom in the  Game 5 NLDS. He didn’t have his best stuff but battled out there. It was an amazing performance by our Ace.

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10. Finally, what’s your prediction for the rest of the NLCS and what would be your favorite World Series matchup?

Mets sweep of course, haha. I honestly haven’t thought of the matchup though the Blue Jays hitting scares me. I bet most baseball fans would like to see hitting vs picthing, Jays vs Mets.

You can follow Joe at Twitter @GrafixJoker and you can check out all his work or pick up a t-shirt or stickers with his Mets toons at Red Bubble.

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MMO Exclusive: Michael Conforto Talks About Beating Dodgers With Metsmerized http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/mmo-exclusive-michael-conforto-talks-about-beating-dodgers-with-metsmerized.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/mmo-exclusive-michael-conforto-talks-about-beating-dodgers-with-metsmerized.html/#comments Wed, 07 Oct 2015 13:36:32 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=195676 michael conforto

Fifteen months ago, Michael Conforto had completed his junior year at Oregon State University. In a matter of days, he will participate in his first MLB postseason game.

Conforto told me before Sunday’s 1-0 win over the Nationals that being called up so soon after being drafted has “accelerated” his development. Now nearly on the eve of the NLDS, the 22-year old Mets rookie said he cannot wait for the playoffs to get started.

“I am really, really excited to get into playoff baseball,” he said. “It’s why we play the game. You want to be in the playoffs and play in the most exciting games at the end and be on the right track to win the World Series, we’ve got a shot. So I’m excited to see how things play out in L.A.”

The 22-year old left fielder debuted on July 24 at Citi Field against the Dodgers, starting all three games of the series. Based off of what he witnessed in that series, Conforto said he draws parallels in how both the Mets and Dodgers were constructed.

“Obviously they’re a solid club, they can swing it, they can play defense, they have really, really good pitchers,” he said. “We know it’s going to be a battle. The blueprint is kind of the same for our team.”

Conforto reached base seven of 12 times up at-bat in that Dodgers series, the most painful addition to his on-base percentage coming on a bases-loaded plunk from Zack Grienke, who the Mets will almost certainly face in Game 1 or 2 of the NLDS.

He said the key to success against the Dodgers’ powerful right-hander is simply to stick to the game plan they’ve had all season.

“We’ve got to take disciplined at-bats and not get away from ourselves,” he said. “Stick to our plan and have quality at-bats, and we’ll be fine.”

Finishing the year with a .270/.335/.506 slash as well as nine homers and 26 RBIs in just 56 games, Conforto will be looked to as an integral bat in the Mets first postseason berth since 2006.

Keep checking back over the course of the week as I’ll have more from Conforto along with interviews with Curtis Granderson, Michael Cuddyer and Kevin Plawecki who recap the regular season and comment on the upcoming Division Series.

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MMO Exclusive: Sandy Alderson Explains How Cespedes Deal Went Down http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/09/mmo-exclusive-sandy-alderson-explains-how-cespedes-deal-went-down.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/09/mmo-exclusive-sandy-alderson-explains-how-cespedes-deal-went-down.html/#comments Sat, 19 Sep 2015 01:34:44 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=193648 sandy alderson

I just read Dave Dombrowski explain in an article by Gordon Edes of ESPN, his version of events on how the Yoenis Cespedes deal between the Tigers and the Mets went down.

I was very curious to see what Dombrowski had to say, mainly because Sandy Alderson was gracious enough to give MMO’s John Bernhardt an exclusive interview a week after he made the deal to explain how it all fell into place and how Cespedes became a Met.

Here is how Sandy explained the deal to us:

John: At the trade deadline you decided to go big and make several moves to bolster the New York Mets roster for the home stretch of what’s turning out to be an incredibly exciting pennant race. Those moves have been symbolic and strategic and have really charged up the players and the fans alike. Explain for us how all of that happened.

Sandy: You’re right, John. I think those moves were both symbolic and strategic. I think at that point of the season we acknowledged that we had some great pitching, that we were in a race, and that we clearly had some deficiencies and parts of our roster that we needed to improve. You can’t do that without having access to players outside of the organization, especially when you approach the trade deadline.

We acquired Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe a week or so before the deadline and that was really intended to upgrade the overall offense and give Terry Collins some more options and a little more depth on the bench.

We felt it was very important to add some veteran experience and both those players have been very good and have made an immediate impact. And a nice thing especially is that Kelly Johnson can play so many different positions and Juan Uribe has always been a very clutch player and is terrific in the clubhouse. We’ve seen that in the last few games.

We also felt we needed to improve the bullpen, especially with the loss of Jenrry Mejia. We thought we needed to provide some additional experience for the bullpen and we added Tyler Clippard who has been an excellent setup man. We knew that he could play in this environment and that he could exceed in that role as he did when he was with the Washington Nationals. Interestingly, he’s the only bullpen arm we have with any playoff experience, and I think that Bartolo Colon is the only other pitcher we have who’s been in the postseason. We felt that that was also important.

It’s still left us with a need to provide the team with some quality offense. We spent a lot of time for the three days leading up to the trade deadline and exploring many different possibilities. Everybody is now aware of the ill-fated Carlos Gomez trade, but we are very happy that we ended up with Cespedes and that Wilmer Flores is still with us. So all in all everything worked out pretty well.

So far all of those guys have really done well, and they’ve been a big boost for us. It also freed the rest of the roster to do what they do. Rather than having only three or four guys who we could count on to produce in the lineup we now have tremendous depth and solid options up and down the lineup.

We shouldn’t overlook the fact that we also called up Michael Conforto as well and traded for Eric O’Flaherty to give us another left-handed reliever. We’ve made a lot of different and significant roster changes over the last couple of weeks that we are very pleased with.

John: And the energy level surrounding this team has just been so astounding since those moves. The dramatic change and positive energy, not just with the players and the team but also the fans and the city, has been so incredible to see. People all over the town are now wearing Mets stuff and talking about Mets stuff it’s pretty amazing.

Sandy: That’s been very exciting and rewarding. We had a rough 4-5 days there where we lost a pitcher to a full year suspension, and then we had that Gomez thing which was very public and negative. Then we lost a very tough game on the Thursday following that aborted trade, so by the time we got to the trade deadline, things had gotten a little exhausting. So you make the trades hoping that things will improve but you never really know.

At the point we made the Cespedes trade we were three games out for the division lead and even more than that for the wild-card spot. But you do what you have to do and hope that things will improve and luckily they have. It ended up costing us some young players that we liked and one of them has been pitching very well and was very prominent in Michael Fulmer. But sometimes you have to do what you gotta do.

John: I’m a gigantic Michael Fulmer fan, I’ve watched him pitch six times this season. I have to ask you, please tell me just how difficult it is to trade a guy like that? It seems to me like you were holding off until the last possible second of the trade deadline before you actually pulled the trigger on that deal.

Sandy: It’s very true, we spent the whole day Friday trying to keep Michael Fulmer out of the deal. Then we looked at the clock and we only had 15 minutes left until the deadline and we realized that the Tigers were not going to budge. We even offered them more players just so we could hang on to him.

But at the end of the day, they just sat firm the whole time and they basically got exactly what they wanted. In retrospect we’re very happy that we did it, and we know Michael is going to be an outstanding pitcher.

John: Sounds like both teams got what they wanted. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Yoenis Cespedes.

Sandy: We’ve been very fortunate that he’s been able to play some centerfield for us. Originally one of the reasons we went after Carlos Gomez was because he could play centerfield and give us some flexibility at the corners.

But Cespedes has allowed us to do the same thing. Plus I think Juan Lagares has responded positively in what’s now a part-time role. He has been able to focus and work on some things without worrying about his results on a day to day basis. It looks like some of those things he’s applied immediately and it has already paid some dividends. So having Cespedes available to play centerfield has been a real plus for us.

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What’s really amazing to me about how Dombrowski explained his version of events was how strikingly similar everything was down to the last detail of what Sandy told us.

I expected to see some variations but there really weren’t any, it was almost an exact recounting of the Mets’ version of events.

“We were talking with other clubs, but the Mets, we always felt they were the best fit because they had good pitching and we felt they might give up a guy like Fulmer, who we really liked,” Dombrowski said. “They had so many starting pitchers, he was the one guy we identified from other clubs we liked the most.”

That’s pretty much what Sandy said to us, “They liked Fulmer a lot and they weren’t budging from him.”

One thing I learned that I didn’t know was that Jim Leyland, the former Tigers manager now a special assistant with the team, made a call to Mets manager Terry Collins, a good friend. “Jim said, ‘Terry, get him — he’s going to help you guys,’” Dombrowski said.

Both general managers explained how it went down to the wire. Dombrowski had advised Alderson that if they were going to make a deal, it had to be struck 10 minutes before the deadline, because there was a loan provision in Cespedes’ contract that would require approval by the commissioner’s office.

“Sandy said he would call back with an answer by quarter of four,” Dombrowski said. “And he did.”

“If we hadn’t gotten what we wanted,” Dombrowski said, “we would have kept him.” Again, exactly how Sandy portrayed it to us.

It’s fascinating.

The rest as they say is history. Pay the man. :-)

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MMO Exclusive: T.J. Rivera Just Keeps Hitting and Hoping http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/09/mmo-exclusive-t-j-rivera-just-keeps-hitting-and-hoping.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/09/mmo-exclusive-t-j-rivera-just-keeps-hitting-and-hoping.html/#comments Wed, 09 Sep 2015 15:00:57 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=192610 t.j. Rivera

When his baseball playing days are behind him, T.J. Rivera wants to be remembered as a grinder, a guy who didn’t simply go through the motions but played with 100 percent effort every time he stepped on a baseball diamond.

“That’s something I’ve always tried to live up to, going out there and playing hard every pitch,” Rivera stated in his final response during an interview I conducted with him on our WIOX, Tip-Off Sports radio hour.

You won’t get an argument about Rivera’s work ethic from Binghamton Met baseball fans who have watched the popular B-Met play three of the four infield positions during parts of the past two baseball seasons. Going into the final weekend of the regular season, Rivera leads the B-Mets in batting with a sparkling .350 batting average.

Amazingly, Rivera’s lofty BA is actually 8 points lower than his team high mark in the batter’s box in 2014. Over two seasons, in 415 B-Met at-bats, Rivera has 147 hits. That’s a combined two year Double-A batting average of .354.

And, in nearly 200 at-bats for Triple-A Las Vegas this summer Rivera was slashing at the plate. On July 18th, Rivera went 3-for-5 against Albuquerque raising his batting average to .327. A mini slump, 3-23, in the 8 games before his recall to Binghamton, dropped his Triple-A hitting stats to .306.

Putting it simply, T.J. Rivera can hit. With numbers echoing the batting line outlined above on every rung of the Met’s minor league ladder, it’s not surprising Rivera takes a bit of swagger into the batting box. I asked T.J. about his batting approach.

“It really depends on the situation,” he began. “With a guy on third base, you’re trying to do something different to what you’d do with no one on. You’re also just trying to hit the ball hard.”

Rivera went on to say that in every at bat he’s trying to compete with the pitcher. “Early in the count, I’m just trying to find a good fastball in the middle of the zone, something I can drive and something I can really put a good swing on and hopefully hit the ball in a gap somewhere.”

“With a strike or two strikes my approach will change a little bit. My swing doesn’t change but my approach does. With two strikes, I’m going to let the ball get a little deeper. The pitcher’s got a different approach, too, he’s trying to extend the zone a little. So, I have to change my approach and work a little harder to compete.”

“I don’t want to just put the ball in play with two strikes, I want to put it in play hard and make something happen. Obviously, everything changes with guys on base.”

Since T.J, has played at every level in the Mets minor league system, I asked him if there is a specific batting approach or philosophy emphasized in the Met farm system all the way up the minor league chain.

“I wouldn’t say anything too crazy that other teams are not doing. They do like us working the count. They like us to swing at pitches in the zone, and I think any club would probably think the same thing, because you don’t want to help the pitcher out.”

“They’re trying to teach us to find the pitch we like to hit and where in the zone we like to hit the ball best. Then try to hit that pitch and that pitch only until you get two strikes. You don’t want to swing at the pitch the pitcher wants you to. That ends up in a weak ground ball that you’re not looking to do.”

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Hitting the way he has year after year, apparently, T.J. Rivera is an attentive student. I asked him too about the difference in the pitching he has experienced as he climbed the Met minor league ladder.

“As you move up to Double-A and Triple-A you’re not going to get as many hitter’s counts where you can get the pitch you’re looking for, So, selective hitting plays a bigger role, because now if I don’t get the pitch I’m looking for and I swing at a pitch too low, I’m not going to do what I want at the plate.”

As Rivera sees it, stronger bullpens at the upper minor league levels also add to the batting challenge. “The bullpens get a lot better, too. It’s like every team has a lot of hard throwers and good arms in the bullpen. Other than that, pitchers at the upper level know how to pitch, so as you get older, you have to get smarter.”

Rivera said that the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez is one of the toughest pitchers he has faced so far in the minors. “You kind of knew he was going to be special.” Ironically, although he has faced some outstanding minor league prospects, it’s many times those crafty pitchers that change speeds in different ways that give him the most trouble.

As far as strong pitchers go, Rivera likes the guys in the Mets system most. “The guys on my teams, they’re the ones who impress me more than anybody, a guy like Steven Matz. I had to face him in spring training and that’s not fun. Noah Syndergaard, I had to face him, too.”

“Guys like that are overpowering. They throw the kind of stuff you’re expecting to see in the ninth inning from a closer, but they’re throwing it for 6 or 7 innings.”

T.J talked about the subtle differences in playing the various infield positions. At shortstop he said he has to remember to move his feet, to get to the ball with his feet because his throw from short is the longest you will make in the infield. Manning third base is about reflexes and handling the hot stuff and knowing the speedsters most likely to place a bunt perfectly down the line. He finds second base a bit easier because of the added time, but coming across the bag and throwing across your body with a sliding runner coming at you makes the turn on a double play an added challenge.

I mentioned that the middle infield slots seems to be the strongest position spots in the Met farm system and asked T.J. to talk briefly about some of his teammates who have played there. Here’s what he said.

Matt Reynolds – Consistent defensive play. He has a nice swing, but he really impresses me defensively at short.

Dilson Herrera – He’s an animal. That kid is a little ball of fire. He’s kind of like Darrell Cecilaini in that he ignites a team because he plays so hard. Sometimes you see a top prospect who kind of goes through the motions. He’s not like that. You’d never think he’s a top prospect because of the way he plays. You’ve got to love the way he goes about his business.

Wilfredo Tovar – Great hands. Smooth defensively. He’ll do some things with his glove that kind of wow you on the field and you’ll think – did that just happen? Great hands.

Daniel Muno – Nothing phases him. He’s the type of guy you can put in a tough situation because nothing phases him.

Gavin Cecchini – He’s impressed me with his stick, and he goes about his business the right way. He plays the game pretty well, pretty hard, and he’s impressed me this year a lot.

L.J. Mazzilli – He’s my roomie, a grinder on the baseball diamond. He knows how to play the game. He hits the ball consistently, and he’s got a really good swing. He hits the ball hard all over the place. He knows how to hit the ball hard to right-center field. That’s impressive.

Met fans always mention that Rivera went undrafted. T.J. told me the Mets called about a week after the draft to discuss his signing on. His humble introduction to professional baseball is a motivator. “There’s a lot that motivates me. For guys that went undrafted, it would be nice to show, we can play the game, too, and to never give up hope.”

Chatting with T.J. on the air and briefly following him this week at NYSEG Stadium, I can only hope he gets a shot and gets a chance at the big leagues. He’s earned it.

“If this kid ever gets a look in the majors, I know he’s going to hit,” said B-Mets GM Jim Weed, who has watched a lot of prospects over the years at Binghamton and the rest of the Eastern League. My sentiments exactly.

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Logan Verrett’s Road to the Show http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/logan-verretts-road-to-the-show.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/logan-verretts-road-to-the-show.html/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 15:00:11 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=191248 Logan Verrett

Congratulations to Logan Verrett, whose first major league start on Sunday was nothing short of fantastic. In a spot start for Matt Harvey, whom Verrertt is clearly better than, he went eight innings and gave up just one run on four hits and one walk, and logged eight strikeouts. You can read the full game recap here. I’ve always been a Verrett fan and was given permission and access to interview him two years ago when he was a member of the AA Binghamton Mets. We talked about his early baseball career and I was able to speak to some teammates and coaches about what makes Verrett so special. I wish him nothing but the best, not only because he’s a New York Met, but because he’s the kind of guy you want to root for. For a re-introduction to the Mets newest pitching weapon, below is the article I posted here on May 22, 2013.

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You hear it all the time: it isn’t about velocity, it’s about location. And no one exemplifies that old adage more than Logan Verrett. The 22-year-old Texas native was taken in the third round of the 2011 draft and has been impressive at all three minor league stops.

Verrett dominated A ball in 2012 in both Savannah and St. Lucie, combining to make 17 starts and finishing with an ERA of 2.70, a WHIP of 0.968, and a strikeout-to-walk rate of 7.15 over 103.1 innings pitched. Beginning the 2013 at AA Binghamton, Verrett has seen a slight regression in his numbers, but a slight regression from dominating is still excellent. After nine starts in the Eastern League, Verrett’s logged 60.1 innings pitched, his ERA sits at a 3.28 ERA and his WHIP is 1.044, good for fifth in the league, and his K/BB is 3.21.

And he’s doing it all with a 91 mph fastball.

“I know I’m not going to blow guys away,” Verrett acknowledges, “so I put a lot of effort into locating all my pitches and being able to throw all of them in any count. I like to keep them off balance and hitting spots helps me do that, especially with all four pitches.

Verrett’s repertoire consists of his fastball, both two-seam and four-seam, a slider, curve ball and change up His fastball has heavy sink on it and the slider is the out pitch. He has great command of all four pitches and can throw each for a strike at any time.

“You don’t have to throw 100 mph to get hitters out,” explains manager Pedro Lopez. “Guys who throw harder than he does get hit harder, because of his location. His fastball command to this point has been good. He’s also been able to throw his secondary pitches at any time in the count down in the strike zone.”

“He’s very aggressive and makes pitches when he needs to,” adds pitching coach Glenn Abbott. “He’s very competitive and likes the challenge.”

Lopez agrees. “He’s aggressive with all his pitches. He’s not afraid of contact and as a starting pitcher, when you do that, you find yourself pitching deep into ballgames. He’s been able to pitch deep into games just because he goes after hitters. That’s what he does best. He goes after hitters and he puts it in play early.”

Verrett’s 60.1 innings leads the Eastern League, as does his 6.7 IP per start (minimum six starts).

“Efficient” is how Coach Abbot describes Verrett. “You know what you’re going to get with him. When he pitched against the Yankees [AA affiliate Trenton Thunder], he got through 8.2 innings in his 100 pitches.”

Teammate Jack Leathersich sees the same thing, and from a pitcher’s perspective, adds that Verrett’s deceptiveness also plays a part in his success. “He’s not a 95 [mph] guy, but his fastball jumps out of his hand. I feel like as a hitter, it would look harder than what it actually comes in at. His slider is very, very sharp and looks exactly like his fastball coming out of his hand. That’s kind of his bread and butter.

“He’s really polished,” continues Leathersich, “and that’s how he was in college in the Cape league when I saw him there. He’s pitching really well and giving us a chance to win every time he goes out there.”

Catcher Blake Forsythe really enjoys catching Verrett. “He makes my job a lot easier than it is. He stays in the zone and is able to throw four different pitches for strikes. He’s got a lot of late movement, which forces contact, but not a lot of good contact. His slider is such a late breaking pitch, you have to try and go the other way with it. Hitters have to adjust to so many different things.”

When asked whether or not he expected to start this strong, Verrett offered a humble, if not sheepish, half-smile and shrug. “You always expect things to go well, until they don’t. But I prepared very intensely this off season I got to spring training a few weeks early. I was really able to get good one-on-one time with some pitching coaches. I was able to get an early jump on throwing. I think I took a really good approach during the off season and brought it with me to Spring Training and carried that into the season. That really helped with my confidence on the mound.

Verrett credits a high school pitching coach for helping plant the seeds that would eventually become a blossoming professional career. “He was only 10-15 years older than me and just recently got out of the game, so he was really young. It’s my senior year in high school and I have this new age approach to pitching that I’m being taught. He was always giving me tips and tidbits in my sides and bullpens, and that’s in high school. Just to be able to have a pitching coach in high school was amazing, especially one that had just left the game maybe three years before. He knew what it takes and what’s expected at the professional level and that’s the kind of approach he brought to our high school team. That carried over to my Baylor career and I felt like I was real mature for a freshman.

He finished his Baylor career seventh in strikeouts, and third among those who only pitched three years. He ranks second and third in conference-play K/BB and ERA, respectively.

Verrett knows there’s more work to be done. “What makes me successful is my ability to put the ball where I want it with all four pitches. I need to get better at doing that every single time. Not having the three or four mistake pitches that I leave up in a start. Like last night, for instance, I had four or five pitches that I could look back and say, “Yeah, I left that ball up.” If I’m going to be successful in the big leagues, it’s eliminating those mistake pitches and I think I’m on the right path.”

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MMO Exclusive: Paul Sewald Just Keeps Throwing Strikes http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/mmo-exclusive-paul-sewald-just-keeps-throwing-strikes.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/mmo-exclusive-paul-sewald-just-keeps-throwing-strikes.html/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 01:04:17 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=190662 paul-sewald-arizona-fall-league-scorpions-mets

He is part of a crop of young baseball players who grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada, a class that includes the likes of Bryce Harper, Joey Gallo and Kris Bryant. He’s thoughtful, strategic and articulate and made a perfect guest on a recent WIOX, Tip-Off radio show. I’m talking about Paul Sewald the current closer out of the Binghamton Mets bullpen.

Paul Sewald comes from a baseball family. His Dad was drafted out of high school by the Boston Red Sox but choose instead to go to college as a scholarship baseball player at Loyola Marymount College. Paul and his younger brother Johnny were impact players at Bishop Gorman high school, a Las Vegas school that had not won a baseball State championship in 52 years. Bishop Gorman won their first state title during Paul’s sophomore season, followed that up with two more during his junior and senior years, then took four more in succession when Paul went off to San Diego University and his young brother Johnny was a high school baseball star.

During Paul’s senior year at San Diego and Johnny’s senior year at Bishop Gorman the talented brothers were drafted on the same day, Paul by the Mets, and Johnny by the Baltimore Orioles. Johnny choose college over professional baseball accepting a scholarship to attend Arizona State and was drafted by the Houston Astros in the spring of this year.

We asked Paul to think forward and describe what a future pitching/hitting matchup with Paul Sewald on the mound for the New York Mets and Johnny Sewald in the batter’s box for the Astros might look like.

“I know it would be pretty hard for me to keep a straight face. It would be pretty funny to face your younger brother in a major league baseball game. I haven’t faced him in years. There would be a lot of pressure on both of us for bragging rights because I’m sure into the future that matchup would come up lots. I’d like to say I would get him out. Maybe he could hit a hard line drive ball caught in the outfield so it could be a 50/50 proposition.”

On the pitching hill, Paul Sewald has been nothing short of fantastic working his way through the Mets minor league system. Out of SD University, Sewald pitched in Brooklyn for the Cyclones in his first professional season. According to Sewald there is not better baseball setting for a young prospect to begin his professional baseball career than Brooklyn’s MCU Park.

“It was pretty incredible the environment at MCU Park with all those Met fans coming out to every game. 8,000 fans consistently packed the Stadium making it exciting to come to the park every day.”

Sewald worked in 16 NY Penn League games that summer of 2012 pitching 28.2 innings with a 1.88 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP while striking out 35 and walking only 2. That’s a pretty impressive professional start, yet, amazingly, Sewald’s results have improved each year as he’s advanced up the Mets minor league ladder.

As part of Savannah’s 2013 South Atlantic League championship squad, Sewald pitched 56 inning out of the bullpen with a 1.77 ERA and the exact same 0.98 WHIP. Once again, Sewald used impeccable pitch location and control as a foundation of his pitching success fanning 67 batters while walking only 7.

That pattern of pinpoint control has held over each of Sewald’s four professional seasons. In 36 games so far in Binghamton this season, Sewald has a 3-0 record and has recorded 20 saves in 21 save opportunities with a 1.71 ERA and a minuscule 0.88 ERA. Sewald has only allowed 7 free passes while striking out 44 Double-A batters in Binghamton.

Sewald was emphatic during the interview that throwing strikes is the most important part of pitching.

“If you walk a batter, you have a zero percent chance of getting them out. You’ve handed a hitter a free opportunity to get on base,” Sewald replied with passion.

“If you watch batting practice, they throw the ball right down the middle at 72 miles per hour every single time and the batter knows what’s coming and they know where it is coming and they still hit the ball for outs. So, why wouldn’t I throw the ball in the strike zone and make a hitter prove that he can get a hit?”

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“The best hitters in baseball make outs 7 out of 10 times. Those are pretty good odds if I’m on the mound. I want to make them prove they can get a hit. I don’t know if you’ve stood in the batter’s box and tried to hit a 90 mph fastball. It’s not easy, so why wouldn’t I try to throw the ball over the plate and get outs?”

Sewald talked about the importance of control and location to pitching success. He gets a little more specific when passing along advice for youngsters wanting to learn to pitch.

“Obviously there is a little bit of difference if you throw the ball down the middle or throw it to the corners of the plate. But, if you first learn to throw it down the middle you can begin to expand a little bit and start to throw quality pitches.”

“But, for me, it’s simply throw strikes and make a hitter prove that they can hit me. For the most part, guys don’t hit a lot of doubles and home runs very often, so if you don’t walk anyone, it takes 3 singles in an inning to bring in a run.”

I told Sewald I had read where his manager in Brooklyn called him a tiger on the mound and Danny Muno emailed a friend saying they had a kid who was an animal on the mound the first time he watched Sewald pitch. I wanted Paul to respond on the importance of a mental approach for a professional baseball pitcher.

“I pride myself on that,” Sewald said. “You have to feel like – ‘I’m the best pitcher in the world’ – or how can you be. I try to go out there with a frame of mind that nobody can hit me. You’ve seem guys who go out there on the mound and they look like they’ve defeated you already by just being there. Well, maybe if I pretend to look more intimidating than I actually am, I may gain a slight advantage over hitters.”

We discussed the fact that two pitching styles dominate the mechanics pitchers use on the hill, the more old fashioned ‘drop and drive’ style of yesteryear and the more prevalent ‘tall and fall’ style of the modern age.

I told Sewald that I had watched him pitch many times in Binghamton and his style appears solidly in the ‘drop and drive’ camp. In fact, I told him his delivery made me think of Tom Seaver every time I saw him pitch, staying low and thrusting his body forward toward the plate from that low position.

Sewald had never seen film of Seaver pitch. But, when someone from college who had watched him told him that his pitching style reminded him of Seaver, he decided to find some film and check it out.

“Don’t get me wrong, i don’t throw 97 miles per hour like Seaver. But, watching the film of Seaver I can understand how people might think my delivery is like the drop and drive style that a lot of guys from that era used. I use it to my advantage. It’s very deceptive. I step across my body, and have a low three-quarter arm angle. It can be very difficult for hitters to pick up the ball. I don’t throw 94-95 mph. I throw in the low 90’s. I have to throw the ball at the knees and in and out to the edges of the plate.”

Sewald started the season as Pedro Lopez’s eighth inning bridge to closer Jon Velasquez. When Velasquez got the call to Las Vegas, Sewald took over the closer duties. Later, Sewald was chosen to pitch for the USA national team in the Pan Am games that lasted for nearly a month.

When Sewald finished his time in Toronto and returned to Binghamton, Lopez handed him the ball again in the ninth inning. I wondered if Sewald saw those roles differently.

“I try not to view them as different. Throughout my professional career I have pitched anything from the 6th to the 9th and I try to treat each situation in a similar way. The most important thing is to make sure no runs get on the board. If it’s the ninth inning and i’m pitching for a save or its the sixth inning and I’m pitching for a single out, my focus is getting the next guy out.”

“As a relief pitcher your job is to come in, throw strikes, get quick outs and make sure no runs cross. So, I try not to think about if it’s a closer’s spot versus the set-up guy. I try to make the best pitch I can to every single hitter and try to get quick outs so I’m ready to go the next day, if they need me. For me, no matter what the situation, it’s about making the best pitch, getting the quick out, and if that’s at the end of the game when I’m done, then that’s the end of the game.”

Sewald uses both a four and two seam fastball that he likes to throw to both sides of the plate. He considers his slider as his best pitch.

“I’ve gotten good enough where I can maneuver it into something that looks like a curve and something that looks more like a cutter. I use that against both lefties and righties. The change is a work in progress because sometimes its great and sometimes its terrible. It’s inconsistent. That’s something I need to work on to be a successful major league pitcher some day.”

My favorite part of the interview came at the end. I had just completed reading a book from the Clair Bee Chip Hilton sports fiction series, a gift someone had given me a few years back that I never got around to reading. Chip Hilton first appears in the book working as a relief pitcher out of the bullpen. I would read Sewald a short piece from the book and ask him to respond. Here’s an example:

My Question: Early in the book Clair Bee is describing Chip Hilton as a pitcher. Here’s what he said. “The tall, blond freshman had blinding speed, a wicked screwball, a good curve, and unusual control of a deceptive knuckleball. More importantly he had poise, confidence and self-control. Explain the role poise, confidence and self-control play in important pitching results.

Paul’s response: “They’re huge. You have to have good mound presence. Any coach I’ve ever had told me you have to work on your mound presence. Obviously, when you’re a kid you’re not as good about it – having a bad attitude, pouting, that sort of thing. But, I feel that I’ve learned to go out there with a poker face. You can’t tell whether I’m doing well or I’m doing poorly. I try to keep and even keel attitude and show self-control no matter how things are going.”

“Then I try to look confident, and I do feel confident. I feel great when I go out there. I know I’m going to dominate because I feel like the best pitcher in the world every time I go out there. I use my poise to give off a sense that I know I’m better than a hitter. And, I try to walk around and use that confidence to my advantage.”

Over four minor league season’s Paul Sewald has thrown 183 innings, all out of the bullpen in the Mets minor league system. His combined ERA is an impressive 1.82 with a 0.981 WHIP. Opposing batters have hit only .219 against Sewald over his career. The future Met reliever has struck out 215 batters while walking only 35.

Paul Sewald is a great interview, bright and articulate, a kid who brings a well defined pitching concept and approach to the mound. Poised and confident, Sewald has met every challenge presented in the Mets minor league system so far. He is eagerly looking ahead for a chance to pitch for the 51’s in front of his girl friend, family, friends and his home town Las Vegas fans. But, first comes the business of defending the Eastern League championship in Binghamton.

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MMO Exclusive: Sandy Discusses Team Chemistry, Conforto, Plawecki (Part 3) http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/mmo-exclusive-sandy-discusses-chemistry-intangibles-conforto-plawecki-part-3.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/mmo-exclusive-sandy-discusses-chemistry-intangibles-conforto-plawecki-part-3.html/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 17:14:44 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=190381 sandy-alderson

Here is the final part of my exclusive interview on Friday morning with Mets general manager Sandy Alderson who was a guest on my Tip-Off Show. You can read Part One of Sandy’s interview by clicking here and Part Two here.

Huge thanks to Mets media relations vice president Jay Horwitz for putting this together and Joe D. who laboriously did all the transcribing so that this could be presented to you.

John: How important are the intangibles that a player possesses, including resilience, makeup or character in the decisions you make when you’re evaluating a player that your interested in acquiring?

Sandy: I think those things are vitally important. You know we have so much emphasis on the game today being placed on analytics and numbers. But those numbers are more easily realized or exceeded if the culture in the clubhouse or the chemistry in the clubhouse and the relationship with players is constructive.

Sometimes the relationship isn’t always friendly or professional and it’s difficult to predict what will be the outcome when you’re putting together 25 different players. What we try to do is make an attempt to have the right blend.

In our case we have some great veteran leadership in our clubhouse, but we’ve also got a lot of young and highly motivated players as well. It’s very nice right now because we have leadership in many different places. We have leadership among our position players, leadership among our starting pitchers, and leadership in the bullpen. Hopefully that’s a formula for getting as much out of our players as we possibly can.

Conforto Granderson

John: Rookie outfielder Michael Conforto has moved through the Mets system in record speed, what makes him so special?

Sandy: It’s a couple of things. First of all, he’s a very polished and advanced hitter both from the standpoint of his mechanics as well as his approach. One of the reasons that we were comfortable with promoting him from Binghamton, despite having very little experience above Single-A and no experience in Triple-A, was knowing that he had that solid approach from his amateur days and that it would serve him well and that he would be fine.

Conforto is a very mature player that fits in very well with any group, and he’s been taken under the wing of many of his peers at the major-league level who really like him. He’s done an excellent job for us… he’s not hitting .400 but he’s had some big hits for us, and some great at-bats, and that’s really our point of emphasis right now with him.

John: How about Dominic Smith? He was the FSL player of the month in June and he’s another number one draft pick, can you share some insights on him?

Sandy: Dom’s a left-handed hitting first baseman, and a pretty good defensive player. He’s also a very patient and selective player who is always looking for good pitches to hit.

The knock on Dom is that he doesn’t hit for much power, but he’s in the Florida State League which is a very tough hitter’s league. I think he’s third or fourth in OPS. So while he may only have four or five homeruns, he has lots of doubles and is proving to be a solid run producer. He’s having a very solid year hitting a little above .300 and his slugging percentage is excellent.

As I said he’s an exceptional defensive first baseman and a run producer who is still young, and I believe that Mets fans are going to like what they see from Dominic Smith when he eventually comes up.

tyler Clippard kevin Plawecki

John: You recently demoted Kevin Plawecki and promoted Anthony Recker to the major-league squad. The injury to Travis d’Arnaud allowed you to get an extended look at Plawecki. Can you tell us what you saw and what he needs to do to continue his development as a major league catcher?

Sandy: He did an excellent job for us defensively when we lost Travis. He stepped right in and did the lion’s share of the catching and was excellent. It’s not just our pitchers that create the great pitching environment that we have, it’s also the catchers and he did an outstanding job in that regard.

The reason that we sent him to Las Vegas was just to get him more at-bats, because with Travis coming back he was going to be sitting on the bench most of the time. We felt it was important that he go back to Vegas and get some at-bats on a routine basis. We hope to see him again sometime around September 1.

If you look at Kevin’s history, he has the kind of approach at the plate that we like. But anytime you’re a young player when you come in at the major-league level for the first time – particularly when you have to play every day – it becomes kind of a sink or swim proposition.

It’s not always easy to just fall back on that foundational approach you have, as Michael Conforto has also shown so far. But we like how Kevin Plawecki has come along, we believe in him, and we will see him again very shortly.

* * * * * * * * * *

We hope you enjoyed this exclusive interview with GM Sandy Alderson, his fifth with the gang at MMO. We thank Sandy for his generosity, openness, and allowing us to pick his brain and being very cordial and sincere about it.

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MMO Exclusive: Sandy Discusses Cespedes and Tigers Unwillingness To Budge (Part 2) http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/exclusive-sandy-discusses-cespedes-and-tigers-unwillingness-to-budge-part-2.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/exclusive-sandy-discusses-cespedes-and-tigers-unwillingness-to-budge-part-2.html/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 17:01:06 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=190354 Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta visited MCU Park Wednesday night, likely to check out first-round pick Michael Conforto. (Photo by Jim Mancari)

Here is the second part of my interview this morning with Mets general manager Sandy Alderson on me weekly Tip-Off Show. You can read part one of Sandy’s interview by clicking here.

John: I’m a gigantic Michael Fulmer fan, I’ve watched him pitch six times this season. I have to ask you, please tell me just how difficult it is to trade a guy like that? It seems to me like you were holding off until the last possible second of the trade deadline before you actually pulled the trigger on that deal.

Sandy: It’s very true, we spent the whole day Friday trying to keep Michael Fulmer out of the deal. Then we looked at the clock and we only had 15 minutes left until the deadline and we realized that the Tigers were not going to budge. We even offered them more players just so we could hang on to him.

But at the end of the day, they just sat firm the whole time and they basically got exactly what they wanted. In retrospect we’re very happy that we did it, and we know Michael is going to be an outstanding pitcher.

John: Sounds like both teams got what they wanted. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Yoenis Cespedes.

Sandy: We’ve been very fortunate that he’s been able to play some centerfield for us. Originally one of the reasons we went after Carlos Gomez was because he could play centerfield and give us some flexibility at the corners.

But Cespedes has allowed us to do the same thing. Plus I think Juan Lagares has responded positively in what’s now a part-time role. He has been able to focus and work on some things without worrying about his results on a day to day basis. It looks like some of those things he’s applied immediately and it has already paid some dividends. So having Cespedes available to play centerfield has been a real plus for us.

John: You have received a lot of high praise and acclaim for how you were able to retool and replenish the Mets farm system. Because of that, you were able to make those pre-trade deadline deals that seemed to have made a real impact on the major-league roster. What kind of organizational emphasis and initiatives are involved in shaping our minor-league system?

Sandy: Every organization says that they’re going to build their team through their minor-league system, but it really comes down to execution. You start by retaining all of your draft picks, and this year we knew this season was going to be different for us when we gave up a draft pick to sign Michael Cuddyer. That’s something that I don’t foresee us doing again in the future. I think that was the first indicator that we expected this season to be a little bit different.

Retaining your full capacity of drafted players as well as signing them from the international market is just part of it as having a top development team is also a big part of that. Eventually you have to turn that highly regarded talent into professional baseball players.

I’m a big believer in organization and having a systematic approach to things. You know Paul DePodesta and Dick Scott run our minor-league system and they’ve done such a tremendous job of keeping things well-organized from a training standpoint as well as from a performance standpoint.

We have organizational philosophies on hitting and pitching and we try to be consistent in applying those philosophies throughout the system.

The goal of our player development system is to improve the players, but it’s always critical as well to get good talent into our system. We focused on being systematic and well-organized and having coaches who can teach as well as just running games. Those things have been very important.

* * * * * * * * * *

Stay tuned for our final installment of our three-part exclusive interview with Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, which we will post very shortly.

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MMO Exclusive: Sandy Talks Leadup To Trade Deadline and Impact On Team (Part 1) http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/exclusive-sandy-talks-leadup-to-trade-deadline-and-impact-on-team-part-1.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/exclusive-sandy-talks-leadup-to-trade-deadline-and-impact-on-team-part-1.html/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 17:00:39 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=190331 1439556199758

I was fortunate enough to have another exclusive interview with Mets general manager Sandy Alderson again on Friday morning during my weekly Tip-Off show.

With the New York Mets in first place atop the NL East and opening up a 4.5 game lead over the Washington Nationals, fans are salivating at the thought of postseason baseball for the first time since 2006.

After a torrid start to the season in April that included a season-high 11 game winning streak, the Mets quickly stagnated to a .500 level team as the offense averaged just 3.2 runs per game from May through July.

However all that changed after Sandy Alderson made a series of bold moves highlighted by the trade for All Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Since that day the Mets are 10-2, but more importantly they have scored more runs than any team in the majors and averaging 5.6 runs per game.

Here is what the architect of the 2015 Mets had to say on a number of topics, most of which focused on player development and building a strong system that would produce a pipeline of top talent to the big league roster.

John: At the trade deadline you decided to go big and make several moves to bolster the New York Mets roster for the home stretch of what’s turning out to be an incredibly exciting pennant race. Those moves have been symbolic and strategic and have really charged up the players and the fans alike. Explain for us how all of that happened.

Sandy: You’re right, John. I think those moves were both symbolic and strategic. I think at that point of the season we acknowledged that we had some great pitching, that we were in a race, and that we clearly had some deficiencies and parts of our roster that we needed to improve. You can’t do that without having access to players outside of the organization, especially when you approach the trade deadline.

We acquired Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe a week or so before the deadline and that was really intended to upgrade the overall offense and give Terry Collins some more options and a little more depth on the bench.

We felt it was very important to add some veteran experience and both those players have been very good and have made an immediate impact. And a nice thing especially is that Kelly Johnson can play so many different positions and Juan Uribe has always been a very clutch player and is terrific in the clubhouse. We’ve seen that in the last few games.

We also felt we needed to improve the bullpen, especially with the loss of Jenrry Mejia. We thought we needed to provide some additional experience for the bullpen and we added Tyler Clippard who has been an excellent setup man. We knew that he could play in this environment and that he could exceed in that role as he did when he was with the Washington Nationals. Interestingly, he’s the only bullpen arm we have with any playoff experience, and I think that Bartolo Colon is the only other pitcher we have who’s been in the postseason. We felt that that was also important.

It’s still left us with a need to provide the team with some quality offense. We spent a lot of time for the three days leading up to the trade deadline and exploring many different possibilities. Everybody is now aware of the ill-fated Carlos Gomez trade, but we are very happy that we ended up with Cespedes and that Wilmer Flores is still with us. So all in all everything worked out pretty well.

So far all of those guys have really done well, and they’ve been a big boost for us. It also freed the rest of the roster to do what they do. Rather than having only three or four guys who we could count on to produce in the lineup we now have tremendous depth and solid options up and down the lineup.

We shouldn’t overlook the fact that we also called up Michael Conforto as well and traded for Eric O’Flaherty to give us another left-handed reliever. We’ve made a lot of different and significant roster changes over the last couple of weeks that we are very pleased with.

John: And the energy level surrounding this team has just been so astounding since those moves. The dramatic change and positive energy, not just with the players and the team but also the fans and the city, has been so incredible to see. People all over the town are now wearing Mets stuff and talking about Mets stuff it’s pretty amazing.

Sandy: That’s been very exciting and rewarding. We had a rough 4-5 days there where we lost a pitcher to a full year suspension, and then we had that Gomez thing which was very public and negative. Then we lost a very tough game on the Thursday following that aborted trade, so by the time we got to the trade deadline, things had gotten a little exhausting. So you make the trades hoping that things will improve but you never really know.

At the point we made the Cespedes trade we were three games out for the division lead and even more than that for the wild-card spot. But you do what you have to do and hope that things will improve and luckily they have. It ended up costing us some young players that we liked and one of them has been pitching very well and was very prominent in Michael Fulmer. But sometimes you have to do what you gotta do.

* * * * * * * * * *

Read Part Two of this interview where Sandy discusses Cespedes, development and organizational philosophies.

Stay tuned for part three of this exclusive interview on Saturday.

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MMO Exclusive: Bobby Valentine Says Mets Could Win World Series http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/bobby-valentine-says-mets-could-win-world-series.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/bobby-valentine-says-mets-could-win-world-series.html/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 16:33:01 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=190578 bobby valentine

In the last three weeks, the conversation has largely shifted from if the Mets make the postseason to when. The question still remaining however, is whether this is a team capable of playing deep into October or not.

Bobby Valentine, who knows a thing or two about quality Mets baseball, believes this year’s club could win it all.

“I think they could win a World Series,” Valentine told me Saturday while I was covering the Mets game for WSOU–Seton Hall’s student radio station. “Those guys are healthy and they’re out there pitching. No one wants to play the New York Mets.

In addition to the pitching staff that are “compared to none,” Valentine said the 2015 Mets just have the right formula for postseason success.

“When you get really good talent and then you get really good health you have a chance of being more than competitive down the stretch, I think you have a chance of winning it,” he said.

The flurry of deadline deals, highlighted by the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes, not only drastically improved an offense that was in dire need of assistance, but made a statement that the Mets were ready to play relevant baseball into the final weeks of the season. Valentine, who’s 1998 team benefited from the midseason trade for Mike Piazza, said it is a major confidence booster for a ball club when a front office chooses to buy at the deadline.

“It just changes the attitude,” he said. “Once the attitude changes, life is good. Guys go up there now feeling good about themselves.”

It is that attitude alteration, particularly on offense, that Valentine said puts the Mets over the top.

“They didn’t have enough confidence, now they have enough confidence on offense,” he said. “So they’re the team to beat.”

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MMO Exclusive: Michael Conforto Talks Big League Baseball With Metsmerized! http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/07/mmo-exclusive-michael-conforto-talks-big-league-baseball-with-metsmerized.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/07/mmo-exclusive-michael-conforto-talks-big-league-baseball-with-metsmerized.html/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 17:48:39 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=188072 michael Conforto

As top prospect Michael Conforto gets set to make his MLB debut tonight when the New York Mets take on the Los Angeles Dodgers, I wanted to share the interview I conducted with him three weeks ago, for those who may have missed it.

There’s some great information and insights from this exciting young slugger who is mature beyond his years and has a great outlook and a contagious enthusiasm about him.

Please enjoy…

MMO - First off I want to congratulate you on a great season and finally getting promoted to Binghamton.

Conforto - Thanks, just playing and coming out everyday like it’s the same! while trying to keep it simple. The day finally came and now here I am.

MMO - You started the year off really well in St. Lucie then the pitcher’s seemed to adjust to you or did they stop pitching to you?

Conforto - It was a combination of both, they started pitching around me a little bit and I started swinging at pitches that I normally wouldn’t if I was hitting well. Then they changed their approach to me by pitching inside more and I started swinging at those pitches which were low percentage for me, putting myself in a little slump.

But that’s baseball you know, those things are going to happen and I just had to find a way to work myself out of it which I did. I got in the cage and worked with my coaches and the hard work paid off. I got the call here with a spot open and have had a good start here too.

MMO - Now what adjustments have you had to make to pitching at the AA level?

Conforto - Just trying to stay simple, staying with the approach that I have and avoiding things I did during my first slump where I got out of my rhythm. It’s good to get that first one out of the way because you know you are not going to be hot all the time.

I need to just stick to the approach that gives me the best chance up there (at the plate), even if I’m facing a good pitcher. I need to make sure I am swinging at quality hitter’s pitches instead off chasing good pitcher’s pitches that way I have a better chance at the plate.

As far as adjustments I wouldn’t say I’ve have had to make many, the difference here (AA) is that the pitchers are more consistent, they make less mistakes and they can throw 3 or 4 different pitches for strikes. I need to make sure I’m keeping it simple here, it’s still baseball and its the same game. The consistency here might change but that doesn’t mean I have to change.

MMO - In St. Lucie you struggled against lefties but to start your career here in Binghamton you have faced seven left-handed starting pitchers in the first 10 games and you have obviously fared better. What do you think the reason is for that?

Conforto - I think it’s all part of coming up here (Binghamton) with a fresh start that allowed me to get back into what I was doing to start the season and in spring training.

I don’t think it was actually a lefty/righty thing as much as just getting back to my approach. I have never had a problem facing lefties, I have always felt comfortable against them it’s not like when I see that a lefty is throwing I say oh crap. I treat it the same way and now that no matter what hand they throw with as long as I keep my approach the same I have a good chance

MMO - When you were drafted there were a lot of draft experts that said you were below average defensively in LF and you might not stick there. Having watched you it seems like you have worked on your defense and throwing while improving both.

Conforto - I knew the criticisms, I had heard about them and the coaches here talked to me about it. I have put work in with them (coaches) and the best time to do it is in batting practice so you can get live reads off the bat.

Getting myself into the right position to throw was a big thing for me that helped me start throwing guys out (6 OF assists this year) and be more accurate. It’s just something that I had to work on, I had to be out there everyday playing and its incredible what hard work can do for you.

MMO - How much attention do you pay to the big club and fans wanting you to come up now? Do you pay attention to all the social media?

Conforto - I get sent stuff from my grandfather who is so into that stuff, he keeps up on everything and knows about anything that comes out. He will send stuff to my dad and he is careful about how much of it he sends to me. I try not to pay too much attention because it doesn’t have too much control on what is going to happen. All I can control is the way I am playing and to keep showing up to the ballpark everyday. 

MMO - What do you think you need to improve on to become a better player and to make it to the big leagues eventually?

Conforto - I think I need to be more consistent at the plate to try and avoid slumps like I had in St. Lucie. I also need to continue to work on my defense and putting myself in good positions to make plays.

I also need to work on my baserunning like taking extra bases, knowing when to be aggressive because it’s small things like that which separates the  guys here (AA) from the guys playing in the Majors.

MMO - Thanks Michael, good luck this year and hope to see you in New York soon. 

* * * * * * * *

During batting practice, I got the sense other players knew that Conforto was something special and a future star. They all stood around him and watched when his turn came up at batting practice.

Conforto didn’t disappoint them as he kept blasting mammoth homeruns as his teammates watched in awe and laughed at the ridicolous distance on some of them. At one point a teammate turned to me and said “This guy is a f**king joke.” He had just hit one completely out of the park.

I was able to talk to multiple scouts that were there watching the Mets. They were impressed with the power/swing from Conforto. One scout did say that he needs more work on his defense but when I asked him if Conforto could hit in the big leagues right now he said, “Yes, I don’t see why not”.

Thanks for reading.

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MMO Exclusive: Lynn Worthy on Conforto, Fulmer, Cecchini, Cessa, More… http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/07/mmo-exclusive-lynn-worthy-on-conforto-fulmer-cecchini-cessa-more.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/07/mmo-exclusive-lynn-worthy-on-conforto-fulmer-cecchini-cessa-more.html/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 12:00:57 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=187005 Michael - Conforto by Michael Baron

(Photo by Michael Baron, Just Mets)

I’m pleased to welcome B-Mets beat reporter Lynn Worthy to the MMO community. Lynn, who does a terrific job covering the Binghamton Mets for the Press & Sun Bulletin, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. Enjoy…

MMO: You could probably predict what my first question is going to be. Promoting Michael Conforto to the majors is all the rage again and it appears it’s going to happen as soon as the Mets place Michael Cuddyer on the DL in the next day or two. You’ve watched Conforto play for over a month now, what is your opinion, is he ready or not? Any concerns?

Lynn: I think he’s got a great chance to be a very good player. I also think he’d benefit from more time in the minors, particularly in the upper levels. I wrote a column a few weeks back sort of explaining my thoughts, but it basically boils down to a few things for me.

One, this is his first full season of professional baseball, and he has played less than 50 games at Double-A.

Two, he’s just now getting to where he is playing teams for the second or third series – his first 30 games they did not play a second series against a team – and he needs to face the challenge of making adjustments to pitching staffs that have adjusted to him.

Three, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect him to be a savior of the offense on the major-league level. If he goes up now, that’s what folks will expect. While some rookies have immediate success, that’s never a given.

MMO: With all the excitement over Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard you almost forget about right-hander Michael Fulmer. He seems to be having a very solid season for the Binghamton Mets. What can you tell us about him that we may not already know? Do you think his current success will translate to major-league success one day?

Lynn: I think injuries were a big part of what slowed him down earlier in his career. This season, he has been healthy and impressive. He got to Binghamton late because he started off at extended spring training, but he has a mid-90s fastball as well as a slider that can be nasty. When he commands his fastball and has his changeup working as a third offering, he has dominated some Double-A lineups.

Fastball command has been the key for him. The games when he has had it, he has gone deep into games and looked great. When he hasn’t, he has had shorter outings and had to work with men on base a lot. I think he could definitely have success as a reliever, and even as a starter if he continues to work on his changeup.

MMO: Besides Fulmer, is there another starting pitcher who you’ve been impressed with this season?

Lynn: While he was here, Luis Cessa was impressive. He really took off after his first five starts. Early in the season, he let the game speed up on him a bit and he’d fall victim to big innings. He also had to adjust to Double-A hitters. Cessa told me that B-Mets pitching coach Glenn Abbott really got him to understand that he needed to use his off-speed more often. Once he did that, he had a stretch of nearly 20 innings where he allowed just one earned run.

He’s at Triple-A now, and he’ll probably have to make more adjustments to the level of hitters there and the hitter-friendly environment of the PCL.

MMO: Paul Sewald isn’t a particularly hard thrower ranging around 92-93 mph, but he’s having an impressive season and is striking out a ton of batters. What are your thoughts on him and can he be a serviceable reliever in the majors?

Lynn: I think what he is able to do whenever he gets to Triple-A will tell us more about his potential as a big-league reliever. He doesn’t have overpowering velocity, but hasn’t walked very many batters while striking out about one per inning. I think he has a chance, but some of the other relievers who’ve been very good here have had their ups and downs in Las Vegas.

New York Mets

MMO: Gotta ask about Gavin Cecchini. It looks like he’s finally starting to put it all together at the plate, is he? And what about his defensive game?

Lynn: Offensively, he has been steady at the plate. Minor League Hitting Coordinator Lamar Johnson told me early in the season that he has a lot of success when he hits line drives and isn’t hitting a lot of fly balls. That has proven true this season. When he has his multi-hits games it tends to be when he is hitting line drives to all fields. He has also reduced his strikeout rate this year compared to past seasons.

Defensively, he seems to get to balls well. His throws, sometimes rushed, have led to a large chunk of his errors. Some scouts who’ve seen him this year have said they like him better as a potential second baseman, but he is just 21 and the Mets seems to want to keep him at shortstop for now.

MMO: One player I’ve always been intrigued by is T.J. Rivera. He’s never looked at as a top prospect and yet he’s batted over .300 at every level and every season since be turned pro in 2011. You got to see him a little before he was promoted to Las Vegas. Care to share any thoughts?

Lynn: I like T.J., and he certainly hits. He hits for a good average, and he hits with men on base. He can play multiple positions on the infield. The things that I think might work against him is that he doesn’t draw a lot of walks, and he also doesn’t hit for a lot of power.  He walked 25 times last season between Double-A and High-A in 115 games. Compare that with a guy like Brandon Nimmo who walked 86 times in 127 games in 2014. I think if he continues to hit, he may earn himself a chance. However, the lack of walks or big power numbers may have been what gets him overlooked.

MMO: Who is this kid Josh Smoker that was recently promoted to Binghamton from St. Lucie? He seemed to be getting a lot buzz when he was pitching in the FSL.

Lynn: Josh was a highly-touted prospect in the Washington Nationals farm system. He got drafted out of high school as a starter, but eventually moved to the bullpen. He had recurring shoulder issues with the Nationals that cost him large chunks of three seasons. He spent last season out of affiliated ball, and pitched in the Frontier League.

The Mets signed him this off-season and made a change to his motion. Smoker, now 26, told me he feels in control on the mound for the first time in his entire career. He’s a left-hander out of the bullpen throwing 95-96, and he also throws a split-finger and a changeup. He gets plenty of swing and miss.

MMO: Is there one player we haven’t mentioned that has really impressed you and caught your attention this season?

Lynn: Several players have had their stretches throughout the season where they’ve shown flashes such as pitchers Gabriel Ynoa and Seth Lugo. Brandon Nimmo is hitting for better average, and hitting against left-handed pitching. Though the month he missed with a knee injury may have set him back some.

Second baseman L.J. Mazzilli is a guy who had shown ability to hit with some pop. He started off the season on suspension, but he is coming around of late. Mazzilli has looked really good at the plate in recent games.

MMO: I’m always reading so many good things about manager Pedro Lopez. What’s he like? Does he run a tight ship? What do the players say about him? Is he big on fundamentals?

Lynn: Pedro is mostly calm and confident in his players, but he also can be fiery if he sees something he doesn’t like. Despite being in the minors, he cares a lot about winning. He doesn’t accept losing easily.

His first season at Double-A, I think he admitted he left some things pre-game up to guys because a lot of them had more experience. Now, he is slightly more regimented about making sure guys get their work in or extra work in.

He is big on preaching the organizational philosophy on hitting and approach at the plate, but also stresses the need for individuals to recognize what the opposition is doing and make adjustments within a game.

MMO: Lynn, I’ve been following your excellent and comprehensive coverage for years now, how long have you been at it now? What got you started in this field? And what do you love most about your job?

Lynn: I’ve been at the Press & Sun-Bulletin and Pressconnects.com for almost five years. Previously, I worked in Lowell, Mass. I was a stringer for sports as well as an intern and part-time weekend news reporter in Lowell while working on my master’s degree. I got a full-time job in the sports department there, and I spent just shy of five years covering high school, college and professional sports, including the Boston Celtics’ most-recent championship run.

My favorite parts of the job include sharing the behind-the-scenes sights, sounds and overall atmosphere that fans don’t regularly get to see, as well as the insight from participants and decision-makers fans might not otherwise get hear from. I really enjoy sharing the richly-layered stories of individuals who we might only see on game days or know through statistics in box scores.

MMO: Thanks so much for your time and I look forward to reading more of your B-Mets coverage throughout the season. You can find Lynn on Twitter at @PSBLynn.

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MMO Exclusive: Michael Conforto Focused On Improving His Game, Not On His MLB Debut http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/06/mmo-exclusive-michael-conforto-focused-on-improving-his-game-not-on-his-mlb-debut.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/06/mmo-exclusive-michael-conforto-focused-on-improving-his-game-not-on-his-mlb-debut.html/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 15:20:28 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=185053 michael Conforto

The Mets drafted Michael Conforto because of his prowess as a hitter and he has yet to disappoint since making his pro debut for the Brooklyn Cyclones last season and starting off his career with a 10-game hitting streak. He would finish his first year in pro ball hitting .331/.403/.448 with ten doubles, three homeruns, sixteen walks, and 19 RBI in 42 games in short season ball.

Conforto introduced himself to all Mets fans this spring when he got into 5 games going 4-11 with three RBI while showing his sweet left-handed swing.

With no need for him to go down to Savannah the Mets bumped him straight to Advanced-A St. Lucie where he dominated in the month of April hitting .313/.396/.566 with six homeruns and nineteen RBI.

On May 24th the Fort Myers Miracle decided he had beaten them enough (7 hits, 2 HR’s in last 3 games against them) and the best way to avoid similar results was to intentionally walk him three times that day. For some reason they chose to try pitching to him the next day and Conforto went 3-4 with a homerun and a double before being intentionally walked in his last at-bat.

Other teams started getting sick of Michael beating them, they started pitching around him leading him to his worst pro month of baseball hitting just .255/.328/.387 while walking nine times and getting HBP three times. Despite the May struggles he was still named a Florida State League All-Star and finished hitting .283/.350/.462 with twelve doubles, seven homeruns, and 28 RBI for St. Lucie.

On May 29th the Mets finally did what most fans and prospect gurus had been clamoring about for weeks and promoted the first-rounder to Double-A Binghamton.

All Michael has done since being moved up is hit .377/.482/.623 with seven doubles, two triples, two homeruns, and 12 RBI with a 14/17 BB/SO while reaching base in all 19 of his games for the B-Mets. Conforto also has an isolated slugging of .262 in AA something only 12 Major League hitters have accomplished this year in the big leagues.

Michael has also worked on his defense in left field which was a big topic of discussion when he was drafted. He has only one error in 59 games this year after making five in just 41 games last year.

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Michael and I talked on Wednesday in Portland after watching him put on a power display in batting practice and here is our conversation:

MMO - First off I want to congratulate you on a great season and finally getting promoted to Binghamton.

Conforto - Thanks, just playing and coming out everyday like it’s the same! while trying to keep it simple. The day finally came and now here I am.

MMO - You started the year off really well in St. Lucie then the pitcher’s seemed to adjust to you or did they stop pitching to you?

Conforto - It was a combination of both, they started pitching around me a little bit and I started swinging at pitches that I normally wouldn’t if I was hitting well. Then they changed their approach to me by pitching inside more and I started swinging at those pitches which were low percentage for me, putting myself in a little slump.

But that’s baseball you know, those things are going to happen and I just had to find a way to work myself out of it which I did. I got in the cage and worked with my coaches and the hard work paid off. I got the call here with a spot open and have had a good start here too.

MMO - Now what adjustments have you had to make to pitching at the AA level?

Conforto - Just trying to stay simple, staying with the approach that I have and avoiding things I did during my first slump where I got out of my rhythm. It’s good to get that first one out of the way because you know you are not going to be hot all the time.

I need to just stick to the approach that gives me the best chance up there (at the plate), even if I’m facing a good pitcher. I need to make sure I am swinging at quality hitter’s pitches instead off chasing good pitcher’s pitches that way I have a better chance at the plate.

As far as adjustments I wouldn’t say I’ve have had to make many, the difference here (AA) is that the pitchers are more consistent, they make less mistakes and they can throw 3 or 4 different pitches for strikes. I need to make sure I’m keeping it simple here, it’s still baseball and its the same game. The consistency here might change but that doesn’t mean I have to change.

MMO - In St. Lucie you struggled against lefties but to start your career here in Binghamton you have faced seven left-handed starting pitchers in the first 10 games and you have obviously fared better. What do you think the reason is for that?

Conforto - I think it’s all part of coming up here (Binghamton) with a fresh start that allowed me to get back into what I was doing to start the season and in spring training.

I don’t think it was actually a lefty/righty thing as much as just getting back to my approach. I have never had a problem facing lefties, I have always felt comfortable against them it’s not like when I see that a lefty is throwing I say oh crap. I treat it the same way and now that no matter what hand they throw with as long as I keep my approach the same I have a good chance

MMO - When you were drafted there were a lot of draft experts that said you were below average defensively in LF and you might not stick there. Having watched you it seems like you have worked on your defense and throwing while improving both.

Conforto - I knew the criticisms, I had heard about them and the coaches here talked to me about it. I have put work in with them (coaches) and the best time to do it is in batting practice so you can get live reads off the bat.

Getting myself into the right position to throw was a big thing for me that helped me start throwing guys out (6 OF assists this year) and be more accurate. It’s just something that I had to work on, I had to be out there everyday playing and its incredible what hard work can do for you.

MMO - How much attention do you pay to the big club and fans wanting you to come up now? Do you pay attention to all the social media?

Conforto - I get sent stuff from my grandfather who is so into that stuff, he keeps up on everything and knows about anything that comes out. He will send stuff to my dad and he is careful about how much of it he sends to me. I try not to pay too much attention because it doesn’t have too much control on what is going to happen. All I can control is the way I am playing and to keep showing up to the ballpark everyday. 

MMO - What do you think you need to improve on to become a better player and to make it to the big leagues eventually?

Conforto - I think I need to be more consistent at the plate to try and avoid slumps like I had in St. Lucie. I also need to continue to work on my defense and putting myself in good positions to make plays.

I also need to work on my baserunning like taking extra bases, knowing when to be aggressive because it’s small things like that which separates the  guys here (AA) from the guys playing in the Majors.

MMO - Thanks Michael, good luck this year and hope to see you in New York soon. 

Michael went and signed some autographs as we were getting ready to start our interview, he also went back over to sign more afterwards. Kids were yelling for him the whole time during the interview and he signed for each one. After the game he was also the only guy to sign for kids right beside the dugout which is pretty unusual to do at that ballpark. He also made it a point to come over during batting practice to say hello to me and shake my hand.

I covered Binghamton when they were in Portland last month and it was completely different this time, the team had a different feel to it. The other players know that Conforto is/will be a star, they stood around batting practice watching as he hit mammoth homeruns just laughing at the ridicolous distance on some of them. At one point a teammate turned to me and said “this guy is a f**** joke” because he just hit one completely out of the park.

Before both games I was able to talk to multiple scouts that were there watching the Mets. They were impressed with the power/swing from Conforto. One scout did say that he needs more work on his defense but when I asked him if Conforto could hit in the big leagues right now he said “Yes, I don’t see why not”.

The Mets say they are not considering a promotion to the big league team for Conforto according to Mike Puma of the New YorkPost. But that’s okay with Michael who is only focused on improving his performance and becoming the best player he can be. We all wish him well.

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Getting To Know Mets Pitching Prospect Akeel Morris http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/06/getting-to-know-relief-prospect-akeel-morris.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/06/getting-to-know-relief-prospect-akeel-morris.html/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 03:27:32 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=184484 image-1

Here’s an interview we did with recently promoted pitching prospect Akeel Morris. This was conducted this past Winter right after the Mets decided to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. As you’ll see, the St. Thomas, Virgin Islands  native spoke extensively about his success and what drives him. Enjoy…

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Petey: Hi Akeel, thanks for taking the time to do this interview for all of us at MMO, all the readers will really enjoy hearing from you.

After your amazing season this year in Savannah, there is a great deal of buzz about you in and around the organization not to mention the rest of baseball. How do you feel about the year you just had now that you have had a little time to decompress?

Akeel: The year I had personally was for me a great accomplishment. To see what I could do in a full season, the competition level and just moving up and being successful at every level for me is an accomplishment. I’m happy about that and excited to keep moving up and challenges, and challenging better hitters. So that really was an accomplishment for me personally. About the baseball world, it was a really great year, for me to make the All-Star team and post-season All-Star team, and the Sterling Award. On top of a great season that was even more than I could have asked for.

Petey: Well all those awards and accolades were well deserved my man. It is great to see your hard work and dedication paying off like that. Are you going to play any winter ball?

Akeel: No I’m not going to play any winter ball.

Petey: I went back in the MMO archives to find the interview you and I did before and I was shocked to see that it was just over three years ago, October 2011! A lot has gone down since then. It seems things really started to roll when you were switched to relief, that was the beginning of 2012 I think?

Akeel: Yeah I was put in a piggy-back role in 2012 so I was coming out of the bullpen. Yeah so you could say I started relief in 2012. And 2013 I was with the Brooklyn Cyclones. I wasn’t on a full relief schedule there, the appearances were just as much but I was out of the bullpen. I was on a starter’s schedule but I was piggy-backing as well. But yeah this year in Savannah was the first full year in the bullpen. Doing back-to-back outings, that was a big difference. You’re on a throwing program everyday, and you got to pitch that night. You have to learn how to pace yourself and how your arm is feeling going into the game and stuff. It was also a learning experience for me coming out of the bullpen.

Petey: Yeah and if you’re facing the same team two nights in a row you have to be able to show them something different right?

Akeel: Exactly. So it was definitely a learning experience.

Petey: Was there a moment when things really started to ‘click’ for you, and did that help your confidence?

Akeel: Confidence-wise, when I’ve got my good stuff, on most nights consistently like that I kinda got a feel for. I know what I gotta do to have this and this, and you’re not going to have it every night. But when you can have it on most nights that’s all you can really ask for, and you have to battle it the other nights. I got a feel for how I need to be, what I need to be, and what I need to do, to have my stuff be effective most nights, you know? I guess that’s what really ‘clicked’, learning about myself.

Petey: That’s really cool man. So how would you describe your mindset when you are entering a game as a closer? How is it different from starting a ball game?

Akeel: Yeah, it’s definitely different, I mean as a closer or even late in a ball game, you’re going to come in when the game is tied or most likely when your team is up and your like okay, they play nine innings, you’ve got to shut it down. No free passes, no anything. You don’t want to give them any momentum, you know? It’s really just like shut it down, shut it down, that’s all you’re really thinking.

Petey: Being aggressive.

Akeel: Yeah. Basically that’s a simple message in my head, I got to shut it down, go right after these guys. Don’t give them any free passes.

Petey: Is there any ritual or mental prep you do in the bullpen before coming in with the game on the line?

Akeel: Mental preparation, I mean that’s gradual throughout the game. As the later innings come buy I start to get a little more locked in. I start to move around in the bullpen, even as the the game is close in the eighth inning sometimes I just sit around and it’s about mentally locking in. When the whole process really starts for me is before I get on the mound to warm up. Sometimes you don’t have as much time but it doesn’t feel like that once you mentally prepared yourself. So that’s what works for me.

Petey: When we did our last interview for MMO we discussed your pitches at the time. I would imagine they have come a long way since then. Back in 2011 this what you said on the subject:

“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. My curve is mid to upper 70′s, and change up is upper 70′s to low 80′s.”

What kind of speeds and movement is your fastball exhibiting these days?

Akeel: My fastball has been sitting at 93-95 mph this season, topped out at 97. Most people tell me it has like a downhill plane, most times it has life to it. Sometimes my catcher will tell me it looks like it’s coming down and looks like it’s going to hit the ground, but it just rides out and it reaches the catcher. So it kinda looks like it’s downhill, downhill, downhill, but it somehow rides out to the plate. So I don’t know how to explain it, that’s what he told me.

Petey: Wow, it sounds like the pitch has natural rise or carry but you’re keeping the ball down in the zone as well.

Akeel: I guess so yeah something like that.

Petey: That’s a four-seam fastball?

Akeel: Yeah I throw a four-seam fastball.

Petey: How bout your change-up? The last time I talked to you it was something you wanted to focus on.

Akeel: The change-up has been really great. Sometimes I keep it down and there’s not as much movement, but it’s so much slower than my fastball and it looks so much like my fastball too, it’s hard for hitters to pick it up. And sometimes it’s even better when it has that drop-off to it. Sometimes it just drops off the table and they swing over it. And sometimes it doesn’t even have that much movement but it’s so slow they don’t see it and can’t put a good swing on it.

Petey: And your arm-speed? It’s the same as with the fastball?

Akeel: Yeah my arm speed is the same.

Petey: That’s awesome. Now what about your breaking pitches?

Akeel: I throw a slider. The slider has really come along a lot more this year. I started throwing it last off-season and at the beginning of this season I didn’t throw it as much. But when the second half came I started to bring it out and throw it, and it really started to develop a lot more. I even got a feel for it where I was throwing the slider even more than my change-up at times. And I love that feeling because I didn’t even have to depend on the fastball/change-up combination. I could go fastball/slider combination and when I mixed it in with the change-up too, it was even a lot better.

Petey: Yeah and the results from this last season certainly attest to that. Say Akeel, what are some of the things you hope to accomplish in your development this upcoming season? Do you set any goals for yourself?

Akeel: This upcoming season I would really like to get better control of my slider. Like be able to throw it for a strike more often. I would throw it for a strike at times but most times I’d throw them a slider it would break outside the zone and they would swing over it or they would take it. But it was more for them to see the pitch. So if I can throw it for strikes more often that’s what I really want to do.  So basically just develop the slider some more.

Petey: Are you able to throw the slider when you are behind in the count?

Akeel: Yes I’ve thrown it in various different counts and I feel that’s a big thing about pitching too. I feel whatever pitches you have you need to be able to throw it in any count. So yeah I have been working on that and I have thrown it in different counts.

Petey: Is there any one coach, or coaches that have helped you significantly since joining the Mets organization, in regards to your development?

Akeel: Coaching-wise, I’ve been with Jonathan Hurst for two years in Kingsport, he helped me a lot, and different coaches in extended spring training. But one of the coaches who really took a lot of time out with me and worked on mechanics while I was in extended spring training day-to-day was Miguel Valdez. He was the pitching coach for short season and I mean he’d really break down my mechanics  for me to understand it and I worked on it. It took a little time but it definitely paid off to where I understand my mechanics and I can see what I’m doing wrong. And as soon as I figured that stuff out it’s been going a lot better, a lot better. So Miguel Valdez has really helped me out a lot.

Petey: You were on a very talented Savannah ball club this past season, lot’s of excellent position players and pitchers. And of course you guys made the SAL playoffs. But let’s focus on the pitching staff for a moment. As someone who watched your starting pitcher’s performances in every game, are there any that stand out for what they bring to the table?

Akeel: That’s really hard, I mean we got so much talent. Actually the starting pitching, I mean for the full year I would say, John Gant for sure. He impressed me. I mean anytime he’s going into the game your guaranteed he’s gonna go at least six innings. He usually goes deep into the ball games and he’s  keeping the score close, giving your team a chance to win. So John Gant really impressed me with his consistency and being able to do that. Other pitchers, I like Robert Gsellman a lot too but he got hurt a little bit into the season. But I mean he really pitched good, he had a good year as well.

Petey: Yeah a lot of Mets fans that follow the Mets Minor League teams are very high on those two guys.

Akeel: And also Kevin McGowan too because he had a game, he went deep into the ninth and I like when your starting pitcher is out there. His pitch count was up and he couldn’t pitch anymore in the ninth inning if he wanted to. And I had to come in and close the game, and he didn’t even want to get off the mound, he wanted to finish the game. So when you have your starters out there with that sort of fire, it pumps you up more to come in and save their game.

Petey: One more question. Now that you are a professional ‘closer’ Akeel, do you ever imagine yourself on the mound in the 9th inning of the World Series trying to preserve a one-run lead? How does it work out? Ha ha!

Akeel: Definitely, as a kid people have those fantasies, whatever scenario it is. Fortunately for me I was always pitching, since I became a pitcher that’s always been the fantasy. The World Series, last inning, game on the line and they call on you. I mean how that turns out is I’m just ready to pitch. Like I said, always in the minors to shut it down, and it goes well for me in my mind.

Petey: That’s is awesome man. Seriously Akeel, I want to thank you again for being so accommodating and taking the time to do this interview. You have always taken time out to talk to me and my colleagues at MetsMerized Online and we all really appreciate it.

Akeel: Alright man sounds good, anytime. I’m already psyched.

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Doc Gooden On Mets Rotation: “With That Staff, Anything Can Happen” http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/06/doc-gooden-on-mets-rotation-with-that-staff-anything-can-happen.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/06/doc-gooden-on-mets-rotation-with-that-staff-anything-can-happen.html/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 16:50:54 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=183926 dwight doc gooden

Although this year’s MLB Draft was relatively quiet for the New York Mets without their first-round pick, Flushing was well-represented at the draft with Doc Gooden in attendance.

Speaking at the draft in Secaucus, N.J. Monday night, Gooden said he was honored to have been asked to attend by the Mets.

“It’s a great feeling to be here to represent the (Mets), because I did play for a couple teams after the Mets, so to come back, you feel like you’re back into the family now,” he said.

For many former big leaguers at the draft, it was a time for reflection on the day they were drafted. Gooden, who was picked fifth overall by the Mets in 1982, said he was shocked to have been picked so high.

“I remember my high school coach telling me that I’m probably going to be picked between the fifth and tenth round. I said, ‘that’s fine, I just want to get drafted,’” said Gooden, then a 17-year old standout high school hurler from Tampa.

“So we’re watching the draft, it got to the Mets with the fifth pick, and I see my name across the screen, ‘Dwight Gooden,’ I’m like ‘I just got picked fifth.’ I actually called New York to make sure that was right just based on what my high school coach had told me. They said ‘yeah, that’s right.’”

Though the Mets were short a first round pick due to the signing of Michael Cuddyer, New York has fortified themselves with plenty of young talent in recent years, highlighted by their current starting rotation along with Steven Matz still incubating in Triple-A. Gooden said he sees serious potential in the group of arms the Mets have put together.

“Once you get into the playoffs, with that staff, anything can happen,” he said.

The 1985 NL Cy Young award winner has been highly complimentary of the Mets young pitchers in the past, going as far to compare them to the 1986 rotation. Gooden said such comments drew some flak from former teammate Bobby Ojeda.

“I actually got a call from Bob Ojeda the other day because I had said that this staff could be better than the ’86 staff, so he didn’t like that too much,” Gooden said with a laugh.

The 2015 Mets are well-positioned to capture their first playoff bid in nine years, so long as they can overcome injuries to their primary bats and the resulting offensive woes. Gooden said if the Mets are going to without Wright or d’Arnaud–who is expected to return this week–for a long period of time, they need to make a move.

“If you can’t get both back, I think they should go out and get a veteran hitter for the middle of the order,” he said.

Although acquiring a bat should be a necessity for the Mets, Gooden said they also have to be careful not to mortgage the future with dealing an abundance major-league ready talent. Instead, he said the Mets should look to deal from the talent in the lower minors.

“You have to make a move, but it’s got to be the right fit, because you don’t give up a young pitcher, then in 3-4 years have it come back to bite you,” he said.

“So I would try to trade my lower minor league guys, because they have prospect pitchers all through the system, and try to stay away from my Triple-A and big league guys if I can do that. But if trade comes along that you can’t resist, you need to figure out what guy you want to move and go for it.”

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MMO Exclusive: Interview with Matt Hall From Guerrero Academy http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/04/mmo-exclusive-interview-with-matt-hall-from-guerrero-academy.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/04/mmo-exclusive-interview-with-matt-hall-from-guerrero-academy.html/#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2015 13:00:42 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=179364 guerrero

The Guerrero Academy has been stealing all the international signing headlines mainly because of the uber-talented Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who has rumored to signed with the Blue Jays for $4.4MM. Kiley McDaniel reported two days ago that the Mets have a deal in place with SS Gregory Guerrero for $1.8MM, making all Mets fans wonder who the heck is Gregory Guerrero?

Well I was able to talk to Matt Hall who works for the Guerrero Academy about Gregory and the state of the academy itself. Here is what Matt had to say about the complex in Don Gregorio, Dominican Republic:

Mike M: Our readers are very interested in what happens at the Guerrero Academy, could you tell me a little about what you guys do? How do you help the players get ready for their tryouts and their eventual transition to living in the U.S?

Matt Hall: It’s an Academy of roughly 20 kids aged 13-16 from all around the DR. The kids don’t go to school just train to sign when they turn 16.They practice 6 or 7 days a week, starting at 530 am. They are trained by Vlads brother Wilton Guerrero who played in the MLB. They have tryouts usually twice a week with MLB scouts. They do weight training, take English and business classes etc.They practice in 2 fields, one of which Vlad built. When they practice in the cage it’s in Vlad’s backyard. 

Mike M: Wow sounds like the Guerrero family has done a lot to try and help these kids be successful.

Matt H: Yeah, it’s a passion for Wilton he gives them everything and they are all like his family to him. We’ve had two kids go with the Mets this past year already. 

Mike M: Can you tell me about the two players the Mets signed this past year?

Matt H: One is Rafael Valdez, a 17 year old SS. The other is Jose Guerrero an 18 year old pitcher, he is Vlad’s nephew and Gregory’s brother. Greg will sign July 2 for around 2 million or a little more.

Mike M: How would you describe Gregory as a player to someone that has never seen him play?

Matt H: Really quick feet, arm is better than any 16 year old I’ve seen. Hits for HR power. Plays a lot like Jose Reyes that’s who he models himself after. Extremely athletic kid and has been putting on a lot of weight in muscle.

Mike M: With the Mets already signing two kids from the Academy and rumored to have signed Greg, it seems they have a good relationship with the Academy.Can you comment on the last time the Mets had scouts have been down there and how many times they have seen Greg play?

Matt H: Yeah the Mets are great. They come often, but a lot if teams do as well so I wouldn’t say they come more than anyone else. They would come maybe once every month and a half or so. They’ve seen everyone play a lot. they are a great group of scouts and we do have a good relationship.

Mike M: Seems like every year there are more and more talented 16 year olds coming from the Dominican, how have things changed in that regard? 

Matt H: They dedicate their lives to baseball, like I said no school. It’s the only way out of poverty. MLB teams have flooded a ton of money into the DR these days.

Mike M: How do you think the inevitable international draft will affect these kids and the academies?

Matt H: I don’t think the draft is as close as everyone thinks. Scouts don’t like it, trainers in the DR don’t like it, and teams don’t particularly like it. Kids certainly hate it because that’s 2 more years to wait to help their families. I think they need a better education process put into place and that’s one of MLB’s goals, I think that will weigh into their decision. 

Mike M: Are PEDs still a significant issue in the Dominican?

Matt H: Yes, PEDs and lying about ages is still a huge problem.

Mike M: What do academies like Guerrero do to combat these two big issues?

Matt H: Having kids you trust and know. I mean the whole birth certificates, etc. are hard to figure out. You don’t want kids who lie because the scouts won’t trust anyone if you have one bad situation.

Mike M: What have Rafael Valdez and Jose Guerrero been doing since they signed with the Mets last year? Can you give me some info on what both of their strengths are as players?

Matt H: They have been at the academy in Boca Chica (Mets Dominican Academy) all but a few months. They both signed for like 40,000 so they aren’t exactly mega prospects. Jose has been improving fast though hits low 90s on his fastball, has good control. 

Mike M: What’s the likelihood of players that sign for that small of a bonus making it to the U.S. to play affiliated ball?

Matt H: I mean only 3 percent of all players who sign ever make the big leagues. If they don’t make it out of the Dominican in three summers their career is usually over.

Mike M: How does Gregory compare to Vlad Jr.?

Matt H: They are best friends so are enjoying going through this together. Vlad has more power obviously, but Greg is a way better fielder and has a way better arm in the infield and is faster. 

Mike M: How excited is Greg to sign his deal and play in the U.S.?

Matt H: He’s ready to go, very excited to work hard and keep moving up. Where ever he signs. 

Matt is currently back in the U.S. trying to decide between a few agencies to become an agent. He said he will be heading back to the Dominican soon and will talk to me again around July 2nd which is International Signing Day.

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