Everybody has their own definition of “sleeper.” Mine is the player who comes out of nowhere, the one without all the hype and high pedigree. I’m looking for the mutt’s. The brawlers. The over-achievers. The gamers. The winners. I’m looking for, not a prospect necessarily although he could be a fringy one, but a guy that is about to shed a mantle of mediocrity or obscurity, and join the elite. I am looking for the player that no one is talking about.
These 12 players are getting very little love right now, but I think each one listed here is poised to have a break-out season that will put him on the map much like what last year did for Juan Lagares.
JUAN CARLOS GAMBOA, SS
I’ve said often before that I think this guy is destined to become a household name to Mets fans one day soon. He has an exciting style of play that will endear him to fans of the Amazins’ right away. He’s a lefty-line-drive slashing hitter, from Mexico, who shows surprising pop for his tiny 5’7″ 150 lb. body. He can also field his position and is already accumulating quite an impressive array of fielding highlights. I truly hope the Mets are a little aggressive this year in their placement of Gamboa, who will play next season as a 21-year-old, and that they start him as part of the middle-infield combo of the Savannah Sand Gnats, with Phillip Evans another fast-tracked young infielder.
LUIS MATEO, RHP
The 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic has the rare qualities of being a “power pitcher” with very good control. He seems poised for a big year, and he matches that with some big stuff. He’s kicked around a little though, the Mets being his third organization. His first pro contract with the Giants was voided in 2008 when he turned up injured. Next DePo signed him with the Padres but he’d lied about his age by two years and was suspended for a year. Then the Mets picked him up as an IFA last spring.
Mateo who will turn 22 by the end of March, stands 6’3″ 185 lbs., throws his fastball in the low to mid-90’s, and also features a slider and change-up. Last year pitching for the Mets DSL 1 team in the Dominican Summer League, Mateo made 13 GS and pitched 63 IP. He was 2nd in the league in WHIP, with a 0.78, and 4th in strikeouts. His overall record was 6-1, with a 2.00 ERA, he gave up 44 hits, 1 HR, 5 walks, and struck out 80. I look for him to possibly open the season in the Brooklyn Cyclones starting rotation, and if he does he should quickly become “ace” of the staff.
RAFAEL MONTERO, RHP
Another power-armed right-hander from the Dominican Republic, the 2011 Sterling Award winner for the GCL Mets, may be a little smaller than Mateo, but he throws just as hard. Montero who will pitch this season as a 21-year-old, is listed as 6’0″, 170 lbs. His fastball sits low to mid-90’s, and he mixes in a breaking ball and a change. The amazing thing about Montero so far has been his control, he rarely walks anyone.
Last year he got 12 GS, good for 71 IP, but at four different levels of the system. He started the year at the DSL, got the call up to the GCL Mets, then on to Kingsport, before finishing up with Brooklyn. His overall record was 5-4 with a 2.15 ERA, giving up 55 hits, while walking 13 and striking out 66. I have Montero penciled into the starting rotation at Savannah, but he could also provide a terrific 1-2 punch at Brooklyn with Mateo.
MILLER DIAZ, RHP
A very intriguing young right-hander who completes the trifecta of power-arms I am predicting big things for this season. Diaz, who hails from Venezuela, is still 19 and won’t turn 20 until the end of June. At 6’1″ and 209 lbs., he is very strong, and throws very hard. Another power-armed righty, he’s not as far along as the other two on this list, and has to make strides this year in improving his command. He got into 9 games for Kingsport last year throwing just 34 IP, 6 GS, going 1-1 with a 5.35 ERA. I expect him to start 2012 with Mateo in the rotation at Brooklyn.
CAMDEN MARON, C
The 6’1″ 175 lb., lefty swinging catcher from Hicksville, NY, was one of two starting catchers at Kingsport in 2011, and should fill the same role at Savannah in 2012. The Mets 34th round selection in the 2009 player draft, Maron is a good contact hitter, and had an unbelievably high OBP last year due to more walks than K’s for the season. He batted .318 with 3 HR’s and 24 RBI’s, 34 strikeouts and 38 walks, for an OBP of .434, but has to learn plate discipline, to find a way into better hitting counts. Right now he’s getting hits, but not squaring them up like he should. His defense is improving very nicely and this year should really establish him as a legit prospect.
JUAN CENTENO, C
Another lefty-hitting catcher, this one comes from Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The 5’7″ Centeno was drafted out of high school by the Mets in the 32nd round of the 2007 MLB Draft. He has toiled ever since as a back-up catcher at stops all over the Mets system. Last year he played at advanced-A St. Lucie of the Florida State League, before spending time in the Arizona Fall League.
Despite only getting 157 AB’s at Lucey, he hit .318, with a OBP of .368, all the while playing very slick defense. For his career Centeno has thrown out 38% of all would-be base stealers. He will head on to AA Binghamton as a 22-year-old for 2012, but he will be in a head-to-head battle for playing time with the fading ex-prospect Francisco Pena, and the fading veteran back-stop from Germany, 25-year-old Kai Gronauer. The smart money goes on Centeno emerging on top.
COLE FRENZEL, 1B
The Mets 7th round draft pick from last year, a second-year first-baseman from the University of Arizona, Frenzel signed early enough but was never really able to get on track last year. The 6’2″ 208 lb. lefty-hitting slugger, struggled for most of the season while playing 1B for the Brooklyn Cyclones. In 160 AB’s he hit .238, with 1 HR and 20 RBI’s, though his fielding % around first-base was .997.
Frenzel has too good a swing for him to not get the bat going this season. He should prove to be a HR hitter who can also make contact, and his glove will continue to serve him well moving forward. I expect him to break camp with the Savannah Sand Gnats, sharing playing time at 1B and DH with Aderlin Rodriguez. But a strong showing by Frenzel, and a poor one in the field by Rodriguez, should see Frenzel capture the starting first-basemen’s job early in the season’s first half.
JEFF DIEHL, 1B
It may be a reach to place Diehl on this list as early as this season, but I like his hitting potential. The Mets over-slot draft pick from the 23rd round of the 2011 draft, Diehl was one of the top high school prospects from the tiny state of Rhode Island in the 2011 draft. He is very tall and lanky, a right-hand hitter, who although he played catcher in high school, he is destined for a corner in the pro’s and I think first-base will suit him best moving forward. He is already 6’4″ and built like a string bean, and has the potential to grow even more.
Although built like a bean, he doesn’t hit like one, but can crush the ball a long, long way. In a year or two we are all going to be whispering about the kid’s blossoming home run power, as he soars up the Met prospect rankings. But in the meantime, he is still very raw, and is strictly a long-term-project. Look for him to start out at Kingsport in 2012.
JOE BONFE, 3B
For those of you who followed my series of player interviews this off-season, I’m sure you remember the one with Bonfe. He’s a great guy, and a hard-working player who taught himself to play the outfield last year during the season, just so he could find a way to get himself into the everyday line-up. Poor performance by the Sand Gnat starting first-baseman, and Bonfe ended up playing as the regular first-sacker for the second half last season.
Bonfe hit a low-key .254 in just over 300 AB’s in the regular season, but helped the team every game down the stretch and into the play-offs. The biggest thing last year for Bonfe was not in his numbers, but the way you could see him gain confidence, and a sense of belonging as the season wore on. This is why I feel he is about to have a breakout year with the bat. And he will do it at his natural position. As the third-baseman of the 2012 St. Lucie Mets.
DUSTIN LAWLEY, 3B/OF
I really like this player. He’ll be 23 however, by the time the season starts and he’ll probably be playing for Savannah in the South Atlantic League, so the clock is certainly ticking. Although needing to be challenged, and moved along quickly, Lawley has an interesting mix of baseball skills. Last year at Kingsport he split his time between 3B and CF, and led the team in 2B’s, HR’s, RBI’s, and SLG%. The right-handed hitting Lawley was drafted in the 19th round of last years draft, and although I expect him to start 2012 in Savannah, he should be in St. Lucie by the second half.
TILLMAN PUGH, CF
As I have predicted before in earlier posts, Tillman Pugh is a guy who is about to bust out onto the scene in 2012. The only thing he hasn’t done is had the opportunity to play and that should change this year. Finishing strong in 2011, for Brooklyn as the centerfielder and two-hole hitter, Pugh had just enough opportunity to show the Mets that they needed to give him significant playing time in a long-season league this season and that will happen in the South Atlantic League.
In an interview I did with Tillman a few months ago he defined his thoughts about next year: “My goals for next season are to make a full season club, stay healthy all year long, get moved up a level, improve upon all facets of my game, win a championship, and most importantly have fun.” This speedy centerfielder should be dazzling them at Savannah this year, and hopefully next year, the sleeper will be fully awake.
CHARLIE THURBER, RF
Injuries were the only reason that Charley Thurber was still available when the Mets drafted in the 39th round of last year’s draft. He may go down as an absolute steal at that place in the draft. Now 22, a 6’4″ lefty-swinging right-fielder with a very powerful throwing arm, who is healthy headed into the season for the first time in a while. I interviewed Charley over the winter and he was very excited about asserting himself, and having a big year in 2012: “Next season I feel I can improve my OPS. In doing so, I can produce more runs for my team from both the batter’s box and on the bases. As I said earlier, I look to capitalize more on right-handers this season as well.”
I’m looking at Charley as the starting right-fielder at Savannah next year. He should be adding quite a bit of pop to what is already shaping up to be a potentially powerful line-up.
So there you have it, the “sleepers” if you will, that no one or practically no one is talking about. The 12 best-kept secrets in the Mets farm system. None of these guys are ranked very significantly on any prospect lists with the possible exception of Montero. All of the them are poised for a big year. Let’s check back at mid-season, and see how each of these players are faring.
For more speculation about where these players may find themselves playing in 2012, check out my four part, Mets Minor League Roster Preview: