You all know by now that my foremost passion is covering the New York Mets minor leagues and talking about prospects throughout the season. Which means it should be no surprise that I like spring training baseball more than one should.
While some turn the game off by the seventh inning after the universal changes, that’s when I dig in and try to focus on the little things every player is doing to see any possible differences from the previous season.
Despite the Mets farm system being in a down slope right now, they still have a few fascinating young players that could end up helping the Mets in 2018. Here are the five that I will be watching very closely:
Gerson Bautista, RHP – I know I’ve talked about him on here a lot, but it’s tough not to get hyped for a guy that throws an easy 98-99 MPH and even touches 101 at times. The 22-year-old that came over in the Addison Reed trade from the Red Sox and has already opened eyes in camp with his electric arm. The reliever struck out 73 batters in 59 innings last season in High-A ball.
It will be interesting to see what Dave Eiland can do this spring to get Bautista more consistent with his delivery as well as with his secondary pitches. His slider can be nasty at times and he’s also been working on a splitter too. He still needs fine tuning though he’s a rare high ceiling reliever that’s on the 40-man roster and could get a major league taste late in the season.
Tyler Bashlor, RHP – Another hard throwing reliever I’ve mentioned numerous times. While he doesn’t light up the radar gun as much as Bautista, he does sit in the 94-96 range and the fastball is tough to lift. His 15.22 K/9 led affiliated ball last season and allowed only one home runs in 49.2 innings. He was dominant in 14.2 Double-A innings in which he struck out 23 and didn’t allow a run.
His slurvy slider tightened up towards the end of the season giving him two plus pitches. The 24-year-old is a bulldog that loves pitching in big spots and is my dark horse to make the Mets Opening Day bullpen. Control will be the determining factor in whether Bashlor is just another hard throwing reliever or a back-end shutdown type.
Peter Alonso, 1B – The right-handed hitting first baseman brings some serious power and will be in big league camp for the first time. To give you an idea at the type of power he delivers, Alonso had a .516 SLG in St. Lucie and Michael Conforto had a .462 SLG in St. Lucie, they were both around the same age when they played there too. The Florida State league is not kind to hitters, Alonso bashed 23 doubles and 16 home runs there in 308 at-bats.
What I’m most interest in seeing from Alonso this spring is what his defense looks like. It wasn’t good last year from everyone I’ve talked you but he did go to instructs to work on it. The reports there were “improving” and hopefully working with someone like Tim Teufel in camp will get him where he needs to be at defensively.
David Thompson, 3B – I will start this out by saying there are few people that cover Mets prospects that see Thompson as an everyday major league player. That being said I still think there’s a chance that he is. His defense has been better than anyone expected and will keep him at third base. The question now becomes will he hit enough?
The 24-year-old slashed .263/.325/.429 with 29 doubles and 16 home runs in Double-A Binghamton last year though he showed more power in the second half with a .476 SLG. He then went to the AFL where he hit .328/.371/.569 in 15 games and led the team with his .940 OPS. One thing to note on Thompson is that his walk rate has risen every year in the minors but was still at just 7.6% last season. His strikeout rate has dropped every season too though.
Drew Smith, RHP – The Mets scooped up the former third round pick in the Lucas Duda trade and they got themselves another good arm. Smith is mostly in the mid-90s though he throws across his body a little that hides the ball and makes his that fastball seem even harder. His minor league numbers have been fantastic with a 1.80 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 3.74 SO/BB in 139.2 innings.
Smith keeps the ball in the park too, limiting hitters to only two home runs in 139.2 innings (one by Alonso). He pitched for five different teams in 2017 while ending the season with 15 innings at Double-A Binghamton. He allowed only three runs, walked five, gave up eight hits and struck out 17. He has a curveball that can flash plus at times and lack of control has hampered him in the past.
Of course, these aren’t the only guys I’m excited to see but they highlight what should be a fun camp specifically in the bullpen with some good young arms including Jamie Callahan and Jacob Rhame that got in trade last year as well. ‘
Two other guys I will be watching closely are lefties P.J. Conlon and Matt Purke. They’re in big league camp and will have plenty of opportunities with the Mets having only one lefty reliever on the 40-man roster. Conlon is a guy that relies on a great changeup and a funky delivery while Purke has a sharp slider and throws across his body.
I’m also curious to see if Luis Guillorme is going to start lifting the ball more which is essential if he wants to be a major leaguer. He has the defensive skills to play in the bigs and he has the knowledge of the strike zone (72 walks/55 strikeouts in AA last season) as well.
Last note on the minor league side is outfielder Zach Borenstein, the dude is an absolute beast and definitely looks like a linebacker more than a baseball player. He’s another guy (and Tim Tebow) that is likely to get plenty of playing time this spring given the Mets lack of outfield depth.