Predicting Rosters from Double-A to Flushing

by Jim Maggiore

Now that we’re in the final week of spring training, a lot of roster decisions have to be made by all the major league organizations as teams pare down to the 25 men to take north for the start of the season. The Mets’ decisions on the last two spots on the roster will go right down to the final moment, as the organization decides whether to go to Citi Field with 13 or 12 pitchers on its pitching staff. The pitching staff decision will dictate if the Mets put 4 or 5 bench players on its opening day roster. The pitchers battling for the 12th and 13th spot on the staff have, for the most part, all pitched well, so the decision will not be an easy one and whether the pitcher has options remaining will definitely play a role in the decision-making process. For example, Rafael Montero has had a disappointing spring, but because he doesn’t have any options left, if he does not make the opening-day roster, the Mets will have to expose him to waivers, where he would be claimed by another team. For this reason the odds are Montero will at least start the season with the Mets, with every one of his performances becoming crucial ones regarding his future with the Mets.

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Phil Evans hit a walk-off homer against the Astros on March 6th, but despite a solid spring we have him starting the season at Triple-A.

Here’s a pass at the opening-day rosters for the top three teams of the Mets. Of course, decisions made at each level affect the next level in the system.  I have Tebow starting the year in Binghamton, despite his poor spring training season. This has as much to do with the dearth of outfield prospects at the Double-A level as it has to do with Tebow’s age—Tebow turns 31 this year and if he has any shot to play in the big leagues he needs Double-A playing time this season. I do, however, have Wilmer Becerra and John Mora listed ahead of him on the depth chart. I use “rotational players” instead of “bench” for the minor league teams because I do see the Mets giving their bench/rotational players plenty of action during the season.

Also, I have many of the relievers that finished the year at Binghamton returning to start the season at Rumbletown as well; this is due to the abundance of hard throwers in the system that the Mets attained during last year’s purge of the major league roster.

Bold=”on the bubble”—Lugo may start season on ML roster; Tebow with St. Lucie; Robles/Montero/Gsellman could be in Vegas at the start of the season.

Flushing: (P) Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jason Vargas, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos, Anthony Swarzak, Jerry Blevins, Paul Sewald, Robert Gsellman, Rafael Montero; (Catcher) Travis d’Arnaud, Kevin Plawecki; (1B) Andres Gonzalez, (2B) Asdrubal Cabrera, (3B) Todd Frazier, (SS) Amed Rosario, (LF) Yoenis Cespedes, (CF) Juan Lagares, (RF) Jay Bruce; (Bench) Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores, Brandon Nimmo. [Robles takes roster spot of Vargas, who starts season on DL; Conforto replaces Montero or Gsellman in mid-April.]

Las Vegas (AAA): (P) Seth Lugo, Chris Flexen, Corey Oswalt, A.J. Griffin, Marcos Molina, Hansel Robles, Matt Purke, Jamie Callahan, Jacob Rhame, P.J. Conlon, Kevin McGowan, David Roseboom, Kyle Regnault, (catcher) Jose Lobaton, Tomas Nido; (1b) Dominic Smith, (2B) Gavin Cecchini, (3B) David Thompson, (SS) Luis Guillorme, (LF) Zach Borenstein, (CF) Matt den Dekker, (RF) Kevin Kaczmarski; (Rotational Players) Kevin Taylor, Ty Kelly, Jayce Boyd, Phil Evans, LJ Mazzilli.

Binghamton (AA): Rickey Knapp, Andrew Church, Nabil Crismatt, Mickey Jannis, Johnny Magliozzi, Adonis Uceta, Gerson Bautista, Drew Smith, Tylor Bashlor, Corey Taylor; Alex Palsha; (catcher) Pat Mazeika; Colton Plaia, (1B) Peter Alonso, (2B) Jeff McNeil, (3B) Jhoan Urena, (SS) J.C. Rodriguez, (LF) John Mora, (CF) Champ Stuart, (RF) Wilmer Becerra; (Rotational Players) Pat Biondi, Tim Tebow, JJ Franco, Matt Oberste (DH)

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Is it Time to be Concerned about Steven Matz?

We’ll answer this question in two ways.  As a diehard Matz fan and one who remembers Matz’s dominating performance against Richmond on September 12, 2014 when the Binghamtonians won the Eastern League Championship, I’ll go with the second opinion.

You can decide which option you think is true; feel free to send your thoughts to me at jmaggiore@stny.rr.com.

First way: In a word, “Yes.” In 1.2 innings of spring training work he has given up an unsightly 10 runs and has walked four.   In his most recent start, Sunday, against a shell of a Nationals lineup, he gave up five runs in only two-thirds of an inning. Though 75% of his pitches were fastballs, he constantly worked behind the hitters, displaying an alarming lack of fastball command. He threw a higher percentage of his curves for strikes, but those were of the “get me over” variety, left high in the strike zone, with hitters laying off them as they sat on the fastball. His fastball topped out at 93 mph. When Matz dominated Double-A ball in 2014, the NYSEG stadium radar gun would clock his fastball at 95 mph, sometimes touching 96 mph. The Citi Field radar gun clocked his fastball at the same speeds in 2015 and 2016. A loss of 2-3 mph on a fastball is an eternity in baseball. Media outlets have quoted a scout as saying “Matz is not finishing his pitches,” which was a common assessment of Matz’s pitching last year, when he was dramatically ineffective on the mound.

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A frustrated Matz walks off the mound after tossing two-thirds of an innning against the Nationals last Sunday.

Second way: In a word, “No.” Two starts and 1.2 innings pitched mean nothing this early in the spring. Matz has been the victim of bloopers, “bleeding-eye” grounders, and a lack of stellar defense. Batters are not squaring up the ball when he is on the mound. His primary problem has been a lack of command of his fastball, and this can be fixed with a review of his mechanics. His shoulder & elbow feel great and with some more innings under his belt, his fastball command will return, as will his effective pitching. As he builds up arm strength that extra tick or two on his fastball will return too.  Mickey Calloway said Matz seems “to be throwing with a lack of conviction.” Once Matz gets some quality innings under his belt, that confidence and conviction will return.

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Matz wears the same number as that of a  Brooklyn southpaw who once dominated the baseball world–Sandy Koufax.

Matz threw  32 pitches against the Nationals, with velocities ranging from 77 to 93 mph:

  • 1) 92  11) 93      21) 93          31) 92
  • 2) 92  12) 77      22) 93          32) 93
  • 3) 93  13) 93      23) 84
  • 4) 92  14) 92      24) 93
  • 5) 77  15) 92      25) 93
  • 6) 93  16) 92      26) 93
  • 7) 84  17) 92      27) 93
  • 8) 93  18) 78      28) 84
  • 9) 93  19) 77      29) 93
  • 10) 93  20) 93    30) 79

Matz is one of the many Mets who you root strongly for—he always has time for the fans and he’s one of those professional athletes who realizes he’s living a dream. He grew up as a Mets fan on Long Island, his hometown being only 45 miles east of Citi Field.

His next start is a crucial one, as Wheeler, Lugo, Gsellman, and Harvey have all pitched well this spring.

Go get ‘em, Steve!

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Spring Training Tidbits from St Lucie: Guillorme—Quickest Hands in the East, Tebow Shortens his Swing, Purke & Conlon Dazzle

The Mets lost a home game to the Nationals, 7-3, on Sunday, March 4th, but, as so often is the story in spring training games, the interesting story was not the final score, but the performances of some individual players:

Luis Guillorme. To look at the box score, Luis Guillorme had a mediocre game: he went 0-3 and handled a few chances in the field without incident.  But for those watching Guillorme warm up before the game, he put on a virtual magic show during a routine catch with Asdrubal Cabrera. Guillorme barely caught the throws he received from Cabrera; he simply turned his glove and deflected the ball flawlessly into his throwing hand! Net time you see the Mets in action and Guillorme is warming up, be sure to catch his mastery at performing the mundane task of a pre-game catch. We’re also happy to report that Guillorme continues to do his bar flip in major league camp!

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From the red and blue of the Ponies to the orange and blue of the Mets–Guillorme does his bat flip from the on-deck circle at St. Lucie. 

Tim Tebow.  The converted quarterback went 0-3 and struck out twice as the designated hitter, but the stats in the box score do not tell the whole story of Tebow’s development. He has definitely shortened his swing and before striking out in his second at-bat, he scorched a grounder down the first base line that was barely foul. He looks quicker at the plate and though he has started the spring 1-10, he has a decent shot to start the season at Double-A.

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Tebow just missed a double on this swing. He kept his hands inside the ball and showed excellent balance. 

Matt Purke and P.J. Conlon were outstanding out of the bullpen. Purke threw a perfect sixth inning, striking out a batter. After the game, manager Mickey Calloway became animated in talking about Purke: “He was outstanding,” exhorted Calloway. Keep your eye on Purke as a dark horse for making the staff out of spring training. He showed an excellent breaking ball and kept hitters off balance with his 91 mph fastball. As fine a job as Purke turned in, Conlon was even better, throwing three scoreless innings with an assortment of pitches that ranged from 70-87 mph. His funky delivery gave the Nats hitters trouble in picking up his release point.

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Conlon throws his changeup while his funky delivery makes it difficult for the hitters to pick up his release point. 

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Which Recent Binghamtonians Have the Best Chance to Achieve Beyond Their Current Prospect Status?

It’s been well documented that the farm system of the Mets has seen better days. Whether it’s Sandy Alderson telling the media that he currently doesn’t have that many prospects in the pipeline, or it’s Baseball American ranking the Mets’ minor league system in the lower fifth of the majors, the prevailing thought is that if the Mets are to get back to the World Series anytime soon, it will have to occur without much help from the farm system.

We reviewed the list of various Mets prospects a few weeks ago and now we’ll briefly discuss those players who we feel are underrated and who have passed through Binghamton. These players deserve a close watch as the 2018 season unfolds:

  • Tyler Bashlor: This righty reliever (turns 25 on April 16th) split time between St. Lucie and Binghamton last season. His pedestrian statistics at St. Lucie (2-2 and 4.89 E.R.A in 35 innings) did not portend great things at Binghamton, but in his 12 regular season outings at Binghamton he was virtually perfect: unscored on in 14.2 innings, while striking out 23. His scoreless inning streak came to end in the playoffs against Trenton, but he opened so many eyes that the Mets put him on their 40-man roster. His success at Binghamton can be attributed to his outstanding command: his walk rate went from 5.3 per 9 innings at St. Lucie to 2.5 per 9 innings in Binghamton. Bashlor lost two years (2014 and 2015) to recovering from Tommy John surgery, and his now ready to ride his 98-mph a long way. In 2018 he needs to show his improved command last year is now a permanent part of his pedigree. Baseball America ranked him with the best fastball in the Mets system after 2017. His second-best pitch is a low 80’s breaking ball. An overcrowded bullpen at Vegas (e.g., Jacob Rhame, Jamie Callahan, P.J. Conlon, David Roseboom, and Kyle Regnault) might see Bashlor starting the season at Binghamton. Finishing the year in Flushing in not out of the question, however.
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Bashlor Celebrates a Save in Binghamton.

 

  • P.J. Conlon: The Mets recently announced that they are converting the 24-year old Conlon (will turn 25 in November) to a reliever. With a scarcity of lefty relievers in its system, this makes sense for both the Mets and Conlon, who was an Eastern League All-Star last year as a starting pitcher. The Mets actually started the transition last season, as they moved Conlon to the pen after 22 starts, allowing him to work out of the pen 6 times during August. Conlon is the prototypical “crafty lefty,” as his fastball tops out at 88 mph. His best pitch is his changeup, which has great movement low in the strike zone. His breaking ball is also a plus pitch. Batters have a tough time initially picking up the ball from Conlon’s hand, as he initially comes at the batter with his glove held high and thrusting toward home plate. At this point in Conlon’s career, we can think of him as “Jeremy Blevins light.” Conlon will get a chance to be a lefty specialist and more at Vegas and if he can continue his success, a stint in the pen in Flushing is not out of the question.
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Conlon displays his funky delivery while sporting a jersey thast was designed by local school kids.

  • David Thompson: The 24-year old Thompson (turns 25 in August) is targeted for a full season at Vegas this season, after hitting .263 with 16 homers for Binghamton last year. Thompson also had an impressive stint, though only 62 at-bats, in the Arizona Fall League last November, hitting .328. Last year was the first time that Thompson played in a cold weather environment and he did not really get his bat going until the end of June. He finished the year strong, hitting 7 homers in August. His defense also progressed throughout the season so that now I’d consider him an above-average defender at third base. With Todd Frazier entrenched at third for the Mets, and with capable backups such as Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes in Flushing, Thompson will be hard pressed to make his major league debut this year, but the Mets will watch him closely at Vegas to see if he can build off his solid 2017 season.
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Thompson makes contact in an early season game at Binghamton. 

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Former Binghamton Mets Abundant in Mets Prospect Lists

Upon perusing the various prospect lists for the Mets, Binghamton baseball fans will recognize a multitude of players who passed through Binghamton—16 former Mets/Rumble Ponies appear on at least one of the four prospect lists we published a few days ago. The players include:

  1. Peter Alonso (22)
  2. Ty Bashlor
  3. Gavin Cecchini
  4. J. Conlon
  5. Philip Evans
  6. Chris Flexen (36)
  7. Luis Guillorme (43)
  8. Kevin Kaczmarski
  9. Patrick Mazeika
  10. Marcus Molina
  11. Jeff McNeil
  12. Tomas Nido (29)
  13. Corey Oswalt
  14. Drew Smth
  15. David Thompson
  16. Adonis Uceta.

We include Alonso, Flexen, Guillorme, and Nido in boldface here because those are the players who received the widest support from the ranking organizations. The number in parentheses after each respective name indicates the sum of the prospective rankings for each player (.e.g., Alonso was ranked #7 by MLB and Amazin Avenue, #4 by Baseball America and Prospects1500, totaling 22). Nido’s number includes an asterisk, as his number only includes three organizations, as Baseball America did not include him in its top ten.

I think most Binghamton fans would agree that Alonso, Flexen, Guillorme, and Nido were the top prospects from the 2017 Rumble Pony team, so let’s discuss them briefly.

Though Alonso’s stay was only during the final two seeks of the season, his raw power was impressive. When he squares up the ball, that “crack” of the bat is special. Though his glove work needs a lot of work, he reminds me of a young Pat Burrell, the slugger for the Phillies a few years back who hit 292 homers in the majors.

Chris Flexen was totally dominant at Binghamton before he got called up to the Mets. Though Flexen struggled in the majors, his record at Binghamton (6-1, with a 1.66 E.R.A.) superseded that of any of the current Mets young starters—that’s right, he was more dominant than Harvey, deGrom, Matz, Syndergaard, and Wheeler while at Binghamton!

Luis Guillorme was a magician in the field throughout the season; his ability to turn the double play and the quickness of his hands are reasons to have visions of him teaming with Amed Rosario to form a stellar defensive combination up the middle at Citi Field for the next decade or so, staring in 2019.  Watching Guillorme take infield practice is almost worth the price of admission alone—he’ll backhand a grounder and transfer it to his throwing hand by putting his glove between his legs! The only question with Luis is how much he will hit; if he can hit .260 he’ll be a fixture in Queens. His on-base percentage will offset his lack of power and speed.

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There are a few gold gloves awaiting Guillorme in the majors. His great eye and ability to draw walks will give him an on-bae percentage a 100 points higher than his batting average!

Nido’s ability to control an opponent’s running game, as well as provide verbal support for his pitcher was evident throughout the season. He threw out an astonishing 45% of attempted stealers in 2017! Right now he is better defensively than d’Arnaud and Plawecki. If he can hit .250 in the majors, a decade of starting in the majors awaits him as well.

In a few days we’ll take a look at the dark horse names from the 16 players listed in this article.

 

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With Spring Training Approaching, Let’s Look at Some Prospect Rankings for the Mets

As spring training approaches, various media outlets are updating their prospect lists for the 2018 season.  We post four views of the Mets farm system here. The Prospects1500.Com site breaks the prospects into tiered ratings (Tier = future all star; Tier 2 = above average chance to be solid contributor; Tier 3 = average chance to be a solid contributor; Tier 4= minimal impact major leaguer; Tier 5= will never make 40-man roster.)

According to Propects1500, the Mets do not have any perennial All Stars (Tier 1) in the system. Conversely, all Top 30 prospects should make the major league roster at some point.  As shown in the below table, the first nine prospects rated by Prospects 1500 have good chances to be solid contributors in the majors; the prospects ranging from Nido to Kaczmarski fall into Tier 3 (below average chance to be a solid contributor),  while the final seven prospects fall into a typical utility/fringe major leaguer role (Tier 4).

In the ensuring days we’ll explore these lists further.

2018 prospects Scan0641

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Since that Championship Season, Part 2…

Last week we looked at the 11 pitchers who played for Binghamton’s 2014 Eastern League Championship team and  have since gone on to play in the big leagues; this week we look at the 11 position players who played on that team who have gotten some major league time.

For the most part, all of these players are still looking to establish themselves in the majors. At a cursory glance, this group has not achieved as much success as the pitchers. There is no Rookie of the Year in this bunch, as there was with the pitchers with Mike Fulmer’s winning that award in the American League in 2016. Also, only Kevin Plawecki was active for the 2015 World Series for the Mets, while Steven Matz and Hansel Robles were active for the series on the pitching side. Plawecki never got to bat in the series, while Robles and Matz pitched effectively in the Mets’ losing effort against the Royals.

Here’s a quick snapshot of how the position players have fared in the majors thus far.

bingo hitters Scan0639

Now let’s take a look at each player, in alphabetical order.

Gavin Cecchini, the Mets first-round draft choice in 2012 (#12 overall pick), was drafted six picks ahead of two-time All Star Corey Seager and nine picks ahead of star Toronto pitcher Marcus Stroman, but has yet to establish himself as a major leaguer. He has seen spot duty with the Mets during the past two seasons, primarily as a September callup. He does not appear to be in the Mets’ plans for the future, as the team has spent much of this offseason looking for a second baseman to team with Amed Rosario. Cecchini is a confident player who no doubt would love an opportunity to prove to the Mets that he can be a solid contributor at the big league level, but at this point he looks to be targeted for a third year at Triple=A.

Outfielder Darrel Ceciliani battled shoulder injuries last year and was outrighted off the Blue Jays roster on November 1st; at this point he looks to be targeted for Triple-A in 2018. Catcher Juan Centeno played in 22 games for the Astros in 2017 and was part of the World Series winning team, though he did not get an at-bat in the series; the Rangers selected him off waivers from the Astros last month.

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Tovar, left, and Ceciliani share a pre-game handshake in Binghamton in 2014.

Matt Clark got his only taste of the majors in 2014, and since then has bounced around in various leagues. In 2017, playing in the Mexican League for the Acereros de Monclova team, the first baseman hit .277, with 21 homers and 75 RBIs. Dilson Herrera, arguably Binghamton’s best player in 2014, last played in the majors with the Mets in 2015; in 2016 the Mets sent him to the Reds as part of the trade for Jay Bruce. In 2017 he hit .264 with 7 homers and 42 RBIs in Triple-A.

Brandon Nimmo showed a knack for getting on base as a backup outfielder for the Mets in 2017, compiling a superlative .379 on-base percentage, an astonishing 119 points over his batting average. Kevin Plawecki showed signs of fulfilling his promise in 2017, providing solid defense behind the plate for the Mets and hitting .260, with an on-base percentage of .364. The Mets currently plan to have him split time with Travis d‘Arnaud behind the plate in 2018.

Matt Reynolds, though only sporting a career average of .228, has played solid defense for the Mets for the past two years in spot duty as a utility infielder, manning innings at 3B, SS, and 2B. T.J. Rivera has proven he can hit in the big leagues during part-time duty with the Mets the past two years, but is still searching for an infield position that he can call his own. He had tommy john surgery on his throwing shoulder last August and his return date in 2018 is still to be determined.

Travis Taijeron, unimpressive in a September stint with the Mets at the end of last season, was signed by the Dodgers as a minor league free agent in November. Wilfredo Tovar, the glue of Binghamton’s infield in 2014, got his major league at-bats during September callups with the Mets in 2013 and 2014, respectively, but has not seen big league action during the past three years.

The bottom line is that three years after Binghamton’s championship, chances of stardom for any of the positioin players is remote. Interestingly, Binghamton favorites Brandon Nimmo and T.J. Rivera have also become popular at Citi Field, as the fans in Queens, just like denizens of Binghamton,  love rooting for players who are great guys off the field and underdogs on the field.

Author’s Note: A great account of the 2014 Championship season, Six More Wins, can be found here.

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