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Recent wisdom, gossip and conjecture:
Prospecting for Gold:
Shea La Vie
(This is the fourth in Dan Troy's offseason farm reports.)
New York Mets
The Mets' system has gone from being completely barren in the mid- to late-90s, to average or even slightly above average in 2003. The system is more top heavy than it is deep, though, as the Mets are banking on a handful of top prospects to be major contributors in future years. It's also thinned out a bit in the last year due to the promotions of guys like Jose Reyes, Jae Weong Seo, Aaron Heilman, and Jason Phillips, but their remaining top prospects are still strong enough to give them the second best farm in the NL East, behind the Braves.
Scott Kazmir is one of the best prospects in the game and has a chance to be as dominating a pitcher as any in the game. At the tender age of 19, the southpaw gives opposing batters fits due to an electric mid-90s fastball, nasty slider, and developing changeup. He followed a brief but explosive 2002 debut with an excellent season split between the SAL and the FSL. On the season he allowed only 79 hits in 109 innings, while whiffing 145. His control was a little spotty at times, possibly due to youth and a new grip on his changeup.
There remains some concern that Kazmir's frame may not hold up in a starter's role, and that he'll also need better command of that changeup, but I see no reason why the Mets - who've been pretty cautious with his workload - should move him to the pen until it's proven necessary. The usual caveats about young pitchers apply, of course, but barring injury, I see a big future for him.
Matt Peterson established himself as a promising prospect with a strong 2002 season in the SAL. A big right-hander, he complements a good fastball with a big-breaking hammer curve and a nice changeup. What's particularly encouraging about his 2003 season was the marked improvement in his control, as his walks dropped from about four per 9 IP to 2.6.
His brief stint at AA Binghamton wasn't so hot, but Peterson returned to the FSL for the playoffs and was absolutely unhittable. I think he'll do well in AA next year and emerge as one of the better young pitchers in the minors. Reportedly, he's been working on a slider in the Arizona Fall League.
Len Dinardo seems to avoid notice, but he pitched very well in both the FSL and the Eastern League this year. The polished LHP posted an excellent 6.7 K:BB ratio in 85 FSL innings, while allowing only 64 hits. In 40 AA innings he continued to hold up well, posting a strong strikeout rate and a solid K:BB ratio. He doesn't throw hard, but his stuff has held up so far, and he's at least earned the right to fail at upper levels.
I've gone back and forth on Bob Keppel many times over his career, and currently I'm in skeptical mode. He sports the rep of a relatively polished young pitcher with an advanced repertoire, but his K rates have dropped from tepid (6.5 per 9 IP) to nearly invisible (4.4). Despite this, he managed a 3.04 ERA in Binghamton and even threw a no-hitter (with only 1 strikeout). I suspect he may have a setback in 2004.
The Mets acquired 2002 first-round pick Royce Ring from the White Sox as part of the Roberto Alomar deal. Ring is a relatively polished lefty with three good pitches, and will probably make his Shea Stadium debut sometime in 2004. His control is a little inconsistent, and I question whether he has the pure stuff to be a ace closer, but he should be a solid reliever at worst.
Neal Musser has lost a lot of time in his career to injury (though not all to his pitching arm), and he was a tad too hittable in 2003 after sitting out the bulk of the 2002 season. He features a good changeup and has shown good pitchability in the past, but he may not have the stuff or durability to be a front-end starter.
Orber Moreno used to be the closer of the future for the Royals before he was felled by a shoulder injury. The Mets picked up the 26-year-old on waivers and may have found themselves a solid reliever. His K:BB ratio was 47 percent above the International League average.
Miguel Pinango is the best of the younger pitchers. The 20-year-old followed his promising 2002 debut with a solid season in the SAL, posting a K:BB ratio of 4.3. His lack of a strikeout pitch may yet haunt him, but he's young enough to develop.
The Mets don't feature a lot of hitting depth in their system, but they do possess a few jewels. David Wright continued his impressive climb up the ladder with a strong 2003 season in the FSL. The young third baseman walked in over 15 percent of his at-bats, and 44 percent of his hits went for extra bases. His BB:K ratio was almost 50 percent better than the league average. He earns high praise for his defense and work ethic, and he deserves recognition among the top prospects in the game.
Aussie catcher Justin Huber also continued his march toward Shea Stadium with a season that saw him promoted to AA midyear. He has a generally solid walk rate, and has hit with excellent power in his minor-league career. The uptick in his strikeout rate at Binghamton indicate he needs a little more time there, and his glove could probably use some polishing, too. He's one of a relative horde of excellent catching prospects in the minors right now.
Victor Diaz was acquired as part of the Burnitz trade with Los Angeles, and he's a very interesting prospect. He's hit for high averages virtually everywhere he's been (.354 for Binghamton), and has shown good doubles power. There are a lot of doubts about his ability to play second base, though (not to mention his girth and work ethic), and he may not have enough power or plate discipline to be considered at first base or the outfield.
Aaron Baldiris, on the other hand, has demonstrated excellent plate discipline, with a BB:K ratio of over .9 (nearly twice the SAL average). The 20-year-old third baseman hit .313 and had an on-base percentage close to .400 in his full-season debut. He hasn't shown much power, yet, but that may yet develop.
Depending on whom you ask, CF Lastings Milledge is either a polished wunderkind that will advance rapidly or a raw five-tool athlete whose bat may or may not hit advanced pitching. Given his pedigree, I'll give him some benefit of the doubt, but there's not much evidence to evaluate yet.
Bobby Malek showed excellent control of the zone in his full-season debut, but his lack of power (only three HR) is a problem for a corner OF. It may just be the lingering effect of a bad elbow that required surgery in 2002, but he'll need to drive the ball more to maintain prospect status.
Mike Jacobs' 2003 performance was such a surprise that many prospect watchers haven't seemed to notice, at least yet. The 22-year-old catcher punished Eastern League pitching to the tune of .329/.376/.548 over 407 at-bats. Is this a new level of performance or a fluke? Given his relatively poor control of the strike zone, I doubt he'll repeat this level of success, but he has some legitimate power.
There's poor plate discipline and then there's Craig Brazell, whose 23 walks (19 unintentional) in 432 Eastern League at-bats actually represented an improvement over prior efforts. His .803 Eastern League OPS was a big step down from his performance in the 2001 and 2002 seasons, and you have to wonder if upper-level pitchers have exposed the 23-year old first baseman's hacking ways.
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Dan Troy has his own hacking way, and we've suggested that he might want to rest up at home until it subsides. Diagnose his mucous color at firstname.lastname@example.org.