Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Top 10 Disappointments of the 2012 Mets Minor Leagues

by John Vittas

In what was a very successful year for the Mets Minor League teams, there were a few disappointments. From injuries, to lack of production, to unsigned draft picks, to entire lineups who failed to produce, here marks the disappointments of the Mets farm system in 2012:

10. The 2012 Draft and Signability

Many are already calling the 2011 draft one of the best in Mets history. But as of now, it doesn’t appear that Paul DePodesta and the Mets’ Minor League brain trust followed suit in 2012.

The Mets were only able to sign 19 of their 40 picks in 2012, losing 21 players to college commitments. By comparison, in 2011, they signed 37 of their 50 picks, including their top 12 selections and 19 of their top 20 picks. That’s a percentage drop-off from 74% down to 45% this year.

The biggest individual failure in the 2012 draft was the Mets inability to sign 2nd round pick, Teddy Stankiewicz. The 6-foot-4-inch righty was projected to be a legitimate Major League starter, but instead opted to play college ball for Arkansas after the Mets’ offer wasn’t enough to woo him to the pros.

Another significant deficiency in the 2012 draft was that the team did not acquire a single left-handed pitcher, a commodity that the Big League club could certainly use at this point.

9. Pedro Zapata, OF

The prospect window is beginning to close on Pedro Zapata, who will be 25 years old on Opening Day. The tall Dominican has shown flashes of Major League potential in his six-year Minor League career, but struggled mightily in 2012, posting an OPS of just .543 in his first crack in Double-A.

Zapata’s main asset is his combination of size and speed. He stole 36 bases in back-to-back years in 2010 and 2011 and shows a very nice glove in the outfield.

It did take him two years to figure out rookie ball and the Florida State League, so the Mets will likely give him one more crack at Double-A before letting him loose.  Zapata batted .329 during his second season in Kingsport and .292 with 36 stolen bases in his second year with St. Lucie.  If he can duplicate that second-year success in Binghamton this season, Zapata could enter the discussion as the Mets’ fourth or fifth outfielder come 2014.

But long before that happens, Pedro must prove he can hit upper-level pitching, because all of his numbers were downright dreadful in 2012.

Pedro Zapata

8. Joe Tuschak, OF

Tuschak was considered a steal in the sixth round of the draft last year out of Pennsylvania’s Northern High School. Described as a “lottery ticket,” the Mets took a chance on the athletic centerfielder, but so far the returns have not been had.

Tuschak is hitting a lowly .197 in his first two years of rookie ball, clubbing just one home run in 78 career games between the Gulf Coast League in 2011 and Kingsport this season.

The other major issue is his strikeout rate. Tuschak fanned in 32.5% of his plate appearances this year, the third worst figure in the entire Mets organization.

He does walk a good amount, but the former high school quarterback has not been able to turn his elite athleticism into baseball success as of yet.

Joe Tuschak

7. Branden Kaupe, SS

It’s not often you hear of top draft picks coming from Hawaii, but Kaupe fits that description. A 4th-round pick out of Baldwin High School in Wailuku this year, Kaupe’s play has matched his sketch, looking indeed like an 18-year-old who hasn’t yet been exposed to elite competition.

And that’s exactly what Kaupe was in the Appalachian League: exposed. Branden batted a frightening .173 with Kingsport, coupling his average with only two extra-base-hits in 133 at bats, adding up to a SLG% of .195. Yes, that’s his slugging percentage.

But the 5-foot-7 Kaupe is contact hitter, right? Well not exactly. He struck out in 25.7% of his plate appearances, 44 times in 50 games.

Kaupe is clearly extremely young and extremely raw, so it’s probably best to disregard the numbers from his first pro season and let him work to get better.  On the bright side, he possesses blazing speed, good plate discipline and plays what Baseball America called an energetic game.

The Mets are hoping Kaupe is on the same learning curve as fellow teenage shortstop Phillip Evans, a similar player who had a great season in Brooklyn in his second year after being drafted out of high school.

Kaupe is essentially Evans with less power, or a Ruben Tejada / Wilfredo Tovar type with more speed. 

Branden Kaupe

6. Matt Koch, RHP

It’s rare to find a Mets pitcher who disappointed in 2012, especially with the Cyclones, but Koch falls into that category.

His numbers weren’t that bad, but relatively speaking and considering he was a second round pick, he was definitely a disappointment.

Koch posted an ERA a shade above five in his professional debut, allowing 13 runs in 23 and one-third innings. His strikeout to walk ratio was 19:7, so like I said, his numbers weren’t that bad.

The Mets hope Koch was simply worn down from his 22 appearances at Louisville before arriving in Brooklyn.

When you look at Koch’s resume, it screams reliever. He was a reliever at Louisville, and a good one at that, giving up just 17 hits in 32 and one-third innings. He throws in the mid-90s, and can touch 97, but lacks good secondary stuff.

But for some reason, the Mets insist on making him a starter. Koch informed me in July that the team was slowly transitioning him to starting pitching, which was evident by his two starts to round out the season with Brooklyn.

Even though it was only two starts, his ERA was an even 9.00 and I still can’t fathom why the change is being made. The Mets need bullpen help at the Major League level and Koch can get there quickly if he can develop one plus secondary pitch. On top of that, the Mets have a logjam of starters who will be fighting for spots this spring. Why not just let Koch stay where he’s comfortable?

Matt Koch

5. Darrell Ceciliani, OF

Unlike the other nine players on this list, Darrell Ceciliani finds himself in the disappointment category, not because of his play, but because of his lack of it.

Ceciliani missed more than 80 percent of the season due to various hamstring issues. It’s something Darrell will always have to deal with, similar to what Jose Reyes went through during his career.

Thing is, whenever Ceciliani plays, he’s been good. In 85 at bats this year, the Oregon native batted .329 with eight extra-base-hits and ten walks. Ceciliani also picked up 66 additional at bats in the Arizona Fall League this October, posting an OBP of .402.

Some other strengths of the former 4th-round pick include his strong glove, good speed and ability to hit to all fields.

Despite the injuries, Ceciliani still possesses considerable upside. His positive attitude, jubilant personality and young age (22) should aid his adjustment to the upper-levels of the Minor Leagues.

He just needs to stay on the field.

Darrell Ceciliani (Kid's a clown)

4. Cesar Puello, OF

Like his St. Lucie teammate Ceciliani, Cesar Puello spent considerable time on the shelf with hamstring problems in 2012.

He played nearly half the season (66 games), but was only O.K. in his second season in the Florida State League.

The Dominican-born outfielder batted .260 and drove in only 21 runs. He did have 21 extra-base-hits, but only four were round-trippers. As a top-10 prospect each of the last two years, the Mets believed Puello could develop Big League pop, but that has yet to be seen.

The most alarming part of Puello’s game is his inability to draw walks. He drew just seven free passes in nearly 240 plate appearances in 2012. That equates to a walk rate of 3.0%, good for dead last in the entire Mets organization.

He did improve that rate in limited play this winter, but the real good news is Puello’s full package. He is a physical specimen who can run, defend and hit. Baseball America called his arm the best of any outfielder in the system. If Puello can ever develop more power, he has a chance to be a legitimate five-tool Major League player.

Cesar Puello

3. Savannah’s Offense

While the Sand Gnats’ pitching staff led the South Atlantic League in ERA (by a lot), the offensive numbers appeared on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Savannah batted just .244 as a team and was one of only two squads that failed to steal 100 bases.

19 of the 21 players to don a Gnats uniform in 2012 hit under .300, with Cam Maron and T.J. Rivera as the only exceptions.

The main culprits, all of whom had over 200 at bats, were Albert Cordero (.194), Yucarybert De La Cruz (.195), Brandon Brown (.222) and Charley Thurber (.223).

The SAL is known as a pitcher-friendly league, but a team that ranks in the bottom four of almost every offensive category is disappointing at any level.

Offensive Ranks (Out of 14 Teams):
Runs Scored:                          575                11th
AVG:                                     .244               11th
OPS:                                      .691               11th
SB:                                         98                  13th

2. Akeel Morris, RHP

Morris was considered one of the purest raw pitching talents in the Mets’ system prior to his American debut in 2011, but he pitched his way to prospect purgatory in 2012.

His electric stuff and high strikeout numbers should have progressed him through the lower levels with ease, but Morris has yet to pitch above rookie ball, tossing to the tune of a 7.98 ERA in Kingsport this year. The largest contributing factor was surely Akeel’s 22 walks in 38 and one-third innings.

However, following a ten-run debacle on July 24, the Mets moved Morris to the bullpen. The move worked wonders and Morris was considerably better pitching in relief. He gave up just two earned runs in his final 16 innings, despite still issuing ten free passes over that span.

The former 10th round pick out of the Virgin Islands still has a long way to go, but it seems the new role may be of great benefit.

Akeel Morris

1. Albert Cordero, C

There was no bigger disappointment in the Mets farm system in 2012 than Albert Cordero.

It all started this spring when the Mets chose NOT to promote Cordero to High-A after his strong 2011 season in Savannah, excelling in a league known for pitching with a slash line of .286/.324/.382.

But the Mets’ decision proved appropriate, as Cordero regressed with a capital R. That line dropped to .194/.276/.270 in 2012.

23-years-old and still fumbling around in low-A ball, Cordero’s hourglass is about to run out.

The shame in all of it is that Albert is widely considered the best defensive catcher in the system, with Baseball America donning him that honor earlier this month despite the struggles at the plate.

Albert Cordero

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