Sunday, January 20, 2013

Top 10 Mets Minor League Surprises of 2012

by John Vittas

10. John Mincone

When the Mets signed southpaw John Mincone as a Minor League free agent in 2012, they couldn’t have expected him to be much more than the local guy Long Islanders could root for when they made the drive to Brooklyn to see a Cyclones game.  The Mets rescued him from the Frontier League, where he was stinking it up for the Windy City Thunderbolts, and walking more hitters than he struck out.

But the Dix Hills native and former James Madison University standout found a level even he didn’t know he had. Not only did Mincone put up solid numbers in the New York-Penn League, he put up some of the best numbers in the entire Mets organization.

In 29 and one-third innings, Mincone allowed only six runs, while striking out 29 and walking only six. That’s good for an ERA of 1.82 and a walk rate that ranks in top ten of all Mets relievers.

But the best part of Mincone’s season was that he was nearly unhittable, giving up just 5.78 hits per nine innings, ranking fifth out of about 55 eligible relief pitchers in the system.

Mincone and his remarkable comeback may have just earned himself another chance at The Show in 2013.

John Mincone

9. Brooklyn Cyclones Rotation

The Brooklyn rotation was every bit of spectacular, splendid, sensational, whatever positive “S” word you select. Including six. The six-man rotation of young, Hispanic aces proved to embarrass every New York-Penn League opponent.

Hansel Robles was the best one statistically, although they all were great. Robles, a 22-year old Dominican, allowed just nine earned runs in over 72 innings, surrendering only 47 hits. That equates to a 1.12 ERA and a WHIP of 0.79. He led the league in ERA and opponent’s batting average (.184). Robles capped his monumental campaign with a 4-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in a playoff game against the eventual NYPL champions, Hudson Valley Renegades.
Even though Robles has never pitched above A-ball, the Mets added him to the 40-man roster this winter, presumably to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
But it’s also a possibility Robles could be given a chance to make the Mets bullpen this year. His fastball reaches the mid-90s, he can throw four pitches and has very sound mechanics. So, the Mets could give him a fighter’s chance this Spring.

Gabriel Ynoa touched 93 on the gun and features a very effective changeup, making him unique to many of the Mets prospects.
At 19-years-old, Ynoa appears to be ahead of the game, also recording tremendous numbers in Brooklyn (2.23 ERA, 0.93 WHIP).

The third best starter statistically was Luis Mateo, who led the Cyclones in strikeouts, with a crazy-high total of 85 in 73 innings.
Mateo can dominate with his slider and mid-90s fastball, and could progress very quickly, potentially as a reliever.
Baseball America recently named his slider the best in the system and shockingly ranked him as the 4th best prospect in the system. He hasn’t even sniffed the top ten in any other rankings, but if nothing else, it shows Mateo is starting to make some noise.

Rainy Lara also has a good changeup and Luis Cessa has shown solid command and good velocity as well.
Julian Hilario was the weak-link of the staff, posting a 3.24 ERA and a .500 record. I kid.

All in all, the Brooklyn rotation posted an ERA of 2.37 and a WHIP right around 1. Downright dominating.

Cyclones pitching coach Marc Valdes deserves a ton of credit, as does the entire Mets pitching development staff. This group young pitchers is a true testament to the coaching the Mets have in their farm system. All of these guys have been nurtured by the team since they were signed as young teenagers.

Gabriel Ynoa dominated the NYPL at 19-years old

8. Cam Maron

Maron posted his third straight .300 season, but this time it was with a full-season team and in a league known for it’s pitching.

The South Atlantic League is usually a pitcher’s paradise, so Cam’s .300 average distinguishes itself nicely.

He still has a long way to go, but the Hicksville High School star is making his way up the latter by consistently hitting. Given his position is catcher, his progression will be brisk if Maron keeps hitting.

Kid’s a die-hard Mets fan, so you’ve got to root for him. He turned down college scholarships for 34th-round money so he could play for the team he loved growing up on Long Island.

7. Dustin Lawley

In his first full professional season after being drafted out of West Florida in 2011, Dustin Lawley was a man of production in the pitcher-happy SAL.

The Alabama-bred righty occupied several positions on the diamond and was virtually never on the bench. Lawley finished top-10 in the organization in RBI (66), hits, at bats, doubles, runs and total bases.

After a long, healthy season, Lawley continued to flex his durability muscles by spending October in the Arizona Fall League, where he acquitted himself nicely against the game’s top prospects.

If Dustin shows the same type of production in St. Lucie in 2013, he could become a very interesting prospect as a reliable, utility-man.

Dustin Lawley in his West Florida days

6. Alonzo Harris

After four years slogging through the lower levels of the system, Alonzo Harris has finally made a name for himself thanks to a breakout season in year number five.

Harris had the rap of being a one-dimensional player, with that great trait being speed. Baseball America donned Alonzo the title of the best baserunner in the system, and with Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan a distant memory, nobody would argue with that.

The Mississippi missile stole a system-high 40 bases and legged out seven triples this past season.

But it’s not the speed numbers that surprised people in 2012; it was his hitting. Harris set new career-highs in many categories, including extra-base-hits, OPS, OBP, walks, stolen bases, triples and doubles.

When you look at his splits, the former football star is an even more encouraging hitter. Harris hit left-handed pitching at a .353 clip (!), which is something the Mets desperately need. He also got stronger as the season went along, batting .330 in the final month of August. Last but certainly not least, the McCombs High School grad raised his game with people on base, posting a .303 average in those crucial situations.

5. Jacob DeGrom

Often Tommy John surgery is a death sentence for Minor League pitchers, yet Jacob DeGrom has not only been salvaged, but improved.

The former Stetson star flashed a consistent mid-90s fastball after the surgery and got through the season healthy and effective.

How does a 9-3 record with a 2.43 ERA sound? How about a 7.36 H/9 and a walk rate so small you can barely see it? (1.62 BB/9) Well, that’s what DeGrom posted in his first year back from major surgery.

If he continues to refine his slider and changeup, this Florida boy could be an impact Major League pitcher within two years.

Jacob DeGrom

4. Steven Matz

Not sure what kind of fairy dust Dr. David Altchek keeps in his magical knife, but 2009 second-round pick Steven Matz has returned from Tommy John surgery good-as-new too.

His fastball has been clocked as high as 98 mph. this year and as you might expect, he dominated the Appalachian League with that kind of stuff.

Granted it was only six starts, but the Long Island phenom stuck out 34 batters in 29 innings and gave up just 16 hits.

The reason these kind of numbers are a surprise for a second-round pick is because most experts had written Matz off after he failed to reach a professional mound in his first three years since being drafted.

While he still has a very long way to go, it’s now clear that the Steven’s potential is still there.

3. David Wynn

Had he pitched more innings, David Wynn could have the biggest surprise in the system this year not just because of his results, but because of where he came from.

In his final season for Mid-American Christian University, the California native gave up 98 hits in 80 innings while recording an ERA of over seven!

With his career seemingly over, the Mets signed Wynn before the season in 2012. He took full advantage of the opportunity, adapting to the bullpen and earned a 1.44 ERA in Brooklyn this season.

Props to whichever scout found Wynn out in Oklahoma. It’s a great story that will only get better if David continues to succeed.

2. Rafael Montero

Montero has taken the ultimate fast-track through the system. He was signed much later than most Dominicans (Age 20) and has progressed through the six lower levels of the Mets system in a year and a half.

Some pitchers will take 3-4 years to get from the Dominican Summer League to the Florida State League, and Montero has done it in a shocking 16 months.

His best progress came this year when he dominated A-ball. Rafael made his first twelve starts with Savannah, going 6-3 with a 2.52 ERA and only walking eight batters.

His numbers in High-A St. Lucie were even better. Montero held opponents to a .196 average and improved his strikeout rate against even more advanced hitters.

His size (barely 6-feet) will always be a detriment to scouts, but his impeccable control and nasty changeup have propelled Montero into a top-10 prospect.

Rafael Montero

1. T.J. Rivera

It’s been a long and windy road for the Bronx native, but TJ Rivera is hitting his way to the up per levels of the Minor Leagues.

Rivera came out of Lehman High School and played two years for Wallace Community College before finishing off his eligibility at Troy University.

With seemingly no place to go upon graduation, Rivera got a call from the Mets and was signed to play rookie ball at the far-too-old age of 22.

Well Rivera is now 24 and has hit his way up to High-A ball. His 2012 campaign featured a .320 average and an OPS of .815.

He’s considered the biggest surprise because for a guy whose not even considered a prospect, his numbers are off the charts. His totals in RBIs, OBP%, Runs Scored, Total Bases, Doubles, Triples, OPS and strikeout rate all rank among the top-10 in the Mets system.

With numbers like that, he’s a prospect in my book. 

T.J. Rivera playing for Troy University

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