Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Top 10 Minor League Headlines from 2013

by John Vittas

1. The Dominance of Noah Syndergaard

By far the most Major League-relevant storyline from the farm system in 2013 was the first season of Noah Syndergaard. He wasn’t good, he was great. All the numbers indicate future success, and from what the scouts say, he will be an ace.

Syndergaard gave up 10 less hits than innings, and struck out better than 10 batters per nine. If you take out his disaster of a final start in August, he posted a 2.43 ERA. But superseding the numbers is his stuff, which reportedly improved in 2013.

Syndergaard dropped his arm slot and didn’t lose any command, allowing him to pump 96-98 consistently. Not to mention he has a wipeout curveball. I’d be shocked if Noah wasn’t in the Mets’ rotation by July 1 next year. The prospects of a Harvey, Wheeler, Syndergaard, Niese, Gee rotation is a pleasant one. When you factor in Rafael Montero and Jenrry Mejia, it gets even scarier.

Photo: Baseball America
Syndergaard stands to make the Harvey-Wheeler duo a trio

2. The Success from Top to Bottom

The once A-ball prospects we’d been hearing about have now reached the upper levels and Paul DePodesta has continued to stock talent from top to bottom, resulting in wins throughout the program.

The system-wide .532 winning percentage is impressive, but consider that the four full-season squads posted a .569 mark. That percentage over a 554-game sample will make statsitcal nerds jump out of their seats.

The 51’s 81-63 mark was the best by a Mets Triple-A team since the Matt Franco-led 2001 Norfolk Tides. Keep in mind, the majority of the Triple-A talent resided in Flushing this season, and their rotation was full of journeymen, so it’s no surprise that the 51’s led the PCL in slugging. Give Wally Backman a lot of credit here.

A championship was won by a Mets affiliate in 2013 as well (seeing “championship” and “Mets” in the same sentence is mind-blowing). It was the first by a Mets’ affiliate since 2006. The low-A Savannah Sand Gnats took the South Atlantic League title thanks to a Johnson-Schiling-like postseason rampage put on by Steven Matz and Gabriel Ynoa. Those two led the league’s second-best pitching staff to a 3.15 team ERA and a 77-61 overall record.

But the best team in 2013 was the Double-A Binghamton Mets. Their 86-55 (.610) mark cleared the rest of the competition in the Eastern League by a comfortable 10 games, as the pitching staff and offense both ranked top-2 in the league. Manager Pedro Lopez led the B-Mets to their first playoff appearance since 2004 in his first season at the helm. He has dominated at every level he’s coached at, and has become a major managerial prospect in baseball.

Photo: metsmerizedonline.com
1B Allan Dykstra was a huge reason for the B-Mets offensive success

3. The Arrival of the Lefty Relievers

For a Major League team that lacked a lockdown lefty, the Mets’ now possess several successful southpaws in their farm system. Jack Leathersich, Adam Kolarek, Hamilton Bennett, Jim Fuller, TJ Chism and Chase Huchingson all had dominant seasons, and made believers out of many scouts.

Outside of Leathersich, the rest of the group appeared to be non-factors on most prospect lists, but Kolarek and Huchingson have continued to dominate Double-A hitters, and could be in Flushing sooner than later.

Here’s some of the numbers:
Leathersich: 102 strikeouts in 58 innings
Kolarek: 2.28 ERA - third straight season with an ERA below 3, has improved that mark in each of his 4 minor league seasons
Bennett: 1.85 ERA (2nd straight sub-2 season, career 2.30 ERA)
Huchingson: 55 hits in 67 innings, 1.61 ERA in his first season in the pen
Fuller: 0.84 ERA in St. Lucie, 15 hits in 32 innings
Chism: 2.21 ERA (3rd consecutive season below 2.40)

4. The Power of Dustin Lawley, Allan Dykstra and Travis Taijeron

Speaking of non-factors on the prospect scene, the three sluggers listed above all had tremendous seasons. All with 20-plus homer seasons, it was Dykstra who posted a .938 OPS, walking an eye-popping 102 times.

Lawley finished second in the organization (Wilmer Flores) with 96 RBIs and led the system with 26 home runs. However, Taijeron might be the most promising of the bunch, since he can play multiple outfield positions and led the trio in average for most of the season, posting a .303 mark with St. Lucie.

5. Michael Fulmer’s Lost Season

The young Oklahoma star missed the first half of the season after tearing his meniscus in Spring Training, and then was forced to shut it down at the end. He managed just nine starts, two of them of the rehab variety. He did fare well, however.

Despite the lack of time on the mound, Fulmer is touted as a kid who already knows how to pitch, so the lost time isn’t as detrimental as it usually would be for a 20-year-old. He’ll probably be back in Port St. Lucie next year, but his 2015 arrival time may still be feasible.

Photo: ESPN
Fulmer in Spring Training (left)

Disclaimer: He may fall out of the top-10 on many prospect lists, but don’t get caught napping on Fulmer.

6. The Next Wave of Starting Pitchers Takes Shape

This could be the most promising news of the year. Despite the plethora of arms throughout the system, the lower levels lacked them. But four youngsters posted big-time numbers after showing considerable improvement in 2013:

John Gant: 81 Ks in 71 IPs (2nd in league behind teammate Miller Diaz), 2.89 ERA
Chris Flexen: 8-1 with a 2.09 ERA, 53 H in 69 IPs, 2 shutouts at 19 years old
Rob Whalen: 1.87 ERA in first full season, .187 opponents AVG, 2.4 ground outs per fly ball
Robert Gsellman: 2.58 ERA pitching at all 3 levels of A-ball, only 20 years old

A little seasoning has given their Big League bodies some Big League arsenals. All were drafted for their potential, and all are beginning to realize it. All four have gotten their fastballs consistently over 90 miles an hour, and all have touched 94 at one time or another.

Chances are we’ll see them all together in Savannah next year, which would make for yet another dominant, promising staff for famous pitching coach Frank Viola.

Photo: metsmerizedonline.com
19-year old Chris Flexen

7. The Suspension of Cesar Puello

No position player in the system has as high of a ceiling as Cesar Puello. He was often talked about before 2013, but there was always a caveat next to his prospect status: he never put up numbers. Well this year, he did.  And he hit a lot. He batted .326 in 91 games, boasting a robust .950 OPS at the Double-A level. It took him five years, but at 22, Cesar Puello was finally hitting, and doing it for power (16 HRs).

However, he did it all under a cloud of suspicion, as his name was one of the few non-Major Leaguers on the Biogenesis list. And sure enough, the suspension came down in August and Puello’s best professional year came to a screeching halt.

There was a chance he would have played for the Mets in September if he was clean, but regardless, I’d bet we see him in New York at some point in 2014.

8. The Domingo Tapia Project

Domingo Tapia throws hard, 100 miles-an-hour to be exact. But his first stint in the Florida State League did not go well, as he walked 63 batters in 101 innings. The worst part was that he averaged less than five innings per start, including a few where he was yanked in the second inning.

There’s no doubt the Dominican Tapia has promise, but he will have to sharpen up his breaking ball and locate more consistently to reach the Show.

 Photo: metsminors.com
Domingo Tapia

9. Matt Reynolds Looking Like a Waste of a Second Rounder

He was never a big prospect, but Matt Reynolds was an elite college hitter with leadership ability and a strong  all-around game. Well in his first two years in the Minors, he’s a career .234 hitter with just eight home runs. A 23-year old who can’t hit in A-ball leaves doesn’t sound as appetizing as a 21-year old 2nd-round captain out of the SEC, which is what Reynolds was less than two years ago.

Photo: ncaa.com
Former Razorback star Matt Reynolds

10. Rainy Lara and Gabriel Ynoa Not Looking Back

Remember that dominant 2012 Brooklyn Cyclones rotation? Well the crew had an overall successful 2013. Luis Cessa and Hansel Robles had solid years, but it was Gabriel Ynoa and Rainy Lara who shined.

While in Savannah, Lara led the entire Minor Leagues in WHIP (0.89) and ERA (1.42) through his first eight starts, earning him the promotion to the Florida State League. Ynoa, on the other hand, remained in Savannah and absolutely lit up the South Atlantic League.

He finished fourth in the league with a 2.72 ERA, giving up just five runs in his final four regular season starts. Ynoa carried his dominance into the playoffs, where he gave up just two runs in 14 and two-thirds postseason innings, leading the Gnats to the SAL championship.

Former Met, New York-native and 3-time MLB All Star Frank Viola continues to work wonders with young Mets' arms when they reach Savannah

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