Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mets Prospect Stock Market & Minor League Update - April

by John Vittas

Another Minor League season is underway, and the four Mets full season teams are all sporting winning records. Here’s how the team’s prospects and farmhands faired in the month of April:

Prospect Status - Rising

Preseason No. 6 Brandon Nimmo (OF)
.389 / .517 / .576 (High-A St. Lucie)
The best story in the system so far, Nimmo is finally putting it all together. The 2011 first round pick is beginning to turn his plus tools into baseball dominance. He’s already picked up eight extra-base-hits and five stolen bases. It’s possible Nimmo will be in Double-A Binghamton by the end of the year, making a late 2015 arrival in Flushing somewhat feasible.

No. 5 Steven Matz (LHP)
4 starts, 2-1, 1.52 ERA, 0.93 WHIP (High-A St. Lucie)
The top pick in the 2009 draft, Matz’ long road of rehab has become so worth it. After showing promise in limited innings the past two years, Matz has finally reached the top half of the system and continued to succeed.

No. 20 Matthew Bowman (RHP)
3-0, 1.04 ERA, 0.98 WHIP (Double-A Binghamton)
The Princeton alum is building off a strong 2013 in the Florida State League by absolutely blowing away Double-A through three starts. With a Tim Lincecum-like delivery, the diminutive Marylander has emerged from the 2012 draft class as a legitimate prospect.

Prospect Status - Holding

No. 11 Dilson Herrera (2B)
.294 / .350 / .376 (High-A St. Lucie)
Added last year in the Buck-Byrd trade, the former Pirates farmhand has acquitted himself nicely in his first dose of High-A ball.

No. 3 Rafael Montero (RHP)
3-1, 4.31 ERA, 1.25 WHIP (AAA-Las Vegas)
While the ERA might not be pretty, the other numbers for Montero are solid, as he continues to pitch well in a hitting-friendly league. Allowing just 7.8 hits per nine so far, Montero is likely the next man up to the Mets’ rotation.

No. 19 Robert Gsellman (RHP)
4 starts, 1.48 ERA, 23 Ks, 6 BBs (A Savannah)
After posting a 2.38 ERA at three levels of A-ball as a 19-year-old, Gsellman settled down in Savannah and is doing what he does best: throw strikes. He's extremely young but has the makings of a Big League starter.

Prospect Status - Falling

No. 2 Cesar Puello (OF)
.244 / .271 / .293
The Biogenesis argument against Puello is winning out. After getting busted in the midst of a career year in 2013, Puello has shown no power at all in 2014. While the tools are there, Puello can no longer be considered a top-level prospect.

No. 14 Michael Fulmer (RHP)
30 hits allowed in 18 IP, 8.00 ERA through 4 starts (High-A St. Lucie)
After meniscus surgery cost Fulmer much of 2013, the Oklahoma native has gotten rocked early this year.

No. 9 Jayce Boyd (1B)
.182 / .270 / .258 (Double-A Binghamton)
After putting together a monster 2013, Boyd has floundered thus far in Double-A. With Allan Dykstra, Eric Campbell and Matt Clark all hitting well in front of him, Boyd will likely be stuck in Binghamton for a while.

Resurrecting their Prospect Status

INF Matt Reynolds .373 / .455 / .440 (AA Binghamton)
After two years of Minor League struggles, the former Arkansas Razorback captain is hitting for the first time at the Double-A level. Reynolds is athletic and can play several positions, profiling as a utility infielder at the Major League level.

OF Stefan Sabol .254 / .376 / .493 (A Savannah)
After hitting .203 last year, Sabol’s second year in Savannah has been far more productive. He’s driven in 21 runs in 21 games, and his raw power is beginning to show.

SS Phillip Evans
.310 / .356 / .405 (A Savannah)
Like Sabol, Evans had a dreadful year during his first dose of full-season ball in 2013, but the California shortstop is off to a hot start. He’s showing some pop as he becomes a possible safety blanket if Gavin Cecchini doesn’t pan out. 

Top Ten Offensive Performers
1.  Allan Dykstra, 1B, Triple-A Las Vegas
2. Brandon Nimmo, OF, High-A St. Lucie
3. TJ Rivera, INF, High-A St. Lucie
4. Eric  Campbell, UTL, Triple-A Las Vegas
5. Jeff McNeil, INF, Single-A Savannah
6. Matt Clark, 1B, Double-A Binghamton
7. Zach Lutz, 3B, Triple-A Las Vegas
8. Matt Reynolds, SS, Double-A Binghamton
9. Jared King, OF, Single-A Savannah
10. Taylor Teagarden, C, Triple-A Las Vegas

Top Five Starting Pitchers
1. Matthew Bowman, RHP, Double-A Binghamton
2. Steven Matz, LHP, High-A St. Lucie
3. Jacob DeGrom, RHP, Triple-A Las Vegas
4. Hansel Robles, RHP, Double-A Binghamton
5. Darin Gorski, LHP, Double-A Binghamton

Top Five Relievers
1. Akeel Morris, RHP, Single-A Savannah
2. Joel Carreno, RHP, Triple-A Las Vegas
3. Robert Coles, RHP, Single-A Savannah
4. Dario Alvarez, LHP, Single-A Savannah
5. Paul Sewald, RHP, High-A St. Lucie

Monday, April 21, 2014

Q & A with the Milwaukee Buck’s Giannis Antetokounmpo

Milwaukee Bucks first round pick Giannis Antetokounmpo is only 19 years old, but he scored over 500 points in his rookie season in the NBA. His role increased as the Bucks faded out of contention, and Bucks fans relish Antetokounmpo as a big part of the foundation going forward.

Making the unusual move from Athens, Greece to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, it’s been a busy first year in the United States for Antetokounmpo.
John Vittas got a chance to speak with him before Milwaukee’s game against the Washington Wizards on April 12.

John Vittas: What was your first year like overall? At first, what did you like about the United States, what was different and how have you gotten more comfortable?

Giannis Antetokounmpo: When I came to the United States, it was a new experience for me, being in such a big country with a new culture, a different culture from Greece. Thank God I have good teammates and good coaches to help me to adjust to the United States and the new culture.

JV: Had you been to the United States at all before the draft or the NBA experience? What was your first time here and what was that like?

GA: No, I had never been here before. The first time I came to the United States was on the draft night. The second time was when I came to live here.

JV: Has your family been able to come over often? What is it like trying to keep up with them?

GA: My family lives with me in Milwaukee. They live with me and they’re having fun and they’re enjoying it.

JV: Well it’s good that they’re around. What’s Milwaukee like compared to Athens. Obviously it’s very different. What surprised you about that part of the country as opposed to your home.

GA: Athens is a big city, it has a lot of things to do, and the weather is different. But Milwaukee is a nice city. It’s a good city for us because you don’t have a lot of things to do and you can just focus on basketball. And the weather is one thing that surprised me.

JV: How did you learn English?

GA: By watching movies from the time that I came here. My teammates talking all the time and my coaches, I’ve tried to pick up some things.

JV: I read that you like Kevin Durant. What is it about his game that you like?

GA: He is a very good player, he’s one of the best players in the league. I just like the way he plays. He’s not the strongest player in the league, but he knows how to score buckets and I like watching his clips.

Don't Laugh: Why the Mets will Make the Playoffs in 2015

by John Vittas

           Try to hold in your laughter. The Mets are going to make the playoffs in 2015. Yes, I said it. Bear with me here, and you might just be convinced. From September collapses, to disgraceful contracts, to Family Guy punch lines, the Mets have been the laughingstock in a city that only tolerates winners.

            But anyone who has followed the team the past two years will tell you that there are reasons for optimism. To buy into this new-found hope, you have to understand what went wrong. And a lot went wrong.

            It all began with a change of culture in 2007. After coming within an inning of a World Series berth in 2006, the Mets choked away the season on the final day in consecutive years in 07 and 08. The perception changed. They went from a promising new team to choke artists of the highest order. Then came the bad contracts: Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, Jason Bay, Frank Francisco. The horrid deals completely hamstrung the front office for half a decade, as did Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme.  

Prospects like Brandon Nimmo have Mets fans optimistic
With no money, disappointing prospects and a lineup of misfits, fans stopped showing up. After drawing four million fans during their last winning season of 2008, just 2.1 million brave souls showed up in 2013.

So why am I suggesting that this pathetic bunch will finally turn it around? There are short-term signs and long-term signs. The short terms signs come from this year’s team. Dillon Gee and Jon Niese have again established themselves as effective, middle-of-the-rotation starters, and young gun Jenrry Mejia has been unhittable at times. But perhaps the most exciting player so far has been Juan Lagares. With an impressive mix of size and speed, Lagares has hit with power to all fields and has established himself as one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. Lagares finished fifth in the majors in defensive WAR in 2013 and put up one of the 70 best defensive seasons in the history of baseball, according to that statistic.

Another short-term sign came during the team’s 14-2 loss to the Angels last Sunday. In the midst of an embarrassing loss, first-year umpire Toby Basner called rookie catcher Travis d’Arnaud out on strikes in the seventh inning of a blowout. But the Mets didn’t roll their eyes at a bad call. The three longest tenured Mets, David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Terry Collins berated Basner. Basner ejected Wright and Murphy and a long shouting match ensued.

While many may interpret this as frustrations boiling over, I argue that it shows that this team does something that the previous Mets teams didn’t: show they care. Wright and Murphy are the leaders of the team, they’re two of the few winning players the Mets have. But for the previous four years, they’ve been silent. They showed up, got their hits and went home. To see them both erupt over a call that had nothing to do with their at bat says a lot. After all, it was Travis d’Arnaud who got punched out, not them. But clearly Wright and Murphy believe in the prospects like d’Arnaud and will defend them, even in a meaningless at bat.

“We have each others backs for sure,” Wright said after the game. “When something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. Just in general, we need to have each other’s backs. And we do.”

  It’s a start. In order for the boys from Flushing to return to relevance, they’ll need both a change in mindset and an arrival of talent. Well the arrival of talent appears to be on its way, which is why there is reason for optimism.

Harvey, Wheeler, Syndergaard. Got that? Go back and read it again. Those three young arms are the foundation, the reason the Mets could become perennial contenders. Long-term success in Major League Baseball requires consistent starting pitching, and those three can provide it. All three have fastballs in the upper-90s and knee-buckling breaking balls. And 2015 is the year they will finally be united. With those three at the top of the rotation, competition bears itself out at the bottom. Mejia, Colon, Gee, Niese, Jacob DeGrom and Rafael Montero will all battle for rotation spots next year, and surely the two best from that group will be above average fourth and fifth starters. 

So there’s young, controllable strong starting pitching and a few veteran positions players in Wright, Murphy and Curtis Granderson to hold their hands and show them the way. The last step of the process is to win back the fans’ faith, get them to show up, make money and buy the remaining pieces necessary.

Picture this. The old Mets front office was like an innocent child in search of cookies. They got confident after successful signings of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. That combined with the success of 2006, and the Mets thought they could attack the cookie jar with reckless indulgence. They signed Oliver Perez and Jason Bay, which represents the classic “mommy caught you red-handed” moment. So she puts you in timeout, aka the Mets had to swallow their checkbook for five years. Lesson learned, the next time you approach the cookie jar, you do so with caution. You trade an aging knuckleballer for a couple prospects, you sign a chubby sinker-baller for only $10 million a year. OK, so the analogy ends there, but the point is, the Mets and GM Sandy Alderson won’t splurge like Omar Minaya did. Everything is systematic and calculated. Alderson’s strategy allows for financial flexibility down the road. It allows for the team to make multiple mid-level signings each offseason, rather than tie up payroll in guys like Oliver Perez.

Therefore, when the team does start to compete again, and their income starts to head back north, Alderson will have the ability to address the holes that remain via free agency or by trading part of his plethora of arms. 

That’s the formula. That’s what makes 2014 and 2015 different from 2010 and 2011, for example. The Mets finally have assets, they have the best farm system in baseball, and they have the right approach. In other words, Alderson is too wise to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Wizards Clinch First Winning Season Since 2007-08 With Win Over Bucks

by John Vittas

Originally Published for Terp Report (April 12, 2014)

John Wall has never played on a winning NBA team, until now. Wall’s Wizards picked up win number 42 with a 104-91 victory over the Bucks on Saturday night at the Verizon Center, and clinched their first winning season since 2007-08.

“I’ve been here since 2010 when the tough times came and we won twenty-some games two years in a row,” Wall said. “It was tough. The organization did a great job of picking people and going out to get veteran guys and I think all the young guys did a good job of developing.”

This is only the sixth time the franchise has made the playoffs in the past 26 years.

“It’s important for our players number one, but for the town too,” Washington head coach Randy Wittman said. “This is a town that hasn’t seen that in a while and they’ve shown great support through some down times.”

Saturday’s 13-point win came against a Milwaukee team that played Washington tough despite sporting the worst record in the NBA. All three of their previous matchups were decided by eight points or less.

Bradley Beal did not play in the first two clashes and proved to be the difference Saturday. Beal scored a game-high 26 points on 12-for-22 shooting, and added three rebounds and five assists.

“Bradley was just being himself, making shots,” Al Harrington said. “That’s what he needs to do as our starting two-guard. He was aggressive and able to get it done for us.”

Milwaukee made their first four shots of the third quarter to take their first lead of the night. But Beal traded baskets with the Bucks, canning all four jumpers he took in the first five minutes of the second half.

“I was just shooting the ball with confidence, taking advantage of what the defense was giving me and how they were playing me,” Bradley Beal said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me and I was able to knock down a couple.”

Beal’s sharp shooting ignited the decisive 20-7 Wizards run, and they never led by less than 11 after that spurt.

“How we played in the third quarter, that’s how we have to play for 48 minutes,” Wall said. “We got them out of their rhythm.”

Washington got strong contributions from their veteran role players. Martell Webster, Al Harrington, Drew Gooden and Andre Miller all played 13 minutes or more off the bench. Each has at least eight years of NBA experience.

“I thought our bench was solid for us again, which is going to be important,” Wittman said. “It’s important to have contributions from everybody and the last two nights I felt they really stepped up.”

The Wizards will need strong contributions from those veterans no matter who they play in the postseason, with Chicago and Toronto the most likely opponents. Wittman said he wasn’t concerned with matchups, and dismissed any thought of trying to avoid a series with the Pacers or Heat.

“Whoever we’re going to play, it’s going to be a tough matchup. I don’t care who we play,” Wittman said. “We’ve beaten anybody that we’re going to have to face. I’m not worried about that.”

The Wizards are scheduled to end their home regular season on Monday night at 7 p.m. against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

“Everybody’s putting on their better outfits, getting their car cleaned that day,” Al Harrington said about playing the Heat. “You just try and give it your all. That’s what Miami brings out in all the other teams.”