Top 15 Prospects: New York Mets

The Mets system is hurt by a lack of depth. It has some very nice arms in Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia, but things begin to fall off quickly after that. The offensive prospects, in particular, come with a lot of question marks.

1. Zack Wheeler, RHP
BORN: May 30, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round (6th overall), Georgia HS (by San Francisco)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd (San Francisco)

SCOUTING REPORT: A half year of veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran cost the San Francisco Giants dearly when they shipped Wheeler to the east coast. The right-hander instantly became the organization’s No. 1 prospect, narrowly edging Matt Harvey for the distinction. Wheeler’s repertoire includes a 91-95 mph fastball that can touch the upper 90s, a potentially-plus curveball and two developing pitches: a changeup and a cutter.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Wheeler had little to no issues with high-A ball during his first true full season in the minors. He struggled a bit with his control while pitching in the Giants organization (4.81 BB/9 in 88 IP) but made some minor adjustments with the Mets and showed improvement, albeit in a small sample size (1.67 BB/9 in 27 IP). He has yet to see his strikeout rate dip below 10.00 K/9 in his career. After posting an outstanding ground-ball rate in ’10, Wheeler’s became more of a fly-ball pitcher in ’11; it would be nice to see him work the lower half of the strike zone more consistently.

YEAR AHEAD: Wheeler is ready for the challenge of double-A and he should spend the majority of the season at that level. The organization may be tempted to call on him if the starting rotation struggles but he could use another full season in the minors before facing big league hitters.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Beltran compiled 1.2 WAR in 44 games with the Giants before jumping ship for a lucrative two-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. Assuming he stays healthy, Wheeler will have no issues surpassing the value (possibly in his rookie season) that the Giants organization squeezed out of Beltran. Wheeler has a legitimate shot at becoming a No. 1 or 2 starter at the MLB level.

2. Matt Harvey, RHP
BORN: March 27, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 1st round (7th overall), U of North Carolina
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd

SCOUTING REPORT: Harvey, like Wheeler, features a good, hard fastball that sits in the 92-96 mph range. He also features a very good slider and seldom-used changeup. Harvey has a big, strong pitcher’s frame but struggles with his command at times when he fights his delivery. He’s been on the prospect landscape for a long time and was a potential top pick in the ’07 draft before bonus demands slid him to the third round. The Angels organization came close to signing him but he ultimately chose to attend UNC.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Harvey made his official pro debut in 2011, beginning the year in high-A ball where he posted a 2.66 FIP (2.37 ERA) in 76 innings. The Connecticut native missed a lot of bats (10.89 K/9) and generally over-powered the young hitters. Moved up to double-A, he struggled with his control as his walk rate rose from 2.84 to 3.47 BB/9. His FIP, though, still remained solid at 3.23 (4.53 ERA).

YEAR AHEAD: The right-hander may return briefly to double-A with a few things to work on, although he did get better as the season wound down. The development of Harvey’s changeup will be huge in 2012 as he hasn’t thrown it much at all. If all goes well, and he shows significant improvement with his third offering, Harvey could surface in Queens at some point during the season half of the baseball season.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Harvey entered pro ball with serious question marks about his ability to work out of a big league starting rotation. There are fewer voices expressing concern that he’ll top out as a high leverage reliever but he’ll need that third pitch to help erase that concern. If everything breaks right for Harvey, he could develop into a durable No. 2 starter.

3. Jeurys Familia, RHP
BORN: Oct. 10, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: Familia looks like a dominating force on the mound and he has the fastball velocity – 93-97 mph – to back it up. Unfortunately, his secondary pitches (slider, changeup) are both still developing with the breaking ball showing the most promise of the pair. Familia has pitched almost exclusively out of the starting rotation as a pro but he’s a long-term, high-leverage reliever at the MLB level.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Familia finally broke out of A-ball after six dominating starts (1.49 ERA, 0.80 WHIP) and spent the remainder of the season in double-A. The right-hander posted a strikeout rate of 9.86 but his control regressed to its usual level (3.59 BB/9). Once a ground-ball-heavy pitcher, Familia was more of a fly-ball pitcher in 2011. I’d like to see him work down in the zone a little more consistently.

YEAR AHEAD: Familia probably showed enough at double-A for New York to move him up to triple-A to begin 2012. He has an outside shot of breaking camp with the club if he has a strong spring but he still has rough edges to smooth out. I’d be more than a little shocked if he didn’t make his MLB debut in ’12.

CAREER OUTLOOK: As mentioned, Familia is headed for a bullpen role in the Majors. If he can sharpen his slider to the point where it’s at least average on a consistent basis then he could potentially become the Mets’ closer. Otherwise, he could have a solid career as a set-up man.

4. Brandon Nimmo, OF
BORN: March 27, 1993
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round (13th overall), Wyoming HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: Nimmo earned a paycheck of more than $2 million, which is impressive considered the lack of baseball opportunities he had in the state of Wyoming. He earned a following on the showcase circuit, though, and flashes above-average athleticism. Nimmo flashes five tools with his power and arm strength earning the lowest grades. He has speed, which he utilizes in the field, but it may be less useful on the base paths due to a slower first step.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Nimmo appeared in just 10 games after signing but he looked as advertised – explosive but very, very raw. He racked up 14 strikeouts in those 10 games but also banged out two home runs in seven rookie ball games.

YEAR AHEAD: The Wyoming native is the type of player that could definitely use one or two seasons in extended spring training. However, the organization has a history of pushing its top, young players so Nimmo could open the year in low-A ball. I wouldn’t recommend it. The club hasn’t had much recent success with its aggressive approach (Fernando Martinez, Wilmer Flores).

CAREER OUTLOOK: Nimmo could become something very special – and it would make a great story given his modest baseball beginnings – but real-life lessons have taught us that these players flame out more often than not. With that said, the young outfielder has four- or five-tool potential.

5. Wilmer Flores, 3B/SS
BORN: Aug. 6, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 1st

SCOUTING REPORT: It’s hard to believe Flores is just 20 years old… He’s been kicking around the prospect landscape since his high-profile signing in 2007 but his value has also been heading down, rather than up in recent years. Due to a lack of range, Flores is very close to moving off shortstop – and likely over to third base where he projects to be an average-at-best offensive threat. The 20-year-old prospect is too aggressive and has yet to tap into his raw power potential.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Flores played much of 2011 at the age of 19, and was one of the younger players in the league, but he posted an wRC+ of just 88 while repeating high-A. His ISO rate of .110 is going to have to take a big jump if he’s going to handle third base on a regular basis. His batting average of .269 was also nothing to write home about.

YEAR AHEAD: The young prospect will likely not be asked to head back to high-A for a third go-around – it would likely be too big of a blow to his confidence. Flores, though, could struggle as he learns to adapt to the more advanced pitchers in double-A who will use his aggressiveness to their advantage – even more so than hurlers did in A-ball. He’s probably still two years away from the Majors, unless he suddenly matures as a hitter and makes significant adjustments.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Flores currently projects to develop into a starting third baseman on a second-division team -and has seen his value take a huge hit in recent years. He would be even further down the prospect list if he were in a stronger system. The good news is that, at just 20 years of age, he still has plenty of time to improve.

6. Michael Fulmer, RHP
BORN: March 15, 1993
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 supplemental 1st round, Oklahoma HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: There was an outstanding crop of amateur pitching from the state of Oklahoma in 2011 with three prep pitchers nabbed in the first and supplemental round: Dylan Bundy (Orioles), Archie Bradley (Arizona), and Fulmer. The Mets right-hander has a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a promising slider. He has a big, strong frame and projects to develop into a workhorse.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Fulmer appeared in just four rookie league games after signing, posting a 10.13 ERA (but 2.26 FIP) in five innings. He walked four batters but also struck out 10.

YEAR AHEAD: The Mets organization tends to be aggressive with its top, young prospects so Fulmer could very likely open 2012 in low-A ball. He has a fair bit of work to do on developing a changeup so some time in extended spring training might actually benefit him in the long run.

CAREER OUTLOOK: As long as he develops his change-of-pace, Fulmer has the potential to develop two plus pitches (fastball, slider) and become a No. 2 starter. He’ll likely need four or five years in the minors to develop.

7. Jordany Valdespin, 2B/SS
BORN: Dec. 23, 1987
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: Valdespin is yet another member of the Mets’ outstanding international free agent haul from ’07. He’s produced solid pro numbers but a continued lack of maturity has hampered his development. Like many of Mets prospects, Valdespin is overly aggressive, which hinders his overall offensive ceiling. He has above-average power for a second baseman and also stole 37 bases in ’11 after be improved his base running.

YEAR IN REVIEW: The Dominican showed a power-speed combination in ’11 and he hit a career high 17 home runs between double-A and triple-A. He struck out too much, though, and walked at a rate of about 4%.

YEAR AHEAD: Valdespin hit very well in double-A in ’11 but struggled a bit during his 27 game trial at triple-A. He’ll likely need another season of development in the minors before he’s ready to take over second base at the big league level. Valdespin has an outside shot of sticking at shortstop at the big league level if he continues to show improvements in 2012.

CAREER OUTLOOK: New York has a number of players capable of holding down the second base fort until Valdespin is ready – so he won’t be rushed. Given his history of insubordination the organization may be unwilling to commit fully to him as the second baseman of the future – at least until he shows improved maturity for an extended period of time. If everything breaks right, Valdespin could be an above-average player at the MLB level – both on offense and defense.

8. Cesar Puello, OF
BORN: April 1, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 8th

SCOUTING REPORT: Puello is a toolsy outfielder who has the chance to develop into a starting center-fielder but he needs to become more consistent while also improving his approach at the plate. He has just enough power potential that it can mess with his head at times, keeping him from focusing on his key offensive tool: His speed. Scouts feel Puello may eventually develop the ability to hit 15-20 home runs.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Puello faced little adversity in his first three pro seasons, hitting almost .300 during that span. He struggled as a 20 year old in high-A ball in 2011, his aggressiveness and poor pitch recognition getting the best of him. His batting average dipped to .259 and his walk rate was a dismal 3.7%.

YEAR AHEAD: The young Dominican showed improvements during the second half of the season in 2011 but he may still benefit from a return engagement to high-A ball where he can continue to work on hitting breaking balls and learning to see more pitches. He could see the Majors by the end of 2013 if he gets off to a strong start in ’12.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Puello projects to play a corner outfield spot as a big leaguer – likely right field due to his strong arm. It remains to be seen if he’ll develop enough usable, in-game power to be a regular corner outfielder after posting a career best ISO rate of just .138 in 2011.

9. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF
BORN: Aug. 7, 1987
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 3rd round, Azusa Pacific University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd

SCOUTING REPORT: Nieuwenhuis has done nothing but hit since being discovered and drafted by the Mets out of a small college. The same concerns continue to follow him, though, as he ascends through the minor league system: He lacks the range to play center field everyday and he lacks the power profile expected from a corner outfielder.

YEAR IN REVIEW: It was expected that Nieuwenhuis would make his MLB debut in 2011 and he got off to a fast start to the season by posting a .908 OPS in triple-A through the beginning of June but shoulder surgery wiped out the remainder of his season.

YEAR AHEAD: The young outfielder may not be fully recovered from his shoulder surgery when spring training roles around so he could get a late start to the season. With the organization lacking outfield depth, though, Nieuwenhuis could see significant playing time in New York as soon as he’s deemed healthy and in game shape.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Because Nieuwenhuis hits right-handed pitching much better than southpaws, he’s probably ticketed for a career as a platoon or bench player. With that said, and with some further development, he could spend a few years playing regularly for a second-division club.

10. Cory Vaughn, OF
BORN: May 1, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 4th round, San Diego State U
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 9th

SCOUTING REPORT: Between his 2010 debut and the first 68 games of 2011, Vaughn was making the Mets organization look extremely smart for nabbing him in the fourth round of the ’10 draft. He hit a wall, though, after a promotion to high-A ball in June. Vaughn, the son of long-time Brewer Greg Vaughn, has his father’s power. He also has a strong arm and projects to develop into a solid right-fielder.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Vaughn didn’t hit for much power in low-A ball in ’11 (.122 ISO) but he produced a .402 OBP. Moved up to high-A ball, his average dropped from .282 to .219 and he lost almost 100 points off his OBP to .308. On the plus side he showed more power (.176). As a diabetic playing his first full year, it’s possible that Vaughn just needs to learn how to better prepare himself for such a long season.

YEAR AHEAD: Vaughn may return to high-A ball for a short period of time but it shouldn’t come as a surprise if he sees double-A by the end of the year. He needs to work on staying within himself and not expanding the strike zone in an effort to do too much.

CAREER OUTLOOK: If he can get back on track, Vaughn could develop into a solid big league outfielder with few holes in his game. Even if he doesn’t tap into his full raw power, he could be successful hitting 20 home runs a season while hitting for a solid batting average, getting on base at a good clip and playing at least average defense.

The Next Five

11. Reese Havens, 2B: Havens was drafted with significant fanfare but his pro career has been disappointing to this point, mainly due to an ongoing string of injuries. The infielder has yet to top 97 games in any season and played just 90 games combined over the past two years. When healthy, Havens shows a solid line-drive swing, although he struggles with strikeouts at times. Defensively, he’s moved from shortstop to second base where he should develop into an average defender.

12. Phillip Evans, 2B/SS: Evans had a chance to go in the first three rounds of the 2011 draft but he slid all the way to the 15th rounds. The Mets got him under contract with a $650,000 bonus. He falls into the “scrappy infielder” category and may top out as a big league utility player. Evans doesn’t have much speed or power, but he could hit for a respectable average and could become an above-average defender at second base, his eventual destination due to a lack of range at shortstop.

13. Jack Leathersich, LHP: After spending time as a starter in college, Leathersich moved to the bullpen in pro ball and instantly saw his stuff play up. The hurler has a solid fastball in the 91-95 mph range and also flashes an above-average curveball. He’s an example of great scouting by the organization and it will be interesting to see if his success during his pro debut will spill over into 2012. If it does, he could move quickly through the system.

14. Akeel Morris, RHP: A native of the Virgin Islands, Morris entered the pro ball as an extremely raw pitcher. He has a lot of potential, though, and has already made some big strides. His repertoire includes an 89-94 mph fastball, curveball and changeup. Playing in advanced rookie ball in ’11, Morris struck out 61 batters and allowed just 30 hits in 51.1 innings… but he also walked 38 batters.

15. Darrell Ceciliani, OF: Ceciliani is yet another speedy center field prospect in the system. The left-handed hitter performs well against both right- and left-handers so he doesn’t have to worry about being platooned. He has solid base running ability, although he’s struggled with reading pitchers in the past. His profile suggests fourth outfielder but he has the chance to be a little bit more.

SLEEPER ALERT: Domingo Tapia, RHP: The right-handed Tapia can hit 100 mph with his fastball but he lacks a reliable secondary pitch. He induces an encouraging number of ground-ball outs and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain that trend as he rises through the minor league system. If he can find a reliable second pitch than Tapia could become a strong late-game option for the Mets.

THE EXCEPTION: Jenrry Mejia, RHP: Most top prospect lists still include Mejia but you’ll find him missing from this list because he’s technically not a rookie any longer due to service time (although he’s below the 50 IP threshold). Were he to be considered for the list, Mejia would slide in between Wilmer Flores and Kirk Nieuwenhuis. I see him as a long-term, high-leverage reliever at the Major League level.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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10 years ago

Tapia has a career 5.5 K/9 in short-season ball. How does that equate inducing an encouraging number of strikeouts? If anything it’s surprising he’s NOT missing more bats for a pitcher with a good arm in the lowest levels of the minors.