The New York Mets have scratched and clawed their way to a winning record in 2014, but the real action is happening in their minor league system. Mets’ minor league affiliates have a combined 54-26 record. Winning ballgames is good, but what does it really say about the state of the farm system?
Winning provides an intangible benefit. Young prospects learn to take pride in their performances while learning first hand what a winning ball club feels like. It can create a bond between teammates that lasts into the major leagues. “Knowing how to win” is an overused and overrated cliche, but it can be a useful experience to have in one’s back pocket. But does winning automatically tell you everything about the talent in the organization? Not necessarily.
Take the Las Vegas 51s, for example. The Mets’ Triple-A affiliate has led the way in the organization with a 17-5 record, and they’ve been as dominant as their winning percentage indicates. They’ve found success with a mix of veterans and prospects. A few “Quad-A” guys (players who are too good for Triple-A, but not good enough for the majors) have played major roles in their lineup.
Twenty-seven-year-old Eric Campbell has a .987 OPS and is tied for the team lead with 20 RBIs. He’s been in the Mets’ organization since 2008, but has yet to taste the big leagues. Zach Lutz has had a couple of brief stints in the major leagues. He hit .091 for the Mets in 2012, but .300/.462/.400 in 2013. He’s only had 26 career plate appearances, and he’s also oldish for a prospect at age 27. This year, he has a .984 OPS with 3 homers for Vegas. The 51s have also gotten production out of major league veterans Bobby Abreu, Taylor Teagarden, and a rehabbing Chris Young (Young and Abreu are now on the Mets). First baseman Allan Dykstra has been the best hitter on the team, putting up an insane .423/.545/.788 slash line. He’ll also turn 27 in May (Maybe they should change their name to the 27s). It’s hard to tell if he’s a Quad-A player or just a late bloomer — his season at Double-A last year was also terrific.
Their prospects have not entirely fared as well. Cesar Puello and Wilmer Flores have gotten off to disappointing starts. Flores was crammed into the role of shortstop before the season due to the incredible lack of middle infielders in the high minors. The extra pressure to re-learn a position he hasn’t played since 2011 may be affecting his hitting. Top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard (5.04 ERA, 1.56 WHIP) hasn’t shown he’s ready for the majors yet, but pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League takes some getting used to. However, Jacob deGrom (1.57 ERA) and Rafael Montero (3.95 ERA) have fared much better.
At the other minor league levels, the prospects have fared better. Players like Matt Reynolds and Rainy Lara at Double-A, Brandon Nimmo and Aderlin Rodriguez at High-A, and Jeff McNeil and Robert Gsellman at Low-A have all gotten off to great starts.
A complete evaluation of the Mets’ minor league organization can’t be made based on wins and losses alone. They’re still relying too much on veterans at Triple-A, and their lack of middle infielders have forced players like Flores and Campbell (a first baseman/third baseman) to play second and short. Although, deGrom, Montero, and Syndergaard are still on track to see action in New York this year. And the production they’re getting from their prospects at Double-A and lower might be a sign that some talented players will be ready for the majors in a couple of years.