Although the Mets parted with two of their most promising prospects in the early December trade with the Seattle Mariners, there’s still plenty to be excited about down on the farm. Minor leaguers on the verge of a breakout, coupled with those who took a leap forward this past season, give the organization a lot to look forward to in the new year.
Those Who Broke Out in 2018…
IF Jeff McNeil — After battling various injuries over the prior two years, McNeil parlayed his first full season since 2015 into a two-month stint in the major leagues. The results were spectacular, as in just under 250 plate appearances, he recorded a 2.6 offensive bWAR, the third-highest mark from a Mets rookie, and finished sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
While McNeil has long earned praise for his ability to make the most of his contact-oriented approach, no one could have foreseen the extent to which he took off in 2018. Entering the year with a career .093 ISO, he jumped up to .142 over 88 games between Binghamton and Las Vegas before reaching the majors. McNeil struck out even less with the big club than he did in the minors, leading many to believe that he could handle a full-time starting job in 2019. Even serving as a “super utility,” he should be able to turn in 450 quality at-bats.
SS Shervyen Newton — Newton spent two seasons in the Dominican Summer League before making his stateside debut as a 19 year old with Kingsport in 2018. Observers love his size, measuring at an athletic 6’4″, 180 lbs, with room to add muscle and, in turn, game power. Despite a 31.6% strikeout rate (to be fair, his 17.3% walk rate ranked third in the Appalachian League), Newton stood out with an .857 OPS (his second straight year over .850) and 127 wRC+. Although he jumped onto the prospect radar in 2018, it’s clear that the best it yet to come for Newton, who could become only the eighth Netherlands native to reach the major leagues since 1980.
2B Luis Santana — Like Newton, Santana made the jump from the complexes in the Dominican Republic to northeast Tennessee in 2018, posting even better numbers than his infield mate. Santana was the only U.S. minor leaguer in the organization who walked more than he struck out, perpetuating his high-contact reputation, and his wRC+ never dipped below 137 over any 30-game sample. As discrimination against undersized hitters continues to dissipate, Santana’s development is trending nearly vertically upwards.
RHP Jaison Vilera — Vilera got a late start to his career, debuting as a 19 year old, but through nearly 200 career innings he’s yet to struggle. That continued with Brooklyn in 2018, where he was nothing short of dominant. Vilera was especially brilliant in July, when he allowed only two runs in 33.2 innings, striking out 39. The native Venezuelan works off his low-90s fastball with a promising slider and change. Vilera isn’t the first pitcher to blow the New York-Penn League competition out of the water, but barring injury he’s in line to make his mark on full season ball in 2019.
… And Those Who Could Break Out in 2019
RHP Simeon Woods-Richardson — The Mets were pleased with the early returns from their 2018 second-round pick, whose workload was limited to 17.1 innings between the Gulf Coast League and Kingsport. His two starts with the K-Mets during their playoff push were impressive, as he struck out just under half of the 24 total batters he faced.
It’s all about projection with Woods-Richardson, who started to see his fastball velocity creep towards the upper-90s in pro ball and could sport two viable secondary offerings between his 12-6 curveball and change. He has the attitude and drive necessary to traverse the minor leagues, which is why it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to see him trend towards the system’s top ten after his first full season.
3B Mark Vientos — Another second-rounder, Vientos’ first 20-or-so games with Kingsport were nondescript, but he turned up the heat right around the middle of July, recording a .978 OPS over his final 41 appearances. Credit can be given to recent swing changes, which could unlock more effective fly ball production.
Vientos was pushed over to third base earlier than expected as a result of a crowded infield, and while he isn’t projected to be a gold glove defender at the position, he’ll be taking a lot of reps there during spring training. Perhaps his most attractive attribute is his youth; he could be tearing up the South Atlantic League next season as a 19 year old.
OF Matt Winaker — A fifth-round pick from Stanford, Winaker struggled in his debut with Brooklyn two summers ago and added injury to insult, succumbing to a shoulder injury after only 21 games. With a fresh start (and position change from first base to left field) in Columbia, Winaker thrived, OPS’ing .803 and finishing the year strong with a .319/.418/.638 line in August. He began putting the ball in the air a ton (40.1% FB rate, 11th-highest in the system), which comprised his contact but tapped into his power, as his 13 home runs with the Fireflies matched his three-year total with the Cardinal.
With a solid start to 2019, I could see Winaker spending the latter half of the season in Binghamton, reaching Syracuse in 2020, and pushing for a major league bench role at some point in the foreseeable future. The ceiling is limited but the floor is one of the highest in the system.
RHP Tony Dibrell — After depleting their already thin pitching depth with the trade of Justin Dunn to Seattle, the Mets are going to need their mid-tier arms to take a big step forward in 2019. That includes Dibrell, who at times was unhittable, and at other times, very hittable, for Columbia in 2018. He’s got a good feel for his entire repertoire, but it’s his ability to consistently control his pitches that will make or break things going forward.
A good sign: after his worst appearance to date, Dibrell bounced back with two dominant outings to end his first professional season, striking out 14 and allowing only one run. He should headline the St. Lucie rotation in 2019.