As the Mets Minors writer and gur… exper….guy who watched a lot of games at Tradition Field in 2016 I wanted take the time once again to look back on the year past while looking towards the season ahead by singling out five former St Lucie Mets players to keep a close eye on. Each of which to look out for in different ways and for different reasons.
To be or not to be considered a highly regarded prospect…
Since signing as a teenager out of Santiago, Dominican Republic, Urena has spent his entire professional career within the Mets organization. From 2012-2014, spanning three different affiliates (DSL, GCL & NYP leagues), Urena played in a total of 186 games, with 702 ABs during this time. He hit a very respectable .292 collectively, with seven triples, nine homers and 41 doubles during this three-year span. All while being a perhaps much coveted switch-hitter with an ability to hit for average from both sides of the plate.
However, in 2015, Urena started out slow and then reportedly was shut down for the year with injuries including a broken hamate bone in hands and multiple related wrist issues. Presumably due to the set backs, along with Urena age, he returned to the High-A level St. Lucie Mets where he stayed for the entire 2016 season.
Urena went on to have career highs in games played and ABs with the Mets and outperformed most of his 2015 statistics at the level, but still only managed to hit .225 with a .651 OPS, both significantly lower than he produced during his first three years in pro ball and earned him the top prospect status while seemingly jumping levels along side now top overall Mets prospect Amed Rosario prior to his injury. I have him as one of the intriguing prospects to watch in the coming year because of his make up, potential still seen and my eye ball test watching games during the 2016 season.
I was witness to what was perhaps one of, if not, the best game of the 2016 season for Jhoan in August when he went 3 for 5 with three line drives that accounted for two doubles and three RBIs. Urena showed a lot of power from both sides of the plate on the night, with an ability to not only gain solid contact, but true lift on the ball during his at-bats.
Overall, in the second of the 2016 season, he produced a respectable .257/.340/.406 through the hot Florida summer and into September to close the year strong.
Defensively, during the season I watched him at third base and in small sample sizes I saw a quick glove and sharp instincts to handle the hot corner while also viewing an accurate but low throws to first on put outs.
I’ve also seen Jhoan play first base, which he was playing during the three-hit performance, and showing the same positive instincts he has at third, while appearing to add a now natural instinct to come to the ball with a soft accurate toss to first on plays he charged towards on grounders.
Adding up all of the attributes, skills, switch hitting ability and raw talent (also don’t forget he’ll play out the entire 2017 season as a 22-year old) I’m am willing to foresee a strong season ahead for the once heralded prospect.
Can the 80 grade speedster race his way through the remaining levels while showing ability to get on base along the way?
Champ Stuart was drafted in the 6th round (176th overall) by the New York Mets in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft (signed for $300,000).
As a professional Champ has been labeled as an 80 grade speed guy who up to this point in his career has had issues with his K rate and ability to maintain a high enough on-base to sustain the batting average (career .226 AVG as a pro). The hit tool with Champ ever since has been questioned as being strong enough to hold up through the upper minors and into major league baseball.
While watching Champ play in 2015 my early observations were that the speed was legit. Stuart is a nightmare for opposing pitchers when he is on first base. His speed on stolen bases, first to third and second to home are outstanding. But again the issue is getting on base.
After having 34 walks to 58 strikeouts during his first year of pro ball for Kingsport, Champ by 2015 would go on to have 40 walks against 141 strikeouts. I felt that Champ appeared to be having trouble utilizing his bat speed to make contact with opposing pitchers even at just 89-92 MPH fastballs. I was also hoping to see Champ not only be more patient at the plate in finding his pitch, but also at the same time show more aggression by making more attempts to bunt to get on base.
In 2016, I feel as though I saw a different Champ Stuart. I saw a quick bat and I noticed his power potential at this time. Champ appeared to be seeing the pitches better, using more patience and judgement at the plate and showing more overall focus and confidence than during the previous year. This to go along with his maintaining of 80 grade speed and what I would consider to be above average defensive ability in center field and average to above average arm strength.
Then seemingly out of nowhere, while in the Arizona Fall League, Champ played 19 games and managed to hit .300, although still with 22 Ks and limited walks which sat him at a .329 OBP. So the question is where does Champ go from here within the Mets organization? He will play out the upcoming 2017 season as a 24-year old. Having reached the AA level end of last season, even if he were to repeat the level he would be fine age wise.
Champ Stuart will forever be intriguing due to his speed and defensive abilities. I have personally made the bold prediction that Champ, who went unprotected and not drafted in the 2016 Rule 5 draft, will find himself not only remaining in the Mets organization but will be on their 40-man roster come September 2017.
Will David Replace David in queens one day?
In the 4th round of the 2015 MLB amateur draft the Mets selected third baseman David Thompson, who was coming off a monster year while at the University of Miami. By the numbers this David showed first round talent. So what was the issue? In March 2014 David underwent surgery for what doctors called “Thoracic Outlet Syndrome” to his right throwing arm. Yes, hat syndrome and surgery which Matt Harvey had this past season.
After the draft David was assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones where he had subpar numbers which isn’t abnormal with college players as they enter the grind of pro baseball. However, the following season in 2016, David starting showing his potential while staring the year at Low-A level for the Colombia Fireflies and ending the year with the St. Lucie Mets. In 116 total games across the two levels David had 95 RBIs which led the Mets minor leagues.
My observations of David while watching him play in St. Lucie was that I was seeing an MLB caliber baseball player. What stood out to me was not only own personal eyeball test but also what why ears were telling me. The sound of the ball of David’s bat reminded me of the sound I heard the year prior while watching Michael Conforto on the same field in St. Lucie at Tradition Field.
I was also impressed with I considered a strong baseball IQ and approach of David at the plate. I see a player who reads a situation, has the ability and bat control to go opposite field to move runners in scoring position along. It’s my opinion that David’s power numbers will start to show at the Double-A level.
Defensively, I would only be going by small sample size in evaluating his glove work and arm strength. But what I do know is that upon David arrival in St. Lucie he was immediately given full time duty at third base which moved the above mentioned and talented prospect Jhoan Urena to first.
I’m looking forward to seeing David compete at the Double-A level in 2017. I’m looking for double digit homer totals, maintaining strong RBI totals in the middle of the order and will keep an eye on any analysis of his defensive ability and arm strength.
Are we looking at the sleeper pick of 2017 or possibly the future Sean Gilmartin?
In the same 2015 MLB Amateur Draft, long after David Thompson was taken by the Mets, they went on to select pitcher P.J. Conlon from San Diego. The 23-year old born in Belfast, Northern Ireland has been dominating the lower minors from day one.
After strictly pitching out of the bullpen throughout his draft year while with the Brooklyn Cyclones, P.J. was entrenched into the Colombia Fireflies and later the St. Lucie Mets rotation. He has sparkled statistically along the way.
As a pro, P.J. has a career 0.94 WHIP, with opposing hitters batting .211 against him. While watching a Conlon start with the St. Lucie Mets I was encouraged by what I saw. I am also intrigued by the quirky mechanics and delivery of P.J. on the mound. I noticed a lot of weak contact from the opposing hitters, specifically off his breaking pitchers.
My eyes would tell me that P.J. would seemingly be strong against opposing lefties. However while his numbers are impressive either way there is a slight edge statistically pointing to P.J. being very solid against righted, leading to a version of reverse splits. As pointed out to me by my friend and fellow writer Corne Hogeveen it appears that P.J. solid and possibly his best pitch, his changeup has been extremely effective against opposing right-handed hitters.
I am anxious to see Conlon face higher level hitters and see where his assortment of pitches and control take him. Also of note in 159 total innings as a pro P.J. has allowed only 26 walks. The radar gun at Tradition Field had P.J. sitting only in the high/upper 80s and possibly touching low 90s. Long-term I’m wondering if the Mets see Conlon as a starter or a back end of the rotation guy. Either way I’m looking forward to rooting for the guy with the video game numbers in the low minors.
Will there be another break out season by another hard throwing righty in the system?
The final prospect I think we should keep an eye on is Chris Flexen. The high upside high school draft pick from 2012 pitched for the St Lucie Mets in 2016 in their rotation. Chris, I guess like many before him, was coming back and getting into form after Tommy John surgery the year prior.
What my eyeball test told me while watching him pitch in 2016 was a young man (age 22) with some unhittable talent when he is on. I like the combination of his fastball and breaking pitches, specifically his breaking stuff which during a one-hit performance I witnessed saw mostly weak contact and grounders from the opposing hitters.
The one issue I saw was that he had trouble putting away hitters and couldn’t make it out of the sixth inning due to a high pitch count in the game. For the season, Chris had 95 strikeouts against 51 walks in his 134 total innings of work.
In 2017, I’m predicting a much better strikeout and walk rate (in his shortened 2015 season Chris had 51 strikeouts against 16 walksin 52 innings).
I’m looking for Chris to start cementing himself on the team right-handed pitching prospect rankings right behind Robert Gsellman and Justin Dunn. Like all of the prospects listed I am anxious to see Chris at the Double-A level to truly evaluate his talent and status as a possible major league starter.
I believe in his stuff. I believe in his ability to rely on his breaking pitches (with more accuracy in the zone) to get outs in pressure situations.
All images courtesy of Ernest Dove