As the minor league season begins, every New York Mets fan seems to know the names Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith. They are not just two of the best prospects on the Mets, but two of the best prospects in all of baseball.
However, they are not going to be the only exciting parts of the minor league season.
In fact, one of the best parts of each season is seeing a minor leaguer figure it out. It’s great when that player, like Tomas Nido last season, was off most people’s radars, and has the type of season that makes you take notice. In the spirit of Nido’s 2016 season, here is an under the radar player at each level of the Mets minor league system who could have a breakout season:
Columbia Fireflies – OF Gene Cone
The Mets 2016 10th round draft pick and MMN‘s 90th ranked prospect struggled in Brooklyn last year like most collegiate players do. Prior to being signed by the Mets, Cone had a terrific year for the University of South Carolina hitting .356/.468/.489 with a school record 31-game hitting streak.
Cone is a player that is more than the sum of his parts because he is a player with a high baseball IQ. He has a good eye at the plate, and doesn’t expand the zone. He has a good compact line drive swing designed to make contact. With some changes in his stance, some maturity, and possibly tinkering with his approach, it is possible Cone is a player that could hit for some power.
Cone is not a particularly fast player, nor does he have a plus arm. However, he is fast enough and has a good enough arm to hold his own in center field. Ideally, Cone would move to left field where both his speed and arm would translate him into being a good defender at the position.
Overall, Cone knows what he is and what to do on the baseball field. When you have a guy like this, you can typically bet on him outplaying his skill set. We just may see him do that this year.
St. Lucie – C Patrick Mazeika
MMN‘s 44th ranks prospect is an interesting prospect with a lot of upside and offensive talent. In his two year minor league career so far, Mazeika has been a .331/.434/.476 hitter who has hit eight homers and 83 RBI over 132 games. It should be noted his power numbers really dipped last year, but that could be the product of his playing in Columbia. As he matures physically, he may hit for even more power than that.
However, the issue with Mazeika isn’t his bat, it’s his defense. The 6’3″ catcher is far from polished behind the plate. He hasn’t moved particularly well behind the plate. With that said, it is not as if he is a sieve allowing a number of passed balls and wild pitches. Rather, it is an impediment to him getting in the best position to frame pitches and get in a good throwing position. For example, last year Mazeika only threw out 29% of base stealers last season.
Now, part of Mazeika’s struggles throwing stemmed from an elbow injury he suffered last year. The other part of it is he really only became a full-time catcher after being drafted by the Mets. Mazeika has a lot of work to do behind the plate, and he knows it.
As he told me in an exclusive interview, “I’ve improved in every aspect defensively – definitely improved a lot receiving especially this offseason after instructional league. My throwing has improved with better mechanics back there. This offseason I’ve also gotten more flexible and I feel I’m moving better.”
With more flexibility and better mechanics, Mazeika should be poised for his best year as a professional. If he makes significant strides as defender, and hits the way he is capable of hitting, the Mets are certainly going to take notice.
Binghamton – LHP Ben Griset
After struggling as a starter in the Tampa Bay Rays system and his subsequent release, Griset finds himself a left-handed reliever in the Mets farm system and MMN‘s 82nd ranked prospect.
The reason Griset has been better with the Mets than the Rays is he is better suited for the bullpen. In the rotation, he was pitching in the high 80s. In the bullpen, where he can max out on every pitch, Griset is now sitting in the low 90s. Another important note is that Griset has been a two pitch pitcher. Pitchers like that are best suited to the bullpen.
That second pitch – it’s a beautiful 12-6 curveball. The fastball/curveball combination combined with a herky jerky motion has helped Griset dominate left-handed hitters. Last season, left-handed batters only hit .157 off of him with no home runs. Overall, Griset was 4-2 with a 1.80 ERA, 1.033 WHIP, and a 9.9 K/9 in 32 appearances. Griset looks like a classic LOOGY, and as such has a very real future.
In addition to the fastball and curveball, Griset has been trying to learn a change-up. Should Griset learn that change-up, and make it an effective pitch, he is going to have a pitch that can keep right-handed batters at bay. If that is the case, his ceiling goes from LOOGY to a cross-over reliever. With Griset’ dominance of left-handed hitters and the development of a change-up, he is certainly a pitcher worth keeping an eye on this season.
Las Vegas – RHP Kevin McGowan
A year or so ago, MMN‘s 46th ranked prospect likely would not have been on anyone’s watch list. While he has a clean repeatable delivery, he was just a two pitch pitcher. Now, he can get that fastball into the high 90s and his change-up was a plus pitch, but McGowan’s inability to develop a breaking pitch led to him struggling in the rotation.
Finally, the Mets moved him into the bullpen, and he thrived. As a reliever in Binghamton, McGowan made 24 appearances going 4-0 with a 2.68 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and a 9.1 K/9. Essentially, he was able to focus on his two best pitches and use them to get batters out. Simplifying both his approach and his repertoire enabled McGowan to dominate out of the pen.
With that, McGowan is now a member of the Las Vegas bullpen, and he gets to work with Frank Viola who will help him get everything he can out of the pitches he does throw. Should McGowan continue to get people out, and possibly even improve, he could soon be on the Mets radar. A dominant season out of the bullpen will certainly raise McGowan’s profile, and it could even lead to him getting called up to the major leagues.