Going into 2017, there was some reason for optimism surrounding the upcoming season for Las Vegas. The Mets had promoted Pedro Lopez to manage the 51s, and the two top prospects in the organization, Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, would be starting the season with the team. However, very little went right for the 51s this season and they finished with a league worst record of 56-86.
Despite the dismal overall record, there were still several positives to take out of this season. Most of the positives come from the offense. The 51s’ offense was solid as a whole, finishing in the middle of the pack in most categories, and featured several standout performances.
Top prospect, Amed Rosario, got off to a very hot start to the season, hitting .404/.439/.506 in April leading most of the baseball world, and many Mets fans to declare he should get called-up to the majors. Even with him failing to keep up with that pace, he continued to have an outstanding season hitting .328/.367/.466 slash line with career high seven home runs. Rosario’s strong performance in Triple-A led to him being awarded the PCL Rookie of the Year award and to his being ranked as a top three prospect in baseball on most mideason prospect lists.
The Mets’ second best prospect, Dominic Smith, similarly had an outstanding season with the bat. Smith would truly shine in the Month of July hitting .385/.437/.725 with eight home runs. With this month, he was not only named the Player of the Month, but he also began to quiet concerns over whether he would hit for enough power at the Major League level. Overall, Smith set carer highs in home runs (16), doubles (34), runs scored (77), hits (151), doubles (34), batting average (.330), slugging percentage (.519), and OPS (.905).
With the seasons Rosario and Smith were having, it was easy to overlook the career resurgence Kevin Plawecki was having. After his last poor stint with the Mets, Plawecki responded by hitting .338/.386/.529 with 14 doubles, a triple, eight homers, and 38 RBI in 54 games. As we have seen with his recent call-up to the majors, this stretch wasn’t a fluke, but rather the result of his making adjustments at the plate. With the season he has had, like Rosario and Smith, he has shown he can be a significant part of the Mets in 2018.
Unfortunately, not all the young 51s players would have outstanding seasons. In particular, last year’s Eastern League batting champion Phillip Evans and former top 100 prospect Gavin Cecchini each took a step back offensively. Evans batting average dropped from .335 last year to just .279 this year. For his part Cecchini went from slashing .325/.390/.448 in Vegas last year to .267/.329/.380 this year. Still even with these struggles both players had impressive second halves. Evans slashed .328/.387/.527, and Cecchini hit .287/.353/.426, which should at least give hope both players can return to their impressive form next year.
While there were a number of noteworthy offensive seasons from the 51s, there were an equal number of pitchers who had noteworthy seasons. Unfortunately, the pitchers seasons were noteworthy mainly because of how poor the staff performed as a group.
While there were several positives to take out of the 51s’ offensive performance in 2017, there is not much good to say about the team’s pitching performance. Expectations were not particularly high for the pitching staff to begin the season, as the staff was mostly filled by minor league veterans rather than young prospects. The combination of a staff devoid of top prospects, one of the most-hitter friendly environments in baseball, and poor defense (the team’s .977 fielding percentage and 19% CS% were both worst in the league) was never going to yield good results.
Predictably, the 51s’ pitching staff was among of the worst in the league in most pitching categories. They allowed the most runs (831), had the second worst ERA (5.40), and had the third highest WHIP (1.546) in the Pacific Coast League. The poor pitching performance was clearly the main reason for the team’s dismal record.
Ricky Knapp‘s contact oriented pitching style did not translate well to the Pacific Coast League hitting environment. His 5.97 ERA and 1.514 WHIP were by far the worst of his professional career. It should be noted this was likely driven by the pitching environment than any particular loss of talent for Knapp. He seemed to prove that with him dominating in four starts in Binghamton as he helped that team’s postseason push.
But it wasn’t just Knapp’s struggles. It was the fact the 51s gave a number of starts to Wilfredo Boscan, Donovan Hand, and Mitch Atkins. While each provided solid minor league depth, none were initially expected to be a fixture in the rotation. However, with all the injuries at the Major League level, there was going to be an affiliate that suffered from a starting pitching standpoint. Naturally, it was Vegas.
The team would even be robbed of of their few pleasant surprises this season – Tyler Pill. After starting in Binghamton and earning a quick promotion, Pill would have a very successful season with Vegas. His 3.47 ERA made him the only 51s pitcher with more than five starts to have an ERA below 4.50. His solid performance and the numerous injuries to the big league staff earned him a promotion which nobody would have predicted back in Spring Training. Unfortunately, as was the case for many pitchers throughout the organization, Pill’s season ended early due to injury. Still, 2017 was a very successful season for a pitcher who has been in the minors for a long time.
Like the Major League roster, the Las Vegas roster would have some injury issues that affected the pitching staff. Left-handed reliever David Roseboom with a right foot injury. Erik Goeddel struggled after he had a surgery in the offseason to remove bone spurs in his pitching elbow.
Still even though the team was missing those key relievers, there were some good performances. Chasen Bradford had good first half fueled by his pounding the strike zone and limiting his walks. This led to multiple promotions to the majors. Since his latest promotion, Bradford has emerged as one of the more consistent pitchers in the Mets bullpen, posting a 3.98 ERA and 3.91 FIP with the big league team.
In addition to Bradford, both Kyle Regnault and Kevin McGowan were solid while spending the majority of the season in Las Vegas. Like Bradford, McGowan’s season would lead to him receiving a call-up to the Major Leagues.
Alberto Baldonado, who was quickly promoted after dominating Double-A, didn’t have impressive numbers in Vegas that he had in Binghamton. However, Baldonado would continue to pitch well against left-handed batters. Overall, left-handed batters hit just .188/.274/.294 against him.
With the aforementioned relievers were important parts of the team, many fans will understandably want to focus on the relievers acquired in midseason trades. Jamie Callahan and Jacob Rhame were assigned to Vegas and were both excellent in a small sample size leading to their promotions to the Mets after the rosters expanded. Rhame gave up just one run and struck out eleven batters in six innings before being called up. Callahan had an 1.80 ERA with ten strikeouts in ten innings in his time with Las Vegas.
Obviously from a win-loss standpoint, the 51s had a poor season, which was fueled to some under-performances, injuries, and promotions to the majors. Still, the 51s accomplished the most important job possible, and that was aiding in the development of their top prospects. Not only would Pedro Lopez and his staff do all they could do to ensure Rosario and Smith would be major league ready, they also assisted in the reclamation of Plawecki’s career. When viewed through that prism, the 51s had a successful season.
Manager: Pedro Lopez
Hitting Coach: Jack Voigt
Pitching Coach: Frank Viola
MMN Top 40 Prospects
PCL Rookie Of The Year (Amed Rosario)
All Star: Amed Rosario
Player of the Month: Smith (July)
Pitcher of the Week: Jonathan Albaladejo (July 24-30)
PA: Taijeron 533
AB: Evans 466
R: Smith 77
H: Smith 151 (5th in PCL)
2B: Smith 34 (2nd in PCL)
3B: Rosario 7
HR: Taijeron 25 (8th in PCL)
RBI: Taijeron 78
SB: Rosario 19
BA Smith .330 (3rd in PCL)
OBP Smith .386
SLG Taijeron .525
OPS Taijeron .907 (10th in PCL)
Starting Pitching Leaders
W: Knapp 6
ERA Pill 3.47
GS: Boscan 26 (T-1st in PCL)
IP: Knapp 144.2 (3rd in PCL)
K: Knapp 75
WHIP Pill 1.307
Relief Pitching Leaders
(Minimum 10 Appearances)
W: McGowan 6
ERA: Regnault 3.28
G: Ben Rowen 54 (2nd in PCL)
SV: Bradford 11 (6th in PCL)
IP: McGowan 65.0
K: McGowan 57
WHIP: McGowan 1.354
Previous Season Recaps