The success of minor league teams is difficult to project. Each club must operate with the understanding that their roster by the end of the season will likely look completely different from opening day. With the main goal being to bring the major league team success, minor league managers simply trot out who they’re told on any given night.
That being said, there appears to be one team in the Mets’ system poised to showcase the top talent in the organization on a nightly basis, with that being the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s.
Over the past few seasons, Las Vegas has become a sort of repository for organizational filler. Players such as Marc Krauss, Roger Bernadina, and Brandon Allen have been sprinkled into lineups. They weren’t taking valuable reps away from anyone, it simply was necessary to field a ball club.
To this point, the Mets have not brought on any players of such nature that are in position to see time with Las Vegas, and for good reason. The 51s’ lineup, and their infield in particular, looks to be full of prospects in 2017.
Dominic Smith has all the momentum in the world. The 21-year-old put up excellent numbers with Double-A Binghamton in 2016, and recently wrapped up his second major league camp this spring.
Smith, whose one knock throughout his career had been his lack of power, more than doubled his home run total entering the year by knocking 14 long balls for Binghamton. This is enticing as he heads for Las Vegas in April, where he will face the notoriously hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. Smith recorded the third highest fly ball rate (30.02%) in the Mets’ system last year, and it isn’t crazy to think that the PCL could translate that to several more home runs in 2017.
The Mets are going to have to get creative here, because this isn’t a particularly wealthy position in the organization. However, shortstop is, and they will likely need to introduce Gavin Cecchini to second base. The team has already taken the first step, as Cecchini saw action there in six games this spring before departing for the World Baseball Classic, but he will need more opportunities. After all, Cecchini has played all but three games of his minor league career at shortstop.
I do believe the 23-year-old projects as a useful bench piece in the major leagues, but he has to gain versatility in the field to make that happen. On the offensive side, Cecchini has improved immensely from a few years ago, when he had recorded a measly .251 average through his first three seasons. All he’s done since then is hit .321 with 15 home runs and 106 runs batted in between Binghamton and Las Vegas. If his numbers continue to improve at that clip, Cecchini will be a force for the 51s.
Amed Rosario is a known commodity at this point, but it’s exciting when you realize how close he is to the major leagues. Rosario, who will be 21 for the entire 2017 season, needed to break out offensively in 2016, and did just that, and more. He led the entire Mets system in hits (155), and set career highs in home runs (five), runs batted in (71), and stolen bases (19), among other categories.
I don’t see the PCL affecting Rosario’s numbers in a big way, either positive or negative. His fly ball rates are pretty much average, so it’s possible he tacks on a few more home runs.
There are a few players that would fit here, but Matt Reynolds is the most logical. The organization knows what they are going to get from Reynolds: he picks his spots, strikes out a fair amount, and drives in runs at a high clip. I think he can serve both the 51s and the Mets in 2017, but Reynolds needs to find success with Las Vegas first.
Reynolds, 26, picked up an outfielders glove last season to improve his versatility. That experiment ended quickly, although he did record his first major league home run while manning left field for the Mets last June.
Also available to start in the 51s infield this year should be Ty Kelly and Phillip Evans. Kelly, of Team Israel fame, is valuable based off his versatility in the field alone. However, he put up a .328/.409/.435 line with Las Vegas a season ago, so he could be looking at a starting outfield spot. Kelly played every position except pitcher and catcher in the organization in 2016.
Evans, thought to be virtually done as a prospect entering last season, broke out in every possible way and led the Eastern League with a .335 average in 2016. Evans, like Kelly, can play virtually anywhere around the diamond, as he has logged over 600 innings at second base, third base, and shortstop in his career.