Late Friday night, the Mets made their second deal of the 2017 trade deadline season, acquiring former All-Star reliever AJ Ramos from the Miami Marlins in exchange for two minor leaguers, right-handed pitcher Merandy Gonzalez and outfielder Ricardo Cespedes.
Ramos will help the major league team in his own way, as his solid strikeout numbers, hard slider, and contract situation are clearly valuable to this organization, but it is what the Mets gave up that is worth noting.
Gonzalez, 21, had enjoyed a meteoric rise up system-wide prospect lists over the past couple of seasons. Originally signed for a relatively minuscule $50,000 as a 17-year-old in March of 2013, Gonzalez spent two seasons in the Dominican Summer League before making his stateside debut with the GCL Mets in 2015.
It was there (on July 9, to be exact) that Gonzalez officially burst onto the prospect scene, when he tossed a seven-inning no hitter for the GCL squad in one half on the team’s doubleheader that day. Less than 24 hours later, Gonzalez found himself promoted to Kingsport, where he finished the season as strong as he had started it. In 13 appearances (nine starts) across the two levels, he recorded a 2.57 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 66.2 innings.
From there, it was only up for the Cotui, Dominican Republic native. With Brooklyn in 2016, Gonzalez pitched to a 2.87 ERA, the fifth best mark in the organization. He began this season in Columbia, and performed so well that he forced a promotion to St. Lucie on June 22. Gonzalez’s 2017 numbers with the Mets will finish at a stellar 1.78 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 17 starts.
Gonzalez began to garner praise from scouts during his tenure with Brooklyn, as his statistics combined with his mid-90s fastball was too much too ignore. All told, he features a basic three-pitch mix, with his curveball rating as an already developed offering. Most projections will say Gonzalez’s path to the major leagues involves a conversion to a middle reliever (a la Hansel Robles), but now in the Marlins organization, it is possible he sees time in the major leagues late in the 2018 season, as Miami continues to search for talent in the rotation.
In Cespedes, the Mets are trading away a talent they believed has major league potential, but had yet to take off in the minors. Signed for $725,000 in August of 2013 (the highest bonus the team doled out in an international class that included Luis Carpio and Ali Sanchez), Cespedes hit .266 in his debut season in the Dominican Summer League, before an underwhelming .224/.282/.267 line in the GCL in 2015.
As an 18-year-old in the Appalachian League last season, Cespedes more than held his own, hitting .322 with Kingsport. He still failed to show any power, but it was enough to convince the front office to start him in Columbia in 2017. Five games into his time with the team, Cespedes tripped over a bullpen mound while chasing a fly ball into foul territory, which forced him into 25 games of rehab between GCL and Brooklyn. He appears to be fully healthy now, so it won’t be a valid excuse to label this year as a lost season, should his current .243 average hold up.
Cespedes has been lauded for his bat speed and athleticism, but scouts have had a hard time looking past his nonchalance on the field, visible when running out ground balls and taking routes in the outfield. When he makes solid contact, those same scouts will salivate, so the Marlins player development staff will be tasked with harnessing that potential.
The Mets clearly made this move to improve the major league team in the long term, and it appears they did so, at the unsurprising price of giving up actual prospects. Ramos is not guaranteed to be a lock down force in the Mets’ bullpen over the next year and a half, but it will always be wise to trade players who have never ascended above High-A ball in exchange for major league veterans.