Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mets and Yankees Prospect Performances this Spring

While spring training statistics are almost completely meaningless, I always try and check in on my favorite prospects and see how they did. With the regular season now around the corner, most of the young players have departed from Major League camp, so now would be a good time to see who stood out.

New York Mets

Ruben Tejada - Tejada is leading all Mets players in at-bats this spring with 56. He has hit .339/.413/.439 with seven walks, nine strikeouts and 5 extra base hits (all doubles). Tejada survived AA last year as a 19-year-old and thrived in camp this year. We already knew he could play defense but his bat was a question. He has made a ton of contact so far in the minors and that trend continued this year in camp. With Jose Reyes likely around for awhile Tejada might actually end up being the Mets second baseman once Castillo is gone.

Fernando Martinez - The top hitting prospect in the system had a big spring training, going .391/.423/.761 with three walks, seven strikeouts and nine extra base hits (four doubles, two triples and three home runs). I obviously still believe in Martinez' talent, if not his health track record, evidenced by my high rating of him in the prospect overview. The Mets are finally showing some patience by keeping him in the minors to start the year but the big spring means he is probably not far away.

Ike Davis - Davis was the hottest hitter early in Mets camp but did not get many at-bats afterward (25 total), ending at .480/.536/.960 with three walks, eight strikeouts and six extra base hits (three doubles and three home runs). Davis' 2009 season was a major rebound and he apparently worked hard this off-season to add more strength and it showed in camp. His home runs were long and the ball flew off his bat. Daniel Murphy will man first base for now, but Davis looks to be breathing down his neck.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Josh Thole - Both players picked up a handful of at-bats late in games and handled themselves well. Both are more liked by those who follow prospect stats than scouts and are considered by me to have ceilings of average Major League players, with a likelihood that they will not quite reach that level. Thole looks like a Yadier Molina type hitter who needs to improve his defense while Nieuwenhuis does many things well but nothing exceptionally. This will be a critical year for each as Thole tries to establish himself in the majors and Nieuwenhuis gets his first taste of advanced pitching.

Jordanny Valdespin and Wilmer Flores - Both made token appearances but it would be impossible to learn anything from such little exposure. Valdespin looks like a utility player to me who will never hit enough to be a starter. Flores is so young it is difficult to get a grasp on what kind of player he will be, but he is among the most intriguing prospects in the minors.

Jonathan Niese - Niese has thrown 14.1 innings so far, posting a 5.65 ERA with 12 strikeouts, seven walks and zero home runs allowed. Niese has looked healthy this spring and that is perhaps the most important thing. His big breaking curve ball was around but his command in general was spotty and he got knocked around a bit. He was the favorite to win the 5th starting spot and no one he was competing with really distinguished themselves and Niese is probably the best short and long term option for that job. Update: it has apparently been announced that Niese will be in the rotation, possibly as high as third.

Jennry Mejia - Mejia has pitched 14 innings and has a 1.93 ERA with nine strikeouts, two walks and zero home runs allowed. Mejia has pitched too well for his own good. His fastball has been in the mid-90s with cutting action and both of his secondary pitches have shown up on occasion. The Mets bullpen has been such a mess this spring, and Mejia so impressive, that he looks like he might end up being their setup man this season. While I am personally against that move because it would stunt his growth as a starter, there is no denying Mejia can get big league hitters out right now.

Ryoto Igarashi - Igarashi was expected to compete for a late inning bullpen slot and has thus far, over 12 innings posted a line of a 7.50 ERA with eight strikeouts, eight walks and two home runs allowed. Igarashi's fastball command has been poor all spring and that is what has gotten him in trouble. He has flashed a plus split at times but that pitch alone is not enough to get hitters out in the National League. Once he straightens himself out he should be an acceptable middle reliever, but I have trouble seeing him developing into much more than that.

Hisanori Takahashi - One of the biggest surprises for the Mets this year, Takahashi has been a rare bright spot for New York's staff; over 11.1 innings he has a 3.18 ERA with 13 strikeouts, two walks and zero home runs allowed. Takahashi throws three average pitches with plus command and has done a good job keeping hitters off balance all spring. The Mets were not considering him for a rotation slot and probably still are not, but given his performance he figures to break camp with the Mets in some capacity.

Tobi Stoner - Stoner has mostly pitched in late inning situations, getting 5.1 innings while posting a 3.38 ERA with three strikeouts, zero walks and one home runs allowed. Stoner is a potential back of the rotation pitcher without average velocity or stuff. He is basically a right-handed version of Takahashi, but Stoner pitched too much up in the zone this spring for my liking. Given his velocity he must work down more or will give up an unacceptable amount of home runs in the Majors. He should return to AAA this year and may get a shot if injuries befall the the rotation.

New York Yankees

Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli - Yankee fans should both be familiar with these players who have already spent significant time in the majors. Nothing much has changed for either of them, as they are both mostly singles hitting defensive specialists that profile as backups. Cervelli had the better spring, sneaking more balls through the infielders, and making more consistent contact than Pena.

Juan Miranda, Kevin Russo and Brandon Laird - All three of these players are known more for their bat than their glove but also showed this spring that they will probably never be able to consistently hit Major League pitching. They all profile as backups and probably will never spend much time in the majors with the Yankees.

Colin Curtis - Curtis only got 12 at-bats but hit two noisy home runs, impressive for a young player who nobody, including me, thinks has enough pop to make it in the Majors. Considering both home runs came off of nondescript pitchers, I'm still tempted to file this under the "spring stats don't matter" category.

Austin Romine - One of the Yankees many in house options for catcher of the future got 11 plate appearances, recording two singles and nine in-play outs. Almost all of his contact was soft and on the ground, showing that he still has a ways to go with the bat, but his defense was solid. I'm not as high on Romine as most and think he still has a long way to go both offensively and defensively; his spring appearances more confirmed my opinions than anything.

Jesus Montero - The Yankees best prospect got to the plate nine times this spring, getting three hits (two of them doubles) and a walk with two strikeouts. I got a chance to see him take most of his at-bats and it is not hard to see why everyone expects big things from Montero. One of his doubles was a laser to left over the outfielder's head. He has a very well balanced and powerful swing with excellent hand-eye coordination. I did get a chance to see him play a few innings of defense but did not see him get tested. He will probably split this season between AA and AAA.

Greg Golson - Golson, acquired for non-prospect Mitch Hilligoss in the off-season has been given a good deal of playing time in the spring, hitting .276/.323/.476 with eight strikeouts and two walks over 29 at-bats. Golson is a very toolsy outfielder but without much of a clue in regard to baseball skills. The Phillies and Rangers both gave up on him, but he is the type of guy who is nice to have in case he figures it out. Even though he is not a Major League quality player, given the Yankees backup outfield situation, he might actually deserve a spot on the roster. Check in tomorrow when I delve into that issue a bit more.

David Adams - Adams, one of my favorite Yankee prospects, only got one plate appearance all spring, a ringing opposite field double. The biggest question mark in Adams' game is his power potential but if one at bat can be a sign, that was about the best you could hope for from Adams. I am anxious to see if he can build on an impressive 2009 season.

Mark Melancon - Melancon is expected to be part of the 2010 bullpen and had a strong 7.1 innings this spring posting a 2.45 ERA with ten strikeouts, one walk and zero home runs allowed. Melancon was able to throw his lively low-90s fastball for strikes and his power curve ball was breaking hard. I've always been a Melancon fan and believe he could prove to be a valuable middle reliever, delivering the game to Robertson/Chamberlain/Rivera when a starter has to be taken out early.

Ivan Nova and Ryan Pope - Two low-ceiling, control pitchers that both pitched a handful of innings well. I'm not sure that either will ever get a shot with the Yankees because they do not like back of the rotation starters that get by on fringy stuff, but both had nice springs in limited action.

Romulo Sanchez - Sanchez pitched in four games this spring and was routinely hitting the mid-90s but still has almost no command of his fastball. He looks like a career minor leaguer at this point unless he has a major breakthrough.

Zach McAllister - McAllister pitched three hitless innings but failed to strike out a batter. That is quintessentially the type of pitcher he is and it is questionable whether his pitch-to-contact style will work for the Yankees, but I believe he will have a career in the majors somewhere.

Andrew Brackman - Brackman pitched two innings this spring, allowed three runs on five hits but did not walk a batter. I have to say I was more impressed than those numbers would indicate. His mechanics were fairly consistent and his stuff was good. Obviously he missed his spots and got hit as a result, but it was an encouraging start to an important year for Brackman.

Chris Garcia - Imagine my surprise when I saw Chris Garcia take the mound for New York. Possibly the most injured prospect of the last five years, (well other than Adam Miller anyway) I have always rooted for Garcia. He has only been able to stay on the mound for 290 innings over five years, but every time he pitches scouts come away impressed and that was what happened to me when I finally saw him pitch. He gave up a solo home run but was otherwise impressive, and even showed the excellent curve ball Yankee officials used to rave about. I will be rooting for Garcia again this year, I do not expect him to make it anymore, but it would be nice to see him on the field.

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