Crowded Outfields in the Upper Minors of the Mets System | Astromets Mind

Monday, July 7, 2014

Crowded Outfields in the Upper Minors of the Mets System

They may not all be future stars, but the outfield rotations of the Las Vegas 51s and the Binghamton Mets have become crowded, with some surprising results. Taking a look at the players fighting for at-bats in the 51s and B-Mets outfield.

Las Vegas 51s

Matt ∂en Dekker – Matt was recently sent back down to AAA to get regular at-bats while Kirk Nieuwenhuis took his spot on the Mets bench. Terry Collins said that he needed regular at-bats, which he has been getting while playing his usual great CF defense for the Las Vegas 51s. And he’s been red hot – in 64 PA since his demotion (entering Sunday), he’s hitting .362/.422/.707 with 8 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homeruns, 9 RBI’s, 2 stolen bases and a 9 K: 6 BB ratio. There are things I like about the Las Vegas 51s, but the run environment they’re stuck playing in is my least favorite (OK, second least favorite behind the coverage offered), and is one of two things people will use to discredit his current streak. The other being the small 64 PA sample size. But there is a lot to like about his entire season with AAA too. He plays above-average defense in CF and has had to cover a lot of ground in some of the PCL ballparks – it’s 425 feet to dead CF at Cashman Field, where the 51s play. He’s consistently shown above average power in the minors, and is doing so with a slightly better-than-average K% so far this year – his swinging K% is basically average and his looking K% is better than average. His BB% is about average, and was about average in his short 2014 stint with the Mets. If he can bring that average K% to the majors, I think he can be a useful ML CF – a lefty CF who can play above-average defense, with better-than-average power and K%/BB% rates sounds nice. That’s a big if, but the rest of the package is still a nice 4th OF.

Andrew Brown – One thing is certain about Andrew Brown, and that is that he owns AAA pitching. He’s sound defensively in LF and RF, with a strong and (usually) accurate throwing arm. He’s got plenty of power and is willing to take a walk, but has had higher-than-average strikeout totals throughout most of his minor league career. His K% has been very bad in the majors, which, combined with a below average BABIP at the highest level, has kept him from getting more regular chances. He’s still shown above average power and about an average walk rate in the majors, but the overall picture hasn’t been good enough. Perhaps if he was given a longer look playing everyday (like what Chris Young has been given) he could adjust enough to get the strikeouts under control and/or the BABIP trending towards average (or better) – the world may never know. Just like M∂D, he’ll need to bring his average-ish K% from Las Vegas up to the majors in order to stick around, but unlike M∂D, Brown is limited defensively to the corners. He’s not likely to win a starter’s job at this point, but he could still provide some nice righty pop off the bench.

Cesar Puello (On DL with a concussion since June 26, retroactive to June 24) – The results so far for Puello have to be the biggest disappointment in the Mets system, if not the entire minor leagues. He’s a 23-year old with all of the physical abilities to be a star, that dominated AA as a 22-year old until accepting a 50-game suspension for being tied to Biogenesis. He’s had the best K% and BB% rates of his pro career so far, but has not hit the ball with any authority, and has an OBP boosted by 11 HBP in 218 PA. I’ve been told HBP-“ability” translates to the major leagues, but that’s not exactly something we should rely on, and not enough to overcome below average power displayed in the PCL. Fans, including this one, have spent much of the season wondering about his seemingly sporadic playing time, but there is often more to the story than fans will ever know. The struggles this season are only more frustrating to consider when you add in the fact that this is his final option year – he was put on the 40-man roster prior to the 2012 season and an option burns each year he spends more than 20 days in the minors (with some exceptions that don’t appear to apply here). Puello has as much upside as anyone on this list, but his current circumstances are arguably the worst. Perhaps it’s just the foolish optimism of a fan, but I think Puello will have a much better second half. Regardless of whether he figures it out within the Mets organization, Puello should still have plenty of chances to put it all together given his raw talent.

Update: Puello returned from the DL Sunday and hit two homeruns! He didn’t look great in his first 3 PA, but he crushed both HRs.

Cory Vaughn – If you thought Vaughn’s promotion to AAA was a head-scratcher, you’re not alone. Vaughn was struggling in AA worse than Puello has struggled in AAA, but he’s seen a bump in production since the promotion. Vaughn has yet to show consistent power for Las Vegas, but the one glimpse I got showed that he does have serious power – he hit one of the longest homeruns of the season for Las Vegas not long after his promotion. Vaughn can cover all three outfield positions (might be a stretch in CF), and 51s broadcaster Russ Langer has called his arm above average out there, but it’s his bat that is the question mark right now. His BB%/K%/BABIP are all at average-ish levels in AAA, but he’s just not hitting the ball with any authority – only a .086 ISO thanks to just 4 XBH in 105 PA. This is Vaughn’s fifth season in the minors, and he can become a minor league free agent after six.

Brandon Allen – Allen was recently voted “most likely to be Lucas Duda.” He has a similar offensive profile from the left side. He probably shouldn’t be playing LF. He’s fine defensively at 1B, though won’t win any awards there. It’s nice that he’s hitting well, but I don’t see him having a realistic path to the big club with the Mets right now. As a backup OF, he shouldn’t be a real option for the Mets, but he’s certainly behind M∂D and Brown on the depth chart. As a backup 1B/DH, he should be behind Allan Dykstra, Wilmer Flores and Josh Satin (on the 40-man). Maybe he is currently a better hitter than Puello (as an unnamed Mets source said, per Rubin), but even at his best, he’s only the third or fourth option for the Mets. With all due respect to Brandon, I hope he is dropped from this OF rotation soon.

Anthony Seratelli – His season has mostly been a downer – if you want to twist your neck and squint at the stats, you can see some good stuff, but overall not great. Defensively in the OF, he’s Eric Young without as much experience – late breaks, poor arm, tries to make up for it with excellent speed. Langer has said on multiple occasions that Seratelli is the fastest player on the 51s, though I think Puello might be the fastest. As currently constructed, Seratelli should not be getting starts anywhere in the Las Vegas OF, as everyone else is more important to the Mets than Seratelli. Additionally, with Flores, Reynolds and Muno handling 2B/SS/3B most nights, and Satin/Dykstra/Allen at 1B/DH, there isn’t room for him to get starts anywhere right now (same should apply to Omar Quintanilla).

Binghamton Mets

Brandon Nimmo – I am a huge fan of this kid – the best OF prospect in the Mets system in a long time. His power hasn’t really arrived yet, but he’s only 21 years old, and he’s a big kid (6’ 3”, 205 pounds per BB-Ref, but looks ~220), so I think it can. He may be big, but he’s still got enough speed to handle CF, for now. It’s not common for guys to walk as often as they strikeout, but Nimmo’s nearly done just that this season – 65 K: 62 BB (and 3 HBP) in 345 PA between A+ and AA. Not only is that an elite BB%, but his K% has been basically average this season too, after sitting at a way too high 27.3% for Savannah in 2013. He could probably come to the Mets right now and provide positive value (as measured by fWAR) with his strong CF defense and a ~.300 OBP; not that it would make sense to do that. I haven’t seen too many questions about his chances of staying in CF, but regardless, it will be how much his power develops that will determine how valuable of a player he is at the major league level – he only has 22 XBH combined over those 345 PA so far in 2014. On a positive note, he has shown a big bump in HR/OF since moving to AA (Statcorner stat and SSS on Nimmo) – his 11.1% HR/OF more than doubles his rate with St. Lucie. It’s only 2 HR in 71 PA, so it could be a mirage, but it also could be a sign of impending breakout (and I’d rather be optimistic!). Looking ahead, I don’t need to see Nimmo at AAA this year for it to be a success (not that I wouldn’t prefer the daily opportunities), it already has been. Unless Nimmo gets stupid hot, he’s on pace to start 2015 in AAA and join the Mets by September.

Kyle Johnson – For most of the season, Kyle Johnson has been Binghamton’s best OF. He’s had a better than average BB% and K% throughout the season, while rotating through all three outfield positions – mostly a LF/CF split. He’s played sound defense when I’ve seen him (though I recently read that some are questioning whether he can stick at CF), with a good arm in the OF. His ISO has been average or better all season, and he also has good speed – only 8/14 on stolen bases thus far, but he was 44/55 in 2013. Haven’t heard a reason for the drop in stolen base attempts, though Binghamton hasn’t run much in general this season, so perhaps it’s a team decision to not have him run as much. Another possibility is that AA catchers are just better than A/A+ catchers, and Johnson abused poor A/A+ level catchers in 2013. If he can handle CF, he has the upside of ML starter. If he can’t handle CF everyday, he still has the upside of a 4th OF option, but it will be much tougher for him to get opportunities unless his stolen base speed returns, or he taps into some unlikely power reserves. He’s doing everything pretty well, just nothing standout. Also, as a 24 year old, he might seem a bit older for a prospect, but he has made it this far in just two years since being drafted in the 25th round out of Washington State U. Looking ahead, it would be nice to see him in AAA this year, but as you may have noticed, the AAA outfield is pretty crowded.

Travis Taijeron – Taijeron has been the subject of more discussion than most 18th round draft picks (2011), as he’s consistently shown very strong BB%/ISO numbers throughout the minors. Unfortunately, like many before him, Travis has yet to make enough contact to have a truly standout full-season – his 2013 first half in St. Lucie was a taste of what I’m talking about, as he hit .303/.396/.564 with 30 XBH over 222 PA. His K% that half of a season was “only” 24.3% (10.4 BB%), which is the best of his career. He brought his power to Bingo last year, but his K% ballooned to 29.5%. He’s managed to improve his K% to 26.7% so far in 2014 (to go along with a pro-best 13.6 BB% so far), but his HR-rate has nearly halved. The HR’s lost have gone for doubles instead (at least two of which bounced off the OF wall), so his XBH/PA rate has actually increased still in 2014. I don’t know as much about him defensively, but he’s a lot like Andrew Brown offensively, which is not a bad thing, but means there is work to be done. Lately, he’s been red-hot, hitting .295/.449/.623 in 78 PA since June 10, with a 25.6 K%: 19.2 BB%, eight doubles and four homeruns. Looking ahead, it would be nice to see Taijeron in AAA at some point this year too, especially since he’s basically 25.5 years old. Also, a mid-season promotion would follow the pattern set the past two seasons.

Darrell Ceciliani – Ceciliani burst into the minds of Mets fans with a ridiculous 2010 for Brooklyn, which was on the heels of a .430 BABIP. With enough speed and poor defense, BABIP can “artificially” increase XBH-rate, and that appears to have happened for Darrell with Brooklyn – for example, he had 12 triples in 303 PA that year and has 13 in 1,374 PA since. Still, he’s a CF with better than average speed, and he’s become a great base stealer. If he had sustained his walk-rates as he reached AA, I’d be comparing him to EYj, with potentially more value thanks to his more reliable CF defense. Unfortunately, he hasn’t, and his .318 OBP in 712 Bingo PA across 2013 and 2014 is not going to cut it. As of right now, I do not want to see him in AAA this year, as he hasn’t done anything to earn a promotion. Considering the crowded AAA OF, the upside of Brandon Nimmo, and the better performances from Kyle Johnson and Travis Taijeron, Ceciliani appears to be the odd OF out, with no place else to play. Also, this is his 6th season in the minors, and he’s not on the Mets 40-man roster, so I question whether he will even return next season.

Dustin Lawley – Dustin currently features a sub-.300 OBP, so you’re probably thinking that there isn’t much to discuss, but he’s been significantly better after a rough April – .576 OPS through May 5 and .845 OPS since. That OPS jumps to .932 since June 5, and to 1.058 since June 15 – four doubles and eight homeruns in 83 PA since the 15th. Since he plays 3B, he doesn’t need to be a part of the OF rotation, but with an occasionally crowded infield pushing Brian Burgamy to 3B, Lawley has made ~1/3 of his starts in LF. His HR power is definitely interesting, as he has 30 HR since the start of 2013, but he’ll need to improve his K%/BB% rates. Lawley has seen a 5% bump in K% this season, and his current rate of 26.1% is too high to believe in a lot of future success. Worse, the bump in strikeouts has primarily been due to a bump in swinging strikeouts, which is not a good sign of future contact ability. Additionally, Lawley used the whole field in 2013, but has been pulling the ball much more this season – 68% pulled fly ball rate in 2014 compared to an average 44% in 2013. If he could get his K%/BB% towards average rates, Lawley could be a more useful version of Zach Lutz (who was limited to 3B, which left him stuck behind David Wright). Looking ahead, Dustin is already 25, so the upside is limited. I could see him ending up with AAA at some point this season though, especially if his current hot streak lasts a few more weeks.

That makes eleven main guys (eight OF only guys) for six starting OF spots across AA and AAA. Las Vegas and Binghamton do get to use a DH when they play minor league clubs of AL organizations, but that spot in the lineup is highly contested too, especially in Las Vegas right now. Of the group, Nimmo is the star and the others will play around him. Puello also separates himself from the rest of the group with his upside, even if he has struggled so far in 2014. There is a significant step down in upside after those two, with M∂D separating himself from the rest of the group in my opinion. I consider Johnson the sleeper of the group, though I think a case could be made for Taijeron as a sleeper too.

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