Mets Finding Success with Previously Overlooked Prospects | Astromets Mind

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mets Finding Success with Previously Overlooked Prospects

All but one of these guys had to prove themselves in the Independent Leagues at some point, but their hard work is paying off as they progress through the Mets farm system.

            Since taking over as GM for the Mets, Sandy Alderson has been improving the franchise from the bottom up, and he’s used every resource available to him to do so. Most, if not all, teams spend a lot of time and effort on the draft, and many are increasing their international reach, but Sandy Alderson doesn’t stop there. Alderson has had his scouts keeping an eye on the Indy Leagues too, keeping track of those players cast aside and deemed unworthy of even a spot in the minors.
These leagues are a mix of former minor and major leaguers who are trying to revive their careers after injuries and/or poor production, and college guys who went undrafted/unsigned after 4 years. When former big leaguers play for an Indy Ball league, it makes the news, like Jose Canseco’s adventures in the North American league a few years ago, but mostly, these leagues draw little attention behind MLB, MiLB, College ball, NPB, HS ball…
But sometimes, players find that extra notch that made them interesting once, or a new notch that makes them interesting now. Sometimes, players keep out-producing expectations, suggesting they can be better than the sum of their parts. It’s not common, but sometimes teams find major league quality players.
Below are 5 Indy League pickups (+1 undrafted signee) from Sandy & Co.’s tenure that are currently finding success at different levels of the minor leagues. These players don’t project to be starters in the major leagues, but several of them are looking like they could make an impact off the bench or in the bullpen at the highest level. If nothing else, these guys are contributing to the team success of the Mets minor league affiliates, which is something this front office has stressed the importance of.

2015 stats listed are as of 5/27/2015, per Fangraphs

With the Las Vegas 51s

T.J. Rivera, 26, RHH Infielder, Never had to play in Independent ball
AA: 90 PA, .318/.356/.365, .360 BABIP, 11.1 K%: 4.4 BB%, 4 2B, 5 GIDP, CS, 108 wRC+
AAA: 40 PA, .405/.450/.459, .469 BABIP, 12.5 K%: 5 BB%, 2 2B, GIDP, 154 wRC+

T.J. Rivera never had to play in Indy League, as the Mets signed him as an undrafted FA after his senior season of college ball was over – his last game with Troy University was on 6/5/2011, and his first game with Kingsport was on 6/21/2011. But had the Mets not signed him (I couldn’t find details of the specifics online), there’s a good chance he’s off to play in an Indy league.
T.J. Rivera has done nothing but hit (singles) in the minors, with a .319 average for his minor league career, although only a .090 ISO. I’ve seen a Paul Depodesta quote about T.J. Rivera ‘barrelling a high percentage of balls’ posted in multiple places, but that reads to me like a nice way of saying that he doesn’t strike out much (13% K-rate for his career), because as much as I like rooting for T.J. and his underdog story, he just doesn’t hit the ball with much authority. Let’s look at his spray charts since joining the Binghamton Mets, when the gameday data starts becoming more reliable.

Image 1 – T.J. Rivera spray chart since joining the B-Mets on 6/19/2014

            As you can see, Rivera has hit a lot of singles that were either grounded through the infield, or lined softly, and not deeply, into the OF. He appears to spray the ball around the OF, and a closer inspections suggests more of an opposite field approach against righties, while he has more of a pull approach against lefties.
            Defensively, Rivera has played 1B/2B/3B/SS, but is best suited for 2B. He got forced into emergency SS duty with Binghamton last year, and Pedro Lopez said he was ‘pleasantly surprised’ with his efforts there, but he was light on range, and didn’t appear to have the arm for SS – Bingo still chose to use him at SS over Dilson Herrera. His light arm is a limitation at 3B, but he should be a solid fielder there. One weird thing I noticed from him at 2B this year is that he’ll make some lackadaisical throws to 1B, which has almost led to an infield single on more than one occasion.
            Overall, Rivera has a window right now where he could be one of the next few guys called up for the bench, but also has ‘future bench competition’ coming up quickly behind him: Jeff McNeil has been tearing it up in A+, and L.J. Mazzilli is eligible to start playing games again Monday. I’m skeptical about his bat, but low K%/high BABIP plays if he can keep it up, especially from capable utility infielders.

Rivera GIFs



With the Binghamton Mets

Jairo Perez, 26*, RHH Infielder, Played in Indy League ball in 2013
AA: 52 PA, .320/.346/.400, 13.5 K%: 3.8 BB%, 2B, HR, GIDP, CS, 114 wRC+

            I’ve seen a lot less of Jairo than Rivera, but he has done nothing but hit since signing with the Mets last January. He hit plenty in his first taste of the minors with the Minnesota Twins organization, but injuries (including TJS) led to his eventual release. All of the injuries have left him too old to generate interest as a prospect, but his bat has been forcing its way into the B-Mets lineup lately. Similarly to T.J., Jairo doesn’t strike out or walk much, but unlike Rivera, Perez appears to have some pop in his bat – 10 homeruns in 269 PA with St. Lucie last year, 15 HR in 316 in A ball during the 2011 season. I’ve only seen him at 2B this year, where he’s made a few slick plays, but he has more time in his minor league career at 3B. It’s not the prettiest swing either, but whatever gets the job done, right?
            Overall, Perez is currently a long shot to sniff the majors (especially with the Mets), but if he keeps producing in his chances with the B-Mets this summer, he could battle for a bench spot somewhere down the line. With several utility bench options ahead of him (on the depth chart, and in the minors/majors), and several more coming up behind him, Perez may find himself sandwiched out of a job with the Mets this summer.


With the St. Lucie Mets

Mike Hepple, 24*, RH RP, Played for 4 Indy League teams in 2013
A+: 14 G, 21.1 IP, 2.11 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 13.3 K%: 10.8 BB%, 0.42 HR/9, 13 H

            I listen to a lot of St. Lucie games on radio, and those K: BB numbers from Hepple surprised me because he’s consistently ahead in the count, and sits 93-95 MPH with his fastball. His results have been better than his peripherals so far with St. Lucie thanks to a .194 BABIP against, so he might not be able to keep this up, but gameday data has more batted balls against him classified as popups (6) than line drives (4).
            Overall, Hepple is interesting enough that he should’ve been drafted, but hasn’t done anything too exciting yet.

Kyle Regnault, 26, LH RP, Played in a Canadian Indy League from 2012-14
A+: 12 H, 20.2 IP, 2.61 ERA, 2.37 FIP, 22.1 K%: 8.1 BB%, 0 HR/, 19 H

            Per this interview with Kyle, he throws a fourseam, curveball, changeup, and cutter, with his 91-93 MPH fastball and good curveball earning him attention at BA. Regnault has been great outside of one appearance during which he allowed 3 runs in 1.1 IP, coming up big with 4 shutout innings when the PSL Mets battled into the 17th on 4/24. There isn’t much information on him yet, but with few lefties ahead of him in the minors – and Chase Huchingson struggling big time in Binghamton – Regnault might not stick in St. Lucie long.
            Overall, he’s a little older, so let’s wait and see what he does against better competition, but these are some nice early returns.

Josh Smoker, 26, LH RP, Played in Indy League in 2014
A: 6 G, 6.2 IP, 8.10 ERA, 1.89 FIP, 24.2 K%: 6.1 BB%, 0 HR/9, 11 H
A+: 0.00 ERA, -0.14 FIP, 50 K%: 0 BB%, 0 HR/9, 2 H

            Josh Smoker was the 31st overall pick of the 2007 MLB draft, and second pick of the Nationals from that draft (they chose Ross Detwiler with the #6 pick, and got Jordan Zimmerman with pick #67). The Nats used him as a starter initially, but he proved to wild to stick there, although put up impressive K-totals that suggested a promising future in the pen. He was finally moved to the pen full-time for the 2011 season, which would be his last full season of play in the Nats organization – he threw 9.2 IP in 2012 across three levels. The Mets picked him up during spring training this year, with reports suggesting that he had re-found his velocity, and was hitting 95 MPH on the radar gun again. After sticking in extended spring training with the Mets out of camp, Smoker spent about two weeks with Savannah before joining St. Lucie. He gave up at least one run in 4 of 6 appearances with Savannah, but still managed an 8 K: 2 BB ratio over his 6.2 IP there. He’s allowed only 2 singles since joining the St. Lucie Mets, while striking out 10 of 20 batters so far.
            Overall, Smoker is the guy on this page to be excited about, as he had 1st round talent at one point, has improved his control numbers significantly so far, and has been hitting 95-96 MPH from the left side.

With the Savannah Sand Gnats

Jonathan Johnson, 26, LHH Infielder
A: 121 PA, .317/.392/.423, .337 BABIP, 8.3 K%: 10.7 BB%, 4 2B, 2 3B, HR, 3 GIDP, 9/11 on SB, 138 wRC+

            Johnson is a small (5’9”) but fast second baseman who has some pro experience at SS, 3B, and CF. His strike zone awareness and quick bat are too much for the SAL, but he was likely brought in last year just to be organizational depth, so the Mets aren’t going to go out of their way to make space for him at a higher level. Looking at his spray charts at, he has pulled the ball with more authority this year, which has led to a bump in his ISO – he’s still below average at .106.
            Overall, he’s too old and too far away from the majors to even have that discussion right now, but he’s hitting enough to stick around as organizational depth.


Honorable mention to David Cooper, who just retired after attempting a comeback from injuries, and spent time in the Indy Leagues before getting a chance with the B-Mets in May.

*Early June birthday’s, Hepple turns 25 on 6/5, and Perez turns 27 on 6/10

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