Initial Mets AFL Selections | Astromets Mind

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Initial Mets AFL Selections

Reviewing the three prospects that will be representing the Mets this fall in Arizona.

            The initial Arizona Fall League rosters were announced on Tuesday, and three Mets prospects have been rewarded with a chance to play in the league so far. Infielder Jeff McNeil of the St. Lucie Mets, and pitchers Beck Wheeler and Mickey Jannis of the Binghamton Mets will play with the Salt River Rafters, who are due to be managed by Tripp Keister. The AFL is typically a place were teams send their highly regarded prospects for some more game action, and this year 9 of’s Top-100 prospects are currently heading there. However, while this Mets trio may reach the Mets someday, they are far from being the most highly regarded prospects within the system, so let’s review them below.
            Jeff McNeil is currently the most interesting prospect of the trio, and he’s coming off of a nice season for St. Lucie: through 119 games, he is hitting .312/.373/.382 with 18 doubles, 6 triples, 1 homerun, 16-21 on stolen bases, and 59 K: 35 BB in 529 PA. I took a closer look at him after his hot April, and I would have never guessed back then that he’d finish the season in St. Lucie – I assumed he’d be promoted after his FSL All-Star appearance (game highlights here). He has improved from a 90 wRC+ over 58 games with St. Lucie in 2014 to a 133 wRC+ in 119 games with them this year, but most of those gains have been from BABIP (.275 in 2014, .353 this year). Statistical improvements through BABIP gains at one level in the minors are not as big of a red flag as with major league players, but McNeil also saw his BB% drop from 9.1% to 6.6%, while his K% and ISO remained about the same, which is not what you want to see from a player repeating his level. Defensively, he’s pretty sound around the infield, and some reports suggest that he could handle occasional SS duties. His most likely role in the majors is as a utility infielder and lefty bat off the bench.
            Beck Wheeler is an undrafted minor league free agent who was signed by the Mets in 2011. He features a low 90’s fastball that will reach 95 MPH at times, and mixes in an effective curveball. His season got off to a terrible start this year with Binghamton, as he allowed 17 R (16 ER) in his first 16 IP, with 18 hits and 13 walks allowed through May 10th, but he’s turned things around and finished strong: he has a 1.37 ERA and .553 OPS allowed over his last 23 appearances (39.1 IP) with 36 K: 13 BB. He’s been fine against both sides, but he’s held lefties to just a .500 OPS in 97 PA. While the small sample size of data, the 12 walks allowed, and the .206 BABIP vs. LHB suggests the split advantage might be illusionary, Wheeler has held LHB under the .550 OPS mark in each minor league season to date, so he clearly does something effective against them. As a 26-year old reliever, he’s not the most exciting prospect, but he will probably get the chance to pitch in a major league pen someday.
            The Mets signed Mickey Jannis to a minor league deal back in July, but once Mickey Jannis began his career resurrection as a knuckleball pitcher back in 2012, he was destined to pitch for the Mets. Evidence? He was inspired by R.A. Dickey’s Cy Young season with the Mets, and… his first name rhymes with Dickey. I wrote a full report on Jannis back in July, but the skinny is that he might be the hardest throwing knuckler to date, topping even R.A. Dickey’s top knuckleball speed. Also, Jannis can still reach 90 MPH with his fastball, and he has a slider and changeup from his days as a regular pitcher that he’s not afraid to mix in either. As I wrote back then, the knuckleball will be the key to success for Jannis, as he’ll be throwing it 80+% of the time, but it’s nice to have Mickey’s repertoire of alternates for the other 20% of the time. Although 90 MPH is more on the below average side of velocity for a RHP, it’s still much faster than what Tim Wakefield and other knuckleballer’s before him had to throw, which was basically BP, and even much faster than R.A., who tops out at ~82 MPH. To date, Jannis has made 8 appearances (7 starts) with St. Lucie, and one with Binghamton (his next start is scheduled for Thursday in Reading). Walks were an issue for him initially (13 allowed over his first 18.1 IP), but he’s done a great job of keeping them in check since (7 allowed in his last 32.1 IP for a 5% BB-rate). If he can keep the walks in check and remain effective with the knuckler, he could become a useful piece of the Mets pitching staff, as knuckleballers are known for their ability to shift from the pen to the rotation as needed – Jannis even told Pedro Lopez that he prefers to pitch in game action during his throw day to stay competitive. It’s always a long shot with knuckleballers, but the AFL will be a good place for the Mets to further evaluate whether Jannis can be effective with that pitch against the best talent.
            While these three are the only Mets prospects to be announced to date, it’s possible that they choose a few more to represent them this fall. The AFL season starts on October 13th and runs until the championship game on November 21st.

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