Top 10 Mets Minors Stories of 2015 | Astromets Mind

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Top 10 Mets Minors Stories of 2015

Looking back at the top moments and stories from the 2015 season in Mets minor league baseball

       Let's dig right into the list!

#10 – Minors GIF’s of the year

            I’ve limited myself to 10 total, with no more than one GIF per player, and 9 of the 10 GIF’s are defensive plays. And yes, I'm starting my top-10 list with a top-10 list, deal with it.

For fun, Seth Lugo: Breaks a bat with his heat

Matt Reynolds: Does the Jeter jump

Xorge Carrillo from his butt: Wait for it…

Brandon Nimmo: Showing off his arm

Wuilmer Becerra: Diving catch in RF

Gavin Cecchini: Diving stop up the middle

Luis Guillorme: avoids the bat/barehand

Amed Rosario made several nice plays in his short B-Mets stint: up the middle

L.J. Mazzilli: Diving catch – slo-mo

Joe Benson might’ve had the catch of the year: diving catch

#9 – The Binghamton Mets are staying put; The Sand Gnats are moving to a new stadium in Columbia, SC

            These are two very different situations, and neither worked-out as those involved would have initially liked. The Sand Gnats situation was a long time coming, but it seemed like both the city and the ownership would’ve loved something to work out in Savannah, they just had very different plans. The Sand Gnats owners, Hardball Capital, wanted a new stadium (understandably so), but were happy to stay, and argued their presence and a new waterside stadium would help the city. City officials wanted the Sand Gnats to stay too, but didn’t agree with the owner’s estimates of the teams value to the city, and weren’t willing to foot the bill for a new stadium – it was estimated in the $30-35 million range. It worked out great for the Mets though, as their prospects no longer have to play in the power-sapping hell that is Historic Grayson Stadium – and just in time for Dash Winningham too!
            The B-Mets situation did not look promising for the city of Binghamton initially, as the previous owners had been looking to sell the team, and it was widely speculated that new owners would want to move the franchise – it almost turned out that way. The franchise eventually sold to Evans Street Baseball Inc., in a deal finalized just before 2015 ended, and new ownership would quickly pledge their commitment to staying in Binghamton, signing a lease with the city through the end of the 2021 season. Instead of moving the franchise, the new owners plan to rebrand the B-Mets, announcing a naming competition in the middle of Spring Training this year.

#8 – Seth Lugo and other breakouts

            Players break out unexpectedly in the minors every season, and some of them turn out to be flash-in-the-pan one-year wonders, but Seth Lugo’s 2015 was legit. I took a look back at his 2015 previously (lots of GIF’s linked at the bottom), so I’ll quickly recap the unexpectedness of his breakout here. The Mets selected Lugo out of the Centenary College of Louisiana in the 34th round of the 2011 draft thanks to the persistence of team scouts Jimmy Nelson (associate) and Tommy Jackson (amateur). Centenary College is best known for former closer B.J. Ryan and few other players of note, and Lugo is one of the few players from that 34th round still playing. Lugo then missed all of 2012 recovering from Spondylolisthesis, which is a back injury that had him barely mobile and resigned to bed rest for three months. Against long odds, he made it back for 12 starts in 2013, but was then moved to the St. Lucie bullpen for most of the 2014 season, although he was more of a long man/piggyback starter than pure reliever. He might’ve started the year in the Binghamton bullpen too, but Michael Fulmer needed extra time to recover from an injury coming out of spring training, and he became the teams 6th starter. Good thing too, as he went out and struck out 13 against just 1 walk over his first two starts (11.2 IP, 10 H, 2 R), which quickly changed the Mets plans for him. Lugo would finish the season with a strong stretch in Las Vegas, and as one of the top starting prospects left in the system.
            There were other breakouts in the system, most notably the group of shortstops discussed in story #6 below, but also the following prospects:
-       Wuilmer Becerra had a strong year at the plate in his intro to full-season ball with Savannah, as did his teammates 3B Eudor Garcia (report here), SS Luis Guillorme (report here), and John Mora (report here). Of the 4, Mora’s breakout is easily the most surprising, as he was signed out of the Dominican Republic and spent two years in the DSL before earning his chance to come stateside in 2014.
-       In Brooklyn, there were several key injuries to starters, and they had one of the lowest team averages in the minors, but Tyler Badamo and some teammates in the bullpen – Christian Montgomery, P.J. Conlon, Alex Palsha, and Corey Taylor – were bright spots during an otherwise dark year.
-       Looking further down the ladder, Kingsport had some big performances. On the mound, Harol Gonzalez turned heads with his stuff, Nabil Crismatt tied for the league lead in K% (I dive into his background in this post), and Thomas McIlraith finished 2nd in ERA at 1.71. At the plate, Dash Winningham tied for the APPY lead with 12 homeruns, while 2015 picks OF Kevin Kaczmarski and C Patrick Mazeika both finished with .350+ averages, and teenaged shortstops Milton Ramos and Luis Carpio (probably more of a 2B) both had .300+ averages.
-       Finally, unheralded and undrafted, but signed as a college free agent in 2014, Michael Gibbons took a surprising and successful welcome tour of the Mets system. On the opposite side of the spectrum, once a first-round pick whose career was derailed by injuries, Josh Smoker surged through 3 levels of the system. Gibbons started his pro career with 7 shutout innings for St. Lucie, made two starts for Brooklyn, got a spot start for Binghamton, made 6 starts with Savannah, and then finished the year with two more starts with St. Lucie. After the dust settled, Gibbons found himself #30 on the BA Mets prospect list. Smoker’s mid-90’s heat from the left side pushed him to a key role in the B-Mets bullpen by the end of the season, and must’ve at least tempted the Mets to give him a September look. He’ll begin the year in the Las Vegas bullpen, and in a suddenly heated competition for a lefty spot in the Mets bullpen.

#7 – Dominic Smith (FSL) and Luis Guillorme (SAL) win league MVP awards

            After such a strong year at the plate, Dom Smith’s MVP award was a strong possibility, but considering he was overlooked for the SAL All-Star team, Luis Guillorme’s MVP award kind of came out of nowhere. Dom Smith turned his season around after a poor April and became a doubles machine, and one of the best oppo-taco hitters in the league. Guillorme was a consistent table-setter at the top of the Sand Gnats lineup, a rock at shortstop, and a leader on the infield. They both had great camp experiences this year – Smith had a nice showing in major league camp, while Guillorme started for Spain in the WBCQ – and are among the most exciting prospects in the system to watch out for. Smith is due to start the year in Binghamton, so I’ll be able to post a lot of updates and GIF’s of him throughout the season, but it’ll be hard to get video coverage of Guillorme with St. Lucie.

#6 – Shortstops Breakout from AA to rookie ball: Gavin Cecchini, Amed Rosario, Luis Guillorme, Milton Ramos, and Luis Carpio all had great seasons

            While the Mets struggled to find a solution for shortstop at the major league level, their affiliates were getting breakout performances from their shortstops – except at Las Vegas, where Matt Reynolds numbers went the wrong way in 2015. Gavin Cecchini had his best season at the plate, and while he made plenty of errors, he also made a number of great plays. After a strong year with St. Lucie, Amed Rosario is considered the best of the group, and will be one of the youngest hitters in the AA to start 2016. I’ve mentioned Luis Guillorme multiple times at this point, so you probably get the point that he had a great year in 2015. Milton Ramos and Luis Carpio spent most of the short-season splitting time between shortstop and 2B, though Ramos did spend a stint in the GCL. Carpio probably won’t stick at SS, and unfortunately he’ll miss most of 2016 after shoulder surgery, but he stood out enough to make most top-10 prospect lists for the system. Ramos is considered a good defensive shortstop with some offensive upside, so 2016 could be a breakout year for him in Columbia.

#5 – Young prospect Merandy Gonzalez throws a no-hitter in the GCL

            It was only a 7-inning no-hitter, but his July 9th start against the GCL Marlins led to a promotion to Kingsport for the young hurler. It was his fourth appearance with the GCL Mets of the year, and the second time he had allowed 0 hits for 5+ innings. The Mets signed Gonzalez in March, 2013, and last year was his first stateside after 2 seasons in the DSL. He’d finish with a 2.82 ERA in 9 appearances with Kingsport, but the 20-year old will probably stay back for at least some extended spring training to start 2015, and I’d guess he eventually starts in Brooklyn.

#4 – Savannah goes on an 18-game winning streak and wins 5th division title in the last 6 years

            The Sand Gnats went on a 10-game winning streak to end the first half of the season, which helped them clinch a playoff spot on the last day of the first half, but they still had some magic left in them. Between August 2nd and August 22nd, the Sand Gnats won 18 straight games, and their streak was only snapped when rain led to a tie game. The Sand Gnats went on a 29-4 stretch at one point during the second half, which is just madness. They went into the postseason with their team at full strength, but couldn’t get past Asheville, who they were facing because they eliminated Greenville with a victory on the last day of the season. They didn’t have enough magic to bring one last title back to Savannah, but the Sand Gnats gave the city a great team to cheer for before leaving town.

#3 – Jon Leroux hits and then allows a walkoff homerun in the same month

            Jon Leroux’s career may not have turned out as he hoped, but he did something in May, 2015 that few players will ever do. This was hardly a story, especially since I doubt few others noticed it, but I’d bet it’s a less likely occurrence than the 18-game winning streak, which is why it's ranked so high. It’s rare enough to hit or allow a walkoff homerun in ones career, and few players are presented with both opportunities during their career, so to be involved in both sides of the walkoff homerun within a month is incredibly improbable. On May 9th, the Sand Gnats were involved in a game that dragged on to the 17th inning, so manager Jose Leger went to infielder Jon Leroux for the 17th, and Jose Cardona ended the game with a solo blast two batters later. On May 28th, the Sand Gnats were locked in a 1-1 tie into the bottom of the 9th, when Leroux came up with one out and launched a solo blast to end the game. Leroux’s story would not have a happy ending though, as the Mets would release him in July, but he'll always have this piece of minor league history (and trivia) attached to his name.

            Steven Matz starts and daily Michael Conforto updates made following the farm system in the first half of the season a bit more exciting than usual, but it was still a lot better to watch them kick butt for the Mets down the stretch and in the playoffs. Matz had a few hiccups with Las Vegas, but held opponents to 1 run or none in 9 of 15 appearances, and took a no-hitter into the 7th against Reno in April. He quickly proved that he wouldn’t need a full season in AAA, and wasn’t even going to be slowed down by the higher offensive environment of the PCL. His debut, his Grandpa, and his pitching for the Mets down the stretch and in the postseason were among the best Mets moments of 2015, and he’s just getting started. Quite frankly, Matz is like, Half man, Half amazin’.
            Conforto started the year playing A+ ball with St. Lucie, and finished the year in the World Series, so you could say that he had a good season. Some fans were ready to promote straight from St. Lucie after he dominated for two weeks to start the year, but he’d promptly cool down as the league adjusted to him. That didn’t last too long though, as he caught fire again, got promoted to the B-Mets, stayed hot, got promoted to the Mets, and never really stopped hitting. As an example of how crazy #MetsTwitter was for any Conforto coverage, this tweet from 6/30 of his third AA homerun had 81,000+ twitter impressions at the time this was posted. His role should be expanded with the Mets this year, as he’s expected to face lefties more often after only 15 PA against southpaws in 2015.

#1 – Recent top prospects help lead Mets to the World Series

            While everything above is nice, this is what the organization had been working towards since Sandy Alderson was hired as GM after the 2010 season. It may not have been ‘Moneyball with Money,’ but it was better, because the 2015 Mets was a team built mostly from within. Even the key player brought in down the stretch, Mr. Yoenis Cespedes, was only brought in because the Mets had so much minor league depth leftover they could trade. They weren’t all Alderson players – I looked at how the initial roster broke down between Omar and Sandy players here – but the team was very much of his design: great pitching, offense over defense players, gaps filled with internal solutions, a few targeted free agents that worked out (hello Bartolo Colon and Curtis Granderson), a key move he didn’t make (cry your heart out Wilmer Flores!), and the fruits of a key move he made over two years earlier (thanks R.A. Dickey). The best part is, the 2015 team wasn’t a one-year wonder, and there are still more prospects on the horizon who have a chance to start for the Mets over the next few years.

2015 Mets who spent time in the system before debuting

2015 ML debuts: Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Michael Conforto, Kevin Plawecki, Hansel Robles, Logan Verrett (initial debut with Texas), Jack Leathersich, Daniel Muno, Darrell Ceciliani, and you can basically include Erik Goeddel, since he only had 6 September appearances in 2014. Honorable mention to Rule-5 selection Sean Gilmartin.

2013-14 ML debuts: Jacob deGrom, Travis d’Arnaud, Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares, Dilson Herrera, Eric Campbell, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Rafael Montero, Dario Alvarez, and Jeurys Familia didn’t break through until 2014.

And then there’s The Dark Knight, Matt Harvey, who threw nearly 60 IP in 2012 before bursting onto the scene in 2013.

            Not all of the players listed above were drafted by the Mets as amateurs, but 18 out of those 21 players spent most of their minor league career in the Mets system – aka, everyone but Travis d’Arnaud, Sean Gilmartin, and Dario Alvarez. That’s something for Mets fans to be proud of, but it also resonates at the amateur level. For example, prospect Nabil Crismatt said he had been a Yankees fan growing up in Colombia, but preferred signing with a team like the Mets that would give a chance to young players.
          2016 marks a fresh start for prospects and teams everywhere, but especially in Columbia, SC. Foreign players will make their stateside debut, young players their full season debut, and a lucky few will make their major league debut. Some guys will surprise, others will disappoint, and the unfortunate few will face season ending injuries out of the blue. It will be hard for the Mets and the system to top 2015, but they have some unfinished business to attend to, and a date with the AL champs scheduled for October. As always, LET'S GO METS!!

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