Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mets Prospects Recap by Minor League Baseball

Considering how much talent was traded away during the offseason a year ago, the Mets farm system didn't have a half-bad year.

Don't use the .477 overall winning percentage as a guide. On the flip side, the St. Lucie Mets' title, while a nice addition to Gary Carter's impressive Minor League managing resume, shouldn't be seen as a tremendous omen either.

To get Carlos Delgado and Paul LoDuca, the Mets had to give up a fair amount of depth. They've also given up a fair share of draft picks (last year for signing Billy Wagner, the year before for Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran), so they haven't been able to restock as well as other teams.

That being said, they did get a number of contributions to the big-league club courtesy of the farm in 2006. Lastings Milledge made his highly anticipated debut, and while he had some issues in the clubhouse and on the field, his skill is evident, even if he's traded to help make that last step to the World Series in 2007. Most of the help, though, came on the mound. Mike Pelfrey rose quickly, making four starts after signing late, Philip Humber quickly recovered from Tommy John surgery to make his big-league debut, and Brian Bannister looked impressive before injuries cut short most of his season.

That trio alone should have Mets fans pleased about the future. Throw in some interesting young outfielders and perhaps more pitching on the way, and the Mets should be able to retool quickly -- whether it be by promoting homegrown talent or using said talent to actively partipate in offseason trade talks.

Five Faves

At the start of the season, MLB.com identified five prospects to keep an eye on. Here's how they fared in 2006:

Lastings Milledge, OF
On the one hand, 2006 was a big success for the Mets' top position prospect. After impressing in Spring Training, he headed to Triple-A for the first time and started out like gangbusters. Milledge hit .357 in April with seven steals and it seemed a matter of when, not if, he'd get his first callup. That moment came on May 30 and the 21-year-old stuck around enough to pick up 166 big-league at-bats and even made some positive contributions (four homers, 22 RBIs in 56 games). On the other hand, Milledge may have gone from untouchable to trade bait after rankling the feathers of more than one veteran for what was perceived to be an unrookie-like attitude. His future with the Mets this offseason is very much up in the air, especially since the 2007 outfield once again looks crowded.

Philip Humber, RHP
Humber made his first game appearance on June 22 after coming back from Tommy John surgery, but he made up for lost time in a hurry. After one outing in the Gulf Coast League, he made seven starts in the Florida State League (3-1, 2.37 ERA) with uncharacteristic command for someone just coming back from surgery. He had similar results in six Double-A starts -- 2.88 ERA, .195 batting average against -- which resulted in a surprising September callup. He made his big-league debut on Sept. 24 and finished the season with two scoreless innings of relief work. He headed to the Arizona Fall League to get some more work in, but was shut down after just two innings as a precaution because of shoulder tendinitis. If he's healthy next year, he should contribute in New York at some point.

Carlos Gomez, OF
The Mets seem to be growing young outfielders with Milledge hitting the big leagues and teen sensation Fernando Martinez making it to the Florida State League. Gomez sits between them in his development. He leapt from the South Atlantic League up to Double-A and played well in the Eastern League at just 20 years old. He hit .281 and led the organization with 41 steals (tied for second in the EL). Clearly the Mets have high hopes for him as they added him to the 40-man roster this offseason. Some time in Triple-A wouldn't hurt, but he could be pushing for a callup at some point in 2007 should the need arise.

Anderson Hernandez, 2B
After a breakout 2005 season that saw him hit a combined .315, there were hopes Hernandez might even take over second base chores in New York in 2006. He did break camp with the big club and got in 41 at-bats in April (hitting .146). He went back to Norfolk and stayed there until September thanks to Jose Valentin's renaissance and his own lackluster offensive performance. Hernandez hit just .249 in 102 Triple-A games while playing more at shortstop than second. He did end up on the Mets' League Championship Series roster and could still find a way to be a handy utilityman in the future.

Brian Bannister, RHP
Things started out so well for Bannister, with the right-hander winning the Mets' No. 5 starter spot thanks to a splendid Spring Training. But he ended up appearing in just eight games (six starts), going 2-1 with a 4.26 ERA over 38 innings. He went 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA in five April starts, but was shut down with a hamstring injury. He didn't hit the big leagues again until the end of August (he tried to come back in May, but it was a no-go). He made five starts in Norfolk in August after two in St. Lucie in July to get himself ready to rejoin the Mets. He's making up for lost innings in Mexico this offseason and has pitched reasonably well. He could be in the mix once again in 2007.

Cinderella Story

Mitch Wylie, RHP

Wylie has been through a lot since being drafted back in 1998 by the White Sox, but it looked like he might get the chance to finally break through to the bigs after the Mets took him from the Giants in last year's Rule 5 Draft. But he was at the end of Spring Training and offered back to the Giants, who turned him down. He headed to Norfolk, hit the disabled list early with a sore shoulder, tried to come back, went back on the DL and missed nearly six months with a shoulder strain. He also missed a couple of weeks with a blister problem in late July. When he was on the mound, he pitched pretty well, with a 2.96 ERA and 53 K's in 48 2/3 IP. But he'll be 30 next year, so he'll need a real Cinderella story to make it up in the future.
Audio: Wylie notches his first save for Norfolk

Breakout Year

This player was pegged as a breakout candidate before the season began. Did he live up to expectations?

Shawn Bowman, 3B
The 21-year-old headed back to St. Lucie with the hopes of building on what had been a good offensive stretch before a back injury -- a broken vertebrae, to be exact -- hijacked his season. He started slowly, hitting just .220 in April, but was hitting .324 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 10 May games before the back stepped in again -- breaking the same vertebrae in the same place for the second straight season -- and ended his season. He didn't need surgery and spent the rest of the year rehabbing with hopes of a 2007 return.

2006 draft recap

1. Kevin Mulvey, RHP
The Mets didn't have a first-round pick due to the signing of Billy Wagner, so Mulvey was their top pick in the second round. The Villanova product moved quickly, finishing the year in Double-A before heading to the Arizona Fall League. He only threw 15 1/3 Minor League innings, but gave up just two earned runs and 11 hits in that span. He got in 15 more innings in Arizona and should be able to pitch in the upper levels of the system for his first full season with a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s.

2. Joe Smith, RHP
After posting a 0.45 ERA and 28 strikeouts (vs. just two walks) in 20 innings for Brooklyn, the Wright State product moved all the way up to Binghamton. There he appeared in 10 more games and scuffled a little more, though he still struck out nearly a batter an inning. The side-armer throws a pretty good fastball and a nasty slider.
Audio: Smith slams the door on Erie

3. John Holdzkom, RHP
Holdzkom can throw extremely hard, but he doesn't always know where it's going. That was fairly clear in his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League, where he struck out 23 and walked 20 in 23 1/3 innings. But Major-League ability runs in the family as the 6-foot-7 right-hander's brother, Lincoln, has logged some time in the bigs. Holdzkom will have to prove that some issues as an amateur -- including being academically ineligible for part of his senior year of high school and dropping out of junior college after a problem with a coach -- are things of the past.

4. Stephen Holmes, RHP
Holmes did nothing but win in Rhode Island, setting that university's record for career winning percentage and earning Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Year and third-team All-American status in his final season. He signed and was assigned to Brooklyn but didn't end up throwing a professional inning this past summer.

5. Scott Schafer, RHP
Schafer, a Texas high-school right-hander, went in the sixth round. He didn't pitch much after signing, but did manage to get his pro debut out of the way, yielding a hit and two walks while striking out three in a two-inning stint for the GCL Mets at the end of June.

2005 draft recap

1. Mike Pelfrey, RHP
It seems the late signing didn't affect his development, did it? After not making his pro debut until Spring Training (and pitching well there), he pitched at three Minor League levels and put up a combined 2.43 ERA while striking out 109 and walking only 33 in 96 1/3 innings. He also made his big-league debut in his first pro season, making four starts for the Mets in July and August. From there, he went to the AFL for some fine-tuning, getting in four innings before being shut down with "general soreness."

2. Hector Pellot, 2B
Taken in the fourth round, Pellot didn't make his pro debut until this year after signing a 2006 contract. The second baseman played 100 games for Hagerstown and struggled in 359 at-bats, hitting just .189 and striking out 95 times while finishing the year on the DL with a sprained knee. On the plus side, he did draw 41 walks and he's only 19 years old. He headed home to Puerto Rico for some winter ball work and might have to return to Class A in 2007.

3. Drew Butera, C
The son of former big-league catcher Sal Butera, the Central Florida backstop continued to show that it'll be his defense that will carry him anywhere. he hit just .186 in 295 at-bats with Hagerstown, bringing his pro career average down to .198. He then went to Hawaii and hit .232 in 21 games there. He did make nine errors with the Suns, but also threw out 47 percent of would-be base stealers. As impressive as that is, though, he's probably going to have to swing the stick a little better to keep advancing in the system.


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