Candidate 4, Minor League Guru.
If nothing else, the 2010 season allowed fans to get a glimpse into the future of the New York Mets. Injuries, inadequate play at several positions, and the inevitable fall from playoff contention allowed the Mets to bring young players up, preparing them to compete for positions on what they hope will be competitive and playoff worthy teams in future years. What Mets fans saw on the field at the major league level was indicative of what the Mets have in the minor leagues: a system that appears strong with position players but is lacking pitchers ready for the big leagues.
The future is now for the Mets at first base where Ike Davis took over for a disappointing Mike Jacobs early in the year and shows no signs of giving up the position for many years after a promising rookie season hitting .264 with 19 homeruns. The future also appears to be now behind the plate, as Josh Thole will likely pick up next year where he left off, as the Mets starting catcher. Thole fell short of the .300 mark he’s clearly capable of, but did flash some power and showed improved skills behind the plate, making him the obvious choice to be the Mets number one catcher next year. At second base, the subpar play, to put it kindly, of Luis Castillo opened the door for 20-year old Ruben Tejada to see plenty of action in the middle infield. While he fell into deep slumps at the plate, Tejada was the ideal defensive second baseman. He will no doubt be part of the conversation heading into next year, but whether he will be the starter, the reserve middle infielder, or providing depth in the minor leagues while still learning to hit remains to be seen.
These three youngsters figure to be key components of the Mets future, but even beyond them there are plenty more position players providing depth in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Massive outfielder Lucas Duda got over his September slump and showcased some of his power before the season ended, making it conceivable that he could step into the lineup if needed. Mets fans are also eagerly awaiting the major league arrival of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who has been one of the top performers in the minor leagues over the past year and a half, and should figure into the equation at some point in 2011. It’s also important not to forget the potential of the walking wounded: players with promise but who have been derailed by injuries. If he is ever able to stay healthy, Reese Havens possesses the talent to be the second baseman of the future; and of course there’s a guy named Fernando Martinez who should develop into a quality big league player if he can just stay healthy. This group of players and others gives the young players developed in the farm system that can either become contributors in the near future, or improve upon the contributions they have already made.
On the contrary, Mets fans saw little on the mound in 2010 to make them feel hopeful about the pitchers in the upper levels of the minor league system. Jenrry Mejia is of course the marquee name, but the pressure to win in 2010 forced him into an undefined bullpen role to start 2010, hindering his development. Once he finally made it back to the minors where he belonged, shoulder injuries in the second half of the season set him back even further. Mejia still needs work before he’ll be ready for a spot in a big league rotation, a result of being denied a chance to spend all of 2010 working towards his potential of being a top of the rotation starter. Thus, he more than likely will need more time in the minors to start 2011. The only other pitcher to make his major league debut last year after working through the Mets minor league system was Dillon Gee. Despite looking impressive in five September starts, Gee doesn’t project to be much more than a 5th starter, and while he will have a chance to make the rotation out of spring training next year, he will not make the kind of impact on the pitching staff that the Mets need. Beyond these two pitchers, there aren’t many guys from the minor leagues who figure to join the Mets pitching staff in the immediate future. Outside of Mejia, all the Mets top pitching prospects: Juan Urbina, Jeurys Familia, and 2010 top draft pick Matt Harvey remain in the lower levels of the farm system, far from Queens.
With the Mets having so much money already invested in 2011, and unlikely to receive equal payback on the field, there may be a need to plug roster holes with players from their farm system. They have the position players that have proved capable of being part of a major league lineup, and several who are close to being ready to fill holes if they pop up. But with a spot or two in the rotation likely up for grabs and the bullpen full of uncertainty, the Mets lack the pitchers in their farm system that are ready to take on key roles and make an impact in the major leagues.