More from Candidate 4: Minor League Guru.
As I mentioned in my last post, the Mets minor league system is currently lacking in quality pitching depth. The cost of this is two-fold. One effect is there are few young pitchers in the system that can legitimately fight for a spot in spring training, or even be projected as to being ready to contribute at the major league level at some point in 2011. The other primary downside is not having enticing prospects to use as trade bait to try and fill the holes on the major league roster. Now there’s a laundry list of reasons as to the Mets lacking in this area, so let’s just explore one small example of why it is a little more in-depth.
The 2009 Savannah Sand Gnats, the Mets A-ball affiliate in the South Atlantic League, the lowest level of full-season ball, possessed a strong pitching staff, especially in their starting rotation. The team’s record was nothing special, done in mostly by poor defense and a somewhat sluggish offense that relied on a pair of teenagers to shoulder the load in the middle of the lineup. However the starting rotation comprised for most of the year by Jeurys Familia, Robert Carson, Kyle Allen, Eric Beaulac, and Chris Schwinden excelled throughout 2009. All five of these guys made over 20 appearances, pitched at least 115 innings, and held ERA’s under 3.5. Familia had the best season with a 2.69 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. He features a plus fastball, giving him the highest major league projection of the group, with the potential to be a #3 or possibly #2 starter. Carson didn’t have all too impressive strikeout numbers, but he held down a 3.21 ERA and pitched two complete games, and being a lefty certainly helps his prospect status, as at the very least he has a good chance to be a major league LOOGY. Allen is the youngest of the group and had an impressive 2009 as a teenager finishing with 9 wins over 100 strikeouts, getting better as the season went on. Performing at that level at such a young age showed great potential. Beaulac used his quality fastball and slider to produce an impressive amount of strikeouts and a sub three ERA, showing legitimate MLB potential. Schwinden is perhaps the least talented of the group, but has great control, which helped him get promoted before the 2009 season ended.
With the season’s these pitchers had, one would think at least a few of them would be well on their way up the ladder through the Mets organization by now. If so, the Mets would have more quality-pitching depth in their minor leagues than they currently do and would have quality arms that they could project as major league contributors within the next year or two. At the very least their potential would make them valuable trade bait for the Mets to acquire major league pieces. However, that did not happen; so what did?
Well, each of the five pitchers mentioned either regressed or underachieved as they started 2010 in St. Lucie pitching in A-advanced ball in the Florida State League. Familia made 24 starts for St. Lucie, but despite his plus great stuff he struggled with his control, walking far too many, and only started to pitch better, walk fewer, and look like the 2009 version of himself in his final eight starts. If he had pitched well early in the season, he would have advanced in the system and could be within a year of the big leagues by now. Carson was solid but not spectacular in the Florida State League. He did well enough to get a promotion to AA Binghamton where he made ten starts, but lost six of them and had an ERA over eight. Carson clearly has much left to prove at the AA level before he can advance further in the system and become valuable to the Mets. Allen hit a wall in St. Lucie where he was barely striking out a batter every two innings, walked more than he struck out, and had an ERA over five. His 2010 performance is a huge detriment to his status as a prospect, and unless he bounces back he won’t advance much further in the system. Beaulac’s strikeout rate went down and his walk rate went up during the 2010 season, and while he earned two starts in AA Binghamton to end the season, neither went well and Beaulac clearly took a step back in his progression in 2010. Schwinden got off to a great start with an ERA under two in his first 35 innings, which gave him a promotion to Binghamton where he found the strike zone too often and got hit hard, meaning he isn’t going anywhere unless he learns to outsmart hitters.
Clearly each of these pitchers, of varying abilities and potential, failed to show continued improvement in 2010 and live up to the promise each of them showed in 2009. Now this doesn’t completely explain the Mets lack of pitching depth in the minors. Even with a good 2010, none of the pitchers mentioned would likely be in the running for a big league spot in spring training. But if they did, there would have been a chance for one or more of them to get there midway through or late in 2011, or for them to gain attention from several other teams as a valuable trade chip. At the very least, they would have given the Mets some more promising arms in the middle of their system, instead of a sizeable gap that exists between the few guys close to the big leagues and the talented youngsters just starting out. It’s not that this group of pitchers are to blame for the state of the Mets farm system, and it’s not that they won’t someday have an impact at the major league level; they are merely representative of the regression and disappointment the Mets have had in the mid levels of their farm system and the void that exists there, which is and will continue to effect the Mets the major league level.