Recently the Mets added several young players to their 40-man roster. The purpose behind putting these prospects on the roster was to save them from being eligible for the Rule 5 draft since anyone on the 40-man roster is protected from this draft. For those who are unfamiliar or confused (which is understandable) about who is eligible for the Rule 5 draft, let’s try to a quick explanation. Basically, for a player who was signed at age 19 or older, if he is not on his team’s 40-man roster after four years, he is eligible. If a player is signed at age 18 or younger, he has five years to be put on the roster before he becomes eligible. If selected, the player must stay on the active 25-man roster of the team that chose him all season long, or he must be offered back to his original team.
All five minor leaguers the Mets recently added could have been selected by any other team had they not been put on the 40-man roster, but now they will be safe and the Mets will retain control of them. Even with the five additions, the Mets currently have 38 players on their roster, giving them two openings, allowing them to select two players from the Rule 5 Draft if they wish. Now let’s review the players the Mets chose to save and why they may have wanted to hold on to these players.
First up is Manuel Alvarez, who was actually called up from Buffalo a few weeks ago. Alvarez is a right-handed reliever from Venezuela who will be 25 by spring training. He signed with the Mets in 2007. In 2009 while pitching for St. Lucie in the Florida State League, Alvarez struggled with a 5.09 ERA in his third in the Mets organization. However, returning to St. Lucie to start the 2010 season he pitched 25.2 innings without surrendering an earned run. He then pitched 47 relief innings for Binghamton in 34 appearances, further impressing the organization with 57 strikeouts and a 0.87 WHIP in that time period. He earned a promotion to AAA Buffalo before the season was over, but it’s hard to judge him at that level in just four appearances. Alvarez clearly had a tremendous 2010 showing great improvement, and based off of that some team out there certainly would have taken a chance on him during Rule 5, and with the Mets bullpen likely to have a few open spots, Alvarez contributing in 2011 can’t be ruled out, making his inclusion on the 40-man roster an easy choice.
Josh Stinson is a name Mets fans may already be familiar with, even before he was added to the roster. Stinson was a 37th round draft pick in 2006, so he has had five years in the Mets farm system. He has split time as a starter and reliever throughout those five years, but if he has a future in the big leagues it will be in the bullpen. Stinson’s best year was 2009 when his 50 appearances were split evenly between Savannah and St. Lucie, and was the only year in which he averaged over a strikeout per inning. This past season he pitched over 110 innings in Binghamton, and while he racked up nine wins, his strikeout rate dipped well below one per inning and his WHIP was at 1.43, which is on the cusp of acceptable. Before the year ended he started four games in Buffalo, and while he did have a complete game in one of those starts, his strikeout rate for that small sample was .75 per inning. It’s doubtful that Stinson will contend for a bullpen spot in the spring, but if he can get his strikeout rate up don’t count him out as a bullpen contributor in 2011.
The final pitcher the Mets added was Armando Rodriguez, a right-hander from the Dominican Republic who will be 23 by spring training. This was without a doubt the biggest head scratcher of the Mets additions. Rodriguez pitched all of 2010 for Savannah, and it seems unlikely that a team would take a right-handed pitcher who throws in the low 90’s that hasn’t even seen A-advanced ball in the Rule 5 Draft. Not that Rodriguez isn’t a good pitcher: he made 27 starts for Savannah and held a 1.11 WHIP through 146 innings while striking out 152, and posted an ERA a shade over 3. Still, it’s difficult to project him anything more than a fifth starter in the big leagues, and it could easily be two years until he gets there. While the Mets aren’t maxed out on their roster and they could afford to put Rodriguez on the roster, it may not have been necessary at this time.
One of the two position players the Mets added was third baseman Zach Lutz, a 5th round draft pick in 2007. However, because of injuries Lutz played only 25 games in the 2007 and 2008 seasons combined. Lutz was finally healthy enough to have a great second half in 2009 for St. Lucie before moving to Binghamton by the end of the season, hitting a combined 33 extra base hits in 107 games. Injuries hampered him again in 2010, allowing him to only play 72 games; although he made the most of the time he did have hitting 17 home runs to go along with a .289 average in 61 games for Binghamton before playing the final five games with Buffalo. Lutz won’t be replacing David Wright at third base anytime soon, but if he can stay healthy he’d be a good option in case Wright ever gets injured for an extended period; or he could possibly be a good trade chip at some point. The Mets did the same thing with Shawn Bowman last year to save him from the Rule 5 Draft, only to waive him later on, but the Mets will likely look to hang onto Lutz a little longer.
The final Met added to the 40-man roster was Jordany Valdespin, a middle infielder who signed in 2007 and turns 23 next month. Valdespin gained a lot of recognition in spring training last year as an athletic infielder with top of the order potential. He broke out in 2008 playing in the Gulf Coast League, and continued that into 2009, climbing all the way to Savannah in A-ball. After drawing attention in spring training this past year he hit .289 with 25 extra-base hits and 13 stolen bases for St. Lucie before moving up to Binghamton for the final 28 games of the year. The Mets then decided to send Valdespin to the Arizona Fall League to order to have more time to evaluate him. In Arizona he hit .355 with 5 extra base hits in just 19 games before getting injured and missing the rest of the fall season. His AFL performance was apparently enough to tip the scales in his favor, as the Mets have indeed decided to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. However, despite having great tools, holding Valdespin back is inability or unwillingness to draw walks, which will hold him back from batting at the top of the order. If Valdespin can start to draw more walks he could become a factor at second base in 2012, if not the latter part of 2011.