The month of April has come and gone, and even though the minor league season hasn’t been going on all month like the major league season, it’s a good time to review the first part of the minor league season. While the team has struggled with a 10-15 and 5.5 games out of first place, let’s look at the individual seasons of the more noteworthy prospects the Mets have at AAA:
Kirk Nieuwenhuis: After struggling the last month of 2010 in Buffalo, he is off to a great start in 2011. He’s hitting .330 and slugging .591 with 9 doubles and 4 homeruns. He also has a team high 16 walks, but has 23 strikeouts in 25 games. It is the ideal start for Nieuwenhuis, but the key will be keeping up this pace for the duration of the season. The front office won’t rush him to the big leagues and he won’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until this offseason, but he could find his way to Queens before that if there is a long-term opening in the outfield this summer.
Fernando Martinez: Not surprisingly, he has only played in 13 of the team’s 25 games because of an injury. The injury is not a good sign, but it is easy for players to pull muscles in cold April weather, but any more injuries will be a concern. The numbers after 13 games don’t mean much, but he has had some nice games when he’s been in the lineup, but for now his health will be the most important thing to watch.
Lucas Duda: Started the season in the big leagues but did not get a chance to play everyday, which is likely a reason for his slow start in the AAA season. Towards the end of April he has started to accumulate more hits and move his average in the right direction, but he hasn’t been quite as productive as he was last year, but expect that to change in the month of May, and expect the homeruns to start coming, and of course there is always a chance he gets the call if there’s an opening in the corner outfield.
Zach Lutz: He is currently on the DL, but started off the year as the team’s best hitter aside from Nieuwenhuis. It’s not surprising that he has proven early on that he can hit AAA pitching, because he’s hit at every level, but at some point he has to stay healthy if he’s going to give the Mets any real value. The Bisons could also really use his bat.
Ruben Tejada: Tejada got off to a hot start, then struggled and now his average has settled right around where you’d expect it to be, currently at .263. Surprisingly he has 7 extra-base hits in 25 games, including 2 homeruns, which is nice but it might be better to sacrifice the little power he might have for more contact and a few less strikeouts, because he will have to be a contact-oriented ground-ball hitter in the big leagues. He has committed 7 errors in the field, but there should be no judgments made about that number without actually seeing the errors, because anybody who has seen Tejada in the field knows he is a quality middle infielder.
Nick Evans: He got off to a slow start, but his April was a far cry from the one he had in 2009. He has slowly got his average above the Mendoza line and has launched 4 homeruns. Expect him to slowly bring his average up and the season goes on as he continues to show some power, but after the last few years there is no telling what he has to do or what has to happen to get a major league call up.
Jenrry Mejia: Mejia has been great, pitching 28 innings in April, and only getting hit hard in a few of them. Still, he is not ready to start in the major leagues. He has struggled with his control, but because he has such great stuff he has gotten away with it at AAA. Quite miraculously he has a 1.59 ERA when he’s behind in the count and 5.59 when he is ahead in the county, which is incredible, but something that would not work out in his favor in the big leagues. He has a great 1.06 WHIP although his strikeout rate is not quite what it could be, but that should change if he can start getting ahead in the count better, which will be something to look for in his coming starts.
Josh Stinson: Quickly got the call up from AA but has struggled in his 3 starts in Buffalo. His WHIP is at 1.71, which is way too high and his ERA is 6.43. He has struck out just 6 in 14 innings, which is not an improvement in one of the areas that will be key to Stinson getting to the big leagues. Any future in the big leagues will be in the bullpen, but right now he is not on the short list if there were to be an opening there.
Chris Schwinden: He has made 4 starts since getting called up and has done surprisingly well. He is not a hard thrower so Schwinden is a guy who might be expected to struggle at this level, but not only is he carrying a WHIP of 1.10 but he is averaging nearly a strike out per inning. If he can keep that up he will definitely be an asset to the Bisons, and add to the Mets rotation depth.
In the bullpen: Jose De La Torre has been great. He has pitched over 12 innings giving up just 2 runs (1 earned), with 10 strikeouts, which is close to the desirable range. Up until his last start Taylor Tankersley had been quite effective, actually fairing better against righties than lefties. Manny Alvarez struggled mightily after a great 2010 that put him on the 40-man roster, but has been demoted to AA. Manny Acosta has walked 11 in 8 innings, and until that changes there’s no way the front office should consider him if a bullpen spot opens up. Lefty Mike O’Connor has been solid, with only a couple rough outings, doing well against lefties, but struggling against righties.