Today, we continue our series of examining the Mets minor leagues position by position with the outfield. The outfield depth chart is longer than any other position (naturally since there are three spots to fill), but it is also well balanced from top to bottom, and should keep potential candidates close to the big leagues for many years to come. Lucas Duda has already made his way through the farm system and has all but solidified himself as a legitimate big league player. Fernando Martinez has been in that neighborhood for a few years, but has been slowed by injuries. He’ll be just 23 on opening day in 2012 and will have one more option year left, and while he’s lost a lot of speed and range because of his knee problems, the talent has not left his bat.
On the next level of the depth chart are Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Sean Ratliff, Matt Den Dekker, and Juan Lagares. Nieuwenhuis likely would have made his major league debut at some point in 2011, but a shoulder injury ended his season in early June. There’s no guarantee that Nieuwenhuis will be able to regain his form immediately, which could hold back his development even longer, but once he is healthy and fully recovered, he shouldn’t be too far from being ready for a major league call up. Ratliff missed all of 2011 with a horrific eye injury he suffered in spring training, which is an absolute shame for a guy who hit 15 homeruns in 2009 and 21 more in 2010. Whether he can fully recover is questionable, but if he can he has too much power to ignore. Den Dekker has been a fast riser, reaching AA a little more than a year after being drafted. He could be seen in the big leagues as early as 2012 and by opening day 2013 he could be at least in position to be the Mets fourth outfielder. He’s a gap hitter who had a ridiculous amount of extra-base hits this past year, and if he can continue to do that, strike out less, and prove to be a capable hitter against lefties he has a chance to be an everyday centerfielder. Lagares had a phenomenal year in 2011 after being slowed by injuries in previous years, splitting time between St. Lucie and Binghamton. Between the two levels he hit .349/.383/.500 with 9, homeruns, 9 triples, and 26 doubles. Lagares is a great athlete who is a converted infielder, so if he never becomes a full time outfielder, he can easily become a useful and valuable super-utility player.
The outfield prospects the Mets have in A-ball may have the most potential of any in the system, highlighted by Cory Vaughn and Cesar Puello. Vaughn had a sluggish second half in St. Lucie, but he is still a fairly polished hitter with good power, who could be major league ready within a couple years time. Puello is younger, just 20 years old, and will take longer to reach the big leagues, but he has the potential to be a 5-tool player, possibly as a centerfielder where he played for the second half of the season. Also in A-ball in 2011 were speedsters Pedro Zapata and Darrell Ceciliani. Zapata hit .292/.333/.389 with 36 stolen bases, and could one day find a role on a major league roster. Ceciliani did not follow up his all-star effort in 2010 the way the Mets were hoping he would, but he still has some good tools and a lot of time left to develop. Two more players of note from that level are Alonzo Harris and Gilbert Gomez. Harris showed much improvement in his second year in Savannah as he moved from the infield to the outfield. Harris is a great athlete if he can find a way to get on the field, which down the line could be as a super-utility player, much like Lagares. Gomez went from the GCL straight to the FSL because of injuries and was impressive in 22 games as a 19-year old, hitting .307/.388/.547. There’s no telling how the Mets will handle his development from here on, but he is certainly on the radar now.
The Mets also have no shortage of intriguing young outfielders from their short-season teams. Javier Rodriguez spent the year in Brooklyn after getting off to a slow start in Savannah in April. He is a 2nd round pick from 2008 that the Mets have been waiting to come around. Also having good seasons in Brooklyn were Travis Taijeron, who led the team in slugging percentage, Brandon Brown, and Tillman Pugh, who scorched the ball in Brooklyn after a mid-season promotion from Kingsport. Taijeron is a 2011 draft pick that has become a blip on the outfield radar, just like Dustin Lawley and Greg Pron, who were teammates at West Florida and both spent the season at Kingsport, where they were the top hitters for the K-Mets. They were joined in Kingsport by Julio Concepcion, who has performed well for the past couple years. Down in rookie ball the Mets have first round pick Brandon Nimmo and sixth round pick Joe Tuschak. Both guys looked overmatched in the GCL, but that can be expected of guys that are literally straight out of high school.
Down in the Dominican Summer League, the Mets had a few guys have good seasons who could become intriguing in the years to come. For the record, those names are Maikis de la Cruz, Joan Decena, Eric Peguero, and Michael Bernal.
From top to bottom, the Mets contingent of outfield prospects is pretty strong. There should be guys at that position making a push for the big leagues each year for the foreseeable future. The group of guys that added in the 2011 draft also has some promising members, even beyond their first-round pick. There are guys in the farm system now that are more than capable of contributing at the major league level one day, which is why outfield is arguably the strongest position in the Mets farm system.