So it is official. The Mets have announced that they will have the Las Vegas 51’s of the Pacific Coast League as their Triple A affiliate for the next two seasons. Let’s take a moment to let all the brosephs shouting “VEGAS BABY” and inanely discuss gambling…………..Thank you. The announcement has come with little surprise, mostly negative reactions, and a burning question – will the Mets essentially be saddled with a useless minor league affiliate for the next two seasons?
There were three reasons why the Toronto Blue Jays were eager to get out of Vegas (and latch on with Buffalo): first is that for a team that plays in the Eastern Division of any league (be it American or National), having your affiliate that ostensibly has your players closest to the majors in terms of talent residing 2,500 miles away is a logistical nightmare. Second is that Cashman Field in Vegas in ranked amongst the worst facility-wise in the PCL. Third is that the high desert air makes Las Vegas a notorious hitter friendly environment – along the lines of Coors Field hitter friendly. Which begs the question: why would the Mets send any of their top prospects there?
Take Zack Wheeler. The Mets top prospect had a brief promotion to AAA Buffalo last month, but the consensus is that he might need some more seasoning in the minors before he is ready for the call up to the Majors. If that is the case, and he does not make the club out of Spring Training, where do the Mets send him? Going back to AA Binghamton will not exactly challenge him; but pitching in a park where he is likely to get slapped around could have negative impact on his psyche or leave the door open to developing bad habits – all while not preparing for the realities of life in Queens.
Take Wilmer Flores. One of the most pleasant surprises this year (and there were many) was Wilmer Flores re-establishing his prospect status. After posting a .799 OPS at High A St Lucie, in the pitcher friendly Florida State League (would Florida League have been too confusing? Why make it sound like a penal league?), Wilmer tacked on an .855 OPS once he finally broke through to the high minors at Binghamton. This shows a significant improvement over years past, and a good indicator that he has made necessary adjustments to his game and may be ready for the majors (at least bat wise) sooner rather than later. What happens if he goes to Las Vegas? His numbers are likely to sky rocket, but at what cost? His pitch recognition is not going to improve when pitchers just throw fastballs because breaking balls don’t break at that altitude. His ability to handle curveballs and sliders will not improve since the quality of those pitches will not be worth spit.
You can bet the house that the Mets will jump ship out of Vegas once the affiliation agreement ends after the 2014 season. And for a team that is looking to build through it’s farm system, do you want to send your most valued prospects to a team that may encourage bad habits? It will be hard to tell what constitutes a player’s development (or lack thereof) and what is simply a high desert mirage.