Arizona Fall League Recap
Every year after the end of the regular season, each major league franchise selects several of its minor leaguers to play winter ball in the Arizona Fall League. The league is run by MLB and is filled predominantly with players from the upper levels of the minor leagues, in a lot of ways making it a finishing school for prospects that are close to the big leagues. The AFL tends to be hitter friendly, with the ball jumping off the bats in the Arizona desert heat. The season runs for a little over a month, so the results and statistics compiled are just a small sample compared to an entire minor league season. This year, many of the Mets prospects performed well, only to fade down the stretch in the hot Arizona sun. None of the Mets prospects made Jonathan Mayo’s list of the top 25 prospects in the AFL this year. Let’s take a closer look at how each player performed:Robert Carson, LHP – Carson was sent to the AFL with the Mets needing to make a decision about whether or not to protect him from the rule 5 draft, which they ultimately did. Carson had a rough year in the Binghamton rotation, going 4-11 with an ERA a shade above 5. Aside from a few nice outings, it was more of the same in Arizona for Carson. In 17 innings out of the bullpen, he struck out 11 and walked 12, while giving up 21 hits and finishing with a 4.15 ERA. Carson is a big lefty and holds plenty of potential, but five years after being drafted out of high school in Mississippi the results are not yet there. His fastball and his slider are his best pitches and both could become average or above average MLB pitches, but need more refinement. His month and a half in Arizona was the first time in his career consistently coming out of the bullpen, which may be where his future is, but up until now he has struggled equally against lefty and righty hitters, so even contributing as a LOOGY at the major league level appears far off at the moment.Collin McHugh, RHP – McHugh was a pleasant surprise in 2011, and with a rule 5 decision looming for him, the Mets sent him to the AFL. Contrary to the rest of the Mets participants, McHugh closed the Arizona season strong with back-to-back starts of 5 innings, giving up just 1 earned run. McHugh kept his strikeout rate high, just as he did during the regular season, striking out 24 in 27 innings in Arizona. However, he also let up 42 hits in the hitter-friendly environment and finished with a 2-3 record and a 6.91 ERA. After 93 innings in AA and 27 in the AFL, McHugh appears ready for AAA, and if he performs well could be considered for a major league promotion in either the rotation or bullpen at some point in 2012; however, he could also be a candidate to be selected in the rule-5 draft, as he was left unprotected.Erik Turgeon, RHP – Turgeon was a surprise addition to the AFL roster, because he’s never been considered a serious prospect. He finished 2010 in AA strong, but did not follow it up with a great 2011, finishing with a 5.33 ERA in 51 relief appearances for Binghamton. Turgeon was fine in Arizona, pitching 14 innings in relief, giving up 9 runs (6 earned) on 14 hits, walking 4 and striking out 6. Those are decent numbers, but far from anything that will stand out. Turgeon will likely get his shot at being in the Buffalo bullpen next year.Taylor Whitenton, RHP – Whitenton is the youngest pitcher the Mets sent to Arizona, pitching in Savannah in 2011 for the second consecutive year. Like his year in Savannah, Whitenton was solid in most appearances with a few outings where he clearly struggled mixed in. Overall, Whitenton pitched 17 innings in 10 relief appearances with 17 strikeouts and 26 base runners. When Whitenton is at his best he’s a guy that could develop into a back of the rotation pitcher, but as he goes forward he must do a better job of limiting his poor outings and being more consistent. Having not even pitched at A-Advanced ball, the AFL was a great test for Whitenton and he handled it well, especially retaining a strikeout rate of one per inning, and it should prepare him well for the Florida State League in 2012, which is more of a pitcher-friendly league.Juan Centeno, C – Centeno is a contact hitter that appeared to be doing well in the AFL, but went hitless in his final 5 starts of the season. He ended up hitting .234 with 3 doubles, 5 RBI’s, 6 walks, and 6 strikeouts in 14 games. Centeno is an undersized catcher that is solid behind the plate but doesn’t provide much pop with the bat; however, he may be the closest to the majors of any homegrown catcher the Mets have in the minors. He is unprotect for the rule 5-draft, but is unlikely to be selected, although the Mets have lost a catcher before that has yet to play above A-ball, so you never know.Wilfredo Tovar, SS – Tovar is just 20 years old and was sent to Arizona after the Mets gave Reese Havens the winter off to rest and regroup. Tovar spent the regular season in Savannah and struggled through much of the first half before hitting the ball better later in the season, finishing with a .251 average. He was a little better in Arizona in a hitter-friendly environment but against tougher competition, hitting .281. Tovar also flashed a little bit of power from his diminutive stature, slugging .448 with 11 doubles, 1 triple, and 1 homerun. In 24 games he struck out only 9 times but also drew merely 4 walks. Tovar is a gifted defensive player capable of playing either middle infield spot, so if he can hold his own at the plate as he ascends the minor league ladder, his defense should be able to carry him to the big leagues one day, and his play in the AFL did nothing to contradict that assessment.Jefry Marte, 3B – After a rough second half in St. Lucie, Marte’s bat exploded in the Arizona heat. Sadly, his fall league season finished earlier than scheduled when he broke his wrist, suffering the same injury that Albert Pujols did in early 2011, so the Mets are confident that he will be ready for spring training. In just 22 games, Marte hit .333/.436/.538 with 4 doubles, 4 homeruns, and 18 RBI’s. Most impressive is the fact that Marte drew 12 walks and struck out 12 times. If Marte can keep that up it will be a great sign that he is maturing as a hitter and his value will go up. Marte also started to play first base in Arizona, something he had yet to do in his professional career. Before heading to the AFL, the Mets really needed Marte to show that he was ready to start next season in AA, and his performance this fall certainly points favorably to that being the case. He is not protected in the rule-5 draft, but he if too young and raw to be a serious candidate to be selected and carried for an entire year.Juan Lagares, OF – Lagares had a ridiculous year at the plate in 2011 and before he went hitless in his final 3 games, he continued that in Arizona. He finished the AFL season with a line of .303/.343/.485 with 4 doubles, 1 triple, 2 homeruns, and 18 RBI’s. Until Marte’s injury, Lagares was on the taxi squad, which means he was only eligible to play twice a week, so those numbers are in just 15 games played. He walked 4 times in that span, which is a slightly better rate than the regular season, but it still leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to patience and controlling the strike zone. However, Lagares can clearly hit, and if his numbers in 2012 are anywhere close to what they were in 2011 he will be on the big league radar for a promotion at some point in 2012, especially now that he is on the 40-man roster.