Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2011 Savannah Sand Gnats!!
The Savannah Sand Gnats are the Mets affiliate at the lowest minor league level that still plays a full season. This year their roster is comprised of several players who have already started to make a name for themselves in the Mets farm system, mixed with a number of guys who should start to draw a lot of attention real soon. Let’s take a closer look at the key guys that will be starting their season in Savannah.The Gnats have six guys in the mix for the starting rotation, and it’s a strong looking group. Yohan Almonte and Angel Cuan will not blow away anybody with their stuff, but both posted an ERA under 2 last year pitching in Brooklyn. Ryan Fraser notched 12 saves in 26 appearances as Brooklyn’s closer last year. He could get some starts this year, but his innings will be monitored closely, and he is definitely someone to keep an eye on. Gonzalez Germen (pronounced Her-men) started two games for the Sand Gnats late last year after a solid season at Kingsport. Germen has great control, and is definitely capable or rising further in the farm system. The final two guys in the Savannah rotation will be a pair of draft picks from last year. Erik Goeddel was the Mets 24th round pick that they paid over slot to sign. Goeddel may have been UCLA’s best pitcher last year, including two guys that should be first round picks this year. He has two plus pitches and even with just one professional inning under his belt, he may be among the Mets top five pitching prospects. Finally, there is Savannah’s opening day starter Greg Peavey, who was drafted in the 6th round last year out of Oregon State, and while he doesn’t have the fanfare of first round pick Matt Harvey, he has almost as much promise.The Savannah bullpen will have less heralded pitchers than its starting rotation, but there are a few guys worth keeping an eye on. One such guy is lefty Josh Edgin, who had a strong professional debut in Kingsport last year after coming out of a small Division 2 college. Edgin had good control, a high strikeout rate, and an impressive ground ball ratio in his first season in the Mets farm system, and is a prototypical lefty specialist with a low 90’s fastball and low 80’s slider. The other lefty in the Sand Gnat’s bullpen is Chase Huchingson, who only threw 11 innings in Kingsport last year after going undrafted, but has a 6’5’’ frame that he can grow into. Right-hander Ronny Morla will pitch in the Gnat’s bullpen, joining the Mets organization after being taken in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. There will be four guys that return to Savannah after pitching for the Sand Gnats last year. Those guys are: Guillaume Leduc, Luis Rojas, Taylor Whitenton, and Gabriel Zavala. Leduc and Rojas were mediocre at best, and while the same can be said for Whitenton, he did give the Gnats over 100 innings, mostly as a starter. Of those four, the one who has the most promising future could be Gabriel Zavala, who had a 1.56 ERA and a WHIP under 1 across 34 innings last year.Like the rest of the organization, Savannah will have a lot of excitement in the outfield. The headliner for the Sand Gnat’s outfield will be Cory Vaughn, who ranked 9th in our list of top 10 prospects. Vaughn’s mere presence in Savannah is an indication that the new administration is serious when it comes to their policy of not rushing players. Many thought Vaughn would move directly to advanced-A ball to start this year, including Wally Backman, who managed Vaughn last year in Brooklyn, where he hit 14 homeruns and 14 doubles, while batting .307. Vaughn should bring that same power to Savannah, for at least half a season, as he could easily be a candidate for a mid-season promotion. Also joining Savannah from last year’s Brooklyn team will be Darrell Ceciliani, who should man centerfield for the Gnats. His speed, defense, and gap power have made him one of the Mets best up and coming outfield prospects. The move to full-season ball will be a challenge for Ceciliani, who’s still young, and how he fares in the South Atlantic League will be a good indication as to where he is in his development. Rounding out the Gnats outfield will be Javier Rodriguez, who the Mets took in the 2nd round back in 2008. Rodriguez struggled in his first two minor league seasons, but broke out last year in Kingsport, batting .319 with 21 extra-base hits in 41 games. Rodriguez will have to continue to hit like that if he’s going to fulfill the promise of a 2nd round draft pick. These three should play just about everyday, the only question will be where, as both Vaughn and Rodriguez played right field last year, which means they will either split time, or one of them will make the switch to left field. The fourth outfielder will be Alonzo Harris, who played second base for Savannah last year, and should see time this year in both the infield and the outfield. Harris is a great athlete, garnering attention from several Division 1 schools as a football player, and is one of the fastest players in the Mets farm system. However, Harris did not swing the bat well last year, and will have to hit better while he looks to find his niche in a utility role.The Savannah infield will be highlighted by third baseman Aderlin Rodriguez, who we ranked as the Mets 7th best prospect. Rodriguez is a big-time power hitter who slammed 13 homeruns and 22 doubles in Kingsport last year before playing eight games in Savannah to finish the season. He is 6’3’’ and 210 pounds and is still a teenager who has a real bright future. Robbie Shields should be the everyday shortstop after playing in 64 games last year, mostly in Savannah, after coming off Tommy John surgery. Shields, selected in the 3rd round in 2009, should be further along, but can’t move up with Wilmer Flores playing shortstop at the next level up. Shields should be ready for a break out season, especially playing at this level at his age, and he needs one if he’s going to be a serious prospect. Wilfredo Tovar is a natural shortstop, but could see more time at second base with Shields there. Tovar might be the best defensive player the Mets have at either position in their entire farm system. He has been playing the farm system since he was 17, playing for three different affiliates last year, including Savannah. The 19-year-old Tovar has a 5’10’’ 160 pound frame, so there isn’t much power there, but he did hit .281 during 44 games in Savannah last year, so he should be able to make contact and get on base until he bulks up a little. Luis Nieves will return to Savannah to back up at both middle infield spots. First base will be a platoon between lefty Sam Honeck, who only played in six games last year, and righty Joe Bonfe, who had a real good year at Brooklyn last year hitting .326, and whose primary position is third base.The catcher position will be an exciting one for the Sand Gnats, as they have two of the Mets top prospects at that position. Alberto Cordero may be the best defensive catcher the Mets have in their system. He has good footwork, receives well, and has a solid arm. Cordero is also a good contact hitter, and if things go well he could be in Queens in a few years. He will split time behind the plate with last year’s 3rd round pick Blake Forsythe. Forsythe didn’t have a great professional debut hitting .238 with three homeruns in 30 games for Brooklyn, but he did lead Tennessee in homeruns during his college season before that. He is definitely a guy worth keeping an eye on during his first full professional season.Overall, the Sand Gnats roster is very impressive. They have more than their fair share of prospects with great promise, which is a sign that the farm system is starting to improve from the bottom up. This group has an excellent chance of repeating the accomplishments of last year’s Savannah team, which made the playoffs after winning the first half championship in the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division.