Minor League Spotlight: Las Vegas Standouts
In today’s minor league spotlight, we’ll start taking a look at standout performers (one pitcher and one position player) from each level of the minors this past season. We’ll start at the top with Las Vegas, who won their division and had a great season under Wally Backman, whose future with the team looks uncertain.
The position player we’ll highlight from Vegas is Eric Campbell, who probably had the best season of the few players that spend the whole year in triple-A. Campbell finished with a line of .314/.435/.475 and played several different positions for the 51s over the course of the season.
Age-wise, Campbell is barely a prospect, as he’ll be 27 next April, but he’s received frequent invitations to the Mets STEP Camp (early spring training for top prospects), and he’s definitely on the radar, as he was mentioned as a possible call up this season.
Campbell can play all four corner positions, giving the Mets a lot of versatility, more so than Josh Satin and Zach Lutz. He’s not the power threat that Lutz is and he obviously hasn’t proven he can hit big league pitching over a span of a month or two like Satin, but he can hold is own with the bat, especially against lefties (slugging close to .600 against them in 2013).
He’s not an elite prospect, but if given the opportunity he can become a useful player on a big league bench, and with a revolving door of players in and out of Vegas this season, he was a steady player and important to the team’s success.
On the pitching side, we’ll take a closer look at Jacob deGrom, just because I think Rafael Montero’s future is fairly certain (he’ll compete for a rotation spot, but if the Wheeler/Niese/Gee trio is healthy and the Mets have two veterans, Montero will go to triple-A to delay free agency by a year and eventually settle in as a 4th or 5th starter). With deGrom, things could go a couple of different ways.
deGrom actually started 2013 in St. Lucie, but was moved to Binghamton after two starts, and then bumped to Vegas after 10 starts in Binghamton. His numbers were ordinary in triple-A (4.52 ERA with a WHIP that’s barely in range), but as a sinkerball pitcher he was likely victimized by poor defense and bad infield grass.
If Montero is unlikely to make the rotation out of sprig training, deGrom is almost certain not to either. He does possess a plus fastball that’s heavy, as well as a breaking ball that could be above average and a decent changeup. His ceiling is probably not as a front of the rotation starter, but probably as a #4, maybe #3. However, while Montero could be ready in April if the Mets needed him, deGrom certainly needs at least a half season, if not more in triple-A before the Mets would be comfortably letting him make a big league start.
At his age, and given that he’ll be added to the 40-man roster this winter, I have to wonder if deGrom gets consideration for the bullpen early in the 2014 season. If considered, he’d have a chance to make the opening day roster in the bullpen, much like Jeurys Familia in 2013. With a low to mid 90’s plus fastball and an average or above breaking ball, he could be an asset to the big league bullpen real soon.
With the likes of Parnell, Familia, and Vic Black, deGrom could give the bullpen another hard thrower, which would be great to see, especially if Familia and Black can put it together. However, with Harvey and Hefner ruled out for next season, and Mejia up in the air, the Mets may need to keep deGrom in Vegas as a starter for depth purposes, thinking they could need him in the second half.
As I was saying, it’s not quite so clear cut with deGrom for next season, and even less so beyond that with a 2015 rotation potentially consisting of Harvey/Wheeler/Syndergaard/Gee/Montero/Mejia/etc; it could be hard to find a spot in the rotation, which makes me think the bullpen could be his eventual home.
At the moment, I’d probably rank deGrom 4th among pitching prospects. I don’t think he’s ready to start in the big leagues, and I’m personally leaning (although I can’t say most would agree with me) that he ends up in the bullpen, which would make him a little less valuable as a prospect. Either way, he will be interesting to watch in 2014, as opposed to Montero, who I expect to be solid, steady, and consistent (i.e. dependable and boring) for many years to come.