Examining the mid-season prospect lists, in detail (Syndergaard, Nimmo & Plawecki)

Who doesn’t like ranking things? Whether it’s ranking cereals, cars or prospects, everyone has opinions. Both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America released new mid-season Top 50 prospect rankings this week.

Prospectus, henceforth BPro, had two Mets – RHP Noah Syndergaard at No. 9 and Brandon Nimmo at No. 45. Baseball America had Syndergaard a little lower (No. 19), Nimmo in almost the same spot (No. 48) and Kevin Plawecki at No. 40. Both lists are now the work of a collaborative process between the sites’ respective authors.

Also, mid-season lists operate in a weird, contrived space, even by the standards prospect rankings since they do not include 2014 draftees. Surely, guys like Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon, Alex Jackson and others belong among the group of the 50-best prospects in baseball.

Let’s talk a little bit more about three of the Mets’ top prospects…

Noah Syndergaard

Syndergaard Release (Baron ST 14)Syndergaard was the third-best right-handed pitching prospect in baseball in BPro’s ranking and fifth in BA’s. BA prefers Archie Bradley and Jonathan Gray to Syndergaard; BPro does not. Both rankings have Lucas Giolito and Dylan Bundy ahead of Syndergaard.

At the time the lists were released, the analysts were not concerned by Syndergaard’s 5.70 ERA in a PCL that averaged a 4.58 ERA. Sure enough, on Sunday, he unleashed one of his two best performances of the year in Albuquerque (a brutal pitching environment: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K). It was only the second time this year that the 21-year-old Syndergaard has gone seven innings. After that performance, Syndergaard still ranked seventh in the PCL in strikeout rate at 23.5 percent to go along with his strong 6.6 percent walk rate. He’s still big, strong, throws 95-99 and has a nasty curveball and a developing changeup.

Las Vegas 51s Pitching Coach Frank Viola discussed Syndergaard briefly on the MetsBlog Q&A, noting that, primarily, Syndergaard needed “experience… but also to throw his secondary stuff over the plate and when and how to throw them – in what counts. I’m talking about his curveball and changeup”. ¬†Syndergaard also told Rob Brender that he’s working on becoming more “unpredictable,” and not so “fastball-heavy.”

Brandon Nimmo
Nimmo Stance ST '14The degree of agreement on Nimmo is striking. He did not make either publication’s pre-season Top 100 and is the only player who ranked in the 40s in both lists. Ten of the players in the final 13 spots on BA’s list do not make BPro’s. Outside of the Top 25 on both lists, Nimmo is one of the most similarly ranked prospects along with Twins’ RHP Kohl Stewart (#27 BPro/#30 BA). (For what it’s worth, the Top 25 players on both lists each appear on the other list.)

He is the tenth outfielder in BPro’s ranking and ninth in BA’s.

After hitting .322/.448/.458 in 62 games with 18 extra-base hits and 50 walks against 51 strikeouts in St. Lucie, Nimmo is off to a .197/.347/.377 start in 74 PA over 18 games Double-A. The difference in his lines between the two levels is almost all a reflection of what happens when he puts a ball in play that is not an extra-bast hit. His extra-base hit rates (6.6 percent in the EL/6.5 percent in the FSL), strikeout (19.7 percent in the EL/18.3 percent in the FSL) and walk rates (17.1 percent in the EL/17.9 percent FSL) are all nearly identical between the two levels. The difference is that in the FSL he ran a .401 BABIP, that has slipped down to .209 in the Eastern League. He could not maintain a BABIP over .400, nor will he stay near .200.

For the year, between the two levels, he’s hit .295/.427/.441 with 11 doubles, seven home runs and a 18.6 percent strikeout rate alongside a 17.7 percent walk rate. This is an extremely patient hitter who has improved in center and is hitting for more power than he did a year ago, and will hit for more. Nimmo hit just two home runs in 110 games in the SAL as a 20-year-old in 2013, and he’s already up to seven as a 21-year-old in advanced Single- and Double-A in 80 games this year. He should get into the 10-12 range this year. Projecting a MLB future of 15-20 annually (with peak seasons of ~25) gets more and more reasonable everyday.

Kevin Plawecki
kevin-plawecki-2Only three catchers appear on both lists: Blake Swihart (BOS; BP- No. 22/BA – No. 14), Austin Hedges (SD; BP – No. 20/BA – No. 17) and Jorge Alfaro (TEX; BP – No. 25/BA – No. 45). So, by ranking Plawecki as the No. 40 prospect, BA has him as their No. 3 catching prospect, while BPro has him no better than fourth. Jason Parks, the head of BPro’s prospect team, has made no secret of his affection for Alfaro, going as far as dubbing him #theLegend on twitter.

The other three catchers all have better defensive reputations, but at the plate, the 23-year-old Plawecki is the only one who has reached Triple-A and has outperformed all three. In Double-A he ran a wRC+ (a total offensive state where 100 is league average) of 137, a little above 22-year-old Blake Swihart’s 124. Plawecki hit .326/.378/.487 in 58 games in Double-A, while Swihart is bopping .294/.347/.474 in 71 games.

The major argument in Swihart’s favor: defense. He’s thrown out 53 percent of opposing runners (25 of 47) while Plawecki nabbed 31 percent (16 of 52). Think about it this way, runners stole .67 of a base per game against Plaweck and his pitchers, they steal .35 of a base per game against Swihart and his hurlers. That’s almost one third of a base per game, or given a catcher’s workload of five games a week – 1.6 bases per week, or 6.4 bases per month, or 38.4 bases per year over a six-month season. That’s a big deficit to make up at the plate for Plawecki – assuming all other parts of their defensive games are comparable.

The 21-year-old Hedges, who the Padres drafted in the second round in 2011, has hit .245/.291/.374 in 73 games in San Antonio in the Texas League. He’s two years younger than Plawecki was in Double-A, but has performed more poorly. Alfaro, a terrific athlete for a catcher, and the youngest of the group after turning 21 in June, has hit .260/.322/.426 in 81 games in the advanced Single-A Carolina League for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Plawecki, an very low-strikeout, moderate walk, moderate power hitter, with a fairly aggressive approach, is off to a .200/.317/.314 start with five walks against four strikeouts in 12 games in Triple-A.

Syndergaard has been working in Triple-A all year. He’s a dominant month and a Mets’ rotation need away from the big leagues.

Plawecki, who just reached the PCL, and is not on the team’s 40-man roster, probably needs a need, ie. an injury, and a good month to make his MLB debut in 2014.

Nimmo is on schedule, with continued productivity, for a 2015 MLB debut.

These guys are the Mets’ top upper-level prospects — along with Wilmer Flores and Rafael Montero — and ideally, cheap pieces, of the core of the next Mets’ playoff team.