The Farm and Amateur Acquisition Under Omar Minaya

Minaya had to go.  Even he knew it.  You can’t spend $283 million on consective sub-.500 teams and keep your job.

It seems appropriate here to write an examination of the Mets farm system during the Omar Minaya Regime.  I will not, nor cannot summarize six years of games and decisions.  Instead, lets focus on the big themes.

A Few Names at the Top

-Remember Tony Bernazard?  Omar Minaya brought Bernazard out of the Commissioners’ office in 2004 and handed him the keys to the player development castle until Bernazard’s mangled firing in 2009.  Separating the philosophy and impact of the two men in the subsequent five years on the farm was nearly impossible.  I dubbed their reign together as the TBOM ERA in my article for last year’s Amazin’ Avenue Annual.
- Bernazard didn’t make it to 2010 prompting Minaya to call his old friend Terry Collins to be the Mets Field Coordinator and help run the system.
- Adam Wogan, the Mets Director of Minor League Operations, who Minaya brought over from Montreal, assumed his position in January of 2006 and has run the administration side of the minor league system ever since.

- Scouting Director Rudy Terrasas, who worked for Minaya in Texas has held the title since October 2005 after joining the Mets in the fall of 2004.  He has overseen all but the first of Omar Minaya’s Mets amateur drafts.

The major characteristics of the Mets during this period were
1. A relatively small budget spent on acquiring amateur talent.  This includes, in general, adhering to the commissioner’s recommended slot in the draft, and middle of the road expenditures in Latin America.
2. Pre-2010, a tendency to rush their favorite young players, particularly international teenagers, straight to the full-season South Atlantic League and subsequent levels with little time spent at the lower levels.
I’m going to add a few more points here.

1. The only times to my memory that the Mets went significantly over slot in the amateur draft was for pitchers.  Twice they paid big bucks for a pair of Scott Boras clients at the top of the first round, going after Mike Pelfrey in 2005 and Matt Harvey in 2010.  They also doubled the recommended slot for Steven Matz, their first pick in the ’09 draft, who missed the 2010 season with Tommy John Surgery.  The Mets also went overslot twice in the 24th round nabbing pitchers Kyle Allen in 2008 and Erik Goeddel in 2010.   Allen says his advisor was too emphatic about his commitment to NC State and scared many teams away.  Goeddel, out of an academically oriented family, was perceived to be a tough sign this year, but both eventually joined the Mets.
In rounds 2-23, the Mets in the last six years, have adhered to the commissioner’s recommended slot and been near the bottom in terms of money spent.  Do you think that comes from a GM or from ownership?
- Either Minaya did not argue forcefully for the ability to get aggressive in the amateur draft and go consistently over slot, or he did not see the value in doing so, or get his way very much if he did.  Fred Wilpon said on Monday, that he never denied a request from his baseball operations side to go over budget, so there’s that.

2. Players who were rushed to full-season baseball as teenagers include: CF Carlos Gomez, OF Fernando Martinez, INF Ruben Tejada, C Francisco Pena, INF Greg Veloz, SS/now CF Juan Lagares.  Gomez became a 1/4 of Johan Santana, which is great.  The jury is still out on everyone else.  SS Wilmer Flores and 3B Jefry Marte both played in the SAL at age 17 in 2009 under with Bernazard in charge, but repeated the league to begin 2010 once Terry Collins began making the calls.  I firmly believe that pushing young players through the system hampers their ability to learn to learn plate discipline in the minor leagues.

3. Minaya promised that signing Pedro Martinez would help draw young Latin talent to the Mets.  That did not happen.  Some players signed with the Mets when they offered the most money.  Some went elsewhere when other teams outbid New York.  Martinez and Carlos Beltran have not been magnets for young talent.*   The Mets have been more active than some teams internationally, and less active than others.

4. Potentially, one of Minaya’s strongest legacies is the Mets’ tremendous academy in the Dominican Republic, which some think is the best on the island.

5. Minaya trusted his people including Tony Bernazard and Adam Wogan and later Wogan and Terry Collins to run the farm.  While the former GM usually made a habit of touring the affiliates in August, I never got the feeling he was very hands on at a day-to-day level.

The current, lengthy list of potential GM candidates bring a wide variety of experience with player development.  They’ll be looking at a system and an organization where the top largely consists of Minaya’s people, but the structure underneath on the player development side is relatively unchanged from the days before O.  The top two men in the player development apparatus, Terry Collins and Adam Wogan, both were brought to the Mets by Minaya.  Terrasas who worked for Omar with the Ranges and joined the Mets in Minaya’s first year is his guy.  Director of International Operations Ismael Cruz, who joined the Mets in 2006 came to New York from Montreal/Washington where he also worked for Minaya.  This year, Collins brought a much-needed outside voice and presence following the Bernazard mess in 2009.   The Mets would do well to keep him.  I believe that Wogan, who began in a more administrative capacity, has gained a more authority over the baseball side in recent years.  He’s always been extraordinarily generous with his time for me and should be very valuable to the incoming administration for his complete knowledge of the system.

On the scouting side, beneath Terrasas sits national crosschecker David Lackey who joined the Mets along with Minaya and Terrasas in 2005.  Three of the four area supervisors (Steve Barningham – Southeast, Tim Fortugno – West, and Mac Seibert – Midwest) have assumed their duties in the last four years and were brought to the organization under Minaya and Terrasas.  Barningham played for the Rangers while Fortugno was an area scout for Texas.

Amazingly, all but one of the coordinators, the next level down below Wogan and Collins, in the player development chain were in the organization before Minaya arrived in 2005.  This could speak to Minaya’s hands off style in player development, a lack of autonomy to bring in his own people or simply an endorsement of the competency of the men in place.  This list includes Instruction/Infield Coordinator Kevin Morgan, Senior Advisor Guy Conti, Pitching Coordinator Rick Waits, and Hitting Coordinator Lamar Johnson.  Only catching Coordinator Bobby Natal, who joined the Mets in 2006, from you guessed it Montreal/Washington where he worked under Minaya, was brought in while Minaya was the Mets’ GM.  Coordinators do many things: they set organizational teaching philosophies and techniques, run drills in spring training and then spend most of their summer on the road, visiting affiliates and working with players and coaches.  In fact, the coordinators aren’t just teaching players.  They’re also teaching the hitting coaches and pitching coaches how to be better.

The Mets will begin their search for a new GM in earnest this week.  Since MLB asks that teams not make major announcements during the World Series the Mets would have three weeks from Wednesday to conduct and conclude a search and interview process.  Sounds a little quick for such a big decision, right?  Also, teams in the playoffs might not make their people available.  If the Mets have to wait until after the World Series, the new head man will take control in early November, which seems a likelier scenario.  At that time, with baseball and the Player’s Association having agreed to move the time table on free agency up, I wonder where the farm system and scouting will rank on the new head man’s list of priorities relative to the Major League side.

It will be a very, very busy winter for the Mets new GM who likely will have under two and a half months from the day he is named until Opening Day 2011.  Given the time crunch,  I could see the new GM bringing in a key lieutenant or two at the top on both the scouting side and player development side, but wholesale changes might be more difficult.  More major change might come next year, or if the next GM takes the same approach as the last, maybe never.

* I originally had a comment about Carlos Beltran’s cousin, Reymond Fuentes here, but as was pointed out to me in the comments below and on twitter, that was a mistake.  The Red Sox picked Fuentes out of high school in Puerto Rico in the first round in 2009.  They also paid him $1.3 million as the 28th pick.

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