The minor league transaction floodgates opened on Thursday afternoon, as every single full-season Mets affiliate was involved in a transaction. Top 10 prospects CF Brandon Nimmo, LHP Steven Matz and 2B/SS Dilson Herrera moved from advanced-A St. Lucie to double-A Binghamton, to headline the day’s transaction action, which saw 18 players move between minor league affiliates. The Mets were so excited about the moves, that COO Jeff Wilpon journeyed to Binghamton to watch Nimmo and Herrera’s B-Mets’ debut.
Why now? The second half began Thursday in both full-season a-ball leagues where the Mets have affiliates: the South Atlantic League and the Florida State League. The Mets have made a habit of 1. trying hard to win half titles to put their affiliates in the playoffs and 2. allow their prospects to play in All-Star games. The South Atlantic League’s first half ended Sunday – the Gnats won the half comfortably – and played its All-Star game on Tuesday. The Florida State League played their All-Star game last Saturday, and ended the first half on Wednesday with St. Lucie chasing a playoff spot to the final day of the half before ultimately falling just one game short. The Mets held these two affiliates together for their playoff run, so on Thursday, the dam broke.
So, what happened and who moved?
I’ve created three charts to show who joined and who left each affiliate in the minor league transactions.
|A+||SP||Steven Matz||Matt Reynolds||SS/2B||AAA|
|A+||RP||Randy Fontanez||Angel Cuan||LHP||AA- DL|
|A+||CF||Brandon Nimmo||TJ Chism||RP||A+|
|A+||2B/SS||Dilson Herrera||Nelfi Zapata||C/3B/1B||A|
AA to AAA
SS Matt Reynolds
At the time of his promotion to AAA, the 23-year-old Reynolds was hitting .355/.430/.422 in 58 games. That was good enough to lead the league in batting average and hang out in third in on-base percentage. This is a far sight better for the 2012 second-round selection from Arkansas than 2013’s .226/.302/.337 line in 117 games for St. Lucie. In both seasons, his strikeout rate was consistent 16.4% (2013) and 16.9% (2014). On the other hand, there were three other major statistical changes in Reynolds game:
- His walk rate increased from 7.4% in 2013 to 12% in AA in 2014. This is real.
- His batting average on balls in play rose from .263 in 2013 to .433 in 2014. This is not sustainable. To some degree, BABIP is a reflection of balls well hit, but it also reflects things beyond a batter’s control. The MLB leader in BABIP is Yasiel Puig at .387. Take 50 points off Reynolds’ batting average and his whole performance looks a whole lot more ordinary.Take a hundred points off, and it looks poor.
- His power declined. His extra-base hit slipped from 6.6% to 3.7% in 2014 and his isolated slugging percentage dropped from .111 to .066.
Off his disappointing 2013, I did not have Reynolds in my preseason Top 41. He’d be in the 20s now. I don’t see a skill set to be a big league regular, but his contact ability and defensive versatility – he can play short, second and third – could well find him a role as a big league reserve who plays regularly. He’s just not the kind of defensive whiz who can play everyday while hitting under five homeruns annually. Think a best-case outcome as a Justin Turner-ish, type player.
A+ To AA
On the day of his graduation to double-A, Nimmo had hit .322/.448/.458 in 62 games in advanced-A with 18 extra-base hits and 50 walks against 51 strikeouts. He was fifth in the FSL in batting average, first in walks and on-base percentage, fifth in slugging, tied for second in triples (5). Oh, and given that he just turned 21 in March, he was young for the league. Sure, like Reynolds, Nimmo’s overall line is supported by a high BABIP, in this case .401, but when one compares his 2013 to 2014, he has improved markedly in the important secondary skills: walks, strikeouts and power. Compared to his 2013 in the SAL, Nimmo has upped his walk rate from 14.8% to 17.9%, cut his strikeout rate from 27.3% to 18.3% and upped his power production from 5% to 6.5% while increasing his isolated slugging percentage from .086 to .137. There should be more power in Nimmo’s frame and swing as he learns which pitches he can really attack. He’s moving better in centerfield, to the point where scouts I’ve spoken with believe he can stay there.
At FoxSports, a scout tells Ken Rosenthal that Nimmo reminds him “a little bit of Steve Finley, “He plays hard, he’s a good athlete, he has plate discipline. He has a chance to be an above-average hitter. And while he’s not a burner in center field, he’s instinctive.” Like Nimmo, Finley hit very few homeruns in his minor league tenure, but added power as he aged to produce three 30+ homer seasons in his 30s.
Herrera, who the Mets acquired from the Pirates along with Vic Black for Marlon Byrd and John Buck was impressive as one of the youngest players in the FSL and is the youngest player in the Eastern League and the third-youngest in double-A. Herrera, who turned 20 in March, graduated with a .307/.355/.420 line in 67 games in the FSL, finishing 10th in the League in batting average while landing at #2 in total bases. He has bat-speed, contact ability, a touch of pop, and is a threat on the bases, where he was 14-for-17 stealing bases in the season’s first half. Herrera played 19 games at shortstop for St. Lucie. Scouts were unimpressed and did not think he had the range to handle the position everyday in the big leagues. Even so, exposing him to the position makes him a little more versatile and a little more valuable to any roster. Jeff Moore at Baseball Prospectus, who’s watched Herrera a few times recently saw him shortening his swing, and improving in the last few months: “he has made great strides in limiting that wrap and shortening his stroke. He’s still not a big power producer, but his swing has gone from that of an athlete swinging a bat to a true hitter. He’s much more direct to the ball and is making more consistent contact, a major step forward for a contact/speed type hitter.”
Given his youth, the Mets could have kept Herrera in St. Lucie all season. However, a level behind him, L.J. Mazzilli was clearly read for advanced-A, and Herrerra had done well enough in the Florida State League to show that he would not be overmatched in double-A.
The versatile Rivera was hitting .341/.383/.452 in 61 games as 25-year-old. He’s played 11 games at third, 18 games at second and 25 games at first. He’ll be a useful piece for Pedro Lopez to move around in Binghamton. This was his third go-round in the FSL after joining the League for the first time in 2012. He’s more useful organizational soldier than potential big leaguer.
Matz was impressive in 2013, in spring training in 2014, and in the regular season as well. In his last six starts in the FSL, he’s run a 2.27 ERA in 35.2 innings with 32 strikeouts (21.8%) against nine walks (6%) over which time Matz’s opponents have hit just .278/.338/.338. He’s a fastball, curveball, changeup guy who has plus velocity, touching 97, and working 92-95 from the left side. With his 2011 Tommy John surgery comfortably in the rear-view mirror, he’s easily the best left-handed Mets’ pitching prospect, and one of the team’s top three. He’s aggressive and pitches inside to batters of both-handedness. The progress of his breaking ball will determine whether he fulfills his profection as a mid-rotation starter. If it improves more, he will be better (Captain Obvious, reporting for duty, sir).
His double-A debut is scheduled for Saturday in Bowie.
|A||SP||Kevin McGowan||Steven Matz||SP||AA|
|A||RP||Robert Coles||Randy Fontanez||RP||AA|
|A||3B||Jeff McNeil||Brandon Nimmo||CF||AA|
|A||SS||Gavin Cecchini||Dilson Herrera||2B/SS||AA|
|A||2B||LJ Mazzilli||TJ Rivera||INF||AA|
|A||RP||Tim Peterson||Alex Panteliodis||SP||A|
Three starting infielders, a starter, and two relievers off the Gnats’ first half championship team advanced to St. Lucie.
The Mets’ first-round pick in 2012, the 20-year-old Cecchini had a nice first half for Savannah, hitting .259/.333/.408 for the Gnats and playing shortstop everyday.
Defensively, he looked fine at shortstop. After seven errors in April, he cut the count down to three in May and two in June. He is very comfortable going to his left, and his best plays have come going up the middle, near, behind or even to the right of the second base bag. Early on, he showed some hesitancy on balls hit right at him, but he’s attacked those better recently. He has enough arm for short, although there have been plays where he was tracked down a ball in the hole, but not made a throw to first. He’s not going to blow anyone way with tools or his straight line speed (he’s an average runner at best home to first), but he uses what he has. His defense will find him a spot a big league roster. What kind of big leaguer will still be determined by the development of his bat.
Cecchini has shown better power and patience in 2014 than in any previous professional season. He’s picked up extra-base hits in 9.3% of his plate appearances (far better than his 3.8% in 2014). Meanwhile, he’s upped his walk rate from 6.6% last year to 9.7% this season. He’s using a leg kick to trigger his swing, but he gets his foot down on time. He’s grown stronger since he was drafted, and since he will not turn 21 until December, he should continue that progression. In his first few professional years, he would make barrel contact, but the ball just would not travel. Now, he’s getting much, much better carry as he attacks pitches he can handle. Almost all of his power is pull-side. He’s never going to be a big homerun hitter, but if he can get to 10 with 25-30 doubles, annually, with good plate discipline, he’ll be a very useful big leaguer.
The Mets could have left Cecchini in Savannah all year, but St. Lucie needs a shortstop after the promotions ahead of him, and Philip Evans on the disabled list with a right knee strain. Giving Cecchini those AB and reps in advanced-A is a better option than any other.
From April 27 through June 15, Mazzilli hit .325/.406/.500 over 44 games in the SAL with seven doubles, two triples and six homers. He controlled the strike zone, earning 23 walks against 36 strikeouts. Around the beginning of his hot streak, he got some great advice from Yogi Berra, an old friend of his father’s.
Now for the bad news, part I: he’s already 23. He should be doing exactly what he did, beating up on younger competition in the SAL. Now for the bad news part 2: he’s not a great defender. Scouts used the word “mechanical” to describe his play at second. The Mets had line up at shortstop when Cecchini was out for both hand and hamstring tweaks and his regular days off, but he does not have the hands, range or arm to make that a credible spot for him even in a backup role in the big leagues. Instead, he’s going to have to hit enough to play everyday in the big leagues, if he’s going to make it. His best case scenario is to start 2014 as a 24-year-old in AA.
The 22-year-old McNeil was one of the big revelations of the first half for Savannah. He learned to play a strong third base on the fly, while hitting .332/.401/.461 in 59 games. McNeil has a sweet left-handed swing and showed line drive ability to both gaps. Last year, he had an isolated slugging percentage of .080 with Kingsport, but bumped that up to .129 this year with Savannah as he finished his time as an SAL All-Star and in the top five in the league in doubles. He has excellent contact ability and good feel for the bat head from his time as a very good amateur golfer in high school. He runs well, and was 15-for-18 stealing bases. Still, at 6’1″, he’s quite slight: listed at 165 lbs, but says he’s all the way up to 175. I’m not sure how much more weight his frame will support. He played second last year for Kingsport and has learned third. He played shortstop and centerfield as an amateur. I think his path to the big leagues is as a multi-spot reserve who can play a little outfield, and 2B/SS/3B. When Cecchini is out of the lineup in the second half, the Mets would do well to give McNeil a shot at short over Mazzilli with St. Lucie.
The big righty (6’6″, 215 lbs) was fractions of a run behind teammated John Michael Gant at the time of his promotion for the SAL ERA lead. He can run his fastball up to 94, and it sits in the 92-93 range. He attacked SAL hitters with it, and threw enough strikes to thrive in the League. He did not miss many bats as his strikeout rate was a very ordinary 18% against a 9% walk rate. His secondary offerings (slider/changeup) are a long way away from MLB average. If he can tighten up his slider, he has a chance to be a middle reliever in the big leagues.
A reliever out of Florida State, Coles has a fun arsenal with a fastball, a slider and a splitter. He’s one of the few Mets farmhands who throws a splitter, which coaches in college discouraged. (At some point I’m going to write more about the splitter.)
|A+||SP||Alex Panteliodis||Kevin McGowan||SP||A+|
|A+||RP||Hunter Carnevale||Robert Coles||RP||A+|
|AA||C/3B/1B||Nelfi Zapata||Jeff McNeil||3B||A+|
|A+||INF||Yeixon Ruiz||Gavin Cecchini||SS||A+|
The Gnats lost three of their four starting infielders (McNeil, Cecchini and Mazzilli) to St. Lucie, and one starter and one reliever. They got back organizational filler.
Panteliodis will replace McGowan in the starting rotation and Carnevale can take one of the bullpen spots vacated by Coles or Peterson. Still, the Gnats will be a man down in the bullpen.
The infield is more dire. The Gnats lost three starting infielders – two All-Stars and their #4 hitter and best offensive weapon in the last six weeks and replaced them with Yeixon Ruiz and Nelfi Zapata. That’s going to hurt in the standings.
Panteliodis was a Gnat two years ago, but has been ordinary or ineffective at higher levels in the system.
Carnevale had an 8/6 K/BB in 10.1 innings out of the St. Lucie bullpen this year.
Nelfi Zapata, a catcher by trade, played four games at third for AA Binghamton this year while hitting .185/.290/.259 in 14 games.
Ruiz is 23, and has been kicking around the lower levels of the Mets system for the last four years.