The Most Anonymous Comeback

satin-swinging-savannah-fred-devyatkinIn the ninth inning last night, with the Mets down 4-1, I tucked my phone in my pocket and headed to the grocery store to pick up some breakfast essentials (granola, Honey Nut Cheerios, bananas, and almond milk) and ice cream. I saw Josh Satin’s game winner just after scooping up bananas. That’s Satin pictured at right as a Savannah Sand Gnat in 2009.

The Mets put together a remarkable comeback by as anonymous a group of major leaguers as possible.

Eight Mets batted in the team’s 9th inning. As a group, these eight had a combined 4.9 fWAR in 2013 and 2.5 fWAR for their careers. Six of the eight Mets who batted in the frame had fewer than 385 career plate appearances. The only ones who had more than 400, and both have more than 1,111, are Lucas Duda and Omar Quintanilla, who both have negative career fWAR totals. Six of the eight had a career fWAR total at or below 0.5.

This group is not composed of really young players either. Six of the eight are 26 years old or older, as of September 18. Only Juan Centeno, making his first big league start at age 23 and Juan Lagares, who made his MLB debut earlier this year at age 24, are young enough to project significant performance improvements as they age.

Lets go to the annotated play-by-play for more. Italicized comments are mine, obviously.

1. Andrew Brown walks.
—- Andrew Brown is playing with his third MLB organization in three years. The 29-year-old’s total MLB line is .230/.290/.415 in 292 PA over 119 games. This 2013 season is the first time he has exceeded 130 MLB PA in a year. 

2. Lucas Duda strikes out swinging
— In a slow-motion battle for the 2014 first base job, Duda has hit .275/.378/.458 with six home runs, 20 walks and 30 strikeouts in the last 42 games since the Mets recalled him from triple-A on August 25th. Miscast as an outfielder for the last three seasons, Duda has a chance to be a productive, unspectacular MLB first baseman.
With Juan Lagares batting, wild pitch by Santiago Casilla, Andrew Brown to 2nd.

3. Juan Lagares walks (!)
— It was his 19th walk of 2013 to bring his MLB walk rate to exactly 5%. Fourteen players in MLB have walked between 4.5% and 5.5% of the time and had enough PA to qualify for the batting title, a group that does not include Lagares, who is short on playing time. Nine of the 16 have an wRC+ above 100, making them league average hitters or better. Both Daniel Murphy (102 wRC+) and Marlon Byrd (135 OPS+) fall into the bucket above 100. Lagares’ centerfield defense makes him playable now, but a few more walks would do wonders for his offensive and overall value. 

— Zach Lutz pinch hits for Ruben Tejada, who broke his leg on this catch.
— Terrible timing for Tejada, who had the last month of the season to impress Terry Collins/Sandy Alderson/JP Ricciardi and play his way back into the 2014 starting job. I argued on last week’s Mostly Mets Podcast that Tejada had a lot riding on the last month. He still does.    

— Sergio Romo replaces Santiago Casilla.
—- Something about the variability of year-to-year relief performance … and wait, what’s that? They’re both really still good. Yup. Sergio Romo has a 4.67 K/BB ratio a 124 ERA+ and a 23.7% strikeout rate. Casilla has a 1.57 K/BB rate, a 156 ERA+ and a 18.9% K rate while allowing only 34 hits in 45.2 innings. Yeah, it was an off-night for both. 

4. Zach Lutz doubles to left field. Andrew Brown scores. Juan Lagares to 3rd. 
— When Lutz is healthy, he hits. In 23 MLB PA, he’s hit a solid .263/.391/.368. Yeah, I just gave you a batting line over 23 PA.

 
5. Juan Centeno singles on a ground ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford. Juan Lagares scores. Zach Lutz to 3rd.
– Congratulations to Centeno, who collected his first MLB hit earlier in the game. Both hits were Centeno classics: a grounder on the right side and a flare that Brandon Crawford tracked down on the left side of the diamond. In the minors, that ball probably scoots in to left field, but not in the big leagues against the world’s best defenders at shortstop. Centeno’s ascent to the big leagues is remarkable in that he was a back-up nearly all the way through the minors. He has never played in 60% of his team’s games. Not once. His minor league slugging percentage is .335. But he just kept grinding through at-bats, making contact and playing solid defense behind the plate and worked his way to the big leagues. It’s a good story. He should make a few million bucks playing baseball in his life as he’s just a few more innings from a membership card in the Fraternal Order of Backup Catchers. 

6. Matt den Dekker walks. Anthony Recker to second. 
— Catcher Anthony Recker had pinch-run for catcher Juan Centeno. It was that kind of inning.
— den Dekker, who had struck out in exactly 33% of his MLB plate appearances (17 of 51) entering this one in the ninth fell down 0-2 in the count and then watched four straight pitches out of the zone. Sergio Romo has walked 12 batters in his 56.1 innings in 2013, a rate of 5%. Those four straight balls out of the zone which put den Dekker on base, and pushed the tying run to third, and the go-ahead run to second, in position to score on a single were awfully important to this inning.

7. Omar Quintanilla flies out to right fielder Hunter Pence.
— Quintanilla, a man who is the major leagues for his defense at short, and a player with a career wRC+ of 53 (!) was asked to pinch-hit for Vic Black. (For a month of John Buck and Marlon Byrd, Vic Black and Dilson Herrera looks better and better.)

8. Josh Satin singles on a line drive to left fielder Gregor Blanco. Zach Lutz scores. Anthony Recker scores. Matt den Dekker to 2nd.
— Of course. Win for the Mets. Fist pumps near the frozen foods! Weird looks from fellow Kroger shoppers for me.
Satin does not have prototypical power at first (.114 ISO), but he works counts, grinds through at bats and hits line drives and can play second or third. He’s also hit .329/.417/.493 in 73 MLB AB against left-handers. That might just be enough to earn himself part of a platoon job at first base in 2014 with the Duda/Ike Davis winner.

 

Is there a larger lesson here?  In the broadest possible terms, walks are good for an offense. A team that walks three times in an inning should score a few runs.

As far as the Mets future? There was one guy who participated in the 9th inning rally who looks to have a starting spot nailed down for Opening Day 2014: Juan Lagares. Satin and Duda are fighting to be part of a firstbase time share. Quintanilla is a replacement level SS, who would be a fine bench player, or AAA depth piece. Brown, Centeno, Recker, Lutz and den Dekker might be fighting for bench jobs.

And this group fashioned as enjoyable an inning as possible. It’s a weird game.

Allan Dykstra Named Eastern League MVP; And Your Questions

Over the weekend, on Sunday night to be specific, the Binghamton Mets announced that the Eastern League had named manager Pedro Lopez the Manager of the Year and 1B Allan Dykstra the AA League’s MVP.

From a value perspective with the bat, Dykstra is a worthy choice. Over the full season, he was the most productive hitter on the League’s best team. (I suspect had he played, and hit well in August, this would have been Cesar Puello’s award.) The 26-year-old Dykstra hit .274/.436/.503 with 22 doubles, 21 homruns, 102 walks and 123 strikeouts in 122 games. It’s a modest credit to the award’s voters that they looked past Dykstra’s sub-.300 batting average to pick the guy leading the League in on-base percentage and slugging, (and walks, who was fourth in RBI and tied for fifth in homeruns).

In advanced metrics, Dykstra was #1 in the Eastern League in both wOBA (.423) and wRC+ (163).

This was the third go-round in AA for Dykstra, who hit .267/.389/.474 with 22 doubles and 19 homeruns at age 24 in Binghamton in 121 games in 2011. The major change for him in the last two three years statistically is that he moved his walk rate from a strong 14.5% in 2011 to an extremely discipline 20.9% in 2013. His power output was similar.

The Mets acquired Allan Dykstra for Eddie Kunz in a swap of disappointing first round draft picks in March of 2011. The Padres plucked Dykstra 23rd overall in 2008 out of Wake Forest while the Mets grabbed Kunz 42nd out of Oregon State in 2007. Kunz was released by the Padres this spring after a 6.35 ERA in 21 games last year with a 12/20 K/BB. By any measure, whether Dykstra ever becomes a real big leaguer, the Mets have already won the trade.

 

Toby Hyde, Mets Minor League Blog:

So, can Dykstra be a useful big leaguer?
Here is a sampling of questions I received over email and twitter this weekend.
By email, Mark asked of Dykstra: “could he be the mets version evan gattis? great obp. if he is thank you eddie kunz”

By twitter:

 

As far as Mark’s question, Gattis is a few months younger than Dykstra and despite his wonderful story is now down to .238/.298/.469 in 80 games in the big leagues. Since July 1, his power has disappeared as he’s hit .215/.263/.280 in 27 games with a two-week trip to the DL and a short trip to AAA Gwinnett over the weekend. As far as profile, Dykstra is a higher walk rate guy with less raw power than Gattis, but Gattis’ case provides a great warning about counting on guys who make their MLB debuts at age 26 or later.

As far as J.D.’s question, will Dykstra get big league time after the Eastern League playoffs end, barring more Mets’ injuries, the answer is: “wildly unlikely.”

Why? Dykstra is big, 6’5″, 240 pounds and old for the Eastern League. His bat is slow. He’s succeeded on strength and approach in the minors. He’s a well below average runner limited to first or DH duties. He’s been a similar hitter for three years, although his walk rate has climbed more recently. He still strikes out in over 25% of his AA plate appearances. Ask Kirk Nieuwenhuis what happens to high strikeout guys in the upper minors when they get to the big leagues. Plugging Dykstra’s 2013 numbers into the handy Minor League Equivalency Calculator yields an MLB line of .197/.329/.342 in 404 AB. That’s not playable at first base. Basically, he would run into some balls, but MLB pitchers, and their fastballs, would eat him up.

Put simply, I believe Dykstra will not be an everyday player in the big leagues. Perhaps, he can be a bench bat, but teams rarely carry true 1B-only bench bats.

Now for the roster considerations. First, the Mets already have a better version of Dykstra playing first in Lucas Duda who crushed AA and AAA at age 24. Second, Dykstra is not on the Mets’ 40-man roster, which is currently full. The Mets could certainly make space in the short term by moving Matt Harvey to the 60-day DL for example. I do not believe Dykstra would be eligible to be a minor league free agent until after the 2014 season. Adding Dykstra now only limits the Mets’ choices in terms of adding other players this off-season, and of course protects him from the Rule 5 draft.

Dykstra has certainly earned a promotion to AAA for 2014. However, AA success at age 26, and the way he has done it, do not indicate that he is a big league piece moving forward.

SAL Awards: Gabriel Ynoa Most Outstanding Pitcher and Frank Viola Coach of the Year

Ynoa Delivery (Devyatkin)Yesterday, in voting by the South Atlantic managers, front offices and media, Gabriel Ynoa was selected as the a-ball League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher and his Pitching Coach, Frank Viola earned Coach of the Year status.

Ynoa is third in the SAL in ERA (2.72) and first in wins (15). He has the lowest walk rate (3%) among qualified pitchers in the SAL and has fanned 19.6% of opposing batters.

Ynoa, who turned 20 on May 26th, is one of the Mets’ better pitching prospects in the low minors. He has a solid pitcher’s frame at 6’2″, with room to add strength as he matures. He has enough fastball to pitch in the big leagues, sitting recently 90-92 although he can touch higher. His secondary offerings include a changeup and a slider. He has feel for both. The changeup began the year as his best secondary offering although recently scouts have told me they think his breaking ball can get to Major Leauge average as well. Ynoa, if everything breaks right, could profile as a league average starter in the big leagues. He’s smart and has figured out to attack hitters in spacious Grayson Stadium.

Frank is just the best. The former Cy Young Award winner attacks coaching with an infectious enthusiasm and has made just about every pitcher he’s coached better. It’s a good record.

Adding Vic Black to the Byrd/Buck Dump Is Quite Nice

In addition to picking up Dilson Herrera, a nice second base prospect, for Marlon Byrd and John Buck, the Mets added RHP Vic Black, a former supplemental first round pick who’s basically ready to step right into the team’s bullpen. This is a nice pickup as well. The Mets added potentially, six years of Black in the bullpen and a potential league average 2B for the cost of one month each of Byrd and Buck and a little cash.

Black made his big league debut this past July, and lasted four innings over three outings in the Pirates’ very good bullpen. He struck out three and walked two.

Go ahead and pencil him in for a spot in the Mets’ bullpen next year. Per Brooks Baseball, “he has relied primarily on his Fourseam Fastball (97mph), also mixing in a Curve (83mph). He also rarely throws a Slider (84mph) and Sinker (94mph). “

Visually, his repetoire is represented at right.

He’s been excellent over the minors’ top two levels this year in AAA and last year in AA. In Indianapolis this year with the Pirates, he’s fanned 63 and walked 21 batters in 46.2 innings. That’s a strikeout rate of 33% and a walk rate of 11%. Walks have always been an issue for Black, he issued free passes to 12% of opposing batters in 2011 in the SAL.

Based on game logs, I believe that I saw Black throw to eight batters in the SAL in 2011, yielding four hits and a two walks, with a strikeout. I would be lying if I told you I remembered much about that outing.

Black missed almost all of the 2010 season with shoulder problems which he discussed obliquely here.

In a classic Spring Training piece, he attributed a velocity gain to yoga. Hey, it’s possible. The Mets’ Noah Syndergaard thought off season yoga helped him get ready for this year.

The Pirated drafted Black with the 49th pick in the 2009 draft out of Dallas Baptist University. The Mets took a flyer on Black late, in the 41st round in 2006, but he did not sign, a wise financial move.

Does adding Black make the Mets-Pirates trade lopsided? Hardly. Black was not going to slip into the Pirates’ bullpen and throw important innings for them in 2013. If Byrd or Buck deliver a big homerun in October to help the Pirates win a game or even a playoff series, Pittsburgh can be very content. And when Black is throwing in the bullpen in Queens in 2014 and beyond and Herrera heads to Port St. Lucie to start 2014, the Mets too can be pleased.

Mets Trade John Buck and Marlon Byrd for Dilson Herrera

Herrera, Dilson (Pirates)On Tuesday, the Mets traded John Buck and Marlon Byrd, two players who have zero value to the team beyond the end of the 2013 season, and cash, to the Pirates, for minor league infielder Dilson Herrera, a player who might be worth something in the future, and a player to be named later. That on its face is a win.

Byrd, who will be 36 in three days is enjoying the best season of his career, with career-highs in homeruns (21), OPS (.848) and OPS+ 136. The Pirates, who just placed Starling Marte on the disabled list needed an outfielder. Byrd will slide right into their everyday lineup now. And eventually, when Marte returns, forcing Jose Tabata to the bench.

On the catching side, the Pirates have run with Russell Martin and two guys below replacement level in Tony Sanchez and Michael McKenry. John Buck, who can pop a home run a few times a month, despite having few other virtues as a player, will give fortify their catching depth.

In exchange for two guys whose contracts ended on the final day of the 2013 regular season, the Mets added a nice second base prospect in Herrera. The 19-year-old Herrera is a little dude – listed at 5’10″, 150, who’s played the entire year in the South Atlantic League with the Pirates’ affiliate, the West Virginia Power, who I saw last weekend. Herrera has played this season as the 16th youngest player in the SAL and the 12th youngest hitter and held more than held his own, batting .265/.330/.421 with 27 double and 11 home runs in 109 games to go with 37 walks and 110 strikeouts. (He just missed the cut for my post-season SAL All-Star Ballot.) Herrera has real bat speed.  Leading off the second inning in game one of a double-header last Saturday, Gnats starter Tim Peterson tried to sneak a fastball by Herrera who blasted it over the leftfield wall for a homerun.

Although I did not have a stop watch on him, I believe he’s above average as a runner. He looks like he moves well, but he does not steal bases yet – he’s 11 for 17 this year – and did not take aggressive leads. He’s made all the plays I have seen him be asked to make defensively at second base.

There were some reports suggesting that Herrera is a shortstop. At this time, that is false. He played 59 games at third in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2011 and has played second exclusively since in his subsequent 163 professional games. I suspect that his range and arm would be challenged greatly at short, but I wonder if the Mets will still give him a look at shortstop in instructional league this fall to increase their options moving forward. For example, in the 2012 second round, the Mets drafted Matt Reynolds, who had mostly played second and third at Arkansas and stuck him at short as a professional, where he has been solid.

I’m looking forward to seeing Herrera a little bit in the final weekend and playoffs for the Gnats and will have a better picture of his game after a steady week watching him.

As a return for four weeks of Byrd and Buck, Herrera, who could turn into an above-average regular at second if everything breaks right, plus a player to be named later, is a very good haul for Byrd and Buck.

Herrera photo from Flickr user Bryan (begreen90).

Brandon Nimmo: Healthy, Hitting and Developing

Nimmo Dugout High FivesIt didn’t sound like much. It was just a bruise. He could play through it. Then it was only supposed to keep him out for a week or so. And yet, a bruised left hand and thumb, which ultimately kept him off the field for a month, has provided the narrative shape for Brandon Nimmo’s 2013 season.

Nimmo, the Mets’ first round pick in the 2011 draft, was a consensus Top 10 prospect in the Mets system entering 2013. Baseball America placed him #3, Baseball Prospectus #9, MLB.com #4, John Sickels #8 and he was #5 right here.

The Timeline
The 20-year-old began the year on a tear, hitting .424/.513/.576 through the season’s first 17 games in Historic Grayson Stadium, a tough stadium on hitters in general and downright hostile to left-handed power. Then, in Lakewood April 20th or 21st, he bruised his hand.

Nimmo tried to play through it, but could not. In the next six games, he was 1-for-27 (.042) with 10 strikeouts in 27 plate appearances, a strikeout rate of 37%.

At the end of April, the Mets decided to put Nimmo on the disabled list to allow his hand to heal. A week after he was placed on the DL, Gnats manager Luis Rojas told me, “It’s nothing major. We’re checking it out closely. Right now, we’re just communicating with the doctors,  the hand specialists in Savannah and the doctor in New York. They’re gonna set a progression that’s going to take a couple of days. It’s nothing major. He should be back maybe in five days.”

That optimistic prediction was off. Nimmo did not return to the field until May 28, exactly a month after his last game on April 29. When he returned, he did not hit. From May 28 through July 21, he hit .228/.343/.305 with 76 strikeouts in 234 plate appearances, a strikeout rate of 32.5%. His isolated slugging percentage dipped to .077.

August came, and Nimmo started hitting again. In 25 games this month, Nimmo has hit .354/.514/.456 with 24 walks and 24 strikeouts in 105 plate appearances. That’s a 22.9% walk and strikeout rate. His isolated slugging percentage is back over .100 in August.


The Health
Nimmo refused to say he was not healthy in June and July when he was on the field and playing. “I try to not make any excuses. I played. I felt like I was good enough to play. I’m not going to make an excuse for numbers. We just went through some rough times, and that’s baseball.” However, he played all of June with physio tape on his wrist. By the middle of July, in time for the All-Star Futures’ game, he had weaned himself from the tape as his hand began to feel better.

And yes, Nimmo concedes that by the end of August, his hand is in a different place than it was in preceding months, “Yeah, I do feel better now. I just feel more normal. Obviously, this past month has been great, and I’ve been definitely felt much better.”


The Mechanics
When Nimmo returned from the disabled list, it appeared as though he did not trust his hands. This led to a cascade where he started landing with his front foot too close to home plate in his stride. By July, he was working to correct it.

Gnats manager Luis Rojas explains, “What he was doing, striding too close, and it was causing him to get locked middle-in and inside. Now, he’s more fluid with his hips going through the zone and keeping his bat longer.”

Nimmo feels the difference, “I was getting into a little bit of a bad habit of closing myself off. And I still do a little bit. But by shortening my step a little bit more, it keeps me a little bit more even at the plate. The more even I can be, the better I can get to the outside pitch, the better I can get to the inside pitch.”

According to Mets’ Hitting Coordinator Lamar Johnson, “The next step for him is just to get a consistent swing. Right now, he’s showing that swing sometimes, but he’s gotta get it a little more consistent and that’s the maturity part of it. “


The Approach
Young hitters develop on two separate, but related paths. First, there’s a mechanics path where each hitter learns his swing and makes tweaks along the way. Second, there’s a more mental path where the hitter learns which pitches to swing at when. In essence, it’s operationalizing the mechanics. They are related, but independent in a way. A hitter who has a perfected his own swing cannot connect with a slider a foot outside. Nor can he cannot with a fat fastball if he chooses not to swing.

Johnson sees a better Nimmo in this respect. “He’s starting to mature and learn what he can do and what he can’t do on certain pitches. Just sitting here watching him the last three games [August 23-24] has shown me some things I didn’t see in early April: he’s taking that ball away from him now and driving it that way, before he was feeling for it a little bit. Now you can see he’s learning his swing and what he can do and that’s important – it’s the first step in becoming a good hitter: knowing what you can do and what you can’t do. He’s hitting the ball where it’s pitched.”

Where most young hitters need to be taught to lay off pitches, Nimmo was the reverse. Rojas again, “Now he’s being more aggressive. He’s got excellent strike zone discipline, sometimes, he tends to get a little too timid, but the last two weeks he’s been ready. He’s seeing the ball very well out of the pitcher’s hands.  It was fun to watch him on the roadtrip.

“That’s the beautiful part of development where you see a guy improve in the little areas that he needs to improve. That’s one of the areas where we want Brandon to keep working on. He has the strike zone discipline – he came with that package – but at the same time, with that pitch recognition and discipline, we want him to be aggressive with the pitch that he can drive. And that’s what he’s done the last two weeks.”

Nimmo, ever the good student, echoes Rojas’ words in describing his slightly revised attitude at the plate, “It’s just controlled aggression. You’re just trying to get a good pitch to hit, but trying not expand the zone. All you’re trying to do is get a pitch you can drive.”

While talking about being more aggressive, Nimmo’s walk rate in August of 22.9% is his highest in any month this year, while his strikeout rate of 22.9% nearly matches his April rate (22.4%).


And So…
Nimmo has worked through a frustrating injury. He has addressed both sides of hitting: the physical and the mental, adjusting his swing mechanics when he fell into bad habits, and working on learning when and how to be aggressive and selective. That, as his manager said, is development.


Nimmo’s 2013 in Table Form

AVGOBPSLGOPSPABBKBB%K%Iso
Through April 21.424.513.5761.08980101412.517.5.152
April 23-29.042.148.042.190272107.437.0.000
May 28-July 31.228.343.305.648234317613.232.5.077
August.354.514.456.970105242422.922.9.102

Playoffs? Talking Playoffs, Part 2

Sure, the Matt Harvey news is devastating to Mets fans. But there are still minor league games and teams and three more affiliates in the short-season levels, two of whom have strong shots at the post-season.

 

SSA – New York Penn League
The Cyclones are 0.5 game out of the division lead in the McNamara Division, and a playoff spot with 10 games to play. The Cyclones have won three games in a row while the Aberdeen IronBirds in front of them have won two straight. The Cyclones have two games left against the Ironbirds next weekend and six against the Tri-City ValleyCats (HOU) who have the league’s second-best record at 40-25. If they make the playoffs, this Brooklyn team will have earned it.

Prospects You Care Most About: SS Gavin Cecchini has had a big August (.349/.396/.398 – 22 games) to pull his overall line to .287/.329/.331 in 42 games at age 19. 2013 draftees LJ Mazzilli (4th rd) and Jared King (5th) will both play in the upper levels of the minors and have chances to be MLB contributors someday.

Robert Gsellman, is big, young, has something like an average MLB fastball and a chance to pitch in a big league rotation someday. We discussed him at more length this weekend.

 

Rookie – Appalachian League
The Kingsport Mets have dropped two in a row to slip 0.5 game out of first, but merely need to finish in the top two in the West division to make the playoffs. Kingsport is two games up on Johnson City and 2.5 up on Elizabethton with five games to play. However, the KMets finish up with two more games at Bluefield and three games at home against Pulaski, the top two teams in the East Division, both of whom have played above .630 baseball all year.

Prospects You Care Most About: Amed Rosario. Signed for $1.75 million last summer. Hitting .244/.277/.368 at age 17. Incredibly young, raw.
Champ Stuart – CF with exciting tools. Plus runner. Plus arm. Strong forearms. Really interesting package hitting .231/.385/.328 as the 6th round pick in this year’s draft.

 

Rookie – GCL 
The GCL Mets are 19-38 and ahem, not headed to the GCL post-season.

 

PCL Realignment Coming… And it Makes Sense

Toby Hyde, Mets Minor League Blog:

Friday afternoon, the Pacific Coast League announced that with the Tucson Padres heading to El Paso, the League will realign for the 2014 season.

The Mets AAA affiliate, at least for one more year, through the 2014 season, will be the Las Vegas 51s.

Here are the new four-team divisions.

Pacific Northern (Blue): Fresno, Reno, Sacramento, Tacoma
Pacific Southern (Green): Albuquerque, El Paso, Las Vegas, Salt Lake
American Northern (Baby Blue): Colorado Springs, Iowa, Oklahoma City, Omaha
American Southern (Yellow): Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Round Rock

Here, lets put this on a map for everyone.

2014 PCL

And what do you notice? This makes sense. The PCL created four divisions that work. That’s right, I can draw them with non-overlapping shapes. This works.

Oh, sure, you can quibble. For example, one might argue that the two Tennessee teams, Memphis and Nashville, should be in a division with Iowa (in Des Moines) and Omaha to make the PCL American East. And then New Oleans, Round Rock, Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs would form the American Conference West. That would work too. However, in that scenario, there would be larger distances within a division. New Orleans would be farther from division-mate Colorado Springs than any of their 2014 actual division rivals.

Often sports leagues and franchise make decisions that are hard to understand. (Hi, MLB’s unnecessarily complicated replay system.) This is not one of them. This was simple. This was rational. A bunch of people looked at a map, and put tother conferences and divisions that work to minimize travel times and costs in a sprawling league with way too much time spent on buses, planes and airports.

Good job PCL.

Are (August) Recaps Stupid?

Toby Hyde, Mets Minor League Blog:

As I was writing some notes today, I felt a tremendous sense of… something a little hard to describe. Boredom isn’t the right word – I enjoy looking at minor league box scores and thinking about them and the players in them. Frustration is closer.

By August, there isn’t a single player in the system who can do anything on a given night to make me change my opinion of his performance or projection. That’s true throughout the year, but it feels more pronounced by August because the previous five months of season have already happened. This is part of a larger point – there just are not a lot of players who can materially change my opinion about them in the season’s final three weeks. Again, the preceding five months, for the full-season guys, are too valuable. For the short-season guys, years from the big leagues, a few AB, a few innings, and the results generated now, are just not that important. The “how,” – tools, skills and projection – is more more important than the “what,” – short season results.

Writing this is odd. I really believe the games matter. How minor league players play in games gives fans and front offices insight into whether they can become big leaguers, and what kind of big leaguers they could be.

I’ll keep looking at the box scores, and keep writing recaps, but I got the feeling today that it should be better. What content – non-recap related – do you want to see around here the next few weeks?

The Beginning of the Wilmer Flores Era

Wilmer FloresLate Monday night, the Mets announced that they were giving Wilmer Flores, who turns 22 on Tuesday, the best gift a ballplayer could ever want: his first big league callup.

Flores has had a strong season in the hitter-friendly environment of Las Vegas, hitting .321/.357/.531 with 36 doubles, four triples and 15 homers and 25 walks against 63 strikeouts in 463 PA over 107 games. His isolated slugging percentage is a career-best .210 as is his 11.9% extra-base hit rage. He’s walked in 5.4% of his plate appearances (too low) and fanned in 13.6% (wonderfully low). He’s 8th in the PCL in batting average, #2 in doubles, fourth in hits, tops in extra-base hits and second in total bases. Using wOBA, which (EDIT: does not) adjust for park environment, he’s 12th in the PCL (.385).

The previous paragraph pretty much covers what Flores does well: he hits. He makes consistent line drive contact. He might have had the best hand-eye-bat coordination I have ever seen in a-ball. He’s not an elite bat speed guy, but he has more than enough to catch up to any fastball. He’s not a major power in the sense that he won’t put on show at 5 pm in batting practice (or he did not used to), but he has plenty to make a pitcher pay for a mistake. He just makes barrel contact and lots of it. He has a balanced swing and handles velocity and breaking stuff. His strikeout rate of 13.6% is actually his highest of his minor league career. His walk rate has bounced around, peaking stateside at 7.3% in double-A in 2012 before slipping to 5.4% in AAA this year. If he has a flaw as a hitter, it is his knowledge that he can handle any minor league fastball, and swing at it, and probably put it in play reasonably hard somewhere. He will need to be a little more patient in the big leagues.

Defensively, he has soft hands and plenty of arm for any infield position, including third or short on the left side of the diamond.

Now for the negatives: 1. he’s slow and 2. because of that, he’s still looking for his everyday home on the diamond.

 

The table below tracks Flores’ games by position by year as a professional.

SS3B2B1B
200867
2009125
2010132
2011129
201287277
201347911
Total4539110618

 

When the Mets initially moved Flores off of shortstop to thirdbase in 2012, reviews from scouts were downright hostile. As the season wore on they became slightly more tempered to the point that his supporters felt his bat could carry him at third although his glove would likely always be below average. Flores, who had played some second base in winter ball in Venezuela, began playing the keystone stateside in 2012 to similarly poor reviews. The issue is not hands. It is simply range. He a big guy with slow feet. His bat plays best at second, but he will give back some of his value at the position to grounders that leak by him into the outfield. Blocked in the big leagues at third once the Mets re-signed David Wright, Flores played second base exclusively for Las Vegas except for one game at third on April 15, until he mixed in a game at first on May 12. He played first once every two or three weeks until early July when he played first base six times in 10 games from July 7 through July 24, sandwiched around a sprained ankle. Flores shifted back to third base Saturday and Sunday and played first and third on Monday night.

Defensively, I think the Mets would be best off in the near term with Flores at third base and Daniel Murphy at second. There’s a tradeoff between the fact that Flores’ footspeed works better at third than at second, and that he has played very little third base this year while Murphy has made himself into a solid second baseman and seen relatively little work at third. He’s going to field most of what’s hit to him where ever he plays. The question is how many balls he can reach.

I’m eager to see how Terry Collins deploys Flores defensively. I’m also looking forward to watching him hit, just because he can.