Thoughts about Zack Wheeler in Buffalo

RHP Zack Wheeler, the Mets top prospect made his fourth start for AAA Buffalo in the teams’ 4-2 loss to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees on Tuesday. Wheeler did not allow a hit until Eduardo Nunez fisted a single over the right side of the infield in the fourth inning. His line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K. He threw 58% of his pitches (47 of 80) for strikes. Even though his pitch count was not particularly high, I thought he tired in the fifth and sixth innings (when he allowed three runs); his location was not as crisp.

Early in the game, he was doing a nice job keeping his fastball, which was mid-90s, down. He mixed in a solid changeup on his second pitch of the game, in a spot on the edge, to get a swing and miss. He went back to the pitch regularly enough to get weak contact and some groundballs with it early, but he relied really heavily on the gas. The slider was there, but not as dominating an offering as he has had at other times. Kosuke Fukudome lined his final pitch of the afternoon, a big loopy curveball, into leftfield.  “I was throwing a lot of fastballs,” he said after the game, “I felt confident with it today, down in the zone, in and out.”

Bottom line: he’s a great pitching prospect, but he’s not big league ready as a starter, just at Matt Harvey was not big league ready in April, 2012. He must improve his command, and become more comfortable throwing his off-speed stuff early in counts and for strikes rather just as chase pitches late in counts. Wheeler’s 1.9 K/BB ratio (19 K/10 BB) in 21 innings in AAA, indicate clearly that he must continue to refine his location. Wheeler threw 116 innings last year and is now sitting at 137 innings for the year. With two more starts in AAA, he should come near 150 innings.At that point, right after Labor Day, the Mets could call him up to the big leagues, or shut him down. He will need to be added to the team’s 40-man roster over the winter to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

There might be some developmental advantage in seeing big league hitters out of the Mets’ bullpen this year to give him something to think about before returning to AAA to begin 2013. That gain would have to be balanced against whatever strain the Mets think a handful of extra innings would do to him physically.

The concept here is there would be no impact on Mets’ finances. Generally, third year players are eligible for arbitration, but a select group, those with the most service time, the Super Twos are eligible a year early. Given a 183 day MLB season, the cutoff the last two years has been two years and 46 days this year and two years and 134 days last year. So, without any time in the majors this year, Wheeler would need to spend at least 50-60 days in the minors next year to avoid Super Two status. I think he clearly needs that development time. Any big league roster time in 2012 would add to his minor league stay in 2013 to avoid Super Two status.

I guess I err on the side of thinking that baseball players get better when they play baseball. So, if it were up to me, I’d have Zack Wheeler make a few big league appearances out of the Mets’ bullpen in September. It will only ease his transition when he returns for good in 2013. The argument against is that 2013 is more valuable than a lost 2012, and the baseball will be more beneficial for him in AAA in 2013.

Wally Backman Doesn’t “Envision” the Mets Back in Buffalo in 2013

Wally Backman, as quoted by the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington after the Bisons finished up with the Pawtucket Red Sox on Sunday:

“It’s a shame for us, really. Buffalo is a great city but I don’t envision us coming back, from the things I’ve heard from the grapevine.”

Again, after last Friday’s news that the Rochester Red Wings will reupp with the Minnesota Twins, Buffalo is the only International League team with an expiring Player Development Contract. If the Mets cannot mend their relationship with the Bisons in the next few weeks, they will be Pacific Coast League bound.

There’s a sense in which it is surprising to hear Wally Backman become the first Mets person to speak definitively on the topic. He was answering a question from Harrington honestly, but I wonder how that will play among his bosses.

To answer something that popped up in the comment section again on Friday, it’s not like the Mets can just promote the Brooklyn Cyclones to AAA status. There are only 30 businesses in America licensed to run AAA teams, 14  in the International League and 16 in the Pacific Coast League. All 30 of those AAA teams are guaranteed a player development contract with a big league affiliate.


Player development contracts are signed in two or four-year increments only.

The Mets could, in theory, buy a part of a AAA team in the International League, as the Yankees have done with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or the Braves did with the Richmond franchise to facilitate a move to Gwinnett in the northern Atlanta suburbs. However, that’s just not going to happen any time soon. The existing International League teams are largely stable, and the Mets would need the Yankees consent to move a AAA team into the New York tri-state area. The Mets refused the Yankees request to allow the SWB Yankees to play in Newark for 2012 while their stadium was renovated, forcing the team into a full summer on the road so it seems unlikely the Yankees would be in any mode to do the Mets any favors on the affiliate front.

So again, it’s Buffalo or a two-year trip to the PCL for the Mets. The PCL is looking likelier and likelier.

Mets AAA Team Potentially Going to PCL; Likely Las Vegas

Friday, Jim Madelaro in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that the Twins and Red Wings will sign a new Player Development Contract that will cover the 2013 and 2014 baseball season.

In an accompanying opinion piece, Mandalaro writes that this was the logical move for Rochester, “But the “best” club that figures to be available is the Mets, and they’re about to get kicked out of Buffalo after getting ejected from Norfolk and New Orleans. Wings officials are wary about hitching their wagon to the Mets, and I don’t blame them.”  He’s right on two of the three counts. The Mets were thrilled to leave New Orleans for Buffalo, but yes, the other two affiliations with International Leagues were ended by the affiliate and not the Mets.

That leaves one pair of Major League-International League team pairing without a contract for 2013: the New York Mets and the Buffalo Bisons. The Mets and Bisons could still each decide that they want to renew, but the decision has to be mutual. The Bisons must want the Mets in addition to the Mets wanting to stay in Buffalo.

If the Bisons decide to cast their lot with another major league team – the Blue Jays are the obvious choice – based on the cities’ geographic proximity and the Jays strong farm system, the Mets will be forced into an affiliation in the Pacific Coast League. The Blue Jays have been affiliated with the Las Vegas 51s, so Vegas will be open. Vegas is just an awful place to develop pitching. The ball flies and the infield baked into a hard surface. Las Vegas as a team this year, is hitting .304/.371/.456 in a PCL that averages .279/.346/.432. At home, the 51s have hit .313/.386/.487. Yikes.

According to Baseball America, Memphis (St. Louis), Nashville (Milwaukee), New Orleans (Miami), Oklahoma City (Houston) and Tucson (San Diego) are also without new PDC contracts for 2013 yet. Memphis and St. Louis have a strong relationship and seem unlikely to split. Nashville, with a new ballpark likely on the way, and in the central time zone, is the prize of the remaining options. The Mets have a relationship with New Orleans having played there in 2007 and 2008. Zephyrs Field is one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the Pacific Coast League. If New Orleans would be willing to engage with the Mets again on a short-term basis, that would be the best fit.

Moving back to the PCL is logistically more difficult for the Mets. Need a player? Ok, but he’s in Fresno. The travel for team staff to see the AAA would become significantly more arduous. Oh, and Las Vegas is a wonderful place to put up offensive numbers but a bad, bad place to pitch.

Not good.

Upper Minors Thursday: Zack Wheeler’s Third Start

AAA: Lehigh Valley IronPigs 5, @ Buffalo Bisons 2 

Zack Wheeler’s third AAA start: 5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 1 HR. He was in the strike zone all afternoon, but his fastball command, was spotty. Sure, some of the hits, including a two-run bloop over shortstop, and a double over Lucas Duda’s head in rightfield might have been caught by more proficient defenders, but the ‘Pigs were still able to put Wheeler’s stuff in play. His velocity – at 94-95 mph – much of the game was fine, and there was still plenty of movement on his fastball. He was just hurt by location.

Bisons’ manager Wally Backman told after the game,

“His velocity was there. Everything was there. He just didn’t have good command today, and good command is key. Those guys were swinging early, and they hurt him (by) swinging early in the count.”

Duda, who’s hitting .262/.319/.400 in 17 games in AAA still looks like Lucas Duda playing leftfield.

AA: @ New Hampshire Fisher Cats 5, Binghamton Mets 2

Reese Havens sat gain while 21-year old Wilmer Flores (.297/.343/.434 – 48 games) played second again, going 1-for-4 with a walk.

Greg Peavey took the relatively unusual complete game loss: 8 IP, 9 h, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2 HR – 5.41 ERA.




Upper Minors Minors Wednesday: More Hits for Wilmer Flores

AAA: @ Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (PHI) 4, Buffalo Bisons 1 

Giant meh of a game.
Chris Schwinden: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K

If you’re on the CF Matt den Dekker strikeout watch, he added two to run his AA total to 73 in 59 games. The 25-year old was 1-for-4 to lift his AAA line to .211/.244/.408.

Lucas Duda, who was 1-for-3 with a walk, played LF while Adam Loewen handled first.

AA: Binghamton Mets 6, @ New Hampshire Fisher Cats (TOR) 2

Still no Reese Havens, who is out nursing a tight back again. That allowed another start at second for Wilmer Flores who was 2-for-4 with a walk to run his AA line to .297/.343/.434. The 21-year old has 14 walks against 21 strikeouts in 48 games with Binghamton.

I do want to point out SS Wilfredo Tovar who walked twice. However, AA has been a very tough test for Tovar, who turned 21 this week, is hitting .220/.280/.291 in 42 games.

LHP Darin Gorski was solid, but gave up another homer: 7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HR. His 19 homeruns allowed in 123 innings are just one off the Eastern League lead in the category.


Upper Minors Tuesday: Jeurys Familia Sparkles, Matt den Dekker Slams Pigs

AAA: @ Buffalo Bisons 6, Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (PHI) 0 

This is the way it was supposed to work for the Bisons: Jeurys Familia was brilliant and Matt den Dekker hit his second grand slam of 2012.

Familia: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K.

Wally Backman told that Familia was “outstanding. He pounded the strike zone, and he had a great breaking ball tonight.”

Want more evidence of Familia’s devastating breaking ball? Enjoy.

This start came a little out of nowhere for Familia who had allowed four runs or more in each of his last four outings.
Familia’s development has not shown up dramatically in his ERA, but in his walk rate. In the first half, he walked batters at a 14% rate (53 in 81.1 innings). He’s down to 8.5% (14 in 37.2 innings) in the second half.
Den Dekker’s enjoyed a good last 10 games going 11 for 36 with four extra-base knocks to hit .306/.342/.528 in that span. He said he hit  a slider and was expecting to see a breaking ball after a fastball on the previous pitch. Even so, he’s sitting at .204/.238/.394 in 57 games.

AA: @ New Hampshire Fisher Cats (TOR) 5, Binghamton Mets 2 

CF Juan Lagares (.281/.335/.387 – 113 games) returned from a twisted ankle to play for the first time in a week, going 1-for-4 with a double. He’s drawing good reviews in center.

No Reese Havens, who is still nursing a stiff back.

The B-Mets offense did very little against rehabbing Brandon Morrow (4.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K).

RHP Gonzalez Germe: 5.1 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K ,1 HR – 4.81 ERA. His ERA is 6.51 in five starts after the AA All-Star Break.

Upper Minors: PawSox Stop Herd on SNY

AAA: Pawtucket Red Sox 5, @ Buffalo Bisons 1 

Collin McHugh was ok with ominous peripherals: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 6 K. In 62 innings in AAA, he’s struck out 63 batters and walked 27. That’s a 10% walk rate. Major League average is 8.1%.

Pedro Beato gave up two homers in an ugly four-run seventh inning.

The Bisons had four hits, all singles. DH Zach Lutz (.303/.413/.508 – 55 games) had one, and earned a walk.

LF Lucas Duda was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

CF Matt den Dekker (.204/.238/.394 – 57 games) was 0-for-3 with two whiffs. That’s now 70 strikeouts in 57 games. The strikeouts have eaten his batting average.

I could not watch this game, so what did I miss for those of you who were tuned into SNY?

The Weekend in Buffalo: Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia and Lucas Duda

Lets play catch-up on important happenings affiliate by affiliate as the minor league season enters its home stretch.

Saturday: Scranton W/B Yankees 5, @ Buffalo Bisons 1
Sunday: @ Buffalo Bisons 9, Pawtucket Red Sox 3 

The Bisons rolled out two good arms, Zack Wheeler Saturday and Jenrry Mejia Sunday and won once.

Wheeler’s line in his second AAA start: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K. He issued two of the walks in his sixth inning. Perhaps he was fatigued, or had trouble gripping the baseball in a sideways rainstorm. On the whole, he again showed off his explosive fastball. It was 96 mph early, and then 93-96 throughout the game according to the velocity calls of the Bisons’ broadcast. Both his curve and slider were sharp and produced swings and misses. I don’t recall many changeups, I remember he threw one that missed down.

In 10.2 innings in AAA with the Bisons, Wheeler has given up five hits but walked 7 while striking out 11. Triple-A hitters, like double-A hitters are having trouble squaring up his stuff. It’s that good. The issue simply is that he still has trouble controlling his weapons.

While I watched almost all of Wheeler’s start on Sunday, I never could get the stream to work on Sunday for Jenrry Mejia’s start. His line: 5 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K. Consider that in six starts with the Bisons this year, three in his initial rehab from Tommy John surgery and three since a failed move to the bullpen, he has a 0.95 ERA (3 ER/28.1 IP) with a .206 opponents’ batting average while in 16 outing out of the bullpen he’s run a 5.48 ERA (13 ER/21.1 IP) on a .303 opponents’ batting average. That makes it look like he’s been clearly better as a starter. And he has. But those numbers overstate the case. Add his unearned runs back into the calculation and his ERA as a starter rises to 3.18 R/9 (10 R/28.1 IP) compared to a R/9 as a reliever of 6.34 R/9 (15 R/21.1 IP). His K/BB ratio was 10/9 out of the bullpen and is 14/9 as a starter – put simply not great in either role.

The WFAN broadcast on Sunday evening discussed the idea that the Mets would bring Mejia and Familia up as relievers when rosters expand in September. Given the control problems each as experience in AAA, they might not offer much more than new bodies.

Lucas Duda missed three games with root canal surgery and subsequent complications, but returned with a vengeance on Sunday, going 3-for-5 with two doubles. He’s hit .367/.441/.667 with three doubles and two homers and four walks against six strikeouts in his eight games in August. Sure looks like he’s getting comfortable again.


Upper Minors Thursday: Everybody Wins

AAA: Buffalo Bisons 10, @ Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs 1 (7 innings)

The Bisons’ offense took care of business early, scoring seven runs in the second and third innings before rain washed out the last two frames.

2B Josh Satin (.302/.406/.474 – 107 games; pictured) had a perfect night, going 3-for-3 with two doubles, a walk and an RBI.

CF Matt den Dekker inched closer to a .200 batting average after going 2-for-4 with a double, 3 RBI and a strikeout. With 66 strikeouts in 53 games, he’s sitting at .198/.232/.396 while 21 of his 41 hits have gone for extra-bases.

RHP Chris Schwinden might never be a really good MLB pitcher, but he’s a  fine AAA pitcher as he lowered his ERA to 2.87 in the International League this year: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.

AA: @ Binghamton Mets 6, New Britain Rock Cats (MIN) 4

DH Reese Havens led off while 2B Wilmer Flores hit second in the absence of Juan Lagares, missed his second straight game with a “tweaked ankle” that is reportedly day-to-day at this point. Oh, and it worked. Havens (.234/.366/.374 – 84 games; 97 strikeouts) was 4-for-5 with a strikeout, while Flores (.274/.324/.421 – 44 games) was 3-for-4 with a double, a walk, an RBI and a strikeout. Over on the left side of the diamond, 3B Jefry Marte was 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI.

The 25-year old Havens has been better after the All-Star Break, going .278/.406/.430 with 25 strikeouts in 22 games, because he’s striking out less, but he’s still a 25-year old in double-A. By contrast, the 21-year old Marte, after a slow June, has bounced back with a .280/.337/.419 line in 27 games after the break with four walks against 10 strikeouts. The age gap and strikeout gap are very, very important.

Our daily check on Flores’ games played by position: 1B – 6; 2B – 12; 3B – 19; DH/PH – 7. Use wisely.

Greg Peavey wasn’t great (6.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 K – 5.40), but was good enough to get the win.

Upper Minors Wednesday: Jefry Marte Goes Yard. And the Bisons Go to 12

AAA: @ Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (PHI) 5, Buffalo Bisons 4 

Jeurys Familia: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K. A SS Josh Rodriguez error made most of the damage in a four-run Lehigh third inning against Familia unearned. That’s fine as far as it goes, but Familia still allowed three hits, a walk, committed an error of his own and threw a wild pitch in the inning so he was far from blameless. A pitcher is often fairly culpable in allowing unearned runs to score.

The winning run scored in the 12th on a Fernando Cabrera wild pitch.

Lucas Duda (0-for-4, 2 BB, 1 K) played leftfield, while Adam Loewen played first where he picked up two hits and two walks.

CF Matt den Dekker was 0-for-5 with a walk and two more strikeouts. He’s fanned 65 times against 10 walks in 52 games with the Bisons on his way to a .192/.227/.389 line. He’ll be 25 on Friday and the numbers speak loudly.

AA: @ Binghamton Mets 8, New Britain Rock Cats (MIN) 3

3B Jefry Marte (.262/.333/.388 – 107 games) had the big blow in this one, a three-run homer, his ninth of the year, in the second in a 2-for-4 night.

Wilmer Flores was 0-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout and played first base for the sixth time. Now 21, he’s played six games at first, 11 at second and 19 at third in double-A. I cannot stress enough how important it is for his value that he stick at second or third.

Darin Gorski was ok, but the peripherals were not impressive: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HR.