Memorial Day Weekend in Buffalo: Almost Big Leaguers

Ok, so I spent Memorial Day at the beach and hanging out with friends. Lets take a look at some stories from each affiliate over the weekend as June approaches.

AAA Buffalo
Saturday: Buffalo Bisons 8, @ Scranton WB Yankees 7
Sunday: @ Scranton WB Yankees 1, Buffalo Bisons 0 
Monday:  @ Buffalo Bisons 7, Columbus Clippers 1 

As always, the important stories at AAA, have clear and nearly immediate Major League implications.

- RHP Elvin Ramirez tossed scoreless innings on Saturday and Monday, fanned three between the two outings. In 12.2 innings in AAA, he’s run a 16/1 K/BB ratio and allowed just five hits. He’s sitting 93-94 mph and working with a slider and changeup. Pedro Beato will get a chance before Ramirez, but Ramirez’s chance is coming, and soon.

- Speaking of Beato, he made his first AAA appearance of the year on Friday and then made his second on Sunday. He gave up a homer on Friday, and walked one and struck out a batter on Sunday.

- 2B Jordany Valdespin has 1. played second base in every game since his return from the big leagues and 2. hit safely in each of his last five games in AAA including a three-run homerun Monday. At age 24, he’s hit .282/.321/.408 in AAA and gone 4-for-10 stealing bases in 26 games.

- SS Omar Quintanilla doubled Saturday and Sunday and is heading to the big leagues, now that Justin Turner is DL-bound, because unlike Valdespin, he can play shortstop at a big league level.  M0re on Quintanilla later Tuesday.

Upper Minors Thursday: Zack Wheeler and B-Mets Blow Out Thunder. Help for the Mets ‘Pen?

AA: @ Binghamton Mets 12, Trenton Thunder (NYY) 3

Zack Wheeler yielded a two-run homer in the first inning, but it was quickly buried by a nine-run second inning from the B-Mets’ offense and Wheeler’s own solid work over the subsequent six innings. His final line: 7 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 8 K. He threw 66% of his pitches (62 of 93) for strikes. I’m a broken record on this, but Wheeler’s control is the thing keeping him from AAA. He’s working with a plus fastball and a plus slider, but as the four walks Thursday illustrate, his location can come and go. He’s walked 12% of the batters he’s seen (4.5 BB/9).

Lots of hitting stars in this one as seven different B-Mets had at least two hits.
At the top of the order, 24 year old CF Mat den Dekker (.305/.363/.543) was 3-for-4 with two more doubles.
Juan Lagares, who was 2-for-5, is making up for his slow start by continuing his steady assault on .300 and is up to .291/.354/.396 in 36 games as a 23-year old.
Jefry Marte was 2-for-4 (.311/.370/.434 – 33 games) with a double, a homer, his second of the year, and a walk. The 20-year old had slowed down in May after a hot start, but the six total bases are a season single-game high.
Who did not have two hits? 2B Reese Havens was 0-for-2 before he was ejecting arguing balls and strikes.

 

AAA: @ Buffalo Bisons 4, Gwinnett Braves 2 

Braves’ top prospect Julio Teheran walked five Bisons in four innings. On back-to-back nights the Bisons handed losses to Jair Jurrgens and Teheran, but somewhat remarkably, it did not matter to the big Braves, who won to reclaim first place in the NL East in large part on the strength of an offense that has scored 207 runs, tied with the Cardinals for best in the NL.

Meanwhile, Chris Schwinden was 2-for-2 at the plate and effective on the mound, yielding just two runs on six hits in his six innings. He fanned four and walked two while lowering his ERA to 2.54.

The closest MLB help for the Mets probably came out of the bullpen where Elvin Ramirez gave up just one hit and struck out two more batters in his 1.1 innings. He has not walked a batter in seven innings in AAA, while fanning eight. Between AA and AAA his K/BB is now 3.4 (24 K/7 BB) in 20 IP. … Coming soon to a bullpen near you!

April in Binghamton

The Binghamton Mets finished April at 12-11, in third place, four games behind division-leading Reading. As a team, the B-Mets hit .258/.355/.390 while drawing an Eastern League leading 105 walks to finish 7th in the 12-team league with 95 runs scored. The pitching staff is fourth in ERA, and tied for third in strikeouts (182) and is tied for the second-most walks (88).

 

The Most Pleasant Surprise
20-year old Jefry Marte hit .358/.421/.478 in 19 games in April after returning from a hamstring strain that sidelined him for a few days. He did not homer, but he drew six walks while only striking out nine times.  Just as importantly perhaps as the high batting average over three weeks was that he committed but two errors, a career-best in any month in which he played as many as 19 games. His previous best: 5 errors in a month.

 

Matt den Dekker is Hitting Like Himself, Only Better
The 24-year old den Dekker is bopping along at .290/.352/.516 in 23 games with a .358 BABIP. He’s striking out less, walking slightly less and hitting for more power than he did a year ago in AA. He’s fanned in 23.6% of his plate appearances, down enough from his scary 29% mark in AA a year ago to call it progress. His walk rate ticked down as well from from 8.3% to 7.5% right now. Meanwhile, he’s running an isolated slugging percentage of .226 and has extra-base hits in 12.3% of his plate appearances, both of which would be career highs if he could maintain them for a full-season. I will freely admit that I did not see this kind of power from den Dekker when he was in Savannah in 2010, when he ran an ISO of .125. He did not homer in 2010, and I did not see many homers in his future based on a very flat swing plane. Now about 1/4 of his extra-base hits are going over the wall. He is a different, more powerful hitter now at age 24.

The twin monsters of BABIP and strikeout might eat his batting average, as they did in AA last year, in AAA or the big leagues, but he has kept them at bay so far in 2012.

 

Progress for Lagares, Disguised by low AVG
RF Juan Lagares set a new career-high with 11 walks in April 2012 while hitting .256/.348/.359 with five extra-base hits, 14 strikeouts in 22 games. The 23-year old was a slow starter in 2011 too: even while hitting a total of .349/.383/.500 between advanced-A and and double-A, in 2011, he hit .262/.314/.369 in 18 games in April, with four extra-base hits and five walks and seven strikeouts.

 

Free-Wheelin’
Zack Wheeler finished April 5th in the Eastern League with a 1.75 ERA (5 ER/25.2 IP) and second behind the Phillies’ Trevor May with 30 strikeouts.  He’s “missing bats” with his fastball and slider. However, as discussed over the weekend, he is not ready for AAA. He is walking 4.9 batters per nine innings, or 13% of all hitters he faces. He has succeeded thus far because he has limited the hits against him just 6.0 per 9 IP (17 H in 25.67) which in itself is a testament to the natural movement on his pitches. He still must learn to harness that movement.

 

Less Fastball, Plenty of Strikeouts
Collin McHugh is tied for fourth in the EL in strikeouts (26) and Darin Gorski is tied for eighth (23).  In three of his five starts, Gorski has allowed zero or one run over six innings. Gorski added velocity in the last two years, and is now 89-91. Both McHugh and Gorski share some statistical traits at his point as opponents are hitting under .200 against both guys (.189-Gorski  and .194-McHugh) but both are walking too many guys. In Gorski’s case, his walk rate is a career-high 13.2% and 4.9 BB/9 IP, so while he’s missing plenty of bats (22% K/rate) he must get back in the strike zone. McHugh’s walk rate is less extreme: 9.6BB% and 3.7 BB/9, but still too high for the type of stuff he possesses.

 

Another Bullpen Piece
RHP Elvin Ramirez in April: 7 G, 11.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 16 K, 2 WP.
Of course, he gave up two runs on the first day of May, but he is human after all. He’s working with plus velocity, throwing 94 mph regularly. The Nationals had to return the 2010 Rule 5 pick, and it looks like the Mets are better for it.

 

Player of the Month
Jefry Marte (.358/.421/.478) edges out Matt den Dekker (.290/.352/.516) on the basis of fewer strikeouts (9 to 25) at a younger age.

Pitcher of the Month
Elvin Ramirez did not give up a run and struck out 12.7 batters/9 IP. Wheeler, Gorski and McHugh all would have been fine selections, but all will improve when their walk rates drop.

Upper Levels Thursday: Gorski Quiets Dogs; Valdespin’s Improving Plate Discipline

AA: @ Binghamton Mets 6, Portland Sea Dogs (BOS) 0

Darin Gorski was commanding again: 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 4 K. He threw 62% of his pitches (54 of 87) for strikes. That’s two out of three starts in which he’s thrown six shutout innings. His three-start line: 16 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 7 BB, 16 K, 1.13 ERA. Sure, you want to point out that he’s walking 3.9 batters per nine? Fair. He’s also not allowing hits. The Eastern League is hitting just .120 against him. There’s a tradeoff, he could throw more strikes and give up a few more hits and walk fewer batters.

Also, Elvin Ramirez keeps racking up the strikeouts out of the B-Mets’ pen. Thursday, he fanned four and walked one in two innings of action while throwing a wild pitch. Ramirez has now struck out 14 of the 30 batters he’s faced at double-A this year. That’s… good.

3B Jefry Marte returned after missing three days with a tight hamstring and extended his hitting streak to nine straight. Still just 20, he’s hitting .379/.438/.517 in his first nine games in Binghamton. Leave the batting average aside over nine games: he has three walks and just four strikeouts. That’s good stuff.

Entering Wednesday’s game, Matt den Dekker was hitting .318/.375/.500. After going 0-for-8 with two strikeouts since, he’s down to .269/.333/.423. Small sample sizes are still fun, y’all.

Gorski photo courtesy Michael Baron. 

 

AAA: Lehigh Valley IronPigs (PHI) 8, Buffalo Bisons 4

There might or might not have been a blown call on a force play at the plate that opened up into a five-run eighth inning for Lehigh that broke a 2-2 tie. The runs were charged to Jack Egbert who finished with this ugly line: 1 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K.

I’m more interested in CF Jordany Valdespin (.269/.319/.373) who was 3-for-4 with a homer, his second, and a walk, his fifth. He’s now drawn more walks in 15 games of 2012, than he did in 27 games at AAA in 2011. His 2012 walk rate thus far is 6.9%, nearly double his 2012 AAA rate of 3.5%. Small numbers and all, but progress in small numbers nonetheless.

2B Bobby Scales was 2-for-4. He’s reached base at least twice in every single game he’s started. At 34 years old, it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever help the Mets, but he’s in the midst of a remarkable two-week run for Buffalo.

Elvin Ramirez is a Met Again

Remember Elvin Ramirez?  The 24-year old righthander is a Met again.

The Nationals selected Ramirez with the sixth pick in the Major League phase of the Rule Five draft last December coming off an impressive run for Ramirez in the Dominican Winter League that was a dramatic step forward for him as I discussed here.  He was reportedly throwing in the upper 90s with stats to match.

The Mets will pay the Nationals $25,000 for the right to reclaim Ramirez.

Ramirez missed the entire 2011 season after shoulder surgery.  Thus, as Adam Kilgore in the Washington Post tries to explain:

since he spent the entire year on the disabled list the Nationals would have had to keep Ramirez on their 25-man roster all of next season in order to keep him in the organization.

 

The odds are against Ramirez ever amounting to anything, but when he’s right, he throws really hard, so its nice to seem him return to the Mets organization.

Great Matt Harvey Report; Remember Elvin Ramirez?

Sunday, David Lennon of Newsday watched Matt Harvey dominate  the Cardinals advanced-A team with an arsenal that included, “a 95-98 fastball, an 87-mph slider and a 78-mph looping curve.”  In four shutout innings, he gave up just one hit, fanned four and walked one.

That makes me smile.

Elvin Ramirez, who the Nationals plucked from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft, isn’t throwing yet, so his time on the DL might make life easier for the Nationals to keep him.

A Late Rule 5 Preview – With Notes on the Elvin Ramirez Buzz

The rule five draft begins at 9 am this morning.  Last night, before the Red Sox made Carl Crawford a very, very rich man, there was a little bit of chatter about the draft.

In particular, there were numerous reports that the Mets would lose hard-throwing right-handed pitcher Elvin Ramirez.  Buster Olney tweeted, “The guy widely expected to be the first pick in the Rule 5 draft:Mets right-hander Elvin Ramirez,who has been clocked 94-98 mph this winter.”

At Baseball America, John Manuel, who did not write about Ramirez in his first look at 25 guys who could be selected in the Rule 5 draft, corrected that omission by writing, “Ramirez has pushed his fastball up to 98-99 mph according to several scouts who have seen him in the Dominican. … He throws a changeup, curve and slider as well but has impressed most with his improved fastball velocity and control in the Dominican, where he was averaging 11.32 strikeouts per nine innings and just 1.74 walks per nine.”

The idea that the Mets might lose a player in the Rule Five draft, prompted some overheated reaction on Twitter.  In particular, fans wanted to know why Ramirez was left off the 40-man roster, leaving him exposed to the draft.  The simple answer is that before his latest 20.2 innings in the Dominican Winter League he didn’t look anything close to Major League ready.

Here are his walk and strikeout rates by level the last three years:

Year Level IP BB K BB/9 K/9 K/BB
2008 SAL 81 36 62 4.0 6.9 1.7
2009 SAL 72.67 39 48 4.8 5.9 1.2
2010 FSL 73.3 43 65 5.3 8.0 1.5
2010 EL 6.67 6 7 8.1 9.4 1.2
2010 DWL 20.67 4 26 1.7 11.3 6.5

What he’s done in the last twenty innings in the DWL is completely out of line with the last three years.

Ramirez missed almost all of the second half of the 2008 season with back problems and was sitting in the 92-93 mph range.  Similarly, he made just one post-All Star Break appearance in 2009.  Coming off two straight injury shortened seasons, the Mets moved Ramirez to the St. Lucie bullpen this year.  He was ok, but hardly dominant.  He hit neither of my two favorite statistical markers at the advanced-A level: his K/9 was below 1 and his K/BB was well below 2.5.  However, he allowed very few hits, just 56 in 73.1 for an opponents’ batting average of .212 and did not yield a home run.

I suppose that one story you could tell is that it’s all about health for Ramirez.  Healthy this year, he was able to work to improve his command, and now stronger after a full-season of work, he body is really showing for the first time what he’s capable of doing.   If the improvement is real and not a fluke, the timing was terrible for the Mets.  The Mets, and all teams in baseball had to submit their reserve lists for the Rule 5 draft on November 20.  After his outing on the 18th, Ramirez had thrown 8.2 innings with 9 strikeouts, three walks, five hits allowed and four runs, three earned for a 3.09 ERA.  He’d been effective, but hardly overwhelming.  In his last 12 innings, he’s fanned 17, walked one and given up nine hits and just two runs.  That’s great.  It’s also 12 innings.  I really don’t know when his velocity spiked, but the idea that Ramirez was a valuable commodity as recently as three weeks ago was far-fetched.

Or maybe these are 12 really fluky innings.

As for the other Mets who could be selected, we’ll go to the Mailbag, where Jesse asks:

Message Body:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the following pitchers are going to be available in the Rule 5 Draft:

Eddie Kunz

Nicholas Carr

Brant Rustich

Roy Merritt

Erich Niesen

Stephen Clyne

Michael Antonini

Probably some I’m missing.  All of these guys were at some point worthwhile enough to make an appearance in the Top 41.  Any chance that the Mets lose any of these arms on Thursday?

Thanks,

Jesse

There’s a chance that the Mets could lose any of those guys, but Carr, who was throwing in the mid-to-upper 90s in the AFL is the most likely.  Carr has never shown much command or control however.  Kunz has been underwhelming for years.  Niesen has consistently struggle to throw strikes.  Rustich just had surgery for Thorasic Outlet Syndrome this fall and has never made it through any of his three professional seasons without missing significant time to injury.

Top 41 Review: 31-35

This is part two of my review of my preseason ranking of the Mets Top 41 Prospects.  Part one is here.  This will lead to an in-season reranking, before next winter’s new Top 41.

ALL STATS IN TABLES CURRENT AS OF JULY 1, 2009.

#31 RHP Tobi Stoner

[table=106]

Stock: Up, a little

tobi-stoner-leg-kick.jpgIn the last year and a half, Stoner has pitched in five different leagues and cruised through four of the five.  Only in AAA had he had trouble after getting roughed up in his first two outings, before settling into six shutout innings in his third start.  Even in that outing, Stoner didn’t strike out a batter.  That many balls in play, combined with a gb/fb ratio of 0.65 is just not going to work at the MLB level.  As well developed as Stoner’s offspeed arsenal is with a curve, a slider, a change and a splitter, he still is held back by his below average (87-89 mph) fastball.  Before telling me I’ve under-ranked Stoner, name all of the righties in MLB starting rotations who regularly throw below 90.  Support your argument with pitch-fx data.

#32 3B/1B Stefan Welch

[table=105]

Stock: Down

His strikeout rate is up from 14% last year in the Appy League to 18.5% this year in the SAL.  Welch just hasn’t yet shown the offensive skills to merit a spot on this list as exclusively a 1B prospect.

#33 RHP Kyle Allen

[table=104]

Stock: Holding

Allen is still young, but his most relevant ratios (K/9, BB/9, K/BB) have all regressed since his 2008 in the GCL.  That’s to be expected.  The question for a pitcher like Allen with a fringy fastball, is whether he’s added any life to the pitch.  As far as I know, that hasn’t happened to a significant degree.

#34 3B Zach Lutz

Stock: Holding, barely

[table=103]

Coming into this year, Lutz had impressed scouts and put up big numbers in the NYP for month, but failed to stay healthy over two seasons.  In the first half of 2009, he’s again failed to stay fully healthy, but hasn’t put up the power numbers that make for impact prospect status.  However, Lutz has shown some strike zone control, having struck out in 18% of his plate appearances while walking in 13%.  He’ll need to turn that strike zone control into a few more extra base hits to move up in  the rankings by season’s end.

At 22, Lutz is neither old nor young for the FSL.

#35 RHP Elvin Ramirez

[table=102]

Stock: down some

Compare 2008 to 2009.  They look pretty similar don’t they?  Ramirez still doesn’t give up any homers, but walks over four batters per nine and doesn’t miss enough bats having seen his K/rate dip below 6.  He’s still averaging under five innings a start, although his innings per start is up a tick from 4.5 innings last year to 4.8 this season.

#35 – Elvin Ramirez

Bat/Throws: R/R

Height/Weight: 6’3″, 210 lbx

Acquired: NDFA, 9/16/04

Born: 10/10/87, San Cristobal, DR

Why Ranked Here: Ramirez is here on the basis of nice size at 6’3” and a slightly plus fastball. In July, before he was shut down with back problems, Ramirez was throwing 91-94 while sitting 92-93. His second pitch was a curveball that was very inconsistent. , He snapped off a few sharp ones with nice movement, and some that just didn’t break at all.

2008: Ramirez didn’t pitch again after July 9. Ramirez excelled in two related statistical metrics: groundball to flyball ratio (1.77) and HR rate (1 allowed in 81 IP). However, Ramirez did not meet two of the more important statistical markers for prospects: he did not strike out a batter an inning, nor did his K/BB climb above 2.5.

Dr. Pangloss Says: Ramirez could ride his big league fastball and feel for his curveball into a big league bullpen. With a usable changeup, he could even be a back of the rotation candidate.

On the Flipside: Ramirez missed the second half of the year with injury, which is never a good sign. For every good curveball there were at least as many poor ones. He trusted the pitch so little, he was hesitant to throw it in games. His offspeed stuff must come a long way to be MLB ready.

Projected 2009 Start: St. Lucie rotation

 

[table=50]