A-Ball Wednesday: Domingo Tapia is a “Front-Runner”

A+: @ St. Lucie Mets 4, Fort Myers Miracle (MIN) 3 

Better from Domingo Tapia: 5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K.

Tapia St. Lucie HeadTapia is one of the most confounding prospects in the Mets’ system. He has one of the best fastballs in the system, showing 95-96 mph with sink regularly with plenty of 98 and a few 100s mixed in. His changeup, when it’s right, dives like a splitter out of the zone.  He’s struggled in years past to find a release point for his slider as it used to come out loopy from his low 3/4 arm slot and he basically stopped throwing it at the end of the 2012 season in Savannah.

This year, Tapia got off to a strong start in April in St. Lucie (2.73 ERA, 26.1 IP, 18 H, 11 R, 8 ER, 10 BB, 24 K) but has had an ERA above 4.50 every month thereafter, with an 8.53 ERA in May and an 11.37 ERA (8 ER/6.1 IP) in August. Simply, he’s walking too many guys. In August, he’s walked seven in those 6.1 innings. In July it was 15 walks in 21.2 innings.

Excluding a rainout on April 30, Tapia has failed to finish his second inning five times, and thrice in his last five starts. As Mets Pitching Coordinator Ron Romanick explains, bad things can snowball on Tapia, “He just misses out of the zone, and he has a hard time recovering,” he explained on Sunday. “His stuff moves so much. He’s probably one of our best front-runner pitchers. [When] he gets out on a roll, he rolls it out of there. But that first or second inning, when he’s just missing, he’s had his struggles.”

The velocity is still there. As a scout told me in late June/early July: “Tapia threw the sh-t out of the ball.”

And yet on August 9, Baseball America as part of their weekly Hot Sheet, Baseball America wrote, “Tapia’s stuff hasn’t been the same as it was in 2012, when his fastball hit 98 mph and his changeup looked like a potentially plus pitch. The 21-year-old has struggled ….

 

Romanick too, disputed that the raw stuff has declined, “Everything is there, the reports I get. His changeup, which I think is his second best pitch, we’re trying to get him to be aggressive with it and throw it, when maybe his fastball is missing with it. At times, he’ll try to force the fastball all the time, when he has a plus second pitch.” Romanick thinks the slider too has improved, “we’ve tightened that up; it’s gotten a lot better.”

All of this sounds good and the FSL is still only hitting .240/.354/.331 against him and has 3 homerus in 86 innings. But if he cannot throw strikes, none of it matters.

Tapia was my #11 Mets prospect entering the 2013 season. He’ll drop this coming year, and probably not that far anyway, but a few realy good starts in August would make for a smaller dip.

 

A: @ Rome Braves 3, Savannah Sand Gnats 2 

CF Brandon Nimmo: 1-for-3, 2B, BB. In 13 games in August, the 20-year-old Nimmo is hitting .364/.517/.500 with three doubles, a homer and 12 walks against 14 strikeouts. That a good way to end a season. For the year, he’s up to .272/.389/.366 in 89 games.

Nimmo is not one of the SAL’s 20 youngest players overall, but he is one of just 28 hitters to qualify for the SAL’s batting title at age 20 or younger. According to Baseball Reference, 55 of his plate appearances have come against pitchers younger than himself, while 344 have come against his “elders.”

Full-Season Levels A-AA Tuesday: Nimmo, Ynoa, Wild Pitch Walkoffs and Go Ahead Homers

AA: @ Reading Fightin’ Phils 7, Binghamton Mets 6 

Walters B-Mets HeadFor the second time this year, the B-Mets lost a game on a walk-off wild pitch. This time the offender was Jeff Walters who blew his first save in 21 attempts, dating back to June 6. A recent scout’s pithy report on Walters, “He has a chance. Nice sinker.” Walters (pictured) has run a 3.9 K/BB ratio in AA (51 K/13 BB) with over a strikeout an inning (49 innings). He’s a fastball slider guy, who with a fastball in the low-mid 90s, certainly profiles as a middle reliever. Walters, like deGrom, who I wrote about in AAA today, seem like extremely strong bets to be added to the Mets’ 40-man roster this off-season.

LF Cory Vaughn was 2-for-5. He’s bopping along at .379/.406/.724 with a double, three homers, one walk and six whiffs in eight games since his return to AA at the beginning of August. He had six homers in his first 46 games in AA this year before this run. It’s interesting too that Vaughn is playing left while Travis Taijeron plays right for the B-Mets.

Erik Goeddel, Meh: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K.

 

A+: @ St. Lucie Mets 5, Fort Myers Miracle (MIN) 4 

C Kevin Plawecki’s two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Mets the runs they needed in a comeback win. Plaweckis is up to .322/.426/.430 with a 17/17 K/BB ratio to go with 12 extra-base hits against 10 HBP in 44 games in advanced-A. I had Plawecki ranked as my #11 prospect pre-season. He will move up a couple of notches in 2014.

Rainy Lara, meh: 6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 1 HR. Lara’s working a 49/16 K/BB in 69.1 innings in advanced-A.

By the way, 19-year-old Twins prospect Byron Buxton was 3-for-4 in the game to lift his line to .300/.365/.456 in 38 games in the FSL.

 

A: @ Rome Braves 2, Savannah Sand Gnats 1 

CF Brandon Nimmo: 1-for-2, 2 BB, 1 K. The 20-year-old is rolling along at .366/.519/.488 in 12 games in August with 11 walks and 13 strikeouts. It’s particularly important to see him get his strikeout rate under control after fanned 69 times in 49 games in June and July. I strongly suspect, because I watched him that either his hand was not 100% healed in June/July, or if it was “healed” he didn’t trust it, because he was trying to compensate mechanically.

Gabriel Ynoa just rolls along too: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 K. After a pair of rough starts at the end of July, Ynoa has been untouchable in his last three: 18.2 IP, 13 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 13 K. That’s a 0.96 ERA, a 1% walk rate and a 19% k/rate. This is why K% is better than k/9. By K/9, Ynoa’s at 6.3 K/9, but he faces so few batters, because he allows few hits and almost never walks a batter, that he’s actually fanning a healthy, if not overwhelming, number of batters.

A-Ball Monday: Lets Talk About Michael Fulmer

A+: @ St. Lucie Mets 8, Palm Beach Cardinals 4 

Fulmer 7-19-12 delivery (Devyatkin)Michael Fulmer: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 8 K. This was his sixth start of the year back from knee surgery for the 20-year-old and the eight whiffs were a new season high. His K/BB ratio is 26/16. He’s also only allowed 22 hits in 30.2 innings for an opponents’ batting average of .200.

Sunday, Mets minor league pitching coordinator Ron Romanick discussed Fulmer, “He’s healthy,” Romanick said. “He’s working into shape. Coming back from an injury, he’s just trying to get his momentum going. The stuff’s there. The pitches are there. He needs the innings. As long as he’s healthy, you’re going to see the best of him this month. If we decide to send him out to winter ball,  he’ll probably continue to pitch.”

It sounds like a fairly strong indication that as long as Fulmer is healthy, he’s a very good candidate to go to the Arizona Fall League this year to get a few extra innings which will be a big challenge. For now though, I’d like to see fewer walks in the FSL in August.

I mentioned yesterday that most guys who have been playing for five months, can’t do much in August to make me change my opinions about them. Fulmer, obviously, since he has pitched so little does not fall into the category. Fair or unfair, I care more about his August performance than most other players in the system.

A-Ball Sunday: A Walk-Off (And A Game Winning Homer)

A+: @ St. Lucie Mets 9, Palm Beach Cardinals 8 (12 innings)

Kyle Johnson, who the Mets acquired for Collin Cowgill, homered in the bottom of the 12th to give the Mets a walkoff win. The 23-year-old Johnson’s best tool is his speed. He’s hitting .279/.344/.387 with six double and two homers in 28 games in advanced-A. His speed will keep him employed for a few years.

LHP Alex Panteliodis: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K. Yuck.

Kevin Plawecki (.324/.429/.415 – 42 gms) lined up at 1B where he was 1-for-4, with a walk.

 

A: Hickory Crawdads 2, @ Savannah Sand Gnats 1 

On a sweltering afternoon in Savannah, DH Joey Gallo homered off Savannah reliever Hunter Carnevale in the top of the ninth to provide the winning margin. It was a no-doubt about it shot. I think Gallo, who is the active leader in the SAL in homeruns with 27, is fascinating. He’s an all-or-nothing guy, having also fanned 141 times in 87 games while missing time with assorted injuries. The Rangers drafted Gallo in the supplemental first round last year and sent the 19-year-old to the SAL where he is hitting .228/.316/.543 with 38 walks. He’s hit 27 homers and 28 singles. Gnats pitchers have identified holes in Gallo’s swing (in, and up) but miss, and he has a chance to hit a homerun on every swing. He’s long at 6’5″ and has plenty of room to fill out a solid frame. He creates excellent leverage in his swing, but struggles with length at times. It’s a open question whether upper level pitchers will exploit Gallo’s weaknesses to render him impotent, or whether he is capable of making the adjustment to put more balls in play, while maintaining his top shelf power.

Luis Cessa was not sharp: 4.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K. He didn’t throw his changeup enough for my taste, nor did he spot his fastball well as he needed 87 pitches by my count, to record 14 outs.

CF Brandon Nimmo (.270/.385/.362 – 87 gms) was 0-for-2 with a walk and a HBP. His outs included a lineout to center and a strikeout against a deceptive lefty reliever. He finished a strong homestand 12-for-27 (.444) with two doubles, a homerun, a walk and seven strikeouts in seven games. My observations are that he is seeing the ball better against lefties and hanging in longer against pitches of all types. Nimmo told me he has spent lots of time in the batting cage working against a pitching machine set up to spin breaking balls to mimic the spin from a lefty. The results have started to translate to the field as he poked a curveball  from a lefty back up the middle for a single Saturday.

In all, I think he’s done a better job this week trusting his hands.

A-Ball Saturday: Seth Lugo? Yup, Seth Lugo

@ St. Lucie Mets 5, Palm Beach Cardinals 4 

C Kevin Plawecki (.326/.429/.420 – 41 gms) doubled in the bottom of the tenth inning, and eventually scored the winning run on an infield single from Rylan Sandoval. Just another two-hit night for Plawecki: 2-for-4, 2B, BB, R.

Hansel Robles, meh: 6 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR.

 

A: @ Savannah Sand Gnats 2, Hickory Crawdads (TEX) 0 

Hello, Seth Lugo. Making his second South Atlantic League start against the highest-ceiling lineup in the League, Lugo, who will turn 24 in November was outstanding: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11 K.

He was in trouble once – when two singles and a sacrifice bunt in the fifth put runners at second and third before he struck out the 8 and 9 hitters to end the threat.

Who? The Mets’ 34th round pick out of Centenary in 2011, Lugo missed all of the 2012 season after lumbar fusion surgery. He was ordinary (4.19 ERA, 27/13 K/BB ratio) in 34.1 innings in Brooklyn. He’s been lights out in two starts with the Gnats.

His two Gnats’ starts combined: 13 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 21 K. This really came out of nowhere. He did not have a 10 strikeout performance in seven tries for Brooklyn. He’s struck out 10 or more in both of his Savannah outings. His game score (Bill James version) peaked at 62 for Brooklyn. His first SAL start was a 74 and Saturday was an 80. 

So, how’s he doing it? First and foremost, by spotting his fastball. He worked to both sides of the plate and was able to elevate, to a batter’s hands and then above the letters to induce a chase when he needed. He mostly lived 88-91 mph on his fastball accounting for 60 some-odd pitches. When he reached back there was more in there: he threw 11 pitches above 91, mixing in 92, 93 a couple 94s and one 95. His best off-speed pitch is a over-the-top curveball that he threw 72-79, but was mostly 74-76. He rung up Crawdads both looking (Jorge Alfaro and Lewis Brinson) and swinging (Chris Garia) at the curve. All four of his 85-86 mph sliders were strikes. At 81-85, his changeup, which he didn’t throw that much had enough separation from his fastball.

I’m pretty skeptical of any right-hander that sits at 88-91. It’s just a really hard way to make a living at the higher levels of the minors, let alone the big leagues. That just does not play in today’s game as a Major League starter in the vast majority of cases. On the other hand, Lugo has size (6’4″, and north of 200 lbs), the ability to reach back for more and feel for a curveball and slider. Perhaps airing it out in short appearances, he can work in the low 90s and be a valuable bullpen piece.

 

CF Brandon Nimmo: 1-for-3, HBP, K. He reached base twice against a lefty, Frank Lopez who had it working Saturday night. His single was bounced right back up the middle when he did a nice job pulling his hands in to stay inside the ball. Nimmo is 12-for-25 (.480) on the Gnats’ six-game homestand. A good week against lefthanders has brought his season line against southpaws to .247/.356/.286 in 77 AB.

Thursday in A-Ball: NIMMO.

A+: @ Bradenton Marauders (PIT) 5, St. Lucie Mets 3 

Kevin Plawecki just keeps on hitting. After going 2-for-4 with two RBI he’s up to .321/.424/.410 in 40 games in Advanced-A with nine doubles, a homerun, 14 walks and 15 strikeouts. The batting average and on-base percentage are great, but note that Plawecki has hit for significantly less power in the FSL than the SAL as his isolated slugging percentage has dropped from .180 to .089. Whether that’s fatigue, or adjusting to a new level, or just a hint of the kind of hitter Plawecki will be a the higher levels, it’s something to watch for the duration of this year and to begin 2014. Again, MLB catchers as a group are hitting .248/.312/.388, with a .140 isolated slugging.

Matt Bowman, eh: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K.

 

A: @ Savannah Sand Gnats 6, Hickory Crawdads (TEX) 3 

Nimmo Gnats HeadTwo things/players are worth talking about in this game, one more important than the other.

First, CF Brandon Nimmo was 3-for-5 for the second straight night. Facing another lefty in the eighth, he lined a single to right-centerfield. Nimmo is now hot. He’s 9-for-17 (.529) on the Gnats’ homestand with two doubles and a homer.

Even better, much of the damage has come against lefties; he’s 6-for-9 on the homestand with a pair of doubles. For the year, he’s up to .269/.383/.364 in 84 games and .240/.345/.280 in 87 PA vs. LHP. He just looks different against the southpaws he’s seen this week. He’s tracking the ball much better and waiting longer to make his swing/no swing decision.

 

Second, Julian Hilario, making his second start as a Gnat was solid: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K. He mostly threw the fastball, but tried his change (his primary off-speed offering) and slider. He has a solid arm, working low 90s and up to 94, although I still think he’s a middle reliever in the end, it was a nice start.

A-Ball Wednesday: Brandon Nimmo Makes Progress vs. Lefties; Domingo Tapia Goes Backward

A+: @ Bradenton Marauders (PIT) 8, St. Lucie Mets 6 

Oh, Domingo Tapia: 1.1 IP, 4 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 4 BB, 2 K. That’s three times in his last four starts he has not finished the second inning. In those four outings, he’s fanned eight and walked 14 in 9.2 innings while allowing 16 runs on 13 hits. That’s not good. As long as he’s fully healthy there’s just no reason to think, based on his season-long performance (5.00 ERA, 73/49 K/BB in 81 IP), and his recent work, that he’s ever going to be a Major League starter. Instead, he should be ticketed for the AA bullpen to start 2014.

C Kevin Plawecki and DH Jayce Boyd were each 0-for-3 with a walk.

 

A: Charleston RiverDogs (NYY) 9, @ Savannah Sand Gnats 7 

Nimmo Stance (Devyatkin)CF Brandon Nimmo: 3-for-5, 2B, 2 RBI. In his first four plate appearances vs first a left-handed starter and then a left-handed reliever, he was 3-for-4 with a double. Against lefties in the three games against Charleston, he was 5-for-7 with two doubles, and his second and third extra-base hits against a lefthander all year. Nimmo is now hitting .233/.341/.274 against southpaws in 85 plate appearances. This week, he’s hanging in better against the breaking balls and seeing fastballs better. His approach has clearly been to let the ball get deep and try to hit it out to left-center.

The 20-year-old is back to .264/.379/.360 overall in 83 games in the SAL. Nimmo struck out three times in the series against Charleston, all three times chasing breaking balls in the dirt from RHP. I was talking about this with someone on Wednesday, but in his first 62 games in the SAL in 2011, as a 19-year-old, Christian Yelich, another young, left-handed hitting centerfielder hit .272/.352/.401. My point is not that Nimmo is Yelich, who was younger than Nimmo, and playing in a more hitter-friendly ballpark in Greensboro. The general point is that young players sometimes take a little bit in the SAL. Yelich, to finish the thought, was unconscious at the end of 2011, hitting safely in his last 11 games and 18 of his final 19 to help carry his Grasshoppers into the playoffs as part of a .354/.423/.568 line with 10 homeruns in the second half.

The Weekend in A+: Michael Fulmer, Kevin Plawecki and the Rehabbers

The Top Prospects
stlmetslogoMichael Fulmer on Saturday: 6 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, HBP.
This was only his fifth start back from knee surgery. In 24.2 innings, he’s allowed just 20 hits, so opponents are hitting .222 against him, which is good. To me it speaks to the difficulty batters have against his fastball.
However, Fulmer has just a 18/12 K/BB ratio, that’s a K/rate of 16.7% and a walk rate of  11.1%. Neither is top-prospect-worthy. I suspect that the walk and strikeout number reflect both underlying command issues and his inability to use his slider for strikes to keep batters off his fastball.

Kevin Plawecki caught Friday and Sunday and played first base on Saturday and reached base safely in all three games. By my count, the 22-year-old has reached base safely in 33 of his 38 games in advanced-A on his way to a .323/.423/.417 line with 13 walks against 13 strikeouts. That’s an 8.7% walk and strikeout rate. His on-base percentage is also sustained by 9 HBP. He really knows what he’s doing at the plate. At this point, he should start 2014 in AA.

 

The Sleeper
RHP reliever Bret Mitchell threw a scoreless inning and a third on Saturday with a hit, a walk and two more strikeouts. He’s fanned 21 in 17.2 innings in the FSL while alloweing 10 hits. That’s good. The bad: 13 walks. He has a good arm at 92-94 with a potential MLB breaking ball in his hard curve. I’ve been told his feel for his changeup is strong, but he almost never threw it against SAL competition. He missed the 2012 season with surgery on the labrum in his hip, so as a 25-year-old on Opening Day 2014, he should be AA ready.

 

The Rehabbers
- Lucas Duda had a big game Friday, going 3-for-3 with a homerun, his first mult-hit game in his 11-game rehab so far. He singled Saturday and took the collar on Sunday so he’s now hitting .250 (7-for-28) with two walks and seven whiffs in seven games in advanced-A. <sarcasm font> Hey, with David Wright out a while, why not just try Duda at third. </sarcasm font>
Cory Vaughn
has been playing right field nearly every day for St. Lucie. A knock Saturday snapped his six-game streak without a hit and after two hits, including a double on Sunday, he’s up over .200 to .205/.354/.282 in 12 games in advanced-A coming off an elbow problem. If indeed, Cesar Puello is suspended officially on Monday, there will be an open spot in the AA outfield for the 24-year-old.

Thursday in A-Ball: Jon Niese Rehabs

A+: @ St. Lucie Mets 10, Tampa Yankees 4 

Rehabbers

Jon Niese: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. Niese was sharp in his first FSL rehab start.
Lucas Duda was 2-for-5 with a double, his second in four games. He’s 3-for-17 in advanced-A and 3-for-30 (.100/.182/.167) in eight games.
Cory Vaughn who was 0-for-2 with a few walks is hitting .172/.314/.241 in 29 AB over 9 games.
FSL Regulars

Lawley St. Lucie Head3B Dustin Lawley: 2-for-5 with 2 HR, 5 RBI. At 24-years-old, Lawley is hitting .266/.315/.542 with 29 doubles, five triples and 23 homers in 101 games. He’s leading the Florida State League in homeruns (23), total bases (212) and second in slugging (.542). None of the players who has led the FSL in homeruns among players 24+ in the last seven years has gone on to become a Major Leaguer. As nice as his season is, Lawley is fighting the odds here.

Hansel Robles: 4 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K. Robles has allowed 64 hits 58.2 IP in the FSL this year. 

 

A: Savannah Sand Gnats 4, @ Greenville Drive (BOS) 3 

The Gnats scored the winning run in the top of the ninth on an RBI groundout by 24-year-old Jeff Reynolds, which scored 24-year-old Brian Harrison.

LF Maikis De La Cruz had a nice night, going 2-for-4 with a homer, his third of the year. He’ll be 23 the first week of September and is hitting .274/.348/.415 in 63 games. He can run a little, he plays a fine defensive left field, but he’s more an nice organizational player than a potential MLB player.

CF Brandon Nimmo: 1-for-4, BB, K. If you had told me before the start of the year, that Nimmo would be hitting .258/.368/.344 in 77 games (which he is) as a 20-year-old in the SAL I probably would have nodded, and said, “sounds about right.” On the other hand, the 101 strikeouts in 77 games is awfully high.

Monday in A-Ball: St. Lucie Wins in Bottom of the Ninth

A+: @ St. Lucie Mets 5, Tampa Yankees 4

C Kevin Plawecki doubled and scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth as the two teams each scored two runs in their half of the final inning.

The 22-year-old Plawecki (.308/.408/.411 – 32 games in A+) was 1-for-3 with a walk.

Rainy Lara: 7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K. Bad sign for Lara statistically: he’s not missing bats. His last five starts: 13 strikeouts, 8 walks in 26.1 innings. As with all the young pitchers in their first full season, fatigue could be an issue here as he’s up to 107 innings pitched after 68 last year.

 

A: @ Asheville Tourists (COL) 5, Savannah Sand Gnats 4  

LF Stefan Sabol took advantage of the Gnats’ first trip to the thin air of beautiful Asheville with his eighth homerun of the year. Sabol, at 21 has hit .209/.304/.357 with a little pop (25 XBH) and speed (13 stolen bases). Still, if he’s going to be a big leaguer on the corner, he needs to hit for a little more average.

CF Brandon Nimmo was 1-for-5 with a double, his 8th of the year. The 20-year-old Nimmo is  enjoying his best stretch since May, hitting .297/.422/.378 in his last 10 games with seven walks and 15 whiffs.

Jake Kuebler was ok: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.