There’s a contrarian impulse in me, but I cannot break from the consensus here; Thor is the top prospect in the Mets’ system.
Height/Weight: 6’6”, 200 lbs
Acquired: Trade with Toronto with John Buck, Travis d’Arnaud and Wuilmer Becerra for R.A. Dickey, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas
Born: 8/29/92 (Mansfield, TX)
2013 Rank: #3 | Stats
Why Ranked Here: He’s the best prospect in the Mets system, and barring injury, he should be up in the Majors in 2014 where he could make an immediate impact. In a perfect world, he would be the Mets’ #2 starter behind Matt Harvey on the club’s next playoff team.
First, Syndergaard is huge. He’s really 6’6”. He’s built like a truck. His weight lifting regime is now the stuff of legend. It’s not just meathead strength either, he’s embraced yoga for flexibility and to prevent injuries. If any pitcher can hold up to the rigors of a Major League season, it should be Thor, a nickname Syndergaard has embraced.
Any discussion of Syndergaard’s stuff starts with his fastball. He can sit 94-96, with reach back to 98 or 100. He commands the offering well and has good “plane” down through the zone on the pitch. He mixes two and four seam varieties.
In 2013, Syndergaard’s curveball passed his changeup as his second-best pitch. It’s a hard, short breaker in the 81-84 mph range. This should be an average pitch by the time Syndergaard makes his big league debut with a chance to be a plus offering.
The changeup is upper 80s, which is fine given that it’s 8ish miles off the fastball. However, when it’s not down at the knees, it’s a batting practice fastball at that velocity.
Syndergaard has started messing around with a slider which he credits with helping him throw his curveball harder. For now, it’s his fourth offering.
One of the remarkable features of Syndergaard’s game is his control. In the season in which he turned 21 in late August, he walked 6.2% of batters in the Florida State League and 5.6% in the AA Eastern League. That’s better than average. Syndergaard had ONE four walk start (April 13, 2013, @ Fort Myers) and ONE three walk start (July 17 v. Richmond). In his other 21 starts, he walked two or fewer batters. By contrast, in the season in which he turned 21, Zack Wheeler had six starts of four walks or more, four with three walks and 12 with two walks or fewer on his way to a 10.5% walk rate. Wheeler did not pitch in AA in the season in which he was 21. Long story short, Syndergaard is ahead of Wheeler at the same age.
2013: The Mets started the recently acquired Syndergaard in advanced-A. The idea was that he would pair with fellow 20-year-old Michael Fulmer, with whom he became friends in Spring Training at the front of the St. Lucie rotation. However, while Fulmer was working his way back from meniscus surgery, Syndergaard was dominating the League. By the time Fulmer returned on July 7, Syndergaard had already made three starts in AA after his promotion on June 23.
In an effort to limit his workload, the Mets did not let Syndergaard go past five innings in any of his four August starts.
However, Syndegaard was at his most dominant at the end of the year. Leaving out his final start of the year, on August 26, which came after he had been skipped in the rotation, in four starts from July 28 through August 16, Syndergaard allowed one run, on a solo home run, and eight hits with 26 strikeouts and two walks in 21 innings over four starts. Batters hit a collective .116/.141/.188 against him in 71 plate appearances.
Dr. Pangloss Says: Thor is the #2 to Matt Harvey’s Batman in a series of Mets’ playoff appearances from 2015-2020 and a legitimate star in his own right.
Debbie Downer Says: The changeup just does not come along, and he’s more AJ Burnett (a fastball/curveball starter). Or he’s monster at the back of a bullpen.
Projected 2014 Start: AAA Las Vegas
MLB Arrival: June or July 2014.
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 210 lbs
Acquired: In trade with Blue Jays with Noah Syndergaard, Wuilmer Becerra and John Buck for R.A. Dickey, Mike Nickeas and Josh Thole
Born: 2/10/89 (Long Beach, CA)
Why Ranked Here: Travis d’Arnaud is ready to be a Major League contributor now. d’Arnaud should not be here. In a perfect world for the Mets, d’Arnaud would have played a few months in AAA in 2013 and replaced John Buck sometime mid-summer when the Mets traded away Buck into prospects via trade.
Instead, d’Arnaud was hurt again, missing significant time for the third time in four years. A foul tip broke the first metatarsal bone in his foot on April 17, 2013. In 2012, d’Arnaud played only 67 games while missing the second half of the year after tearing the PCL in his knee trying to break up a double-play with Las Vegas. He was healthy in 2011. In 2010, back problems limited d’Arnaud to 71 games with advanced-A Dunedin.
I have few questions about d’Arnaud’s skills. At the plate, he has vicious bat speed. Over two years in Vegas, he hit a combined .328/.402/.588 in 86 games. Sure, he’s playing in Las Vegas, in the PCL, but those are big time numbers. There’s power. When he’s dialed in, he can scorch balls to the rightcenter field gap. He can become too pull-conscious, and end up rolling over pitches resulting in too many groundouts to middle infielders. Coming into 2013, the only hiccup in d’Arnau’s profile was his aggressive approach – he walked in 6.3% of his plate appearances in AAA in 2012. In 2013, he drew 21 walks in 19 games in AAA, an almost silly 27% walk rate in 78 PA. Sure, that’s small sample size stuff and all, but I view it as evidence that he is coachable, and can make a change when prompted.
Defensively, he has the tools as well. His arm is strong, and his release is quick enough to throw out 30% of opposing base stealers in Vegas in 2012. He’s a fine receiver, who was really, really good framing pitches in small samples in 2013 with an average or better arm for a catcher.
Projection systems from Oliver, Steamer, ZiPS and PECOTA put d’Arnaud in a pretty narrow range of .241/.307/.392 to .254/.320/.414 for 2014. The top range of those estimates put him battling to join the five National League catchers in the group behind Yadier Molina and Buster Posey. Really.
2013: I’m not sure whether there is much statistically to be gathered from Travis d’Arnaud’s 2013, his age 24 season. He began the year by hitting .250/.429/.472 in 12 games in Las Vegas with 12 walks and six extra-base hits before he broke his foot. His game rehab began in the GCL on July 24 and transferred to AA Binghamton on July 31. He mashed in AAA for a week beginning on August 9 and after going 8-for-20 (.400) with three doubles and a homer, nine walks and four strikeouts in seven games, earned his MLB debut on August 17th when the Mets visited the Padres.
He admitted he was “anxious” in the big leagues in 2013.
Dr. Pangloss Says: Top three catcher in the National League in 2014 and multi-time All-Star in his career.
Debbie Downer Says: He never learns to stay healthy long enough to leverage his considerable talent.
Projected 2014 Start: Catching Dillon Gee (!) on Opening Day
MLB Arrival: 2013
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 185
Acquired: NDFA 1/20/11
Born: 10/17/90 (Higuerito, Banico, DR)
2013 Rank: #9 (2012: #38) | Stats
Why Ranked Here: In blowing through the minors, from the Dominican Summer League to AAA in the last three years, Montero looks poised to contribute in 2014 as a mid- to backend rotation piece.
Montero succeeds first and foremost because he has a slightly above average fastball that plays up thanks to pinpoint command. He can hit both corners of the plate to both left and righthanders. The called-strike three at the knees on the black might well be his signature weapon. Montero is mostly 92-94 with his heat, although he can reach back for more, as he did in the XM Futures game in which he showed 95 mph, while sitting 94.
I like his changeup as his second pitch. He throws it mostly to left-handers and it has good arm speed with just enough sink.
His slider looked like it had more depth in the spring of 2014, than it did in spring training 2013. He’s played around with different formulations on his breaking ball in 2012 and 2013, but 2014 was the best it’s looked – as it approaches MLB average.
Montero is not the biggest or most physically imposing prospect, but he repeats his delivery exquisitely well and has been durable in professional baseball. In consecutive seasons, he’s made 17, 20 and then 27 appearances while moving from 71 innings to 122 to 155 last year.
If Montero becomes a star, he will be succeeding against type: there just are not very many successful right-handed starting pitchers in the big leagues at 6’ and shorter. Oh, sure, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux, two Hall of Famers, are the patron saints of six-foot righties. I’ll do a similar study to the one I did for Dominic Smith. Since 1984, in the last 30 years, there have been 118 pitcher seasons in the Baseball Reference play index of 3 WAR or greater by a starting, right-handed pitcher at 6’0” or shorter. Sixty-seven of these 3+ WAR seasons, or 57% of our sample, have been compiled by nine separate pitchers.
This is the list of elite 6’0” righthanders in the last 30 years and their number of 3+ WAR seasons.
1. Greg Maddux – 17
2. Pedro Martinez – 11
3. Bartolo Colon – 8
4. Roy Oswalt – 8
5. Dave Stieb – 5
6. Mike Boddicker – 5
7. Juan Guzman – 5
8. Tim Lincecum – 4
9. Anibal Sanchez – 4
These nine pitchers account for the top 17 and 38 of the top 42 seasons (!) seasons in our sample. Only Kevin Tapani (6.8 – 1991), Johnny Cueto (5.9 – 2012), Francisco Cordova (5.5 – 1998) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (5.3 – 2008) join our nasty nine as 6’0” righthanders with seasons with better than five WAR in last thirty years. Think about that for a second. Phrased another way, there are only 13 guys who stand six foot even, who throw with their right hand who accounted for at least five WAR in a season in a 30 year span.
There are 71 pitcher-seasons at 4 WAR or better in the last thirty years, or 2.3 per year.
2013: Montero was sharp in his first eight starts in AA – 3.47 ERA, 54 K/6 BB in 46.2 IP – to earn AAA spot start on May 21 against Iowa.
Returned to AA, he allowed roughly nothing over his next three starts: 20 innings, 11 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 18 K/4 BB and an opponents’ line of .155/.200/.155 in 75 plate appearances. He was promoted to AAA for good on June 15 and for his final 15 appearances ran a 3.07 ERA over 82 innings with 73 K/24 BB while opponents hit .259/.310/.364 against him in 340 plate appearances.
Dr. Pangloss Says: A solid mid-rotation starter
Debbie Downer Says: Big league time, but not a big contributor
Projected 2014 Start: AAA Las Vegas
MLB Arrival: June 2014
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 200
Acquired: NDFA 7/27/07
Born: 4/1/91 (La Romana, DR)
2013 Rank: #27 (2012: 6; 2011: 5) | Stats
Why Ranked Here: Puello is back in the top ten for the third time in four years because he finally turned his prodigious tools into production in 2013 and he should make his MLB debut in 2014. There’s a chance that he puts together an MLB career as a right fielder who adds value to his team through plus defense, some homeruns and stolent bases.
Puello has some of the best physical gifts in the Mets’ system. He’s a plus runner. He owns a plus arm. He’s jacked with big shoulders and arms. He plays extremely hard. He’s willing to wear pitches to get on base, and enjoys stealing bases and getting dirty. The question is simply whether he will hit enough to play everyday.
He’s an extremely aggressive hitter who eats up fastballs. He has the batspeed to get around and pull even good heat. Sliders and soft stuff generally, can fool Puello and catch him out front. He puts his whole body into swings when he identifies pitches early as he does in the homer below.
The range in opinion on Puello among scouts was predictable. Some saw the tools to be an everyday rightfielder. Others were concerned about his approach and the Biogenesis connection. Even the guys who liked Puello expressed some hesitation. The guys who were skeptical of Puello recognized the tools that could play.
2013: For the first 100 games of the 2013 baseball season, in his age 22 season, Puello was the best player in the Eastern League. He raked at .326/.403/.547 with 16 homers and 24 stolen bases in 31 attempts in 91 games. His .391 BABIP is unsustainable, but knock 70 points off that, and his power and speed still play in the big leagues.
Puello was suspended for the duration of the 2013 season for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic on August 5. The Mets were convinced that the usage was during 2012, but he played 2013 clean.
Puello got better as his year went on.
First 46 games April 4 –May 31: .289/.372/.488 with 7 HR, and 12 walks (6.4%), a .347 BABIP in 188 PA.
Final 45 games from June 2-August 1: .364/.434/.606 with 9 HR, and 16 walks (8.5%) and a .436 BABIP in 189 PA
Well much of his better performance was the result of better results on balls in play, his isolated slugging percentage rose from .199 to .242 in this run. Also, BABIP in the minors reflects hard contact and Puello was hitting the ball very hard, very consistently.
Puello absolutely terrorized lefthanded pitching in 2013, putting up a .421/.483/.842 (!) line that reads like a series of types against them with eight homers in 87 PA. That compared to .298/.379/.459 in 290 PA against righties. As it happens, the Mets are carrying at least one corner outfielder in 2014 who does not hit lefties.
For what it’s worth, Puello went down to the Dominican this winter and hacked at everything, hitting .200/.252/.261 with 30 strikeouts against five walks in 41 games. I don’t know what to make of it other than a stark reminder that he’s no sure thing.
Dr. Pangloss Says: I still think there’s all-star level talent in here if everything clicks. There’s also a fairly wide spread of outcomes for a guy on the brink of triple-A and the big leagues.
Debbie Downer Says: The best 22-year-old in the Eastern League over the last few years has turned into a big leaguer, even a low-level one. At worst, he’s a bench bat with situational value against lefties.
Projected 2014 Start: AAA Las Vegas
MLB Arrival: 2014
A Long Homerun
#5 Wilmer Flores
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 190
Acquired: NDFA (8/6/07)
Born: 8/6/91 (Valencia, VZ)
2013 Rank: #4 (12: 17) | Stats
Why Ranked Here: At age 22, Wilmer Flores hit his way to the big leagues. He still has some of the best hands at the plate I’ve seen in a decade of minor league baseball. He is still searching for a position to play defensively.
That Flores put up gaudy numbers (.321/.357/.531) in the Pacific Coast League in 2013 was not a surprise. His numbers were driven by an increase in his batting average on balls in play from .326 in AA in 2012 to .342 in AAA in 2013 and a slight increase in his extra-base hit rate from 10.2% to 11.9%. That last number is not totally a desert mirage: he’s growing into his power. His winter working out in Michigan
However, and this is crucially important, his walk rate slipped from 7.3 in AA to 5.4% in AAA. Basically, Flores’ simple aggressive approach worked extremely well in the minors. It will be trouble in the big leagues and in fact was a problem in his first exposure to big league pitching when he fanned in 22.8% of his plate appearances with walks in just 5%.
Now, about that defense problem. Despite the fact that the Mets returned to Flores to shortstop in Spring Training, 2014, and plan to play him there in Las Vegas in the regular season, I still do not think he will have adequate range to play the position. His hands work fine, and he has more than enough arm for the left side of the diamond. This is about feet and quickness. The 2014 Mets might do better with Flores playing shortstop over Ruben Tejada if the difference in value between their bats is larger than the difference in their gloves. That does not mean that Flores is a longterm answer at short. He’s not. I’ve seen enough from him that I think aggressive positioning and shifting will allow him to be adequate – like a few runs below average, to maybe even average in his best years – at second base.
Flores’ bat is certainly an asset at three infield positions: shortstop, which he can’t play, third, which he can’t play because of David Wright, and second, which he will play eventually. If he has to slide all the way down the defensive spectrum to first base, is his bat still an asset? I don’t think it is, unless he finds more plate discipline and more power (and yes, often those come together).
It’s worth pointing out that Flores has modest platoon splits – a .799 OPS against righties in 2013 and a .889 against lefties against whom he bopped .313/.358/.531 in 162 PA. Flores is more than ready to step in to crush lefties if the Mets need an extra infielder. He’ll return to MLB after the next infield injury.
2013: After 107 games in AAA Las Vegas, Flores made his big league debut on August 6 in a 3-2 win over the Rockies.
Dr. Pangloss Says: Really good 2B, with some All-Star games in his future.
Debbie Downer Says: First baseman without enough pop to make a big impact.
Projected 2014 Start: AAA Las Vegas
MLB Arrival: Happened already, and will happen again in 2014.
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 195 lbs
Acquired: 1st rd #13 overall (East HS)
Born: 3/27/93 (Cheyenne, WY)
2013 Rank: #5 (‘12:Rank: #5) | Stats
Why Ranked Here: Nimmo moves down one spot in my rankings from a year ago, but that masks the fact that I think I’m higher on him than I was at this point last year as he was jumped only by Cesar Puello and Rafael Montero, two guys who succeeded at AA and at AA and AAA respectively. The Nimmo I saw at his best in Savannah could play centerfield, and sprayed line drive around the yard with a keen plate eye and shower power potential. That’s a star level guy. The problem is that he did not do it all year long.
Nimmo has really grown into his 6’3” frame and has put on roughly ten pounds of muscle each of the last two winters and is now a more powerfully built ~205 pounds. He says he’s as quick as ever.
Coming into the 2013 season, I was concerned about whether Nimmo would stay in centerfield, or would have to move to a corner as he aged, added weight and lost speed. For now, I can offer a stronger endorsement of his work in center. He handled the enormous expanse of Historic Grayson Stadium very well. He gets good reads on the ball, and takes long strides that allow him to cover plenty of ground. He retreated well on balls to both sides. As the season progressed, he became more comfortable playing aggressively shallow on weaker hitters as well. He does not leave his feet often, in part because he did not have to. Nimmo’s weak spot defensively is his arm. There’s an awkwardness to his throwing motion that just does not look fluid. At best, it’s an average arm for center, although it plays a little below most of the time.
At the plate, Nimmo has tweaked his swing and setup since entering professional baseball. He’s now a little more upright, with a short stride, rather than hitting out a wider base as he did after he was drafted. When he’s going well, his hands go right to the ball. When he struggles, his hands cast away from his body leaving him extremely susceptible to pitches on the inside part of the plate. He was comfortable going to the left-center field gap and working the other way. Nimmo showed power in batting practice, but in games was more hesitant to let his hands go and attack the baseball in the same way.
Nimmo is extremely coachable and easy to please his instructors. He’s worked hard on learning the Mets patient approach and will go deeper into counts than is common for young players. He walked in 14.8% of his plate appearances in the SAL, which is very good, but also struck out in 27% of those same plate appearances, which is awfully high.
Nimmo, is an outstanding interview. He listens to questions, and answers them as honestly as he can. If he becomes as good a hitter as he is a talker, he will be an All-Star.
Nimmo became the first player from Wyoming ever drafted in the first round when the Mets plucked him 12th in 2011.
Nimmo hit righties (.284/.410/.385, 20 XBH – 367 PA) much better than lefties (.240/.354/.281, 4 XBH – 113 PA). He did better against lefties towards the end of the year, but he will need to continue to improve against southpaws, and his performance against them will have a lot to say about his eventual value.
2013: It’s hard to separate Nimmo’s 2013 from an injury – a bruised hand he suffered in Lakewood at the end of April. I wrote a lengthy piece about Nimmo’s hand and season here.
Opening Day- April 21: .424/.513/.576 – 17 games
April 20/21: Bruised hand.
Next six games: 1-for-27 (.042) with 10 strikeouts in 27 PA, a strikeout rate of 37%.
May 28 -July 21: .228/.343/.305 with 76 strikeouts in 234 PA a strikeout rate of 32.5%. His isolated slugging percentage dipped to .077.
July 22-Season’s End: .300/.453/.379… 35 BB/43 K in 179 PA… 24% k rate… 19.5% BB rate
When Nimmo returned from a month-long stay on the disabled list, at the end of May, he just was not the same player. He did not trust his hands. That led to a cascade throughout his swing. He started striding too close to the plate, which locked up his hips and prevented him from making hard contact on anything on the inner half. He collapsed on his lower half. He casted with his hands. He let hittable pitches go by early in the count. Fastballs beat him in, and low and away.
By August he was a different hitter. He was standing taller and letting his hands work right to the ball. He was using both gaps, and waiting longer to decide on each pitch. It was a joy to watch.
On August 5th, Nimmo hit his second homerun of the 2013 season. It was a missile out to right-center, the big part of Historic Grayson Stadium. A scout who saw the game and the swing believed that was enough to write him up as big league power potential.
Dr. Pangloss Says: A star for the Mets in centerfield
Debbie Downer Says: Not enough pure hit tool to play everyday in the big leagues.
Projected 2014 Start: Advanced-A St. Lucie.
MLB Arrival: Heat of Summer 2016.
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 192 lbs
Acquired: 2nd rd ’09 (Ward Melville HS)
Born: 5/29/91 (Stony Brook, NY)
2013 Rank: #16 | Stats
Why Ranked Here: Matz moves up eight spots from a year ago because he stayed healthy all the through the season for the first time in 2013, and he was not just effective, but showed the stuff that could work in the middle of a big league rotation. With a good season in 2014, he could end in double-A with a potential MLB debut not so far away in 2015 if everything lines up perfectly.
He’s a three-pitch guy at the moment: fastball, breaking ball (yes, that’s intentionally vague) and changeup. He has good size and he’s become bigger and stronger since he was drafted. He repeats his delivery well enough, although there is some effort.
His fastball is a plus pitch. He was 92-97 mph over the course of 2013, sitting 93-95 in the playoffs. At times, particularly early in the season, he could lose feel for the offering and leave them up or outside to lefties. Matz is very aggressive with the pitch. He throws inside to batters of both hands, one of his stronger attributes. SAL batters could not handle the heat.
I like his changeup, which is thrown with good arm speed, and produces a little sink as his second pitch. It certainly looked like a plus offering at times to me.
Matz’s breaking ball is his third pitch at the moment. By spring training 2014, he was back to calling it a slider. In early 2013, he and Savannah Pitching Coach Frank Viola were trying to make this pitch a slider, but by the second half of the South Atlantic League season, they had abandoned that effort to focus on his curveball, which was his primary breaking ball in high school and early professional career. The pitch indeed shows promise with, when it’s right, good depth and late movement. It can get sweepy and he has trouble locating it for a strike. However, there are fewer spinners, than when he was trying to work on his slider. If memory serves, he did not throw a single strike with his curveball in his final start of the playoffs in the Gnats’ clinching win in Game Four of the SAL playoffs. The good news is that Matz has demonstrated that he can spin the baseball, now he needs to learn to create consistent spin and shape to be able to use the offering.
One of the things bumping Matz’s rankings a little bit is that if his body does not stand up to starting, there should be a relief role waiting for a lefty who throws this hard.
It’s taken Matz a long time to get to this point. Drafted in ’09, he signed at the old August deadline, and did not pitch that season. Then, he was diagnosed with a torn UCL in 2010. Various rehab setbacks from Tommy John surgery kept him out all of 2011. Even in 2012, Matz’s season ended early, after just six starts in the Appalachian League with shoulder tendonitis. His health is still a major red flag.
2013: Matz got better as the year went on, culminating in a dominant performance in the Gnats’ championship clinching win in game four of the SAL Championship series. In his final 11 starts in the regular season, he put up a 2.19 ERA with an opponents’ batting line of .192/.287/.235 and a 75/24 K/BB in 61.2 innings. He struck out eight or more batters six times in those 11 starts. Oh, and then he added 12.2 scoreless innings over two starts in the playoffs with a 17/2 K/BB ratio.
Dr. Pangloss Says: Plus fastball, plus changeup, gimme an average breaking ball and this is a really good #2/#3 pitcher.
Debbie Downer Says: One healthy season in which he was old for his level, inconsistent breaking ball, shaky fastball command. No MLB impact.
Projected 2014 Start: Advanced-A St. Lucie.
MLB Arrival: Late 2015/Early 2016
Height/Weight: 6’0”/185 lbs
Acquired: 1st rd – 11th overall (Serra HS)
Born: 6/15/95 (Los Angeles, CA)
2013 Rank: N/A | Stats
Why Ranked Here: First rounders, from the top half of the draft belong in the top 10 the subsequent year. And the hope is that Smith develops into a middle of the order bat with plus defense.
In contrast with Rosario, who is just five months younger, and ranked just behind him, Smith has a very clean swing mechanically. In his preparation, there is a short stride, and a short load. He stays balanced throughout, and then brings his hands directly to the ball. He shows a good ability to keep his hands inside the ball and pull it, but keep it fair. There is batspeed and strength through contact. It all just looks good. The homerun in the video below is about as good a swing as you will find in a GCL game. Sure, he can get out on his front foot at times if he’s too quick to transfer his weight, but for a young player straight out of high school, this is almost nit-picky criticism. There are more good looks at his swing here.
Smith has been drawing rave reviews for his defense before and after the draft. He has a good arm that is nearly wasted at first, moves well for now, and has nice soft hands.
My major concern with Smith is his body. Smith is listed at 6’0”, 185 lbs. In truth, in 2013, I thought he was a touch under 6’0”. There just are not a lot of above average 6’0” first basemen in modern baseball.
I checked Baseball Reference for all first baseman seasons by guys 6’0” or shorter in the last 30 years. Since 1984, this group put up are 53 player seasons above 3.0 bWAR and 42 seasons above 4.0 bWAR. Jeff Bagwell alone is responsible for 14 of those above 3 bWAR. Now, lets limit ourselves to seasons at or above 4.0 bWAR – the impact level performances and we find 11 such players who have had seasons this good.
I’ve also included each player’s listed weight per Baseballreference (and yes, some are fanciful).
Here’s the fun list:
- Jeff Bagwell (12) – 195 lbs (!)
- Don Mattingly (5) – 175 lbs
- Rafael Palmeiro (10) – 180 lbs
- Prince Fielder (3) – 275 lbs
- Keith Hernandez (3) – 180 lbs
- Daric Barton (1) – 205 lbs
- George Brett (2) – 185
- Gregg Jeffries (1) – 175 lbs
- Brad Wilkerson (1) – 200lbs
- John Kruk (3) – 170 lbs (!)
- Mike Napoli (1) – 220 lbs
The first two guys, Bagwell and Palmeiro, who belong in the Hall of Fame, have counted for just over half (22 of 42 ) of seasons of 4.0 WAR as a first baseman in the last 30 years. Bagwell is an easy HoF case: he’s 6th in JAWS All-Time at the position. Palmeiro, on the merits of his on-field accomplishments is too; he’s 11th in JAWS and has the gaudy counting stats (3,000 hits and 500 homers).
After that, among the true 1B types, we’re looking at three “Hall of Very Good” types who are revered in their own cities: Mattingly, Kruk and Keith and his moustache. These were productive players who were certainly good enough to contribute to championship teams.
Then there are the late-career position switchers, who hit enough to be impact guys at first as they shifted down the defensive spectrum. This includes a few late peak seasons of George Brett after he moved off third, and Mike Napoli, who began his baseball life as a catcher.
Finally there are the one-and-done former top prospects: Daric Barton and Greg Jeffries. Barton walked 110 times in 2010, with a .131 isolated slugging percentage in his age 24 season. He hasn’t topped a .106 isolated slugging percentage since. Jeffries’ 1993 with Philadelphia is a wonderful example of a career season, and yes, he was mostly a 1B that year, playing 140 games at first. He never eclipsed 2.7 bWAR in any of his 13 other MLB campaigns.
Brad Wilkerson’s career year in 2004 was also aberrant, his 32 homers were 12 more than his second-best career output and his 5.0 bWAR was far higher than his second-best 3.3 bwAR from 2003 and way higher than his third-best 1.9 bWAR in 2005 which, at age 28 was his final season appreciably above replacement level.
The point: you have to be really special to be an impact first baseman at 6’0”. Perhaps Dominic Smith has that kind of talent, but it is really rare.
2013: Smith had as strong a professional debut as one can really have. Playing immediately after his 18th birthday, he showed game power and strike zone control: picking up an extra-base hit in almost 10% of his plate appearances walked in 13% compared to a 17% strikeout rate. He earned a promotion to Kingsport for the Appalachian League playoffs as well.
Dr. Pangloss Says: An elite MLB firstbaseman who controls the strike zone, hits for average and power and adds a win’s worth of value defensively.
Debbie Downer Says: Just not quite physical enough, and doesn’t generate enough power to be an above average first baseman. The hit tool gets him to the big leagues. For a player so young, that’s a pretty low degree of variance.
Projected 2014 Start: Savannah
MLB Arrival: 2017
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 170 lbs
Acquired: NDFA 7/2/12
Born: 11/20/95 (Santo Domingo Centro, DR)
2013 Rank: 15 | Stats
Why Ranked Here: Rosario is years — and many, many adjustments — away, but he showed off skills that give him a chance to be an impact player. The Mets challenged him with an assignment to the Appalachian League, as a 17-year-old, where he was the third-youngest player overall and second-youngest position player.
Before we proceed with Rosario, I want to add a caveat: I feel very comfortable evaluating 19-, 20- and 21-year-old baseball players because, having done it for years, I know what I’m looking at. Watching a 17-year-old, the age of a junior or senior in high school, years from physical maturity, was new for me.
First, physically, he’s wiry, but there’s muscle definition on his slight frame. Calling him just “skinny” would be unfair.
At the plate, Rosario’s best swing I saw, in a few games watching him, was a flyball out to right field off a full count offering. He drove an elevated fastball well the other way, and stayed on top of the ball. He has quick wrists and generates power thanks to good batspeed and the ability to barrel balls when he connects. He could grow into average power down the road. This power is very important to his overall future value. Even MLB average power from the shortstop position would make him a potential star.
Now the negative: This is not a professional swing. Rosario starts with his hands high and he initiates his swing with a leg kick. His next move is to drop his hands near his belt. He ends up under nearly everything aside from pitches right at the bottom of the zone. As his hands drop, his whole backside collapses. This is evident in every swing in the video below to varying degrees. While he was mostly working on hitting the ball the other way in 2013, he will need new swing mechanics to be a successful MLB hitter. He needs to learn to stay firm on his backside and dramatically clean up his hand path.
In terms of approach, he was baffled by breaking stuff, which is not terribly surprising. It came up in our brief chat, he’s never seen this kind of spin before. Fixing and repeating his swing will help him handle a wider variety of pitches.
Defensively, Rosario made all the plays in game action. He showed the hands for short in game action and in early work. He has plenty of arm for shortstop. His footwork is the area that looks least polished. At times he got out ahead of his feet thanks to slightly gawky movements. As he matures and grows into his body, he will need to keep working on his footwork and movements around the bag.
On a wet track in Kingsport, Rosario turned in average to a tick below running times to first. He seemed better under way. Still, speed is not a major part of his package now. If he really fills out as he ages, and loses range, it is possible that he will have to move off of shortstop. However, that is an issue for some years in the future.
2013: Hey, he made it through 58 games as a professional in his first full professional season. That’s pretty good. He drew walks in 4.9 percent of his plate appearances and fanned in 19 percent.
Dr. Pangloss Says: There’s some star potential in here if he rebuilds his swing, stays at shortstop, and the power comes.
Debbie Downer Says: There’s also potential for a guy with a .650 OPS in advanced-A.
Projected 2014 Start: Extended Spring Training and then Brooklyn
MLB Arrival: 2018
#10 Dilson Herrera
Height/Weight: 5’10”/150 lbs
Acquired: Trade with Pittsburgh 8/27/13 with Vic Black for John Buck and Marlon Byrd
Born: 3/3/94 (Cartagena, CO)
2013 Rank: NR | Stats
Why Ranked Here: Playing as one of the 12 youngest hitters in the SAL, Herrera acquitted himself nicely, more than holding his own against older pitchers. He projects as an above average second baseman who adds value with power, OBP and a few stolen bases. He hops in front of Kevin Plawecki in part because he played in the SAL as a 19-year-old, while Plawecki was 22.
He showed batspeed, enough strength in his swing and pop. Herrera’s 11 homeruns were second among all Mets 2B, behind only Wilmer Flores, who played his home games in Las Vegas. Also, for what it’s worth, in his age-19 season in Florida State League, Flores hit nine homers. Herrera paired that damage on contact with an impressive feel for the strike zone for a player so young as he drew a walk in 8% of his 2013 SAL regular season plate appearances.
Herrera is a slightly above average runner, going 14-for-20 stealing bases, but he needs to learn the nuances of running and how to pick his spots. (A note here: Herrera played all but six of his home games in West Virginia, a fair park, but 3% friendlier to hitters than the SAL average.)
I did not see the arm to think that Herrera could play shortstop everyday in the big leagues, confining him to second base as his longterm position. However, I heard some suggestions that the Mets were going to play Herrera at shortstop some in advanced-A. Given that most of the guys playing short in a-ball are not doing so at a Major League level, there’s little downside to this idea especially if the payoff that Herrera develops the valuable skill to versatile enough to slide over to short as a backup.
I thought Herrera was a little jumpy in the final week of the regular season and then the playoffs with the Gnats. He chased pitches and “got himself out” in the language of a hitting coach.
2013: Herrera became the youngest player ever in the Sirius/XM All-Start Futures Game showcase. While his batting average bounced around every month, like you know, every player, Herrera’s power output was consistent, as he popped two or more homers every month from May-August and had between six and 10 extra-base hits every month. Lets say in the big leagues, that’s eight extra-base hits a month for 48 for the year. That’s say, 15 homers, 5 triples and 28 doubles. From a second baseman, that’s outstanding production.
Also, while West Virginia favors hitters slightly, it doesn’t matter to Herrera who hit .221/.301/.323 in 60 games at home and .311/.367/.507 with eight of his 11 homers in 56 games on the road.
Dr. Pangloss Says: There are not a whole lot of Mets position player prospects with a chance to be above average regulars. Herrera is one of them.
Debbie Downer Says: True second basemen who do not hit enough to play everyday and cannot at least fake it at short don’t make big league rosters. Herrera either has to prove he can handle short at a backstop level or hit enough to play everyday.
Projected 2014 Start: Advanced-A St. Lucie
MLB Arrival: September 2016