Stock Watch: May 2014

May has come and gone, and now, two months into the season, let’s check to see which Mets prospects have moved forward and backward. While there are changes, it’s still only two months of baseball. The numbers reflect my preseason rankings for each player. (All stats as of June 3)

1. RHP Noah Syndergaard
Stock: Unchanged.
Pitching in one of the worst environments for a hurler in baseball, Thor’s been just fine (4.02 ERA, 8.2 percent BB, 24.7 percent K), and actually above average in the PCL where the average ERA is 4.55 and the strikeout rate is 19.7 percent, to go with an unintentional walk rate of 8.4 percent. He’s worked on using his pitches better and improving his changeup and pitch sequencing in Vegas. The stuff is there. He avoided serious trouble with his elbow, and is now scheduled to return to the Las Vegas rotation Thursday. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll be a Met by August.

Syndergaard_front-22. Travis d’Arnaud
Stock: Unchanged and graduated
D’Arnaud entered the 2014 season trying to prove he could be an everyday MLB starter. He still is. The approach is there – he has a 11.9 percent walk and a 17.9 percent strikeout rate – but he has had bad luck on balls in play (a .211 BABIP) and has not hit for any power (a .103 isolated slugging percentage). Thanks to a concussion which limited him to 12 games in May, and catcher usage, he’s played in only 35 of the Mets’ 58 games. Fan impatience with d’Arnaud is understandable and short-sighted. I still believe d’Arnaud will be an average or better MLB catcher in short order.

3. RHP Rafael Montero
Stock: unchanged and will graduate this year
Before the season, I wrote: “Montero looks poised to contribute in 2014 as a mid- to backend rotation piece.” The Mets gave him that chance for a little over two weeks in May. Five home runs in 20 innings and a 12 percent walk rate later, the 23-year-old is back in Triple-A in favor of Daisuke Matsuzaka. He’ll get the chance again. The Triple-A numbers presaged Montero’s big league struggles. His walk rate jumped from 7 percentin  the PCL last year to over 10 percent this year. In the big leagues, Montero threw his two-seamer, inconsistent slider and changeup for a strike just 15 percent of the time. That’s not going to cut it.

4. OF Cesar Puello
Stock: Confused.
When he has played, Puello was a hacktastic mess early, but improved measurably in May. However, Puello has started only 39 of the 51s first 58 games. He’s lost playing time to Brandon Allen, Andrew Brown, Matt den Dekker, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Anthony Seratelli.

In April, he fanned 20 times (23.5 percent) and walked just twice (2.4 percent) in 23 games. In May he improved to five strikeouts (6.3 percent) and seven walks (8.9 percent) in his 20 games. His isolated power rose from a meager .049 in April to .145 in May, a month in which he hit .291/.426/.436 overall. The Mets asked him to improve his plate discipline. Despite admitting that it was hard moving in and out of the lineup early, Puello has. It’s not just that he deserves to play everyday on his own merits. He’s the only real offensive help in the outfield for the Mets above Single-A. There’s still a world in which Puello is starting everyday for the Mets in August (Hi Chris Young’s .202/.293/.349 line) but he needs to play in Triple-A now.

5. INF Wilmer Flores
Stock: Up. It’s a graduation year.
The Mets are still trying to figure out what to do with him (hint: play him at 1B or 2B against LHP and SS against some RHP), but he’s a big leaguer now.

6. CF Brandon Nimmo
Stock: Up.
May was a “slow” month for Nimmo and the 20-year-old still hit .278/.402/.423 with 20 walks against 25 strikeouts in 27 games. He’s sitting at .325/.449/.460 for the year and starting to show more power than he did in Savannah (his iso is up from .086 to .135). Crucially, he’s cut his strikeout rate from 27 percentlast year to 19 percent this year, while increasing his walk rate. He’s already a disciplined on-base machine, and I think there’s more power in there. He’s dealt with a sprained ankle and pink eye in the last week, but he should spend this summers’ warm months with the Double-A Binghamton Mets. Nimmo is starting to convert skeptics, including Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus.

Matz Leg Kick7. LHP Steven Matz
Stock: Similar
I touched on Matz in my Single-A pitching review. He’s fourth in the Florida State League in ERA (1.73) and eighth in strikeout rate (23.9 percent). He’ll be in Double-A as soon as the first half ends in the Florida State League and he gets to enjoy a short break for the FSL All-Star game.

8. 1B Dominic Smith
Stock: Holding
He’s 18 and playing in a full-season league in Savannah, a park that’s brutal on left-handed power and hitting .259/.337/.295 in 54 games overall.

He was better in May (.320/.398/.360 – 4 2B, 13 BB – 27 G) than in April (.212/.261/.247 – 3 2B, 6 BB – 25 G) and has shown an ability to stroke line drives to left field and draw a walk. His 9.3 percent walk rate and 15 percent strikeout rates are impressive for a hitter so young. He’s showing pop in batting practice, but he’s still looking for his first home run and has just a 3.3 percentextra-base hit rate. Scouts are starting to wonder about his power ceiling. Again, he’s 18 and playing against guys 3-6 years his elder, but until he starts putting the ball over the wall, as a first baseman, it’s going to be an important conversation.

9. SS Amed Rosario 
Stock: Unchanged.
Rosario was 0-for-5 with five strikeouts in his first game with the Gnats. He was transferred to the Brooklyn roster there after. His hand path looks a little better in batting practice, but the 18-year-old needs to play more than one game for his stock to move. The Mets have a choice coming up about what to do with Rosario in a few weeks. There will be at bats available in the Gnats’ infield in the second half after guys like LJ Mazzilli (age 23) and Jeff McNeil  (age 22) are promoted. Shifting Rosario and Cecchini through short, second and third would guarantee plenty of AB for both. Or the Mets could just send Rosario to Brooklyn for the summer.

10. 2B Dilson Herrera
Stock: Up, a little
The 20-year-old popped 10 extra-bas hits in May (.322/.352/.438) to take his season line to .307/.352/.411 in 57 games. He’s listed at 5’10″, but he can hit – he’s second in the FSL in hits and total bases (and first in AB and games played). There’s a little bit of power and run (he’s 13-for-16 stealing bases). There’s also a lot of batting average in Herrera’s line. Neither his isolated slugging (.104), nor his walk rate (5.7 percent) are very impressive on their own.

The Mets could certainly leave Herrera at St. Lucie for most of the year although with another month like May, that would be harder. If he were to be promoted today, he would be the youngest player in the Double-A Eastern League, and the third-youngest player in all of Double-A baseball. As it happens, the B-Mets need an infielder or two, and now with Wildredo Tovar out with a thumb sprain and Matt Reynolds dealing with back problems. If one of them comes back soon, the Mets could move 2B T.J. Rivera up as the 25-year-old has beat up on the FSL at a .358/.395/.490 rate. If both Tovar and Reynolds are out for an extended period, Herrera really should join the B-Mets. He’s not going anywhere for two more weeks – until St. Lucie either clinches a first half or is eliminated (they’re half a game out with 13 to play). Also, for what it’s worth, Mazzilli, who began the year in Savannah looks ready for a new challenge in the FSL.

11. Kevin Plawecki
Stock: Inching upward
After a slow April (.250/.300/.304), Plawecki was a monster in the month of May (.359/.378/.602 – 26 games). After going homerless with three doubles in April, he blasted five over the wall and added 10 doubles in May. A 15-extra-base hit month plays, especially at catcher. The man hits lots of line drives hard to the gaps. The one caveat in Plawecki’s offensive record: his walk rate remains just 4.1 percent. It’s difficult — although not impossible — to be a good MLB hitter and walk that infrequently. Most of the guys in MLB lineups who stay there with walk rates that low are shortstops, center fielders and/or plus defenders. He has a more aggressive approach that most fans realize, and is eager to attack early count fastballs, with the swing, skills and strength to do damage when he connects. Still, MLB, or even Triple-A pitchers, would likely exploit this aggressive approach. He’s going to stay in Binghamton for a while, until he walks a little more.

12. SS Gavin Cecchini
Stock: Up.
There’s a big leaguer in here. At age 20 in the SAL, he’s showing more power and patience than he ever has before. His 9.8 percent walk rate and his .138 ISO would both be career highs and he’s doing it with just a 15 percent strikeout rate. He still has room to fill out and grow stronger. He’s added a leg kick to his swing in the last few years, but as long as he gets his foot down on time, it works for him. Perhaps, as he adds strength, he should be able to simplify his swing setup a little bit. Scouts have expressed concern over his range at shortstop since he’s no more than an average runner. His eventual role is far from clear, but he’s made solid progress.

13. RHP Gabriel Ynoa
Stock: Ticking upward
Ynoa has been absolutely lights out in his last four starts: 25 IP, 1.08 ERA, 22 K/2 BB, and an opponents batting line of .250/.265/.292 in 100 PA. Ynoa has an average-ish fastball (92-94), a slider and a changeup and he can throw all three for strikes out of a nice, easy delivery. He has a pretty advanced feel for pitching and demonstrated an impressive feel for setting up hitters and locating his stuff in the zone. There’s a rotation piece in here with this kind of progress.

14. RHP Michael Fulmer
Stock: Holding
Much better in May (2.57 ERA) than in April (8.00) ERA. Discussed him in the pitching review. The next few months of his development at age 21 will be interesting and important.

15. RHP Vic Black
Stock: Graduated. He’s a big leaguer.
Walks are apparently always going to hold down Black’s value. It’s going to look bad sometimes with all of the baserunners, but 98 mph is a pretty great weapon and equalizer.

deGrom Delivery Spring Training16. RHP Jacob deGrom
Stock: The talk of NY.
There are signs of regression coming: his left on base percentage is hilariously high (93.8 percent) and his BABIP is extremely low (.203) League average LOB is 73 percentand BABIP .294. Still, enjoy it. He’s a big league arm.

17. RHP Domingo Tapia
Stock: Slipping
He’s walked more batters (22) than he’s struck out (20). There’s no MLB starter in here, but quite possibly a hard-throwing reliever.

18. RHP Jeff Walters
Stock: Bypassed for an MLB promotion by Buddy Carlyle, Dana Eveland and various performers from Cirque du Soleil, Las Vegas. He owns a 8.85 ERA in 20 1/3 innings in Triple-A, and has allowed 37 hits for Wally Backman to go along with a pedestrian 13/8 K/BB rate.

19. RHP Cory Mazzoni
Stock: Slipping
He’s been hurt again. It’s hard to move up on the DL.

20. LHP Jack Leathersich
Stock: Slipping
The lefty is repeating Double-A with almost identical numbers to 2013 and again is walking 12.9 percent of opposing hitters, with a strikeout rate few ticks lower.

21. RHP Luis Mateo
Stock: Same.
He’s been out recovering from Tommy John. A potential MLB reliever when he returns, but its hard to move up a list on the DL.

22. CF Champ Stuart
Stock: Same.
He still has the tools — notably plus speed — to play a strong center field that earned him this rank. He’s raw, but improved over 2013, as the Mets have worked with him on becoming more aggressive at the plate. He’s high on my list of guys to watch in the next few months.

23. OF Ivan Wilson
Stock: Holding
Extended spring training is not where one increases (or loses) value.

24. RHP Luis Cessa
Stock: Slipping
Striking out just 10 percent of opposing hitters in the FSL. That’s not enough.

25. RHP Robert Gsellman
Stock: Moving up
There’s a big leaguer in here. He lost most of May to a minor hamstring strain. He had no feel for his curveball in his last start, but it looked much improved earlier in the year. For the season, he’s sitting on a 2.27 ERA with a 19.9 percent strikeout rate and a 5.4 percent walk rate overall. He throws 92-94 and has a big sturdy body. If the curve progresses he’s an MLB starter, otherwise he’s a potential middle reliever, and for a guy in Single-A who won’t turn 21 until July, that’s not a bad projection at all.

26. RHP Chris Flexen
Stock: Holding
Flexen was bad in April (7.11 ERA, 12 K/11 BB – 19 innings) and not much better in May (5.73 ERA, 11 K/14 BB – 22 IP), but turned in a gem in his first outing of June. The first two months, he worked behind in the count, and couldn’t command any of his pitches. Against Asheville on Monday, he struck out a season high 10, walked one and allowed one run on three hits in seven innings. He showed a big league fastball and curve and the makings of a useful changeup. Flexen won’t turn 20 until July 1 and Monday’s outing was a monster step in the right direction.

27. RHP Casey Meisner
Stock: Holding
Extended spring training is not where one increases (or loses) value.

28. RHP Andrew Church
Stock: Holding
Extended spring training is not where one increases (or loses) value.

Tovar Airborne29. C Juan Centeno
Stock: Same/on the road to graduation
Fulfilling his destiny as a no-power, decent backup catcher.

30. SS Wilfredo Tovar
Stock: Same/inching up
Tovar is the same gifted defensive SS with no power he’s always been. This year, he lowered his strikeout rate to a the absurdly low 5.4 percent. I still don’t think there’s enough bat to play everyday in the big leagues and he’ll be on the DL for a while with a sprained thumb.

31. 2B LJ Mazzilli
Stock: Up
A big month of May (.333/.433/.525, 5 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR) has put him, at age 23, on the path to a promotion to St. Lucie. His walk rate is up, and so is his power over his NYP numbers. Now, he’ll have to show he can do it against more age-appropriate competition.

32. OF Jared King
Stock: In a walking boot
The 22-year-old King has been out since May 11 with a broken fibula. He’s displayed a great plate eye (10.6 percent K and 17.4 percent BB). On the other hand, he’ll need to hit for more power to profile as a corner outfielder with no better than average defense.

33. RHP Erik Goeddel
Stock: Barely holding a 40-man roster spot.
In 23 1/3 innings in Triple-A, he’s fanned 24 and walked 18.

34. CF Matt den Dekker
Stock: On his way to graduating. Up-ish
He’s going to hit much big league pitching, but he can really play centerfield enough to stick around as a fifth outfielder.

35. OF Cory Vaughn
Stock: Enron?
Vaughn turned 25 on May 1, and has hit .176 in both April and May while repeating Double-A. He’s sitting at .176/.264/.259 in 49 games this year.

36. RHP Logan Verrett
Stock: Holding
He’s made 12 starts for Las Vegas and survived: 4.97 ERA, 67 innings, 92 hits, 11 BB, 46 K. If the Mets need an arm in an emergency, well, he has one.

Morris Savannah Delivery37. RHP Akeel Morris
Stock: Up some.
The top line numbers look really good: 0.31 ERA, 28.2 IP, 11 H, 12 BB, 45 K for a 41.3 percentstrikeout rate. But we’ve been here before with other SAL relievers with fastballs a tick above average and below average command and some kind of breaking ball (see also: Jack Leathersich and Bret Mitchell). Morris’ 7.5 percentwalk rate in May was a big step in the right direction. Still, he must continue to improve his command to profile as a big league bullpen piece.

38. RHP Ricardo Jacquez
Stock: Down
Jacquez gets penalized because he’s still in extended spring training. I saw the stuff from him in Kingsport at 92-94 mph with a slider at 87 to get guys out in the SAL. The fact that he’s not in SAL and has squandered half of a full-season is bad for his value.

39. RHP Bret Mitchell
Stock: Down
The 25-year-old walked nine batters in 11 innings in the FSL and has been on the DL since April 27 with a right hip strain. For a guy who had hip labrum surgery, that’s concerning.

40. 3B Pedro Perez
Stock: Holding
Extended spring training is not where one increases (or loses) value.

41. SS Luis Guillorme
Stock: Holding
Extended spring training is not where one increases (or loses) value.