Frank Viola will join the Mets’ AAA staff in 2014. Viola will coach alongside manager Wally Backman and Hitting Coach George Greer.
Viola’s great. He always had time for me in Savannah, but more importantly, made his pitchers better. He understands what makes each pitcher successful, and seems adept at prioritizing the areas for each pitcher to improve. Frank is a ball-buster in the classic sense and enjoys his time on the field. He also gets a kick out of mixing in a few breaking balls or running a pitch in on a hitter’s hands in batting practice. He can still make his ball move like a Cy Young award winner
I’m disappointed personally that I’ll likely spend less time talking pitching with Frank this summer, but thrilled for him personally and professionally.
AAA: Las Vegas 51s 10, Colorado Springs (COL) 7
Thin air baseball is a different beast indeed.
SS Ruben Tejada hit his first home run of the year at any level in a 3-for-5 night that extended his hitting streak to eight straight games. He’s now hitting .385/.444/.590 in his last 10 games and .295/.347/.379 in 57 games with Las Vegas.
LF Dustin Lawley, in his second game in AAA, was 3-for-5 with two doubles and a homer.
The 51s pitchers: Matt Fox, Sean Henn, D.J. Mitchell and Chris Schwinden (0.1 innings of relief). Ugh. Lets move on.
The 51s are two games ahead of the Sacramento River Cats with four games to play.
AA: @ Bowie Bay Sox (BAL) 13, Binghamton Mets 1
The Bay Sox scored six times in the first inning against Erik Goeddel and three more times in the five-run fifth. Goeddel’s (9-7, 4.37) ugly line: 4.2 IP, 12 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 4 HR.
One modest bright spot for the B-Mets: RF Travis Taijeron, who was 2-for-4, with a homerun and a strikeout. Taijeron has in fact seen his strikeouts (75 in 63 games) eat his batting average as he’s down to .241/.320/.500 in 63 games in AA. The 24-year-old has more extra-base hits (30) than singles (24). It’s an all-or-nothing approach that will not play, in its current form, in the big leagues.
The Major League Mets are not going to the playoffs, but the majority of their minor league affiliates are still fighting for playoff berths. So lets check up on each race, starting with the full-season teams where two of the four teams have clinched and one more is close.
Led by almost big leaguers Ruben Tejada and Kirk Nieuwenhuis and earlier Lucas Duda and Ike Davis and Wilmer Flores on the position side and Zack Wheeler and Rafael Montero and friends on the hill, the Las Vegas 51s are 76-58 and two games ahead of the Sacramento River Cats for first place in the PCL Southern Division with 10 games to play in the next eight days thanks to a pair of doubleheaders with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.
There is no wild card in the PCL, so it’s Division Title or bust for the 51s.
Prospects you care most about: Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores have all graduated. That leaves Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom in the starting rotation, both of whom could make their MLB debuts in 2014. John Church is not sexy, but he’s had decent results out of the Vegas bullpen with a fastball in the low 90s. Jack Leathersich is still walking a batter an inning in AAA (25 BB in 27 IP) on his way to a 6.00 ERA.
The Binghamton Mets have clinched the Eastern League’s Eastern Division and have tied a franchise record for 82 wins.
In related news, the B-Mets lead the EL in walks drawn and are second in OBP (.343). Also, the team’s pitching staff is one one hundredth of a point from the league lead in ERA.
Prospects you care most about: THOR. Noah Syndergaard, who throws tonight, is the only Top 15 guy in the system on this team right now with Rafael Montero promoted to AAA and Cesar Puello suspended. Jeff Walters, a sinker slider guy, has had a nice season out of the Binghamton bullpen (57 K/16 BB in 51 IP) and is a good bet to earn a 40-man spot this winter.
St. Lucie is six games back with seven to play in the second half and staring at an elimination of 1. This is the one full-season affiliate likely to miss the playoffs.
The Savannah Sand Gnats won the first half in the SAL Southern Division to clinch their playoff berth and likely headed toward a first round date with the Augusta GreenJackets (SF).
Prospects you care most about: CF Brandon Nimmo, LHP Steven Matz, RHP Luis Cessa and RHP Gabriel Ynoa.
With his bruised thumb finally healed, and after a couple of tweaks to his swing, Nimmo has taken off in August at .354/.514/.456 with 24 walks against 24 strikeouts in 25 games to push his season line at age 20 to .279/.402/.369 while playing CF at a level that makes me think he can stay there.
Ynoa and Cessa are in the Top 10 in the league in ERA and Matz (2.59 ERA) would be there if he had enough innings. Barring rainouts that cancel games, Matz will need to throw 8.1 innings in his final start to qualify for the SAL leaderboard. He’s been 92-96 with his fastball, sitting 92-94 with the makings of a plus changeup. Oddly, in his last start on Saturday, he had better feel for his breaking ball than his changeup, the reverse of the usual order. He’s back to calling his breaker a curve instead of a slider as he works to get more depth on the pitch.
Cessa and Ynoa both have the potential to be rotation members in a few years. Cessa’s fastball has held up a little better over the course of the summer, as he’s touched 95, and sat around 92 to go along with a changeup and slider that has more depth than sweep. The 20-year-old Ynoa has been 90-92 more recently after touching higher earlier in the season, and complements that with a slider and a changeup that scouts think have the makings of MLB average offerings.
AAA: @ Las Vegas 51s 3, New Orleans Zephyrs (MIA) 2
Hey, now, Rafael Montero: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K. The eight strikeouts for Montero were one off a AAA season-high set in his last start. After an ordinary first 10 starts in AAA, Montero’s August has been spectacular: 3 GS, 0.82 ERA, 22 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 21 K. He’s striking out batters at a rate of 27.6% in his last three starts and walking them at a 2.6% rate. After 122 innings a year ago, Montero has thrown 138 this year, so he likely only has another 15-20 to play with before the Mets will shut him down for the year. That, plus the fact that the 22-year old is not on the Mets’ 40-man roster, and will not need to be added for Rule 5 protection for two more years, means he will not get a chance to make his big league debut until next year. Instead, bet on 2014 for Montero.
C Travis d’Arnaud (1-for-3, BB, RBI) is hitting .304/.487/.554 with 21 walks against 12 strikeouts in 19 games in AAA. This is a guy who drew 19 walks in 67 games in Las Vegas when they were a Blue Jays affiliate in 2012. He has addressed the major flaw in his on-field game: his patience at the plate.
RF Kirk Nieuwenhuis had a solid night at the top of the order, going 2-for-4 with a double, a walk and two strikeouts. In 55 games in AAA, the 26-year-old has hit .243/.342/.471 with 30 walks and 59 strikeouts. Nieuwenhuis is playing right while Matt den Dekker patrols center.
AA: Binghamton Mets 9, @ Reading Fightin’ Phils 3
The Binghamton Mets are now a franchise-best 30 games over .500. Which is nice. The B-Mets’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth is just one. Which is also nice.
CF Alonzo Harris had a nice night at the bottom of the Binghamton order, going 3-for-4 with a double. Despite leadoff man speed, the 24-year-old is the owner of a .225/.292/.310 line in 88 games.
AAA: Las Vegas 51s 8, New Orleans Zephyrs (MIA) 1
For the second straight night, Travis d’Arnaud was hitless, (0-2,) but walked twice. You want strike zone control? d’Arnaud has walked 20 times and fanned just 12 in 18 games in AAA for a .302/.486/.566 line. Combine that new patience with vicious batspeed, and d’Arnaud is just waiting on his call. He’s still just waiting on BabyBuck and saying the right things while he waits.
Juan Centeno pinch hit for d’Arnaud in the 7th. Hmm…
RF Kirk Nieuwenhuis (2-for-3 with a homer, 2 walks and 2 RBI) and 1B Lucas Duda (3-3, 2B, 2 BB) carried the 51s offense. Duda has played four straight games at first base, which is nice, because it’s the position where he belongs.
The homer was the 12th of the year for Nieuwenhuis (.238/.336/.465) who has more homers than doubles (8) in AAA.
Matt Fox was sharp: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K.
AA: Binghamton Mets 4, @ Reading Fightin’ Phils (PHI) 3
One night after blowing his first save since June, Jeff Walters was right back on the hill, working around two hits to nail down the final three outs with a strikeout.
Darin Gorski was ok, but unexceptional: 6 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K.
AAA: @ Las Vegas 51s 4, New Orleans Zephyrs (MIA) 3
C Travis d’Arnaud (.314/.486/.588 – 17 gms): 0-for-2, 2 BB
d’Arnaud now has drawn 18 walks and fanned just 10 times in 17 games in AAA. That is very, very good.
1B Lucas Duda (.200/.355/.200 – 8 gms): 0-for-4
Duda, who again played first for the third straight night, has just played a little over a week’s worth of games in AAA, but it has not been a good week.
CF Matt den Dekker (.286/.350/.484 – 39 gms): 0-for-4,
RF Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.231/.326/.447 – 53 gms): 0-for-3, BB
Nieuwenhuis has fanned 57 times in 53 games in AAA this year and just enjoyed his 26th birthday. The window for him to establish himself in the big leagues is rapidly drawing closed.
SS Ruben Tejada (.265/.329/.329 – 40 gms): 1-for-3
The 23-year-old Tejada has a platoon split .794 OPS vs. LHP in 33 PA and .614 vs. RHP in 141 PA this year in AAA that mirrors his MLB platoon split (.608 vs. RHP and .739 vs. LHP). Omar Quintanilla does not hit lefties at all (career: .180/.232/.205 – 225 PA). Could a Tejada/Quintanilla platoon work for the Mets in the big leagues if there is no satisfactory everyday SS available via trade or free agency this off-season? A team cannot really carry both Tejada and Justin Turner as bench pieces at the same time.
Starter Jacob deGrom had a solid night both on the mound and at the plate, where the former college shortstop was 1-for-2 with his first professional homerun. His pitching: 6.2 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR.
After a 6.43 ERA in July, the 25-year-old deGrom is down to a 3.32 ERA in three starts in August. His strikeout to walk ratio, which was 3.2 in July (19 K/6 BB) has improved to 4 in August (16 K/4 BB). He’s striking out basically the same number of batters – 19.5%, but his walk rate this month is down to a very strong 4.9%. deGrom is a personal favorite of mine, he’s long and lean with a great pitcher’s build and a plus fastball that sits in the low-mid 90s and he can run up to 96. He was new to pitching when the Mets drafted him, and he missed the 2011 season with Tommy John surgery, but he’s thrown lots of strikes as a minor leaguer.
The question I had about deGrom was whether his slider would develop enough to complement his fastball and keep him in a starting role in the big leagues. Now, the Mets have him working with a curveball, rather than the slider.
When queried about deGrom’s slider, Mets’ pitching coordinator Ron Romanick, talked about deGrom’s new weapon, “His slider, I like it more as a curveball. The last time I was in Vegas, he threw some on the side – basically, the same grip, but just throw it like a curveball. And deGrom, he threw it, and I’m like, “that’s a curveball, I like how that comes out of your hand. It looks natural.”
Romanick compared deGrom to the 1980s starter Mike Witt. The tall, slender Witt was a big leaguer for 12 years, almost exclusively as a starter, with a career ERA+ of 105 and two All-Star selections, including a career year in 1986 when he placed third in the Cy Young award voting.
Romanick also mused about the nature of teaching or improving young pitchers’ curveballs and pointed out that deGrom was going through a similar adjustment period to Noah Syndergaard in learning the pitch. Romanick wants to see pitchers maintain deliveries on their breaking stuff that mimics their fastball motions as nearly as possible.
For deGrom, he said, “It’s like Syndergaard – he was trying to throw his curveball “like a curveball” instead of like a fastball and when he started doing that, [throwing it like a fastball], here’s a plus curveball. The [goal is] the mentality of a curveball grip, but you throw everything like a fastball. And a lot of the guys who throw curveballs, it has that “high school loop” in it and that’s the wrong mentality. That’s one of the things you talk about. Not how much it breaks, but how late it breaks. And a true curveball, the grip will produce the rotation to it. Syndergaard’s the same way. They get this mental picture of what it’s supposed to look like. It’s supposed to look like a fastball. You gotta have the same stroke you do on the fastball. “
AAA: New Orleans Zephyrs (MIA) 12, @ Las Vegas 51s 9
The Las Vegas homeruns:
C Travis d’Arnaud, CF-LF Brian Bixler and PH-CF Matt den Dekker.
d’Arnaud was 3-for-5 to lift his overall AAA line to .327/.485/.612 .
295/.475/.523 with 10 extra-base hits and an absurd 16 BB/9 K in 16 games. Since his promotion to AAA, on August 9, he’s hit safely in each of his four games with four extra-base hits, four walks and one strikeout. Once d’Arnaud comes up for #BabyBuck will he go back down to AAA again? That’s the plan (I thought), but what’s the point of bringing him up for a week, and then sending him to AAA for a two weeks to play Buck and then bringing d’Arnaud back when rosters expand on September 1 to play nearly everyday or split time?
den Dekker, who turned 26 last week, is hitting a very solid .295/.360/.500 for the 51s in 38 games. He’s cut down on the strikeouts some from extreme to merely high: he’s fanned in 25.7% of his AAA at-bats this year, suggesting that he will have big time trouble hitting for average in the big leagues.
Lucas Duda (.235/.353/.438 – 68 gms in AAA) played first base for the fifth straight night.
Giancarlo Alvarado (2 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 2 K) was hit hard and so was LHP Jack Leathersich (2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K).
Leathersich’s bad night cost him .76 points of ERA. In 23.1 innings in AAA, he’s struck out 40 (35%) and walked 21 (18%). That’s not going to work. He needs to get a few more outs in the strike zone.
Robert Brender, @robertbrender on TwitterSalt Lake Bees (LAA) 6, @ Las Vegas 51s 3
RHP Jacob deGrom (pictured) made his second start for Las Vegas since being called up from Binghamton June 17, and he was fantastic. The Florida native shutout Salt Lake for six innings but was not involved in the decision after the bullpen blew the lead, with an assist from the 51s defense. Thanks to four runs in the 8th inning, the Bees came from behind to beat the 51s 6-3 at Cashman Field.
Pitching line for deGrom: 6IP, 3H, 0R, 0ER, 4BB, 7K. He threw 98 pitches (60 strikes). In 11.2 innings since his promotion, deGrom has limited his two opponents to one run with 10 strikeouts. It’s a remarkable improvement, considering he was 2-5 with a 4.80 era in 10 starts with Binghamton. The main concern is his control; 28 walks in 83.2IP at both levels this season (6BB in 11.2IP at AAA).
With Vegas ahead 2-1 in the top of the 8th inning, left-hander Sean Henn (1-3) was summonsed from Wally Backman’s bullpen. Henn had limited opponents to one earned run in his previous nine appearances, but Sunday provided very different results. The lefty started the frame by walking the leadoff man, Andrew Romine. He than attempted to pick Romine off at first base and threw the ball beyond the reach of Rylan Sandoval covering, allowing Romine to go all the way to 3rd. One uneventful out later, Kole Calhoun tripled home Romine tying the game.
With two out in the innings, 3b Eric Campbell made an errant throw to first on a groundball that would have ended the inning. Instead, the error allowed the go-ahead run to score for the Bees. Henn was relieved by Greg Peavey, who promptly gave up a two-run homer to the first batter he faced making it 5-2 Salt Lake. Sandoval homered for the 51s in the bottom of the inning, but Salt Lake got the run back in the top of the 9th and went on to win 6-3.
Wilmer Flores continues to rake for Vegas, going 2 for 4 Sunday, in the process extending his hitting streak to five games. He’s also hit safely in eight of his last nine starts with 12 hits in 38 at-bats over that span.
Notes: Ike Davis got the day off Sunday after making 11 straight starts in AAA….Mike Baxter was 0 for 5 and is now hitting .208 since his demotion….With Lutz, Brown and Satin all in the big leagues, Francisco Pena hit cleanup and was the DH Sunday….Vegas is now 39-36 this season.
Robert Brender, @robertbrender on Twitter
The Las Vegas 51s
prepare to open a
four game series in Tacoma Thursday night with a 31-26 overall record, one game behind Tucson and Sacramento for 1st place in the PCL Pacific Southern Division. They’re in the midst of their best winning streak of the season, having reeled off seven straight, including sweeping a four game, wrap-around series in Fresno early this week. They’ve also won nine of their last 10. What makes the 51s recent quality of play so surprising is the roster, especially on offense, has been stripped of quality due to injuries and call-ups.
Outfielder Andrew Brown (.371/.442/.655) was forced to the disabled list May 20 with a strained oblique while leading the team in most offensive categories. Despite being gone for 24 days, he still leads the squad in triples, BA, SLG, OBP and OPS and his 32 rbi are second on the team behind Wilmer Flores’s 39.
Zach Lutz, who was playing his best ball of the season in May, landed on the DL May 28, also with the dreaded oblique strain. The PA native, who celebrated his 27th birthday June 3, had hit safely in eight of his previous nine games before leaving the ballgame May 26 against Salt Lake after one at-bat with discomfort on his side. Thanks to a red-hot May with the lumber, Lutz improved his average to .277/.360/.419 overall with 4 homers and 26 driven in. Before they were injured, both Brown and Lutz were serious contenders for big league promotion with Ike Davis slipping toward a trip to Sin City. In fact, it’s conceivable if Mets brass had the option of promoting Brown or Lutz at the end of last month, Davis wouldn’t have been given as much time to work out of his slump.
Shortstop Omar Quintanilla was given his shot to join the Mets May 30 after Ruben Tejada wound up on the DL with a quad strain. The Texan was putting together his best hitting streak of the season in Vegas and might have been given a ticket to New York even if Tejada didn’t get hurt. Before his call up, Quintanilla had a knock in nine consecutive games, raising his average to a season-best .333/.419/.484.
To a lesser extent, the losses of catcher Juan Centeno to the DL May 18 (returned May 28) and utility player Reese Havens May 30 have made depth an issue for Wally Backman. Havens might have lost a chance to get more playing time after collecting 97 at-bats so far this year, most off the bench. Centeno became the starting AAA catcher after Travis d’Arnaud broke his foot in mid April. d’Arnaud is the Mets top position prospect and was expected to contribute heavily to the middle of the Vegas lineup before he would ultimately wind up in Queens. After Centeno was lost to injury, Francisco Pena was called up from the B-Mets and stabilized the catching position (.302/.333/.628).
Probably the most challenging issue facing the 51s coaching staff on a regular basis has been consistently terrible pitching. While Zack Wheeler’s era stands at 3.86, the rest of the Vegas starters own a 5.61 era. It looks even uglier if you remove Collin McHugh’s 2.74 in eight starts before he was called to the big leagues May 14. Right-hander Rafael Montero had a solid spot start May 21 in Iowa, creating some hope he would be added to the rotation permanently. However, that didn’t happen and he’s been in Binghamton ever since. The bullpen hasn’t been any better than the starters, surrendering 110 runs and 220 hits in 193 innings.
So, despite all the problems, what’s the reason for the recent success: Well, 51s hurlers have been better lately, to the tune of a 2.86 era in the last 10 games. Right-hander Carlos Torres has won each of his last four starts since May 18, including a complete game shutout June 3 at Fresno. Despite walking the house, D.J. Mitchell threw six scoreless innings May 31 against Reno at Cashman Field for his longest outing of the season. Recently signed RHP Matt Fox has limited opponents to three or fewer runs in each of his four starts with Vegas. And, new closer David Aardsma has three saves, allowing just one run in seven outings.
The offense is being carried the last two weeks by Wilmer Flores and Josh Satin (.311/.423/.500) but getting lots of assistance from Kirk Nieuwenhuis and unlikely contributors like Jamie Hoffmann and Brian Bixler. In his last 17 games, Nieuwenhuis is hitting .258/ .388/ .636 with 8 HR (seven in the last 12 games) and 14 BB. In the last 19 games, Flores is hitting .347/ .372/ .520 with 8 2B, 1 3B and 1 homer. The 51s are posting 5.42 runs per game over the course of their seven game winning streak.
After losing seven of 10 games from May 13-23 with many of their best players active, it’s surprising to see such a dramatic turn-around considering how limited the roster currently is.
AAA: Las Vegas 51s 2, Fresno Grizzlies (SF) 1
RHP Zack Wheeler put together his first quality start in his three tries since his return from a right shoulder strain. His line: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. He threw 65% of his pitches for strikes. Wheeler’s line in his last three starts: 15 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 4 HR, 6 BB, 12 K. He’s getting closer, and the Super Two deadline is getting close and the Mets have need in their rotation. However, given that he gave up two homers in each of his last two starts before Saturday, I still think he’ll get a few – like three – more starts for Vegas.
CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis homered again, his eighth in 31 games in AAA. He’s gotten hot in a big way: in his last 11 games, he’s hit .293/.431/.756 with one double and six homers, 10 walks and 10 strikeouts.
A night after getting plunked Friday, 2B Wilmer Flores did not play Saturday.
AA: Binghamton Mets 6, @ New Hampshire Fisher Cats (TOR) 0
Ho-hum, seven more shutout innings for Rafael Montero. His line: 7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K and 69% strikes (70 of 102). In his two starts back in AA since a solid sport start in AAA, he’s done this: 13 IP, 9 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 12 K. That’s a pretty good way to earn a more lasting assignment to AAA.
2B Danny Muno, snapped a 24-at-bat hitless skid with a three-hit night, including a homer. The 24-year-old is hitting .210/.353/.324 in his first 52 games in AA.
After one homer in the month of May, RF/LF Cory Vaughn equaled that in his first game in June by going 3-for-5 with a double and a homer, his sixth of 2013. Vaughn finished May at .280/.344/.354 with three doubles and one homer and is now hitting .295/.374/.458 just past his 24th birthday.