Valentino Pascucci: From minor league slugger to teacher

Toby Hyde, Mets Minor League Blog:

Valentino Pascucci, something of a cult hero in certain segments of Mets fandom, was looking for a job hitting baseballs. Instead, he found a job teaching others how to hit them, as the hitting coach for the Savannah Sand Gnats, the Mets Single-A affiliate.

Pascucci, who turned 35 last November, was coming off a 30 home run season, split between Reynosa in the Mexican League and Camden in the Atlantic League, bopping 15 in each. But he and his 191 Triple-A long balls and career .266/.390/.493 line in over 1,000 games could not find a job on a Major League team’s 40-man roster or in Japan.

Pascucci Gnats HeadAnd so, it was time for a change. Truthfully, the Mets have had their collective eyes on Pascucci as a coaching candidate since at least 2011 and 2012 when Pascucci was still playing for the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo.

“It started back a couple of years ago with [Minor League Field Coordinator] Dick Scott,” Pascucci said, “We talked about what I wanted to do when I was done playing – if there was an opportunity to coach, they would love to have me back as a coach in the organization.”

This year there was. After Pascucci’s preferred Japanese team went with another hitter, Pascucci and Scott got back together and finalized a deal in mid-January.


The Philosophical Fit
Pascucci drew a walk in 15.5 percent of his minor league plate appearances and hit 301 doubles and 281 minor league homers. His style, represents, pretty closely, the kind of patient, powerful hitters the Mets are looking to develop.

Mets Hitting Coordinator Lamar Johnson, who oversees the minor league hitters and hitting coaches, talked about Pascucci, the hitter: “When you watch him play, and watch him hit, he does everything you would like a hitter to do. A guy like that, with that kind of discipline, that kind of plate coverage, and that kind of power, hey. He’s perfect for what we’re trying to do.”

Pascucci hit like a Mets farmhand, even before he was a Met.

“I kind of fit in with the Mets philosophy,” he said. “They want you to get a good pitch to hit. If you get it, drive it. If not, recognize it, [and] lay off it. Most of my career, I think I did a pretty good job of that.”

Johnson liked that Pascucci, did not just wait for his pitch, but he did damage when he connected: “He was a guy that would get good pitches to hit and when he got good pitches to hit, he would drive them. What he did at the plate was our main philosophy: always get a good pitch to hit.”

Even though he stood 6’6″ and north of 200 pounds, with tremendous power, Pascucci took pride in using the whole field.

“Keep it to the big part of the field, the hits will come.” he said he always told himself. “I stayed to the big part of the field. Hit a lot of balls to right-center. It’s that old saying, ‘Hard in, soft away.’ I know guys are going to try to do that to me, so I just stayed looking out over the plate … recognizing offspeed and laying off of it was a big part of my game.”

Where other hitters, particularly guys his age, were skeptical about drawing walks, Pascucci saw their value.

“I knew if I could draw a walk and get on base, then we’d have a runner on base, and the next guy would have a good chance, with a double, we’re scoring,” he said, likely making wise baseball fans weep for joy. To read more of this story, click here

Mets Minors Recap: Wednesday, April 9

las vegas april 9

Noah Syndergaard allowed four runs — three earned — in five innings. He allowed six hits, walked two and struck out two. He threw 91 pitches, 61 for strikes. Eric Campbell hit a two-run home run. Bobby Abreu and Cesar Puello each had two hits and scored once. Abreu added an RBI. >> Read more on MiLB.com


bingo april 9

Matt Bowman allowed one earned run over five innings. Jack Leathersich struck out two in one inning of work. Wilfredo Tovar had two hits and drove in three runs. Kevin Plawecki went 2-5, scoring once. >> Read more on MiLB.com

To read more of this story, click here

Mostly Mets pres by Caesars AC: d’Arnaud will be fine, Colon is doing fine, Vegas starters are really fine

Robert Brender and I talk about a little patience with Travis d’Arnaud, the solid starts for Colon and Niese, and the really solid starts for the prospects in the Vegas rotation.

Rate, review and subscribe here.


Rundown:

  • Have a little patience with Travis d’Arnaud
  • Colon, Niese, so far so good (10:30)
  • Vegas rotation shaping up well
  • One Good Thing, One Bad Thing (31:10)
  • Good: Hank Aaron, Pitcher who caught 715
  • Bonus Good: Savannah prospects
  • Bad: “True” HR King, Full service gas in NJ

Columbia, SC approves new ballpark, Sand Gnats may move there

The Columbia City Council has approved a plan to build a ballpark in their city. They’ve set aside $25 million for the project.

The Mets’ Single-A Savannah Sand Gnats may move to the new stadium, which wouldn’t happen until at least 2016 >> Read more: WIS

Tag-team wrestlers or middle infielders? Wilmer Flores and Eric Campbell

Toby Hyde, Mets Minor League Blog:

The Las Vegas 51s started Wilmer Flores at shortstop and Eric Campbell at second on Sunday and Monday.

Flores is listed at 6’3″, 203 lbs, while Campbell goes 6’3″, 207 lbs. Combined,  that’s 12’6″, 410 lbs of middle infielder. If only they could set picks while turning double plays, or block baserunners going first to third, the Mets might really be onto something.

In both cases, Danny Muno finished the game at second for defensive purposes.

Flores Throwing ST 14The Mets have promised for over three weeks now that when Flores began his season in Triple-A, he would play shortstop. This is a pretty dramatic reversal for the Mets and Flores and a dramatic condemnation of the team’s options at short in the big leagues and upper minors.

Flores has not been a shortstop in the minors for over two full years — playing third, second and first base instead. Before playing at shortstop for Las Vegas on Sunday, his last game as a professional shortstop in American professional baseball was September 3, 2011 with advanced Single-A St. Lucie. Let’s put it another way: Over two years ago, the Mets decided that Flores did not have the range to play shortstop. They have spent the last two seasons trying to find him a position. Now, he’s back at short.

Flores spent much of the winter working out with Mike Barwis at his Michigan gym. He’s in better shape now at age 22 than in previous years. He’s still not going to play anything like a league average shortstop. I asked a pair of scouts, one of whom had seen Flores this spring, and one who has seen him many times over the last few years, what they thought of him playing shortstop. One laughed and the other shook his head. One, an American League evaluator, believed the only spot for him, given his slow feet was first base.

However, the Mets’ inclination to return Flores to shortstop makes sense given that there are really no other viable alternatives in the organization anywhere close to helping the big league team. Flores did hit .321/.357/.531 in Triple-A last year with 36 doubles and 15 homers in 107 games at age 22. And yes, he struggled in the big leagues. And yes, he should learn to be more selective as he walked under 6 percent of the time in both Triple-A and MLB, where the world’s best pitchers exploited his aggressive approach. In a world where Ruben Tejada gets injured or repeats his 2013 performance, Flores just might be the Mets’ best upper level option to get something from shortstop. The calculation would have to be that he provides enough with the bat to make up for his defensive shortcomings.

To read more of this story, click here

Mets Minor Recap: Monday, April 7

The Las Vegas 51s were the only minor league affiliate in action on Monday, and won 7-6 to improve to 4-1 this season.

las vegas april 7

Need to Know: Daisuke Matsuzaka allowed three earned runs over five innings. He walked four and struck out four.

LF Matt den Dekker had two hits and two RBI. DH Bobby Abreu hit two doubles. C Juan Centeno had three RBI for Las Vegas.


Games for Double-A Binghamton and Single-A Savannah were both rained out.

Q&A with Mets 1B prospect Dominic Smith, whose swing is ‘pretty,’ ‘smooth, and ‘sweet.’

Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com recently named Mets 1B prospect Dominic Smith the second-best first baseman in the minor leagues.

Smith was the No. 11 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

“He looks like the total package at first base, combining solid athleticism and defense with a sweet left-handed swing,” Mayo said of the 18 year old.

In 2013, he began slowly, hitting .182/.270/.291 in his first 16 games. However, he hit .399/.437/.464 with nine extra-base hits and 17 walks in his next 135 plate appearances.

Toby Hyde, Mets Minor League Blog:

He is without a doubt one of the team’s top position player prospects. Despite the fact that Smith was one of the youngest hitters in the draft, the Mets assigned him to Savannah this year, treating him more aggressively than their previous two first round picks from high school: Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini.

Smith, who will not turn 19 until June 15, spent most of his winter working out in Michigan and St. Lucie to prepare for his full-season debut in 2014.   Scouts use words like “pretty,” “smooth,” and “sweet,” to describe his left-handed swing. Gnats manager Luis Rojas has praised Smith’s maturity.

Smith will be playing his home games in Historic Grayson Stadium, which is extremely hostile to left-handed power, so his maturity will be tested on nearly daily basis.


Dom Smith


Toby Hyde: You made the Sand Gnats, becoming the first Mets first round pick in three years to join the Gnats the year after you were drafted. How did you find out you made the team?

Dominic Smith: I found out I made this team the second to last day of Spring Training. They posted all of the teams out on the board. You basically go and look and see what team you are. I’m lucky I made the Sand Gnats. The next day, we had a team meeting, letting us know officially that we made the team. I’m just blessed to be here and I’m just grateful that I can come out here and play for the Sand Gnats.

Toby Hyde:  Think back to a year ago. You were in high school at this point. At this time in the day, 3 pm on the east coast, noon on the west coast, you were probably in class in high school, right?

Dominic Smith: Definitely, definitely. A year ago, I was probably on lunch time, hanging out with my buddies back home. That year passing has been a whirlwind. My life has taken me so many different places. Like I said, I’m just blessed to be here. I just thank god because I want this to be my career. There are things you have to do: you have to go whereever they tell you to go and you have to play. I’m just happy to be here.


Dom Smith


Toby Hyde:  Is it almost a relief to get out on the field, with things moving fast [in your life]?

Dominic Smith: Yeah, when you’re out on the field, it really gets your mind free and away from everything in your life. The only thing in my mind at that moment is baseball – playing baseball, performing, doing your job and putting on a show for the fans. It’s a lot of fun on the field and it slows my life down a lot when I’m actually out there.

Toby Hyde:  This is going to sound like a silly question, but what’s been the biggest change in your life in the last year? All these things moving fast – you graduate high school, get drafted, you sign, you go play in the GCL, you go up to the Appalachian League, get to play in the playoffs, spend the full offseason working out. A ton’s happened in the last year. What’s been the biggest change in you?

Dominic Smith:  The biggest change in me is just maturing more. I was just a kid last year… I’m the youngest one on this team. It just shows you that you need to mature quickly. Being around these other guys helps me mature and become a better person and it helps me be responsible. I’m 18, out here on my own for the most part, so it helps you grow up a little quicker…

Toby Hyde:  How’d you get ready for this season?

Dominic Smith:  The Mets sent me to Michigan. I worked out with Duda, Tejada, Matt Reynolds, Phil Evans, Flores, Lagares… They sent us all down there in November to work out for a month. Then I came home, then moved to Port St. Lucie – worked out with the Mets a little bit, then in January, they sent us back up there so I did a lot of training with Mike Barwis and Barwis Methods down in Michigan. He’s a great guy. He really loves his God. I really learned a lot, and got some really good training in.

Toby Hyde:  Where do you think you’re swing is now? You said, “ready”… but where do you think your swing is as we line up for Opening Day?

Dominic Smith:  I don’t really focus on the swing. I focus more on seeing the ball: picking up pitches and seeing the ball really well. My swing is going to get there regardless. It’s just about squaring the ball up, and hitting it hard. I mean, you could hit the ball hard five times and not get a hit. It’s more about just picking up breaking balls, and laying off breaking balls and stuff like that. That’s where I measure where my swing is. If I’m laying off of those things, it’s going to be a fun year.


Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 3.36.47 PM


Toby Hyde:  In terms of picking up pitches, if that’s your goal, are you looking for it out of a pitcher’s hand, even before that, when do you start looking for the ball?

Dominic Smith:  You pick up a spot, right by his ear, for me at least [depending on] where his arm slot is. Most normal pitchers arm slot is right by the ear. … Whatever I see the pitcher do to other batters, especially left-handed hitters – then I kinda pick up on that. A lot of pitchers at the lower levels tip their pitches and they pitch a lot of lefties the same. All you gotta do is be smart about it. Playing in pro baseball is more mental than physical.

Toby Hyde:  That ties into what you learned last year. And you just told us, it’s more mental than physical. What was the toughest part about coming back the next day after playing a game the day before?

Dominic Smith:  The toughest part about it, is really remembering the day before. When you play everyday, you want to have short-term memory. You want to forget that moment, that game, whether you went 3-for-3 with three bombs, or 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. You want to forget about it. It’s in the past, you can’t go back and change it. All you can do is move forward and get better everyday. You have to have a short memory in this game and forget about the past.


Here is a recent SNY.TV Prospect File on Smith, featuring video of him in action during Spring Training:

The Farm Cannot Help Replace Bobby Parnell Yet

parnellThe bad news: Bobby Parnell is going to have Tommy John surgery, and is done for the 2014 season. The good news: none. The bad news: the Mets farm system cannot offer a Parnell replacement right now. Instead, the Mets bullpen is going to have to muddle along with the pieces they have for now. (At right is an old picture of Parnell from his AA days.)

The Mets of course, have already replaced Parnell on the active roster with Kyler Farnsworth, outrighting Ryan Reid to triple-A Las Vegas, removing him from the 40-man roster in the process.  That means for the short-term, it’s all about righthanders Jeurys Familia, Kyle Farnsworth, Gonzalez Germen, Carlos Torres and Jose Valverde and lefties Scott Rice and John Lannan, a man with no career platoon splits, miscast as a situational left-hander.  There is risk nearly everywhere in this group. Farnsworth and Valverde no longer throw as hard as they once did. Scott Rice appeared in 73 games in 2013, in his rookie year, more than 15 more than in any of his 14 (!) minor league seasons. Gonzalez Germen and his marvelous changeup are probably not going to strike out 3 out of every 8 opponents.

What can the farm offer now, and in a two months? Crucially, these are different questions.

Bobby Parnell was the Mets’ best reliever in 2013. Losing him will hurt.

 

Now
The AAA Las Vegas bullpen features: righties Giancarlo Alvarado, Vic Black, Joel Carreno, Ryan Reid, Miguel Socolovich, and Jeff Walters and lefties Josh Edgin and Dana Eveland.

Black and Edgin are the two guys to watch for here.

- Black’s spring training control problems have continued in Las Vegas as he walked two batters in his only appearance so far. Scouts who saw him in Spring Training were also concerned that he did not create enough contrast with his pitches. “Everything was hard, his fastball was hard, his breaking ball was hard” one NL evaluator told MMiLB. Over short outings thats ok, as long as he can locate, which he has struggled to do. The smart bet here is that Black and his 98 mile an hour fastball will be back in the big leagues as soon as he starts throwing more strikes.

- Josh Edgin’s velocity dipped in July of 2013 from its 2012 peak. As a guy with only so-so command, he will either need to find the velocity or improve his command. He’s still left-handed and throws hard enough, if he had a better idea where it was going.

- Jeff Walters, the reigning Binghamton saves record-holder has found AAA to be tougher going so far. He picked up the always fun blown save/win combo on Sunday when Zach Lutz doubled home the winning run. He gave up four runs on five hits, including a homer, in his first outing. After striking out 27% of opposing hitters in 2013 in AA, Walters has not fanned any of the first 13 to face him in 2014. Yes, it’s only two outings. But those two outings do not scream: Big League Ready!


. (Audio courtesy Doug Greenwald, Fresno Grizzlies)

- Erik Goedel gave up a couple of runs Saturday to Fresno, as he transitions back to the bullpen fulltime.

 

Later
Fan favorite, LHP Jack Leathersich was sent back to AA in 2014 to improve his command. So far, it’s more of the same with lots of strikeouts and lots of walks: 2.1 innings, 13 batters, seven strikeouts and three walks.

 

There’s something inherently silly about citing less than a week’s worth of stats for any player, or two outings for a reliever. And yet, none of the preceding four pitchers looked ready to help the Mets in Spring Training. None helped their case in the season’s first week.

 

Two Months?
Lets fast forward two months. Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard have all been healthy and effective in the AAA rotation. They have made 10-12 starts, and thrown ~60-80 innings. These are the guys who are supposed to help the rotation this year, and in the case of Thor and Montero, become cheap building blocks in future seasons.

But lets proceed. Lets say the rotation is intact. But the bullpen needs help. With 80 innings under their belt, the Mets could transfer one guy, say deGrom or Montero to the bullpen and still get him enough innings that he could transition back to a starting role in 2015 or even later in the year. (Scouts are still split on whether deGrom should be a starter or reliever long term.)

Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs found that on average, teams need 32 starts from pitchers beyond their five most frequently used pitchers. Montero, deGrom and Syndergaard need to be ready to provide these innings. Fine, include Daisuke Matsuzaka for completeness here too.

The Mets cannot and should not move any of these three to the bullpen now, or before June. Moving them too early takes away valuable development time this year and cuts into their innings which will affect their ability to work without innings caps in future years.

 

Hang With Em
The hope? Edgin rediscovers his lost mph and tightens up his command. Vic Black throws more strikes. Goeddel turns back the clock to his UCLA days when his fastball and slider were plus pitches. Jeff Walters figures out more advanced hitters.

There are lots of potential paths to bullpen help, but all have twists and roots that could knock one off balance. There is no easy paved road to a bullpen savior.