April Stock Watch: deGrom, Dykstra and Nimmo

April has come and gone, so it’s time to stop and take a look at which players in the Mets farm system have improved their stock relative to their position on Opening Day on April 3.

Here’s the first rule: IT IS STILL EARLY! Outside of strikeout rate, ground ball rate and fly ball rate, it’s still so early that most of the rates for the commonly used rate statistics have not stabilized yet.


Triple-A


Jacob deGrom

I wrote about 25-year-old RHP Jacob deGrom at more length this morning. He’s been very good in six starts (4-0, 1.89 ERA; 28 K/10 BB; 33.1 IP/136 TBF) in the extremely hostile Pacific Coast League. The key for him thus far has been improving his ground ball rate from the low 40% range last year to 60% in 2014. There’s a big league power sinker in here, and apparently an improved slider. That’s a big league pitcher. My pre-season #16 Mets prospect is already on the team’s 40-man roster and established himself as the most ready for a big league callup the next time the Mets need a helping arm.

Honorable Mention
Alan Dykstra – the 26-year-old hit .359/.506/.656 in 23 games in April for Las Vegas. It’s Vegas, the Mets do not have a spot for him, his defense is rough, and its extremely unusual for a productive MLB 1B careers to begin at Dykstra’s age (26). Still, he had 13 extra-base hits in the month. In a world where the Mets needed a left-handed hitting DH, Dykstra would get a shot.


Double-A


Matt Reynolds

Reynolds, Mets’ second round pick in 2012, had a disastrous 2013 in which he hit .226/.302/.337 in 117 games in advanced-A St. Lucie at age 22. His beginning to the 2014 campaign is extremely different, as he hit .373/.455/.440 with 12 walks and 17 strikeouts in 21 games in April.
So, how much of the 23-year-old’s renaissance is real?

And uh-oh. Reynolds’ strong April is all about BABIP – or batting average on balls in play. Again, at the minor league level, BABIP certainly can be an indicator of consistent, hard contact. As a secondary piece of evidence, his line drive rate is up from 9.5% in St. Lucie in 2013 to 30.5% in Binghamton. (There are lots, and lots of problems with observational bias in line drive rate where hits are more likely to be reported as line drives than outs even given the same trajectory, but suffice to say, again, that he is making more good contact.) However, that’s one of ONLY two pieces of progress in his April versus his 2013 season. His walk rate is also up dramatically.

On the other side, his extra-base hit rate is down, his strikeout rate is up, and his isolated slugging percentage is below even his 2013 levels.

As for Reynolds’ work at shortstop – he’s ok. I still do not think he has the range to play shortstop at an average level everyday for a big league team. Rather, he can do it as a fill-in. Add some third base and second, and he’s a potentially valuable utility player or even low-end starter who makes his money as a low-power, batting average/walk driven infield piece.

I dropped Reynolds out of my pre-season Top 41. If I was redoing the list now, he’d be comfortably in the backhalf.


Single-A (Advanced)


Brandon Nimmo

I had Brandon Nimmo ranked as my #6 prospect in the system coming into this year. Then the just-turned 21-year-old went out and hit .384/.508/.515 in 26 games in April with eight extra-base hits, 25 walks (!) and 21 strikeouts. He popped two homers in 110 games in 2013 with Savannah and equalled that total 24 games into 2014. That is progress.

There’s a lot of BABIP in here, and a lot of real progress as well. Nimmo is just an extremely patient hitter. He’s swinging and missing far less than a year go, while walking in an absurd 20% of his plate appearances. Oh, and crucially hitting for more power than a year ago.

Where Nimmo’s ground ball rates and line drive rates thus far are similar to last year, but his outfield fly ball rate is way up from 24.8% in 2013 to 35% so far in 2014. He’s driving the ball better. He’s bigger, stronger and faster, and it’s both starting to show in his game and there is still room for much more power as he continues to learn to dive the ball. He will be the subject of a feature here next week.

Honorable Mentions

Steven Matz – My number 7 preseason prospect looked impressive in spring training, and has carried that right on into game action in advanced-A, going 2-2 with a 1.88 ERA in his first five starts. He’s running a 28 K/8 BB in 28.2 innings and is ninth in the FSL in ERA. He’s striking out 24% of opposing batters and walking 7% with a fastball that can get up into the mid-90s and the makings of a really nice Major League curveball. After the triple-A trio, this is the best pitching prospect pitching in full-season ball for the Mets.


Single-A (low)


Jeff McNeil

I was not expecting anything coming into the year, but now I think McNeil is something. The just turned 22-year-old hit .303/.388/.517 and led the SAL in doubles (9) in the month of April to go along with 13 extra-base hits overall. He had 11 extra-base hits in 47 games in the Appalachian League last year on his way to a .080 isolated slugging percentage, which he’s improved to a .214 isolated slugging percentage in 2014. He’s showed strike zone control too, with 14 strikeouts and 10 walks (13% K; 9.5% BB).

He’s good athlete at a rail thin at 6’1″, 174 lbs and learning third base on the fly. Still, he played shortstop as an amateur and second last year. A fine golfer in high school, he played relatively little baseball (just one year of high school) before heading off to Long Beach State. At the very least, he will play in the upper minors as a versatile infielder, and there might be big league time in his future. He can smack fastballs all over the yard, but curveballs and lefties confuse him at this point.

Honorable Mention

Robert Gsellman – My #25 prospect preseason, Gsellman had worked with a much improved curveball on his way to a 1.48 ERA in 24.1 innings in his first four starts in April. He’s working with a 23% strikeout rate and a 6% walk rate. He’s just 20, throwing in the low 90s and still knows what to do with a changeup. The only negative here is that the Gnats placed him on the disabled list with a hamstring strain on May 1, retroactive to April 26. Still, the improvement in his hook, is a positive step in his development on the way to the back of a big league rotation.

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