View Full Version : Mets' future hopes in flux

02-28-2005, 02:30 AM
Apparently, the worst thing that could have happened to the 2004 Mets was a little success. They began July 30 with a 49-52 record, six games back in the National League East and seven behind in the NL wild-card race. Nevertheless, the Mets decided their future was now. Rather than wait for some of its best prospects -- lefthander Scott Kazmir, righty Matt Peterson and catcher Justin Huber -- to mature and join David Wright and Jose Reyes in the majors, New York dealt them away to make a playoff run.

But even before their widely panned trades for Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano, the Mets were beginning to fade. New York went 22-39 the rest of the way to record its third straight losing season.

Before the season began, owner Fred Wilpon proclaimed he wouldn't trade away the team's future. Four months later, the Mets did exactly that. They gutted their minor league depth for no short-term benefit. They also overpaid Benson (three years, $22.5 million) on the free-agent market rather than face the stigma of dealing away prospects for a rental. There still was plenty of embarrassment. As the industry wondered why the Mets would trade Kazmir to get Zambrano, the club offered a variety of excuses. One was that Kazmir wasn't nearly ready to contribute at the major league level. But then he looked like a future ace at times after the Devil Rays called him up in late August.

Worse, the Mets' front office turned out to be in chaos, with members jockeying to get the ear of Wilpon's son Jeff, the club's chief operating officer, and undermining general manager Jim Duquette. After the season, the Mets hired Expos GM Omar Minaya for the same role in New York, where he previously had been a senior assistant GM.

Duquette now works under Minaya as a senior vice president of baseball operations. Assistant GM Gary LaRocque had the scope of his duties reduced from director of baseball operations to overseeing only scouting. Russ Bove, a national crosschecker with the Expos under Minaya, became the new director of amateur scouting, replacing Jack Bowen, who remains with the club.

The scouting department has had its hands tied in recent years as the Mets surrendered their second- and third-round picks in both 2002 and 2003 as free-agent compensation. They also had yet to sign Rice righthander Philip Humber, the third overall pick in the 2004 draft, though negotiations are ongoing.

As Minaya tried to retool the Mets during the offseason, he realized the farm system wasn't going to provide much immediate help. So he re-signed Benson, lavished a four-year, $53 million contract on Pedro Martinez, and continued to pursue more free agents and trades.

Maybe New York will be improved in 2005. More certain is that its fans will cringe every time Kazmir takes the mound for Tampa Bay. The Mets' future is now playing elsewhere and the present doesn't look too appealing.

1. Lastings Milledge, of
Age: 19. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Bats: R. Throws: R.
Drafted: HSPalmetto, Fla., 2003 (1st round). Signed by: Joe Salermo.
2004 statistics: Baseball America Player Finder (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/Stats/playerfind.html).

Background: Baseball is in Milledge's blood. His father Tony Sr. was the Cardinals' third-round pick in the secondary phase of the January 1973 draft and played one year in Rookie ball. Lastings' older brothers Anthony and Tony Jr. also played professionally, though neither made it out of Class A. That won't be a problem for Milledge, who projected as a future first-round pick since he was a high school sophomore. New York was able to get him with the 12th overall pick in 2003 because of his mixed success with wood bats, a rumored high price tag and allegations of improper sexual conduct -- none of which was ever substantiated. The Mets say he has been a solid citizen since signing for $2.075 million, the second-highest bonus in club history. Milledge missed the first month of the 2004 season after breaking a finger when he was hit by a pitch during bunting drills in spring training. Once he returned, he quickly showed all of the tools the Mets have been salivating about. Though he struggled after a promotion to high Class A St. Lucie and returned to low Class A Capital City to help the Bombers' playoff run, he showed signs of being able to adjust and his effort never wavered.

Strengths: Milledge's bat speed is exceptional, giving him the ability to wait on pitches and drive them to all fields. He already has above-average power and should be a No. 3 hitter in the majors. He's most comfortable roping line drives to the gaps, but he can also bounce balls off of light towers on occasion. Since he's an above-average runner (4.1 seconds from the right side of the plate to first base), he also has the ability to serve as a tablesetter. He batted almost exclusively out of the leadoff spot last season. His speed, range and arm strength make him the best defensive outfielder in the system. Milledge's all-around tools compare favorably to those of anyone in the minors, and he has delivered production to go along with his potential.

Weaknesses: Milledge covers plenty of ground in center field, but he still needs to improve his jumps. He also had trouble going back on balls in 2004. If he's blocked in center by Mike Cameron, he could handle a move to right field. While he has plenty of speed and has succeeded on 31 of his 40 pro steal attempts, Milledge needs to take more chances on the bases. On the other hand, he's sometimes too aggressive at the plate. His exceptional bat speed keeps him from being a 100-strikeout guy, but he doesn't work counts particularly well and he doesn't draw a lot of walks.

The Future: Milledge's first full season was everything the Mets had hoped for. He'll return to high Class A to start 2005 but should reach Double-A Binghamton before too long. In an organization that promoted one potential all-star (David Wright) and traded another away (Scott Kazmir) in the second half of the 2004 season, Milledge could move quickly. There isn't another player in the system whose ceiling approaches his.

2. Yusmeiro Petit, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 230.
Signed: Venezuela, 2001. Signed by: Gregorio Machado.
2004 statistics: Baseball America Player Finder (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/Stats/playerfind.html).

Background: Petit has dominated at every step up the ladder. He has struck out more than a batter an inning in all six minor league stops, finishing second in the minors with 200 whiffs in 2004. He followed up with a strong winter in Venezeula.

Strengths: Petit's fastball leaves batters and scouts scratching their heads. It has solid velocity (89-91 mph, touching 93) and movement, but nothing about it appears to be exceptional -- except how hitters never seem to get a good swing against it. His slider is already average and has plus potential. His changeup is more advanced than his slider, but with less room for growth.

Weaknesses: It's uncertain whether Petit's fastball will play as well against more advanced hitters. However, those questions are diminishing as he continues to have success. Petit carries a little extra weight and will need to make sure he doesn't add too much more.

The Future: The trade of Scott Kazmir left Petit as the Mets' best pitching prospect. He'll likely begin 2005 in Double-A.

3. Gaby Hernandez, rhp
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 215.
Drafted: HSMiami, 2003 (3rd round). Signed by: Joe Salermo.
2004 statistics: Baseball America Player Finder (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/Stats/playerfind.html).

Background: Hernandez was one of the top high school pitchers in Florida in 2003 and 2004, leading Belen Jesuit to the state 3-A finals as a junior. After signing for $480,000, he won the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League ERA title and pitched the Mets to the league playoffs, where he got shelled.

Strengths: Hernandez features an 89-94 mph sinker that he already commands like a veteran. He baffled GCL hitters by throwing it to both sides of the plate. He also has a sharp curveball with good bite that he throws for strikes. His body is the prototype for a righthander. With all that, the Mets say his poise may be his best attribute.

Weaknesses: Hernandez is more polished than the average teenager, but he still can improve his mechanics. His changeup is solid but still can improve. More than anything, he just needs experience.

The Future: Hernandez aced his first exam. The Mets place an emphasis on winning at short-season Brooklyn, so they could send him there in 2005 even though he probably could handle an assignment to their new low Class A Hagerstown affiliate.

4. Ian Bladergroen, 1b
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210.
Drafted: Lamar (Colo.) CC, D/F 2002 (44th round). Signed by: Marlon Jones.
2004 statistics: Baseball America Player Finder (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/Stats/playerfind.html).

Background: Bladergroen passed up a scholarship from Nebraska to sign with the Mets as a draft-and-follow prior to the 2003 draft. A two-time junior college all-American, he led national juco players with 32 homers in 2003. He had a breakout first full season in 2004, but it ended early when he tore a ligament in his left wrist in July.

Strengths: Bladergroen has plus power, and because his swing keeps the bat in the zone for a long time, he also can hit for average. He uses the whole field and works counts well. One of the best defensive first basemen in the system, he's agile and has a big wingspan to nab high throws.

Weaknesses: Though Bladergoren has produced for average and power, his bat speed is not exceptional and could cause him problems at higher levels. His wrist injury is also a question mark, as he couldn't swing the bat during instructional league.

The Future: The Mets are anxiously awaiting Bladergroen's recovery. If he's fully healthy when spring training begins, he could hit his way to high Class A. Wrist injuries often take a while to heal, so he could need time to regain his power stroke.

5. Ambiorix Concepcion, of
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000. Signed by: Eddy Toledo.
2004 statistics: Baseball America Player Finder (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/Stats/playerfind.html).

Background: When scouts saw Concepcion earn recognition as the top prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League last summer, they had a reason to wonder where he came from. One of many Dominicans caught in the visa crackdowns, he previously had been known as Robert Solano, though his age remained the same.

Strengths: Concepcion's pitch recognition improved in 2004, which paid off in increased average and vastly improved power. He projects as a near-.300 hitter with 20-25 homers a year. Though he's only an average runner, he has demonstrated basestealing ability. He plays a solid right field with a plus arm.

Weaknesses: As good as Concepcion's season was, he still has yet to play in a full-season league. He has been around long enough that the Mets had to protect him on their 40-man roster, which started his options clock ticking. Thanks to a long swing, he strikes out too much. He's also prone to errors.

The Future: Concepcion will be the marquee player at Hagerstown in 2005. With a successful first half, he could earn a promotion to high Class A.

6. Alay Soler, rhp
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 230.
Signed: Cuba, 2004. Signed by: Rafael Bournigal.
2004 statistics: Baseball America Player Finder (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/Stats/playerfind.html).

Background: Soler helped Cuba win the 2002 World University Games, where he didn't allow a run in two starts, and led the island's major league with a 2.01 ERA in 2003. He defected by boat in November 2003, received asylum in the Dominican Republic and signed a three-year big league contract worth $2.8 million last August.

Strengths: Soler throws a 91-93 mph fastball that can touch 95. It features good armside run when he keeps it down in the zone. His 80-82 mph slider has tight spin with good depth, and his changeup is an average pitch that he can throw for strikes. He has a strong frame and a clean delivery.

Weaknesses: One scout who saw Soler in the Dominican League said he struggled with his fastball command and his mechanics when he hit 94-95 mph. He sometimes fails to get on top of the ball from his three-quarters delivery. He has a lot of history to overcome, as most Cuban defectors have failed to live up to their hype.

The Future: Several Cubans were sent straight to the majors, but the Mets will take a more pragmatic approach. Soler will start at high Class A or Double-A.

7. Shawn Bowman, 3b
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 206.
Drafted: HSCoquitlam, B.C., 2002 (12th round). Signed by: Claude Pelletier.
2004 statistics: Baseball America Player Finder (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/Stats/playerfind.html).

Background: When Bowman was hitting .187 in his 2003 pro debut, the Mets remained confident he was a prospect. He repaid that faith with a solid 2004 season. One of the system's hardest workers, he trains during the winter at the club's Dominican academy, where his fluent Spanish comes in handy.

Strengths: Bowman began to hit once he fixed mechanical problems with his swing and got more balanced in his stance. He showed the consistency at the plate the Mets envisioned when he hit .395 with a team-best four homers for Canada at the 2002 World Junior Championship. He's an above-average third baseman, with a plus arm and good lateral movement.

Weaknesses: Bowman still strikes out too much, largely because his pitch recognition needs work. He'll gear up for a fastball and get fooled easily by breaking stuff.

The Future: Bowman is ready for high Class A. David Wright seemingly has third base to himself with the Mets, but there are no immediate plans to play Bowman at a different position because he's above-average at third base.

8. Victor Diaz, of
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 220.
Drafted: Grayson County (Texas) CC, D/F 2000 (37th round). Signed by: Mike Leuzinger/Bob Szymkowski (Dodgers).
2004 statistics: Baseball America Player Finder (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/Stats/playerfind.html).

Background: Diaz won two batting titles in two full seasons in the Dodgers system before joining the Mets as part of the Jeromy Burnitz deal in 2003. He has continued to hit, including three homers in his 15-game big league debut last September. The biggest blast was a three-run shot in the ninth on Sept. 25 against the Cubs, signaling the beginning of their fall.

Strengths: Diaz has a quick bat that sprays line drives. In past years, there was a concern that he never would have more than gap power, but he hit 27 homers in 2004. His arm is average and better suited to the outfield than the infield, where he played until last season.

Weaknesses: Diaz never will be a selective hitter. His increased power came with a corresponding jump in strikeouts. He doesn't run well and that shows in the outfield, where he makes routine plays but little more. Conditioning never has been his forte.

The Future: The Mets still don't know if Diaz is a future big league regular or just a useful reserve. Their pursuit of several veteran outfielders probably means he'll have to come off the bench in 2005.

9. Jesus Flores, c
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180.
Signed: Venezuela, 2002. Signed by: Junior Roman/Gregorio Machado.
2004 statistics: Baseball America Player Finder (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/Stats/playerfind.html).

Background: Flores' bat came alive in his first season in the United States. After posting a .233 average in two seasons in the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League, he batted .320 over here. He also continued to provide stellar defense, leading Gulf Coast League regulars by throwing out 44 percent of basestealers.

Strengths: Though he's just 20, Flores already rivals veteran Joe Hietpas as the organization's best defensive catcher. He handles pitchers well, blocks pitches with aplomb and has solid footwork. His arm may be his best tool, as he consistently shows 1.9-2.0-second pop times from glove to second base. At the plate, he has a solid swing and already uses the entire field with average power.

Weaknesses: Despite his strong year, Flores' bat isn't nearly as advanced as his defensive skills. He struggles with breaking balls because he doesn't identify them well. He moves well for a catcher, but his speed still grades out as below-average.

The Future: Flores could be the all-around catcher the Mets have been searching for. He's ticketed for Brooklyn in 2005.

10. Matt Lindstrom, rhp
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 205.
Drafted: Ricks (Idaho) JC, 2002 (10th round). Signed by: Jim Reeves.
2004 statistics: Baseball America Player Finder (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/Stats/playerfind.html).

Background: Lindstrom is raw for a 25-year-old because he spent two years on a Mormon mission to Sweden. He returned to play a year at Ricks (Idaho) Junior College with his brother Rob. After a solid 2004 season, he attracted the attention of scouts in the Arizona Fall League, so the Mets protected him on the 40-man roster.

Strengths: Lindstrom has the best arm in the Mets system, with a fastball that sits at 94-96 and touched 100 mph during the season. He carries his velocity deep into his starts, and when he's locked in he can dominate hitters. His slider and curveball are average pitches.

Weaknesses: For a guy that can put triple digits on the radar gun, Lindstrom is passive too often. His fastball lacks movement and hitters get a good look at it coming out of his hand. He needs to pitch to both sides of the plate, tighten his slider and stay on top of his pitches. His changeup is merely usable.

The Future: At some point Lindstrom has to turn projection into production, but his arm will buy him time. He'll probably return to high Class A to begin 2005. His long-term role could be in relief.