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3 Young Starters the Chicago Cubs Should Target in a Trade This Offseason

The Chicago Cubs have done an exceptional job at collecting assets in recent years, but with many of their young players ready to contribute, they will soon need to turn those assets into a balanced roster built to compete for a World Series title.

The Cubs have one of the best farm systems in baseball, but while their system is loaded with potential impact hitters, it is light when it comes to pitchers ready to contribute. Next season Chicago will have the good problem of having to find a way to slot the likes of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Javier Baez into the same lineup, but its pitching staff will still be mediocre relative to the rest of the league.

With many of their young hitters ready to contribute in 2015, the Cubs must sacrifice one of their budding stars in a trade in order to acquire a young starter to help lead their staff. Jake Arrieta and possibly Kyle Hendricks are a good start, and it is possible that they will throw money at Jon Lester or Max Scherzer this offseason, but adding a young, impact starter would not only put the Cubs in great position next year but for the years to follow.

Below are three promising young starters the Cubs should target this upcoming offseason in a trade. The criteria for these starters is that they must have at least some big-league experience along with a tremendously high ceiling, a pitcher who is truly worth one of the Cubs’ big-time prospects.


Zack Wheeler

The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs seem like the perfect match for a trade; two teams with their eye on being relevant in 2015, one with a stockpile of young hitting, the other with pitching. Cubs fans may have seen a preview of their future ace on Friday night when Zack Wheeler led the Mets to victory.

Wheeler was a top 10 prospect in baseball for a long time, and he has done little in his past year in the majors to create cause for concern about his future as a top-of-the-rotation stud.

Wheeler has had his hiccups, but he has still been remarkably solid for a pitcher who just turned 24, posting 3.46 ERA over his first 247 innings. He has proven that his talent alone can carry him to major league success, and if he refines his command and develops his changeup a little more, he could be one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Wheeler would be a perfect fit for the Cubs. Assuming Chicago makes a big addition to its staff this offseason, whoever it signs along with Wheeler and Arrieta would make for a very solid top three of a rotation.

However, because Wheeler has established himself over the past year as one of the bright young stars in baseball, he would come at a steep price.

The Mets may have interest in Starlin Castro, but if they were to trade Wheeler, they would likely demand one of Baez, Bryant or Russell. New York is looking to compete in 2015, meaning a pu-pu platter of intriguing yet younger and further away prospects wouldn’t be enough for a deal.

It is possible the Cubs target another Mets pitcher in a deal such as Noah Syndergaard or Jonathon Niese. Syndergaard is less proven than Wheeler yet the organization values him just as highly, but Niese could also make sense, and he would likely cost less than one of the Mets’ two younger studs.


Kevin Gausman

Baltimore Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman struggled during his stint in the majors in 2013, but he still has a humongous ceiling and was rated as the No. 10 prospect by Baseball Prospectus coming into this season despite his less than ideal start to his career. He has still had some hiccups this season but has posted a 3.90 ERA while exhibiting the ability to be a future ace.

Trading for Gausman would be a tricky proposition for the Cubs because the Orioles currently imagine Gausman and Dylan Bundy leading their future rotation. However, it will be difficult for them to re-sign J.J. Hardy this offseason and could be enticed by the Cubs’ potential left-side infielders.

Gausman has truly elite talent and is a good bet to be a stellar starting pitcher for a long time. Adding him to their rotation would give the Cubs a much-needed starter who would be under team control who could also potentially become their long-term ace.

Despite Gausman’s relatively unimpressive stat line, he would still cost the Cubs one of their prime prospects. The Orioles would likely be interested in any of their elite hitting prospects, as they could put Bryant or Baez at third and slide Manny Machado back to short, or Russell and Machado could potentially form the best left side of an infield in baseball.


Andrew Heaney

Miami Marlins starter Andrew Heaney came into the season as the top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus (No. 30 overall), and he would be a great addition to the Cubs’ pitching staff.

Heaney struggled during his cup of coffee in Miami earlier this season, but he has continued to prove in the minors that he is a refined left-hander with above-average stuff who will be ready to contribute in the near future.

Miami would also love to obtain a premier power-hitting prospect to put alongside Giancarlo Stanton moving forward. The Marlins will be looking to compete in 2015 with the return of Jose Fernandez and continued excellence of Stanton, and the idea of adding a potentially elite bat under team control like Baez would make them salivate.

However, unlike Wheeler and Gausman, who have shown at least some major league success and were once considered top 10 prospects in all of baseball, Heaney is a shade lower in terms of talent. If Miami wanted to acquire one of the Cubs’ premier young hitters like Baez, they would likely have to include another significant prospect in the trade.

The reason the Cubs might prefer Heaney to someone like Wheeler or Gausman is that they could possibly acquire him without giving up one of their premier hitters. A deal centered around Albert Almora, Jorge Soler or Arismendy Alcantara could be enough to sway the Marlins into dealing their young lefty.


All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference.

Follow Sean on Twitter: @SCunninghamPG.

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Video and Analysis of New York Mets Sleeper Prospect Champ Stuart

The New York Mets have a plethora of pitching prospects but only a few exciting hitting prospects. Fans know about guys like Brandon Nimmo and Kevin Plawecki, but there is one name that they might not know yet but will soon: Champ Stuart.

I scheduled a trip to see the Low-A Savannah Sand Gnats play in June with the hopes of seeing their talent-laden roster, but the day prior to my arrival, the New York Mets promoted prospects like Gavin Cecchini and L.J. Mazzilli.

I was disappointed, to say the least, but I was still excited to see 2013 first-round pick Dominic Smith, who was impressive in his own right. However, it was Champ Stuart who stood out the most relative to my expectations, impressing in all aspects of the game.

The Mets drafted Stuart in 2013 in the sixth round out of Brevard College. He is a Bahamas native who was very raw when he was drafted but an incredible athlete worth taking a chance on in the sixth round. Since he has entered the Mets system, he has refined his tools immensely, and he has the potential to become an impact major leaguer if he continues to improve at such a rate.

Stuart’s speed is undeniable—according to Baseball America, he ran a 60-yard dash in a blazing 6.3 seconds prior to being drafted—but he’s a great all-around athlete as well, boasting a lean, strong frame.

In batting practice, he displayed a clean stroke with above-average bat speed. The ball jumped off his bat as he banged balls off the fence consistently while occasionally turning on pitches and sending them out of the ballpark.

There isn’t much to dislike about Stuart’s swing. He is a little long to the ball—which explains his high strikeout rate—but his hands travel through the zone quickly. He drove the ball to all fields throughout his batting-practice sessions, and while it was hard to evaluate his hit tool based on what he did during games, he exhibited very impressive plate discipline (more on that later).

Stuart doesn’t have a wild stroke like many raw hitters, but he still lunges and ends up out in front of the ball far too often.’s Toby Hyde looked at this in the below video from last season, in which Stuart stayed back during batting practice but was caught off-balance during games.

The below chart indicates that this is a trend for Stuart rather than a small sample. It displays how he naturally uses the whole field well—as I saw during his batting-practice session—but that a large portion of his outs on batted balls come from grounders to the left side.

From this we can see that pitchers still get him lunging out in front on off-speed pitches. This is notable while trying to evaluate his hitting ability, but considering his lack of experience, it is an understandable and fixable issue.

Stuart doesn’t project as a power hitter at the major league level, but he has some pop. If he continues to progress, I would project 12 to 15 home runs per year optimistically with the potential for more, but more likely around eight to 10.

While the pop in his bat was a nice surprise, it is Stuart’s speed that gives him the opportunity to become an impact prospect in the future.

Billy Hamilton, now with the Cincinnati Reds, has comparable speed and was a top prospect because of his ability to change the game with his legs. The difference between the two is that Hamilton was able to utilize his speed much more, breaking stolen base records in the minors, while Stuart still needs to develop the aggressiveness and baserunning acumen necessary to become an elite base stealer.

Stuart has begun to use his speed in games, however, as evidenced by the below video.

In the video, he lays down a bunt and reaches base in 3.67 seconds. That kind of speed translates to the highest level, as not even David Wright could get somebody out running that fast as long as the bunt is halfway decent.

Stuart’s speed also puts pressure on the defense and forces it into mistakes. In the video below at the 7:17-8:21 mark, you can see the kind of pressure he puts on the defense. The shortstop is rushed into making a poor throw because of how fast Stuart gets down the line.

Stuart needs to improve his ability to create havoc on the basepaths, but he is no slouch as a base stealer. He stole two bases on June 21, which you can see in the below video.

His speed also gives him the potential to become a defensive force in the outfield.

His lack of experience was evident at moments, like when he dove for a ball that he had no chance at that ended up becoming a triple, but that same speed and aggressiveness also allowed him to make a sensational diving catch. Along with his speed, he has plus arm strength.

With his athletic package, he has the gifts to become an exciting defensive outfielder. His athleticism also gives him a high floor defensively, as his speed will allow him to make up for poor routes to the ball.

Stuart is an intriguing prospect because of everything I’ve discussed above, but the aspect of his game that impressed me the most was his plate discipline.

In the two games I attended, he had just one hit, but he walked five times in 10 plate appearances.

Of those five walks, two were especially impressive, which you can see for yourself below.

In the first at-bat, Stuart fell behind 0-2 against 2013 first-round pick Trey Ball but battled and ended up drawing a walk. In the second at-bat, he fell behind 1-2 and did the same.

Throughout the weekend, he refused to chase out of the zone and demonstrated a very advanced knowledge of the strike zone. This approach at the plate is supported by his numbers throughout his brief minor league career. He walked 18.1 percent of the time in 43 games for the Kingsport Mets last season and is walking 15.8 percent of the time through 37 games this year with a .414 on-base percentage.

In my conversations with scouts, many believe that the most important trait to look for beyond bat speed is plate discipline. It’s something that is hard to teach to advanced hitters, and players who have a better understanding of the strike zone attack better pitches to hit, letting their hit tool play up.

Stuart has the athletic ability to make him a noteworthy prospect even if he didn’t have a clue at the plate, but he already has impressive plate discipline, which changes him from a moderately interesting prospect to a potential impact player.

The only thing holding him back is whether or not he develops a playable hit tool. It appears that is starting to happen in Savannah since I saw him in June.

When I saw Stuart on June 21, he was hitting .247 for the season with just one extra-base hit despite his plate discipline. Since then, he has a slash line of .400/.500/.560 with two doubles, a triple and a home run in 12 games. I was planning on writing about my trip to see Stuart prior to his recent performance, but his numbers only reinforce my belief that he has what it takes to become a major prospect.

He hasn’t played since being pulled in the middle of the game on Saturday, but no injury has been reported. Hopefully, he is just getting rest or is being taught a lesson for not running out a pop-out.

Stuart has an intriguing set of tools, and if he starts hitting consistently in games and cutting down on his strikeout rate, he should shoot up prospect lists.

Based on what I saw, he has the ability to be an elite table-setter at the major league level, with the speed and on-base ability to ignite an offense and create havoc at the top of a lineup. He is still raw, and there is a good chance he never develops the hitting ability to reach the major leagues, but he is definitely a player whom Mets fans should keep tabs on as he rises through the minors.


All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs.

Follow Sean on Twitter: @SCunninghamPG.

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The New York Mets Need to Start Adding Starting Pitching Prospects to Bullpen

The New York Mets need to adjust their philosophy on how to build a major league bullpen, and that starts with transitioning some of their starting pitching depth into relievers.

Mets fans have been conditioned to despise this philosophy because of its failure with Jenrry Mejia, as well as from witnessing how the New York Yankees mishandled the briefly promising Joba Chamberlain. However, the track record of starting pitchers beginning their careers as relievers is relatively successful.

The St. Louis Cardinals are perennial World Series contenders and usually have among the best bullpens in baseball because of this philosophy.

Adam Wainwright is currently among the best starters in baseball, but he began his big league career as the Cardinals’ closer, and as most Mets fans likely remember, ended the Mets’ 2006 playoff run.

This season, their bullpen includes top starting pitching prospect Carlos Martinez, as well as the dominant Trevor Rosenthal. Rosenthal was an elite starting pitching prospect, but he has found a home in the Cardinals’ bullpen as a star.

Lance Lynn is their No. 3 starter, yet in his rookie season in 2011, he started just two games in the majors while coming out of the bullpen in 16.

The Cardinals are able to do this because they have a consistent supply of power starting pitching prospects, giving the organization depth that most teams would love to have. Under general manager Sandy Alderson, the Mets have accrued some of the best starting pitching depth in baseball, yet they still have one of the worst bullpens.

Mets fans dream of a future rotation led by Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, but that leaves only two spots for Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese, Mejia, Rafael Montero and any of the other promising young starters in the system.

Gee doesn’t become a free agent until 2017, and Niese is one of the best bargains in baseball with his team-friendly contract running through 2018. Both have proven they can be effective starters for entire seasons and also don’t have the type of pitching arsenals that project to greater bullpen success. As long as they are healthy and on the roster, they will be in the rotation, but if pitchers like Montero and Syndergaard pan out as stars, both could be valuable trade chips.

Mejia is a wild card, as he is a rare case of a pitcher who has consistently succeeded when healthy as a starter but has struggled every time he’s been used as a reliever. He has also never thrown over 100 innings in a season, so there are major questions as to whether or not he could hold up physically under a starter’s workload. As long as he is healthy, the Mets should use him in the rotation, but because of his size and injury history, his future could still be in the bullpen.

While Mets fans have been spoiled in recent years with the success of pitching prospects, specifically Harvey, it is also possible that Syndergaard, Montero and maybe even Wheeler do not pan out as starters. Pitcher health is also very fickle, as arm injuries can ruin careers quickly.

The Mets’ depth has them prepared for injuries and busts, but that doesn’t mean that they should keep their most talented pitchers in the minors as starters. The Cardinals have proven that transitioning young pitchers between the rotation and bullpen doesn’t ruin arms, and at some point the Mets will need to make decisions about whom they try to move to the bullpen.

Right now, both Syndergaard and Montero need to remain starters. The Mets are strict with their innings limits, increasing them every year with the hopes that the starters will eventually build up the strength to handle 200-inning seasons in the majors.

Montero pitched 155.1 innings last season, so he should pitch around 180 innings this year. Syndergaard only pitched 117.1 innings, so the Mets likely won’t let him throw more than 150.

If the Mets move either to the bullpen too soon, they won’t come close to their innings limits, which will impact their futures as starters. However, as both approach their limits, and if the Mets are contending in the summer, the team shouldn’t hesitate to move them to the major league bullpen.

Pitchers such as Jacob deGrom should start getting time in the bullpen as soon as possible or should be added to the Mets’ bullpen later this month if they pitch well to begin the season.

The group of prospects below Montero and Syndergaard still project as starters in the long term, but they lack the same ceilings and are much more likely to be relievers throughout their careers.

DeGrom is the most promising of the group, as he could be a solid back-of-the-rotation starter in the future. However, he has the type of pitching arsenal that could make him a well-above-average reliever soon.

When pitchers are moved from the rotation to the bullpen, their stuff often ticks up because they can exert more energy per pitch rather than saving their stamina over the course of a start. DeGrom currently has a mid-90s sinking fastball, but this already very good pitch could conceivably become devastating if he is moved to the pen.

Verrett’s stuff could also tick up if moved into a bullpen role, although less so than deGrom’s. He currently averages around 90 miles per hour with his fastball and complements it with a tight slider.

If Verrett added some velocity to his fastball by working out of the bullpen and combined it with his slider and pitchability, he could be a better option than many of the Mets’ current relievers.

Cory Mazzoni is currently out with a minor injury, but he should be used in the bullpen when he returns, as he could be major league ready very soon.

Darin Gorski is a left-handed starter currently in Double-A Binghamton, but there is no reason he shouldn’t be working as a reliever. He is 26 years old and has dominated Double-A, but he struggled mightily in Triple-A last season.

With all of the starters ahead of Gorski on the Mets’ depth chart, he will likely never start in New York. The Mets need to capitalize on all their talent, and seeing if Gorski can have a career as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen is a logical move.

Fans often cite pitchers such as Vic Black and Jack Leathersich as part of the future bullpen. While they very well could be, there is a great misconception among fans about reliever prospects: Most of the best relievers in the majors came up as starters.

When a pitcher is working out of the bullpen in the minor leagues, it is usually because he is not good enough to start or he has a major hole in his game (poor command, lack of a third pitch, small frame). Starting pitching prospects are much more valuable than relieving prospects, so teams keep pitchers in the rotation as long as they can.

Leathersich and Black were both starters in college, but because of command issues and awkward mechanics, they were quickly moved into the bullpen upon entering the minors. Pitchers like deGrom and Verrett are still starting games in the minors because they are deemed good enough by the Mets as starters, yet their long- and short-term value to the Mets could be greater as relievers.

Future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera was exclusively a starting pitching prospect upon entering the big leagues, as was former Met Billy Wagner. While I’m not saying that any of the Mets prospects will be as good as Rivera or Wagner, some starters find a home in the bullpen once transitioned.

The Mets haven’t had a good bullpen since 2006 when they last made the playoffs, so clearly they’ve been doing it the wrong way.

Dedicating a significant amount of money to building a bullpen is risky and often ineffective. Relievers are often overvalued on the open market, as their performance varies on a year-to-year basis. For example, Ramon Ramirez and Frank Francisco were both stud relievers prior to joining the Mets, but became relatively useless upon arriving in New York.

The best bullpens in baseball come from the teams with the greatest organizational pitching depth. The Mets are now one of those teams, but their weak bullpen is still holding back their success.

It might be a little early to expect the Mets to call up pitchers like Verrett and Gorski, but deGrom should be a member of the bullpen by the end of April.

Sometimes pitching prospects flame out or develop injuries when moved back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, but those things could happen to any pitching prospect. The Cardinals have proven that bringing up starters as relievers doesn’t ruin them or prevent them from becoming starters in the long run.

The Mets’ starting pitching depth is great, but it needs to be utilized in the near future to help fill out the major league bullpen if the Mets want to have any hope of relevancy this season.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

You can follow Sean on Twitter at @SCunninghamPG.

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4 Reasons to Be Optimistic for New York Mets’ 2014 Season

The New York Mets have had little reason to be optimistic for the past few years, but this year has the potential be different.

Mets fans have been conditioned to be pessimistic through years of disappointment, and this wasn’t helped following a devastating loss on Opening Day. Bobby Parnell will miss significant time due to injury after just one game, a huge blow to an already shaky bullpen.

Fans can also be pessimistic due to the fact that the Mets still don’t know who is the long-term starter at first base and because Matt Harvey will miss the season after being New York’s biggest star in 2013.

Despite these reasons to be pessimistic, fans trying to find the bright side shouldn’t have to look too hard.

Next season may be a more realistic time to discuss contending for a playoff spot, but playing in October is definitely possible this year. The Mets will need a number of breaks to go their way, but they have the pieces in place to at least be in the conversation for a wild-card spot.

Few fanbases need reasons to be optimistic more than the Mets, so presented on the following slides are four reasons to be optimistic about the team’s 2014 season.


All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference.

Begin Slideshow

5 Bold Predictions for the New York Mets 2014 Season

While 2015 and the return of Matt Harvey will likely be the realistic time to start discussing playoff odds for the New York Mets, this team has plenty of exciting individuals that should keep fans watching throughout the season.

Through the rest of this slideshow, I have made five bold predictions about the Mets 2014 season. Some of these predictions you might agree with, while others you may find absurd, but that is what makes them bold predictions.

Also, as these are bold predictions, I don’t necessarily think they will come to fruition, I am just arguing why they are within the realm of possibility.

So, without further ado, here are five bold predictions for the 2014 Mets.


All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs.

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Prospects That Have Impressed During Spring Training for the New York Mets

The New York Mets sent down a number of their top prospects earlier this week, but many made an impression that should excite fans moving forward.

Talent evaluators around baseball have lauded the Mets farm system this offseason for having high-end prospects such as Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud and Rafael Montero. These prospects should be in the majors in the near future (if they aren’t already there), but some of the team’s lower level prospects were impressive prior to being sent down to minor league camp.

Below are the most impressive prospects who are no longer on the big league roster. I haven’t included Syndergaard, d’Arnaud or Montero because they are still in major league camp, and I excluded Cesar Puello because I wrote about his impressive performance Wednesday here.


Steven Matz

Steven Matz pitched just two innings this spring, but he exhibited the tools of a prospect that could skyrocket up prospect rankings this season.

Matz has battled injuries since he was drafted, as he pitched in his first minor league game in 2012 after being picked out of high school in 2009. In 2013 he was able to put together his first full season while pitching in Low-A Savannah, where he had a spectacular season, pitching over 100 innings with a 2.62 ERA and a 1.166 WHIP.

This spring, Matz showed scouts and fans why he has the ability to be an impact pitcher in the near future. Coming from the left side, Matz has serious velocity with feel for both a changeup and curveball, although both secondary offerings need serious work. Chris Mellen of Baseball Prospectus took note of Matz last August, as he clearly came away impressed with the Long Island native.

Matz continued his impressive showing this spring, as he surrendered just two hits and one walk while striking out five in his two innings of work. Two innings is such a small sample, but the overpowering stuff Matz exhibited is a great sign moving forward.

While Matz’s injury history and delivery bring up concerns, his stuff is unquestionable. Whether it be as an elite reliever or a potential rotation arm, the future looks bright for the Mets’ young lefty.


Brandon Nimmo

Brandon Nimmo has always had the look of a top prospect, as he is a tall and projectable left-handed outfielder with a smooth swing. His lack of high school experience and rawness as a player has always meant that his path to the majors would be slower than most prospects, meaning that every sign of development is crucial for the Wyoming native.

This spring, Nimmo looked the part both on and off the field, and could be ready for a breakout season in 2014.

Nimmo came into camp looking much bigger and stronger than previous years, yet by all accounts was still fast enough to play center field. This is important for the Mets, as they clearly want to keep him in center as long as possible, as MetsMinorLeagueBlog’s Toby Hyde noted:

Nimmo maintaining his speed while he gains muscle during his development is crucial to his value as a prospect, as his bat becomes much more valuable if he’s able to play center field.

Nimmo also showed great signs at the plate this spring. He has always exhibited a patient approach at the plate, but his issue has been how he fails to drive the ball and struggles against lefties. In a game earlier this spring, Nimmo ripped a single to right field, driving the ball even though it did not result in an extra-base hit.

Hyde noted how this single by Nimmo displayed a new approach, as Nimmo was able to pull and drive the ball:

This hit was a great sign, as was Nimmo’s performance throughout all of his at-bats in major league games. He went 3-6 while getting hits off of lefties and looking comfortable at the plate against high-level pitching.

While all of his hits in big league games were singles, he showed the ability to drive the ball well in B-level games, as Adam Rubin of ESPN tweeted:

Nimmo should start the season in High-A St. Lucie, but if he continues developing and starts complementing his patient approach with more power at the plate, he could force his way to Double-A Binghamton and a potential call-up in 2015.


Kevin Plawecki

Kevin Plawecki rose to prominence last season with his tremendous performance at both Low-A Savannah and High-A St. Lucie, and has continued to show off his hitting prowess this spring.

Plawecki is still a work in progress behind the plate, but he should be able to remain a catcher, although he will likely never be an exceptional one, defensively.

As a hitter, Plawecki doesn’t have great raw power, but he makes consistently hard contact and should develop into a solid doubles hitter with a high average. As a catcher, that is a very valuable asset to have.

Plawecki’s performance in spring training indicates that his domination of the lower minors was not a fluke. Before official games began, the Mets played an intrasquad game, and as Adam Rubin documented, Plawecki lined an opposite-field single off of prized pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard:

Syndergaard was dominant that day, but Plawecki showed that his contact-oriented approach could stand up to elite offerings, and is a good sign for his development as he heads into the upper minors.

Plawecki also ripped a double in against the Atlanta Braves in a big league game, getting the barrel on the ball and pulling a rope down the line, which you can see in the below video.

The most important part of Plawecki’s growth moving forward is defensively, as his bat appears as if it will continue to be solid, regardless of the competition. Whether it is as a trading chip or as a fill-in if d’Arnaud can’t stay healthy, Plawecki is an important part of the Mets’ future.


Amed Rosario

While Amed Rosario wasn’t a part of the big league camp, the reports on him so far are very promising as they show how much improvement he has made.

Rosario is a polarizing prospect in baseball, with many believing he could be a first-division talent. Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks tweeted that he believes Rosario would be a high first-round pick in this years upcoming MLB draft if he were eligible, as he is the same age as many high school seniors:

Rosario is raw, and as a teenager he has many holes in his game that he needs to fix before he can start rising quickly through the Mets’ farm system. Because of how raw he is, Amazin’ Avenue’s Jeffrey Paternostro’s scouting report of Rosario from last year makes sense. Paternostro was very critical of Rosario’s swing, writing about how it had multiple moving parts that led to a long uppercut swing, which could hurt his hit-tool as he ascends through the minors.

This shouldn’t be concerning as Rosario was 17 at the time, but as an 18-year-old this spring training, the reports on his swing have vastly changed. Jeff Moore of Baseball Prospectus scouted Rosario earlier in March and wrote (subscription required):

…he showed good bat control and a short swing for someone with such long limbs. He was able to stay inside the ball, and during the opposite-field portion of his round of batting practice, he did not settle for just going the other way. He drive [sic] the ball to right field with authority.

Paternostro scouted that Rosario elongated his swing so he could have an uppercut and sell out for power, but Moore’s report shows that Rosario has not only cut down his swing, but he also is still able to drive the ball and project as a power prospect.

Moore’s report is significant because while he gives a glowing report of Rosario, he is extremely critical of Mets prospect Gavin Cecchini, whom he believes should no longer play shortstop. Moore provides an unbiased perspective, and by showing that he is not afraid to be critical with his write up of Cecchini, fans should be all the more optimistic about Rosario.

Rosario should start the season in the New York Penn League with the Brooklyn Cyclones, and seeing whether his swing has truly shortened and if he can produce on the field should be one of the most intriguing stories in the Mets’ farm system in 2014.


All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference.

You can follow Sean on twitter at @SCunninghamPG.

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Ike Davis Screams at Reporter, New York Mets Need to Cut Ties This Spring

On Monday morning, New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis was agitated when an injury he failed to disclose to the team last season was uncovered. Anthony DiComo of tweeted the series of events that followed:

The aforementioned report was by Mike Puma of the New York Post, who wrote:

Ike Davis concealed an oblique injury from Mets officials for most of last season because of bad timing and the fact he was struggling and didn’t want to surrender his spot in the lineup, the beleaguered first baseman told The Post on Sunday.

Monday morning, Davis encountered Puma and was not pleased with the fact that he ran the story, as DiComo tweeted:

Davis then proceeded to refute the report to the media, as tweeted by Adam Rubin of ESPN:

Before Monday, there was a solid argument that the Mets needed to trade Davis. After this outburst, it appears as if Davis’ tenure in New York could (and should) be over.

Davis has been a distraction the past two seasons, and this outburst only added to the drama. The Mets needed Davis to hit for power in both 2012 and 2013 if they wanted any chance to win, but for the most part, he let them down.

While he hit an impressive 32 home runs in 2012, most of them came in the second half while the team was out of contention. Even with the late-season power surge, he ended the season with an unremarkable 1.1 fWAR. In comparison, Marlon Byrd had an fWAR of 4.1 in 2013 while hitting 24 home runs, exhibiting how little Davis brought to the table in 2012 outside of his power.

In 2013, Davis got off to a slow start once again, but unlike the previous year, he was never able to come out of his power slump. He was an embarrassing presence in the Mets’ lineup, finishing the season with a pathetic minus-0.1 fWAR in 103 games.

Both seasons the Mets and their fans waited through Davis’ terrible performances with the hopes that he would tap into his monstrous power, and that waiting has been a major distraction. Now, with a comparable player (albeit with a less high ceiling) in Lucas Duda also vying for the first base job, Davis’ potential power is no longer worth the distractions he brings to the team.

As Andy Martino of the New York Daily News has reported all offseason, the Mets have been trying to trade one of Davis and Duda in order to remedy their first base situation, with the team’s preference being to trade Davis.

I predicted last week that Davis would get traded during spring training. Now, with the news breaking that Davis not only viciously disrespected a member of the media but also possibly lied to the team about his health last season, the Mets may lower their asking price and are even more likely to deal their slugger prior to the season.

Many fans still cling to the idea that Davis is the Mets first baseman of the future, drooling over his power potential and sometimes slick defense. While he may still have a solid major league career ahead of him, the Mets need to cut him loose now, as a positive future in New York seems unlikely.

Davis harmed the Mets last season by hiding his injury, and has single-handedly kept the Mets from winning games the last two seasons by being a near-automatic out in the middle of the order for weeks at a time. The Mets need to realize that Davis’ light-tower power is not worth his baggage, and that with Duda in the wings, it is time to move on.

Hopefully, Davis goes on to have a great career, but after all he’s been through in New York, his best chance to succeed is elsewhere.


All statistics courtesy Fangraphs.

You can follow Sean on twitter at @SCunninghamPG.

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New York Mets’ 3 Biggest Missed Opportunities of the Offseason

The New York Mets have had a productive offseason in many respects, but they still missed out on a number of opportunities that would have improved their team in both the short and long term

The Mets addressed many needs this offseason, especially with their signings of Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon to bolster their outfield and starting rotation respectively. While filling these holes was necessary, the Mets missed on a number of opportunities to improve the team, especially since the signings of Granderson and Colon were geared to improve the team in the short term.

In early January, I laid out four areas in which the Mets needed to make further acquisitions, and they successfully completed two. They added cheap, veteran arms for their bullpen by signing Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde, and they added veteran depth to their starting rotation with the acquisitions of Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan.

The team clearly doesn’t have the funds or desire to approach big-money players such as Shin-Soo Choo, Robinson Cano or Masahiro Tanaka, so I do not classify the failure to sign players like them as a missed opportunity.

Looking back at the offseason, here are the Mets’ biggest missed opportunities, although some of them could still be fixed.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

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Bartolo Colon’s Biggest Role for the New York Mets: Mentoring Rafael Montero

The New York Mets signed Bartolo Colon in part to help fill the void left by Matt Harvey’s injury at the top of the rotation, but his most important role could be how he mentors prospect Rafael Montero.

Colon has been around seemingly forever, and at his peak was a power pitcher that racked up big strikeout totals.

However, despite his overpowering offerings early in his career, he didn’t produce ERA totals expected of an elite pitcher. Prior to last year, he pitched to an ERA below 3.40 on just one occasion (in 2002, when he had a 2.93 ERA).

As his career progressed, Colon was met by both health issues and suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs, and has had to adapt his style of pitching drastically as he’s aged.

His fastball could no longer overpower hitters, so he started pitching to contact, throwing his low-90s fastball and not much else. In 2013, he pitched to an outstanding 2.65 ERA using this strategy for the Oakland Athletics (despite resembling a bowling ball).

The scout quoted by the New York Post‘s Mike Puma sums up why Colon has remained an effective pitcher into his 40s.

So where does Rafael Montero fit into this equation?

The young right-hander, who will likely make his debut this season, is a much different pitcher than Colon was for most of his career. Montero has an average to above-average fastball, sometimes touching 95 but usually sitting around 91-93, along with a flat slider and fringy changeup. Both of his secondary offerings still have room for improvement although neither flashes plus potential.

Montero’s calling card as a pitcher, and what makes him a likely major leaguer, is his outstanding command and pitchability—the same traits that led to Colon’s successful 2013 campaign.

Scouts have either pegged Montero’s best-case scenario as being a No. 3 starter but becoming a back-end starter more likely, or as a reliever due to his small frame and max-effort delivery.

While Bartolo Colon wasn’t always a control pitcher with fringe-average secondary offerings, he is an example of a pitcher who has overcome a lack of size, poor frame and imperfect mechanics to become an exceptional pitcher at the major league level.

Colon is listed at 5’11”, 265 pounds and Montero is listed at 6’0”,170 pounds. The two pitchers share a lack of height but are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of a pitcher’s ideal frame.

Colon is well overweight, and it would seem that his lack of athleticism and conditioning should harm him on the mound. Montero is seen as too small, a pitcher who puts his entire body into his pitches and who therefore could wear down under a starter’s workload as a result.

Both Colon and Montero also have flawed mechanics, as both use high-effort deliveries causing them to max out on all their pitches—another trait that can lead to injuries given a starter’s workload. Colon puts an unnecessary amount of strain on his arm during his delivery, failing to capitalize on the force he could generate from his large body.

Montero’s delivery is quite different than Colon’s. Like Colon, Montero puts plenty of strain on his arm, but unlike Colon, he has poor balance while approaching the plate.

Doug Thorburn of Baseball Prospectus specializes in pitcher mechanics when evaluating prospects, and he explained his displeasure with Montero’s mechanics in a chat in November:

I think that Montero’s mechanics are a big problem. The blatant over-the-top might overcome the height restrictions of his size, but his delivery is definitely not built for a big workload. Besides, I would prefer that a pitcher have extension at release point rather than downhill plane (which is often overrated) – and such egregious spine-tilt actually robs him of that extension.

As explained above, there is a reason Montero is not among the best prospects in the game despite his high level of performance. However, there once was also plenty to dislike about Colon, who probably generated the same concerns in his earlier days.

The Mets would love for Colon to repeat his 2013 performance for the next two years. But they will also be pleased if Montero can pick Colon’s brain and utilize his best asset (pitchability) on the way to becoming one of the best control pitchers in the league if he can avoid injury.

Montero is generally overrated by Mets fans because of his numbers at the minor league level, since his success is due in large part to his ability to not only hit spots, but also his knack for generating weak contact.

While prospects such as Zack Wheeler are hyped because of their natural ability and easy mid-90s heat, Montero is much more advanced in the nuances of getting hitters out. However, getting outs at the minor league level is a much easier task than it is in the big leagues, where hitters are much harder to get off-balance.

With Bartolo Colon’s advice, Montero can potentially take the next step in terms of learning how to pitch to big league hitters while getting away with his flat slider and fringe-average changeup. As evidenced in the below video, Colon has mastered the ability to get the ball over the plate and to force hitters to beat him.

Throwing strikes should not be an issue for Montero, as he has exhibited throughout his career the ability to put the ball wherever he wants to.

There is a difference, however, between the ability to throw strikes and the ability to get hitters out, with which Colon can help Montero. This is especially an issue specific to both Colon and Montero, who are both fastball-heavy pitchers with smaller statures.

Shorter pitchers often have trouble with giving up home runs as their fastballs lack the downward plane of taller pitchers, making it easier for hitters to lift pitches they square up.

Colon had the benefit of pitching in a massive ballpark in Oakland but took full advantage of the expansive outfield by pitching to weak, fly-ball contact. Citi Field is smaller, although still sizeable, and Colon will need to adapt his strategy slightly in the coming years.

It is this type of nuance that Montero can learn from Colon, being able to adjust to the ballpark, hitter and situation in order to generate the desired contact from the hitter.

Even if Montero is able to paint the corners of the plate with his fastball consistently, he will still need to win the chess match against the hitter to avoid long balls and short outings.

Montero may always be held back by health problems and forced to the bullpen due to his size and mechanics, but up to this point in his career, he has proven his doubters wrong at every level. If Montero continues to work hard and to master the art of pitching under the tutelage of Bartolo Colon, he could be a very good pitcher for a long time.

I wouldn’t bet on Montero ever becoming a front-line starter, but based on his track record and feel for pitching, I wouldn’t bet against him either.

If Montero truly wants to be successful at the major league level, he should listen to every word Bartolo Colon says about pitching.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

You can follow Sean on twitter: @S_CunninghamBR.

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New York Mets’ 5 Sleeper Prospects to Watch in Spring Training

With spring training right around the corner, the New York Mets will have a number of sleeper prospects for fans to watch throughout February and March.

Last week, I wrote about five prospects that are dark-horse candidates to make the Opening Day roster. This list consists of players who have less of a chance to make the roster but have been invited to big league spring training and could make an impact for the Mets at some point in the near future.

These are sleeper prospects, so they aren’t players who are undoubtedly going to make impacts in the major leagues. They are absent from most of the prospect rankings being released, so players such as Brandon Nimmo and Kevin Plawecki are not included. Also, the only players eligible are members of the 40-man roster or non-roster invitees (which are listed here), as fans will be unable to watch players outside of this categorization.

Often the term “sleeper” indicates that a prospect is unknown but has a high ceiling. For this article, the sleepers are likely recognizable to many fans but have lower ceilings, unlike some of the Mets’ younger prospects who could become elite.

Here are five sleeper prospects for Mets fans to watch in spring training.

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