Wednesday, March 29, 2006

3/29 Spring Training Notes - Big League Battles Decided

The Mets decided their position battles Tuesday: Anderson Hernandez beat out Jeff Keppinger for the starting 2B nod while Brian Bannister edged out Aaron Heilman for the fifth starter’s spot. A disappointed Heilman will start the season in the bullpen. I don’t think I would have done it the way the Mets did, but I can’t get too worked up about either move because the reasoning makes sense AND I’m not in St. Lucie watching the guys play and work out every day. So lets assume the Mets got this right for now.

The front office clearly like Hernandez’s defense and with Delgado at first, a second baseman with range sounds good to me. If he doesn’t hit at all, the Mets can always recall Keppinger. Also, when Matsui comes back, he’ll spell Hernandez. It’s a fine short-term experiment, I think. If it were me, I think I might have gone with Keppinger who possesses experience and some on-base skills, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up playing at second in Shea soon enough.

As regards the pitching staff, I think I like what the Mets were doing. Odds are the sixth guy will eventually have to make some starts. Does anyone really think that Pedro, Glavine, Trachsel and Zambrano will make every one of their scheduled starts this year? Me either. So, barring a trade, Bannister AND Heilman will end up in the rotation together. The Mets brass had to choose between the current alignment and one with Bannister in AAA, Heilman in the rotation, and someone else filling a spot in the bullpen. Believe me, Heilman will pitch his innings and be a big part of the 2006 Mets. As long as Jose Lima isn’t on the big league roster, I’m happy. Lima got torched for five runs in two innings against the Marlins Tuesday.

Tuesday, Lastings Milledge, Tike Redman, Todd Self, Sandy Martinez, Jeff Keppinger and relievers Royce Ring and Juan Perez, were all sent to the minors. Milledge and Lambin were both 0-1 against the Marlins.

Monday, Mitch Wylie refused an assignment to Norfolk and became a free agent.

The BMets have a new website up at http://2006.bmets.com/. Congratulations to Scott Brown, Robert Ford and the rest of ‘em shivering in Binghamton. It’s a sharp looking site. Also, outfielder Bobby Malek has been blogging from St. Lucie, so that’s pretty cool. Malek, who will turn 25 this summer, hit .277/.335/.386 in 116 games last year for Binghamton.

I’ll have a new website, which will be sweet, possibly by as early as my next post.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Spring Training Notes 3/27

Go Patriots! Over in the other NCAA bracket, I’ll be watching the Stanford/LSU game Monday night. Winner goes to the Women’s Final Four.

Lastings Milledge took the collar Saturday with an 0-4 in a game started by Andy Petitte. He did have a hit Friday.

Brian Bannister had a rough outing, his first of the spring, Saturday. He gave up three runs, only one of which was earned, in five innings while walking five. He was getting “squeezed” by the plate umpire according to Marty Noble. Speaking of Marty Noble, it seems to me as though he’s getting better scoops at MLB.com than any of the other Mets writers. I was struck by this quote (3/26):

Teammates consider Hernandez the best defensive player of the three, Matsui and Keppinger superior to Hernandez as offensive players, and Keppinger the best mix of offense and defense. And some wonder why Keppinger hasn't been give more of chance to win the job.

Chase Lambin hit his first homerun of the spring Friday for the Mets in a 12-2 rout of the Cardinals. The Mets got two runs off an unusually wild Chris Carpenter, but did much of the damage against a completely ineffective Ricardo Rincon.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

3/23 Spring Training Update - Milledge Strikes

On a day when much of the Mets’ attention was focused on the veterans at the front of the rotation, Lastings Milledge provided another glimpse into the future. In the ninth inning, the Mets best prospect delivered a game winning double off Hong-Chih Kuo driving home Jose Valentin.

I don’t think March 22nd will be the highlight of Lastings Milledge’s 2006 season, but I wonder where it will rank by September. Top 5? Top 10? Or long forgotten?

Former Mets Update

Matt Peterson, the Mets 2003 minor league pitcher of the year was part of the Mets package for Kris Benson two summers ago. He’s struggled in AA for the Pirates, falling from #9 in Baseball America’s rankings of the Pittsburgh system a year ago to #24 this year. Let this be another useful reminder that most minor leaguers will NOT become big leaguers. As late as last year’s prospect handbook, BA wrote that Matt Peterson “has a chance to develop into a front line starter.”

This is from 3/22/06 when BA’s Chris Kline sat down with Pittsburgh Farm Director Brian Graham:

BA: Matt Peterson certainly hasn't lived up to the expectations the organization envisioned getting him back in the Kris Benson deal two years ago? What's gone wrong with Peterson?

BG: Pete just hasn't regained the velocity he had when we traded for him. He's been inconsistent. He's one of those guys with a good arms when you see him long toss and when you see him throw fastballs in the bullpen--he just hasn't gotten over the hump. At some point, it's got to click in, but we just haven't found the right button to push. He's been 86-88 (mph) and we're talking about a guy who was consistently 93 at one point. If we knew the answer we'd get it fixed. Two or three different pitching coaches have taken a shot at him and it hasn't worked yet.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spring Training Notes 3/21 - Tides Edition

The Orioles smacked around Bartolome Fortunato for earned four runs in .1 of an inning in the bottom of the ninth to come from behind for a 6-5 win. Looks like another start to the season in the minors for the 32 year old. Fortunato, of course, became Mets property alongside Victor Zambrano in the Scott Kazmir trade. Oh, happy times.

Royce Ring worked a scoreless inning and a third while walking a batter and issuing one hit.

Chase Lambin was 0-1.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Spring Training Notes 3/19

Some weekend notes for your Monday entertainment.

Sunday, as my bracket was going to pieces, I took a break from the tournament and saw a tiny corner of Sequoia National Park. I told the trees that I’ll be back for more.

Sunday Roster moves:

Sunday, Steve Schmoll, acquired from the Dodgers in the Jae Seo deal, and would-be starter John Maine, obtained from the Orioles in the Kris Benson trade, left the big-league camp, as did left-handed reliever Matt Perisho and right-hander Henry Owens, who made positive impressions early in camp. Owens last impression was not so positive: he was drilled by the Nationals Saturday. The Nats got to him for four runs on five hits in one inning. Outfielder Julio Ramirez and first baseman Juan Tejeda were also reassigned.

The Mets are down to 44 in big league camp.

Sunday, Lastings Milledge was 1 for 4 to drop his spring time line to .349/.364/.465 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in 43 AB, second most on the team. God, no discipline, no power? And he’s the Mets best prospect? Ok, Ok, I kid. Milledge has had a fantastic, nearly perfect spring, and has done nothing except impress observers. Milledge had three hits Saturday.

Brian Bannister gave up two runs in five innings. I have no idea whether this is major league news or minor league news.

Royce Ring had a very nice outing Saturday working 2.1 scoreless innings in relief of Iriki. Ring allowed just one hit and fanned three. He threw 10.2 innings for New York last year after 38.2 in relief in Norfolk. I’m not sure whether he’ll start 2006 in the Mets ‘pen, but I’d bet he shows up there before the year’s out.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

3/16 Spring Training Update - A Duel Breaks Out

A Duel you say?

A big book day for me as my order from Amazon with Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook and the 2006 Baseball Prospectus Annual showed up. That adds up to over 1050 pages of baseball research sitting on my desk. It’s a little daunting, but I checked in first on the Mets Farm system which Baseball America ranks 30th in baseball. That’s right: the Mets are DFL (Dead F-ckin’ Last).

Following Brian Bannister’s strong outing Tuesday, Aaron Heilman fired back with four scorless innings of his own Wednesday. He struck out four, didn’t walk a batter and scattered three hits. The race for the fifth starter’s role is on.

Henry Owens, a big guy who threw for St. Lucie last summer picked up both the blown save and the win by giving up a solo homerun. A converted catcher who the Mets took from the Pirates in the rule five, Owens struck out a ridiculous 74 in 54 innings in St. Lucie last summer to go along with his 3.15 ERA. He had a more difficult time in the AFL where he yielded 13 hits and 8 runs in 8.1 innings. Owens gave up two homeruns in the pitcher-friendly FSL all summer, only to give up the same number in less than 1/6 the number of AFL innings. A former undrafted free agent, the hard throwing Owens, who apparently can dial it up to 100 mph, got a little bit of ink at the beginning of spring training from MLB.com and the Daily News.

Lastings Milledge was 1-2 with two runs scored and is now hitting .300 (9H/30 AB).

Have fun at work Thursday watching the NCAA tournament. As a transplanted East Coaster, I initially had trouble with the early NFL Sunday start times, but now I’ve come to appreciate it since it gives me back my Sundays. However, I hate having NCAA tournament games start at 9 AM. It’s just brutal.

3/15 Spring Training Update

Busy weekend for me, and a busy weekend for the Mets and their farmhands. I did get to watch some of the WBC on Sunday, and now I’m into it.
It should come as no surprise to those who know me well, but I really like Guerolito, the remix album for Beck’s Guero, which was my favorite album of 2005. ‘Lito isn’t better than the original, but it’s still better than almost anything else and is coursing through my speakers right now.

We’ll work backwards and start with the good news. Tuesday, Brian Bannister continued his bid for a place on the big league club with four innings of one hit ball against the Orioles. He struck out two without walking a batter, and hasn’t been scored on yet this spring. Matt Persho was hit hard in one inning, while Chad Bradford, Royce Ring and Billy Wagner all dealt scoreless innings. Lastings Milledge was 1-4 with an RBI. Marty Noble writes about the future Mets outfielder today at MLB.com.

While the Bannister performance might have you hyped up, or at least moderately intrigued, Alay Soler’s Saturday will make you groan. Against the Braves, he lasted 1.2 innings and was smacked around for five runs, four earned on six hits. He walked two and struck out one. Remember, Soler is the Cuban prospect who did not pitch at all in the minors last year because of visa problems. He is simply not ready yet. In 3.1 innings this spring he’s been tattooed for 9 runs for an ERA of 21.60! How far away from the big leagues is Soler? Around this time last year, Nate Silver at BP concluded that the level of play in Cuba’s top league most closely approximates the level of play in the New York Penn league, home of the Mets’ Brooklyn Cyclones. Add in the fact that Soler should be rusty, and pitched against such an inferior level of talent and he should be getting lit.

Monday, the Mets beat up on the Nationals (who will be absolutely brutal this year) 10-4 in six innings. Lastings Milledge was hitless; he was 0-1. Twenty-three year old Corey Ragsdale, the Mets second round pick in 2001, played some shortstop and was 0-3. Rags hit .226/.305/.401 in 64 games in Binghamton last year. Tike Redman, most recently of the Pirates and a sub .300 OBP had a couple hits. Can the Mets find a roster spot for him? Stay tuned.

Sunday, the Mets lost 3-2 in 10 innings to the Orioles. Bryan Edwards, who was solid both out of the pen and in the starting rotation for Binghamton last season, gave up the winning run on two hits in the tenth while retiring just one. Former Met Esix Snead (definitely on any all-name team) scored the winning run as a pinch runner. Edwards was 6-6 with a save in 118.1 IP. He struck out just 85 batters and walked 46. Edwards is now with his third organization. Originally a Reds 9th round pick in 2000, he landed with the Padres before the Mets plucked him in the minor league phase of the rule V draft in 2003. He will turn 27 this summer.

Remember to find me some more subscribers by telling friends.

Thanks,
Toby

Friday, March 10, 2006

3/10 Spring Training Update

Tuesday, the Mets re-assigned RHPs Philip Humber, Matt Lindstrom, Rafael Cova, Jeremy Hill and Jason Scobie, Cs Jesus Flores, Drew Butera, Andy Wilson and Aaron Hathaway, and INF Brett Harper to Minor League camp. No big surprises there.

Thursday, the Astros beat the Mets with a run in the bottom of the ninth. At the plate, Lastings Milledge was 0-1. Juan Tejeda, who hit .291/.354/.447 for the Tigers AA team, the Erie Seawolves in 2005, was 0-2.
On the hill, Brian Bannister was superb over three innings. He struck out 3 and allowed just one hit. Seo what? He’s firmly in the race for the Mets sixth starter spot along with Alay Soler, and Mitch Wylie, the Mets rule 5 pick from the Giants who spent last year at with the AAA Fresno Grizzlies. I’m working on getting an update from Grizzlies sources who saw Wylie throw regularly.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

3/7: Spring Training Update and some Middle Infield Ramblings

The Mets beat Cleveland 6-3 and the lineup was about split with starters and everyone else. First things first, Lastings Milledge was 1-1. Meanwhile the real roster action came in the Battle of Second Base, where Anderson Hernandez actually played shortstop and was 0-4 with a HBP while Jeff Keppinger was 2 for 4 with a run scored.
Even if Anderson Hernandez loses out on the starting 2B job to Keppinger or Matsui, (likely) he could stick as the backup SS. His competition is Chris Woodward who hit .283/.337/.393 in 173 AB last year and 36-year-old Jose Valentin who hit .170/.326/.265 in 147 AB over 56 games for the Dodgers a year ago. Believe it or not, that was his highest OBP since 2001 when he reached at a 33.6% rate with the White Sox.
Anderson Hernandez presents a rather interesting problem for the Mets. Defensively everyone agrees he can pick it. Baseball America ranked him as the Mets #8 prospect (and 3 of the guys ahead of him, Petit, Hernandez and Jacobs are no longer Mets property), and praised his “soft hands, above average range, and …average accurate arm.” Remember, they, and the scouts they rely on, were evaluating him at SS rather than second base, so that’s an average SS arm rather than an average 2B arm. The difference is dramatic.
My question has to do with the nature of Anderson’s offensive season a year ago. Prior to 2005, Anderson’s best offensive season was 2004 when he combined to .277 for the Tigers FSL and AA teams, spending 4/5 of the time in AA with Erie. Then he bust out with a .326/.360/.462 in 66 games at Binghamton and .303/.354/.379 in 66 games at Norfolk before turning in a 1-for-18 performance with the Shea Stadium Mets. He walked in under 5% of his plate appearances in Binghamton, a simply unacceptably low walk rate. It was just around 6% in his AA time in 2004. However, his walk rate rose to nearly 8% at Norfolk. I’m willing to entertain the argument that Hernandez felt no need to be patient at Binghamton because he felt so comfortable against AA pitching, but realized that at higher levels, he would need to work counts better. If one makes this argument, and accepts the premise that Hernandez actively worked on improving his walk rate in AAA, it would stand to reason that he should return to AAA where he would get more at bats and have the chance to further develop into a more disciplined, more productive hitter. If you think the increase in walk rate in AAA was the result of luck, random variations or small sample sizes then the 23 year old might as well start on the big club’s bench. Although I think Hernandez might well be an immediate upgrade on Valentin or Woodward, I think he would provide more value to the Mets after a few more months of AAA seasoning. I think you could even make the argument that Hernandez would be more valuable to the Big Mets in August having spent a few months beating up on AAA pitching, while refining his plate eye, than languishing on the bench behind Reyes. If Reyes gets hurt, Hernandez is next in line.
What does PECOTA say about this? It doesn’t like Anderson offensively, projecting him to have a negative marginal lineup value rate (where 0.0 is league average), but still sees him adding almost 3 wins in WARP over a full season on the basis of his stellar defense. PECOTA thinks Valentin’s MLVr will also be negative, but again, sees him with a small positive contribution on the strength of his defense. If you have no idea what anything in this paragraph meant, you need to spend more time reading Baseball Prospectus.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Return of the Mets Minor League Report

Welcome to the return of the Mets Minor League Report. As the name suggests, I will cover the Mets minor league players and affiliates. As you might remember, in the summer of 2004 I covered the Mets Minor League System in an email newsletter and online at metsminors.blogspot.com. In 2005, without reliable internet in my home, my production dipped to a mere 5 posts. Like Carlos Beltran, I’m due for a big bounceback season. I will post most weeknights for the duration of the baseball season. Sometimes either my own work schedule or my need for a social life gets in the way of posting every night.
Before opening day, I will redesign the blog’s website. What should it have? What information do you want to see online? As a teaser, this year I plan to do interviews both with Mets prospects and the prospect hounds who follow them closely.
If you have questions, please ask me because I bet someone else was wondering the same thing. I will happily respond. Also, please tell friends, enemies and co-workers about this project.
One of the nice things about spring training is that the minor leaguers show up in big league games and box scores, which makes it easy to follow their progress. Of course, the Mets played Puerto Rico yesterday in a game that was played on ESPN 2. I did not see the game because I took advantage of one of my last free weekends until September by skiing Summit Sierra (only 2 hours from Visalia!). In case you’re wondering, the skiing was excellent. It had dumped Friday, and stayed very cold Saturday, and while Sunday was above 40 degrees there was nice soft snow everywhere and deep powder in the woods. I’d appreciate if you’d share any impressions from the Mets/PR contest either via email, or online in the blog’s comments section.
So, on to Sunday’s action…

Dodgers 16, Mets 2
An 11 run sixth inning for the LA boys was the big deal here. Some Mets pitchers had days they’d rather forget. Alay Soler was roughed up for 4 runs, all earned on three hits, all homeruns in 1.2 IP. Soler, according to Adam Rubin in today’s Daily News, is in contention for a starting spot should Pedro start the season on the DL. Jason Scobie, who was solid for Norfolk a year ago, yielded 8 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks without retiring a batter. Juan Perez yielded three more runs on three hits in two innings.
Secondbaseman Chase Lambin, pinch hitting in the eighth inning, singled home the Mets only two runs of the game. Lambin tore up Eastern League pitching last year (.331/.396/.657) before a June promotion to AAA where he hit .289/.350/.526 with 16 doubles and 10 HR. Anderson Hernandez was 0-3 to drop his spring average to .385. As we know, the Mets second base position is open. Mary Noble discusses this subject at mets.com too.
Jesus Flores had a pinch hit single. Flores, a 21 year old catcher, who was Baseball America’s #9 prospect in their 2005 handbook, broke his thumb during the 2005 spring training and hit only .216/.250/.339 for Hagerstown in the South Atlantic League in 82 games last year. He struck out 90 times while walking 12.

PR 6, Mets 1

Didn’t see it. Can’t find a Box score. Pelfrey threw. How did he look? Speaking of which, Marty Noble, who I’ve been reading as long as I can remember, wrote a piece about how the Mets are trying not to hype Pelfrey, but Noble of course, in the process, ends up hyping him. I hope it was tongue in cheek, but it didn’t look like it. I get as excited about minor leaguers as anyone, but we need to remember: most minor league guys won’t make the big leagues let alone be productive regulars or all-stars. Therefore, I found this quote from Mr. Noble a little silly:
“Within the subsequent 30 seconds, Randolph twice said the Mets aren't planning on Pelfrey reaching the big leagues this year. Not planning, pushing or even fantasizing. But they probably will be disappointed if Pelfrey doesn't reach The Show in '06.”

Dude hasn’t thrown a single professional inning yet! It took Felix Hernandez over TWO full seasons to reach the big leagues and he, quite simply, is a stud. I would be stunned if Pelfrey is pitching in Shea in 06.

Rankings, and some former Mets Farmhands:
Nate Silver and his vaunted PECOTA forecasting system tab Gabby Hernandez as the 19th best pitching prospect in all of baseball. Hernandez (6-1, 2.43) had an excellent season for Hagerstown last year with 99 K and 30 walks in 92 IP before having a tougher time in St. Lucie where he was 2-5 with a 5.74 ERA. He was able to keep his K/BB over 3 in the FSL (32/10), but his K/IP dropped from 1.06 in the SAL to 0.76 in the FSL. (Strikeout rates are perhaps the best indicator of a pitcher’s future potential.)

Yusmeiro Petit is #2, trailing only Francisco Liriano. Petit’s #1 comparable is Luke Prokopec.

Aarom Baldiris, who the Rangers snagged from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft, had a 3 run HR Friday.