Ten Mets Prospects At a Crossroads

Previously we presented the Mets’ Top Ten Most Intriguing Prospects. Now, we go over the Top Ten Mets Prospects At a Crossroads.

1. Anderson Hernandez

Two years ago at this time, Hernandez was everyone’s choice to be the starting second baseman at the ML level — despite having to compete with veterans Kaz Matsui, Bret Boone, Jose Valentin, and others when camp opened. In fact, his flashy defense won over Willie Randolph and his coaching staff and he indeed was in the lineup on Opening Day — and was highlighted on ESPN the next day for a leaping “web gem”. However, he soon went on the 15-day DL with a bulging disk in his back and Jose Valentin claimed the second base job for good. With Luis Castillo in place for the next four years, and Jose Reyes already playing his natural shortstop position, AHern’s best bet to make the team is to beat out Ruben Gotay for a utility spot. However it’s hard to imagine the Mets needing a good-field, no-hit infielder on the bench — it’s not like Castillo or Reyes will need a defensive replacement in the late innings. The Mets may have to showcase Hernandez this spring with hopes of trading him for some A-ball talent.

2. Ben Johnson
Since Jon Adkins was unceremoniously dismissed from the organization, Ben is all we have left in return for Heath Bell and Royce Ring. Had he not suffered injuries last season, he likely would have been playing a lot of outfield for the Mets — but then, that story could be told for several Mets outfielders in 2007. After tearing up his ankle last year, he still isn’t 100%, and may not be by Opening Day. Tough break for a guy who plays as hard as anyone, flashes a good glove, and looks like he might have power potential. He turns 27 in June, and needs to be on someone’s 25-man roster this year if he’s going to have any kind of MLB career. With the Mets unable to bring in a quality veteran RH OF bat, Johnson might have an opportunity to shine if (when) Moises Alou breaks down. I’m rooting for him.

3. Ruben Gotay
All Gotay did was hit in excess of .350 while Mets management scratched their heads wondering what they should do with the second base position. His invisibility to anyone inside the Mets brass is still a head-scratcher for the rest of us, but with Castillo locked up it doesn’t appear that Gotay’s future will be with the Mets — except as a backup infielder and pinch-hitter. But even as a utilityman he’ll have his hands full and may not make the team out of spring training. If I were him, I’d be putting on the tools of ignorance and pronouncing myself the emergency catcher.

4. Willie Collazo
The little lefty was a non-prospect his entire career, but forced his way up the ladder by continuously succeeding. It’s possible the Mets have another Pedro in Collazo — though the Feliciano version. At 28 years old, he’s not getting any younger, but he does have the advantage of being lefty — and as Jesse Orosco will tell you, sometimes that’s all you need. With a good spring, an injury to one of the other lefties, and a little luck, Collazo could head north come April.

5. Jason Vargas
After bursting on the scene with 13 strong starts for the Marlins as a 22-year-old in 2005, Vargas’ career has been all downhill, coming to a crash in two ugly spot starts with the Mets last season. However, it was discovered afterward that he had an elbow issue, which minor postseason surgery may have corrected. If he’s 100%, and his velocity is back, he could be the surprise of the spring. If the velocity doesn’t return, he’ll be back in AAA and possibly looking at a future as a soft-tossing LOOGY.

6. Carlos Muniz
Like Collazo, Muniz has never been identified as a prospect, but he put together good back-to-back seasons in A and AA (31 and then 23 saves) and the Mets had no choice but to promote him. While the numbers look nice, it has to be understood that he was “old” for the leagues he was in, and will turn 27 in mid-March. If he doesn’t crack the Mets’ roster, he will quickly be marked as a “AAAA” player. Personally, I think he’ll be good depth in AAA to bring up and down as needed — the old Heath Bell Shuttle.

7. Mike Carp
What a difference a year makes. Last March, he was an impressive 21-year-old who appeared to be on the fast track to the bigs. After an injury-filled, disappointing season in AA, however, Carp suddenly is fighting to retain status as a leading first base prospect in the organization. If he doesn’t do an about-face, Carp could see Nick Evans leapfrog over him in the eyes of the Mets’ brass.

8. Stephen Register

We don’t know much about this guy, other than the fact that former Chicago Bulls GM Jerry Krause thinks he can make the team. If Register doesn’t make it north, the Rule 5 pick will be offered back to the Rockies. A strong spring could net him his MLB debut.

9. Joe Smith

After being nearly unhittable through the first half of 2007, combined with the exit of Guillermo Mota, you’d think Joe Smith would be almost guaranteed a spot in this years’ bullpen. However, Smith was overused and burned out by July, and never pitched nearly as well as his first two months in the bigs. Now he has to fight with Register, Muniz, Collazo, Brian Stokes, Ruddy Lugo, and nearly a dozen non-roster invitees for a spot in a suddenly crowded corps of relievers. His biggest obstacle is Register, who likely will get the nod due to his Rule 5 status if the two pitchers perform at equal levels in the spring. Then again, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have Smith ready and waiting in AAA if/when the bullpen repeats its second-half nosedive in 2008.

10. Adam Bostick
The hard-throwing lefty was identified as a prospect after strong showings in A and AA, but did not match that success in AAA last year. He’ll turn 25 on St. Paddy’s Day, which means he still has some time but that time is running short. His best chance to stick will be in the old Darren Oliver role, but it’s more likely he’ll return to AAA. Unless he shows marked improvement over last year, Bostick — like fellow former Florida Marlin Vargas — could be looking at a transition to the bullpen.

11. Ambiorix Concepcion
Much like the amps used by Spinal Tap, this top ten list has eleven. You may or may not have ever heard of Ambiorix Concepcion, but it wasn’t that long ago he was the hottest thing going in the Mets organization — like, F-Mart hot. But don’t believe me, read this from Baseball America:

“The short-season New York-Penn League was loaded with pitching in 2004, but a position player claimed the mantle of best prospect. There wasn’t a manager in the league who questioned the remarkable talent of Brooklyn outfielder Ambiorix Concepcion.”

However, his over-aggressiveness at the plate and injury problems sidetracked his path to stardom, and spent last year in A-ball after reaching AA in 2006. He was a free-agent over the winter and I’m not clear whether the Mets re-signed him. Wherever he is, he’ll need to show some of the skills that had scouts salivating 3-4 years ago, as he seems to have dropped off the face of the earth at age 24. It’s now or never for the one-time phenom.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Walnutz15 February 11, 2008 at 6:18 pm
    For the record, I may be the only Met fan who never saw a thing from Anderson Hernandez — and really, I wanted to love him defensively….but when I saw that I might actually have a better approach at the plate than he did….that’s where it stopped.

    With regard to Ruben Gotay, I’m in complete accord — Joe.

    Not even going on the basis of “hyping” him up — but from what I saw last year…Gotay had some of the best at-bats of the season. And this includes all of the most professional, veteran Met hitters….

    There were at-bats where he’d work a pitcher 9 or 10 pitches into a count — fighting off bad pitches by fouling them off — and finally rip a line shot through the box.

    To me, that says something about him as a hitter…..especially as a guy who never really got regular playing time.

    While definitely a veteran option — nothing about Damion Easley, offensively or defensively screams to me “I should be getting at-bats, or even playing time over Ruben Gotay.”

    I’m sorry, but this is how I feel….especially since Gotay’s still pretty young, and has led a “rush to the bigs” Major League life.

    I’m not gonna sit here and say he should be starting at 2nd base — but I was somewhat impressed by his tools last year, and think the guy could help out.

    Provided he ditches the hitting Right-Handed shpiel.

    I think there’s a place for Gotay somewhere at the big league level — and I’m not saying he’ll be a “STAR”….but I think he can contribute as a middle infielder, or maybe even as a fill-in corner outfielder.

    He’s on the young side….is healthy…..and has shown something in limited exposure. None of which currently applies to an old, hobbled Damion Easley.

    I’d like to see some more of Gotay this year, and hope he’s worked out at different positions in St. Lucie early on.

    Problem is: I don’t think Randolph values him all that much.

  2. joe February 11, 2008 at 8:45 pm
    Walnutz, I think you know I agree 100% with your assessment of Gotay — particularly in regard to his quality at-bats.

    I also agree — he needs to ditch the RH hitting.

    If by chance Gotay makes the team, and gets another chance to play semi-regularly (ex., due to an injury), and hits .350 again, SOMEONE better whack Willie over the head and explain the kid’s the real deal.

    Unfortunately it probably will take an injury — or several — for Gotay to get a fair shot.

  3. isuzudude February 11, 2008 at 8:58 pm
    “While definitely a veteran option — nothing about Damion Easley, offensively or defensively screams to me “I should be getting at-bats, or even playing time over Ruben Gotay.””

    Did I miss Damion Easley hitting .150 last year while striking out once every other atbat? Because the way he’s getting bashed on this blog I’m beginning to think I did. Maybe you guys are confusing Easley for Julio Franco.

    “Why I Would Give Damion Easley More At-bats Than Ruben Gotay”…by Isuzudude:
    First of all, on a left handed heavy hitting team, any adequate bench player who is better from the right side of the plate is a plus in my book. Easley hit .371 vs. LHP last year with an OPS over 1.000! I don’t expect him to repeat those same exact numbers again, but still, that type of production alone is enough to give him a roster spot. Especially compared to Gotay’s ineptness vs. LHP (.194, 13 K in 36 ABs). One can make the argument Gotay isn’t even the best lefty on the bench, as he’s definitely behind Anderson in the pecking order and maybe behind Chavez. So keeping your third best lefty off the bench is better than keeping your best righty?

    I also don’t remember Gotay becoming a gold glover. Easley’s defense is definitely paramount over Gotay because 1) he fields his positions better than Gotay, and 2) provides more versatility [1B, OF, 3B].

    Gotay’s season last year can also possibly be categorized as a flash in the pan. When has he ever, on the major or minor league level, put up the type of numbers he put up last year? To me, his season reminds me of ilk of Timo Perez, Desi Relaford, and Tony Tarasco. Guys who excelled with the Mets inexplicably for one season and then fell off the face of the earth the rest of their career. I’m not saying the same is going to happen to Gotay…but I am saying at least you know for sure what you’re going to get out of Easley. I think the jury is still out on Gotay.

  4. Walnutz15 February 11, 2008 at 9:29 pm
    The whole point with Easley is that he’s anything but 100% healthy — and coming off a significant ankle injury at more or less 40 years of age.

    To be honest, I think that Gotay’s capable of hitting .250 (Easley’s career average, when not on the sauce) — and maybe popping out 6-7 homeruns (what Easley would give you on his best day in 2008, anyway.)

    The fact is, he’s young and could contribute in some capacity down the line as a utility player…..I don’t typically go out on limbs (they’re dangerous, ya know) — but I’d say that Easley this year will be closer to Grampa Julio than many would like to think.

    Just my humble opinion….

  5. joe February 11, 2008 at 10:08 pm
    Easley had a GREAT year last year, for him. If you want to talk flash in the pan, I’d say Easley was just as much a flash as Gotay. Easley had three excellent years from age 27-29, and has been awful since, save for last year. To me Easley’s 2007 reminds one of Valentin’s 2006 — and I think he may come crashing down back to his reality of .240, lots of breezy swings, and suddenly his iron glove is not so acceptable — regardless of versatility. I hope I’m wrong, because it’s clear that Willie loves him, he’s been handed a spot, and will be given until at least midseason to lose it.

    I agree on Gotay’s ineptitude vs. lefties, which is why I think he should bat lefty all the time. And also agree he needs to become more versatile to provide value to the team. And you’re right, the Mets need more RH batters on the bench — I just wish they would have picked up a Mench or Wilson or anyone.

    As for < >

    please check out my article on FlushingU from last spring:

    http://www.flushinguniversity.com/moxie/columns/ruben-gotay.shtml

    While Gotay has not ever batted .350 before, he WAS on the same pace as Robinson Cano while both were rising up through the minors. I don’t know that he’ll hit with Cano’s power, but making the point that he showed potential with the stick in the minors.

    As for knowing what we get with Easley, does that mean we expect him to have another .280 year with 10 HRs in 190 ABs? Or should we expect him to do what he did in the previous five years: .233, .240, .238, .187, .224? Those five years are the specific reason I’ve been dead-set against Easley’s value from the time he signed on last winter — and why he surprised the hell out of me in ’07. It was as out of the blue as Valentin’s ’06 and Brady Anderson hitting 50 HRs in 1996.