Almost immediately after the Johan Santana trade — which instantly removed many of the Mets’ best youngsters — one of our MetsToday loyalists (Nick A.) suggested I write a post about the Mets “new” list of top ten prospects.
By the time I figured out who that top ten would be, a much more reliable source on subject — Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus — beat me to it (you snooze, you lose).
So instead, I’ll list my top ten most intriguing (but possibly unknown) prospects to watch in 2008. (BTW, you will not see Fernando Martinez on the list, because everyone already knows all about him.)
1. Brant Rustich, RHP, age 22
While most of the pundits talk about Eddie Kunz (below), so far Brant Rustich has put up better numbers as a pro. The 6’6″ righthander posted a combined 1.57 ERA, with 21 Ks and only 2 BBs in 23 innings through two stops at the low A-level last year, and then showed promise in the Hawaii fall league. His fastball touches 95, and is mixed with a MLB average slider. The only reason the Mets were able to steal him with the 93rd pick in the draft was because he struggled in his final year at UCLA after undergoing finger ligament surgery. It appears as though he’s back to 100%, and might have a chance to get a serious look during spring training.
2. Eddie Kunz, RHP, age 21
After being drafted last June, many pundits predicted Kunz to be this year’s Joe Smith — a guy who could jump right into the Mets’ bullpen in 2008. In fact, the Mets supposedly chose the former OSU closer with exactly that idea in mind. However, he took a while to get started in pro ball — he didn’t sign until late July — and only pitched 12 unimpressive professional innings (he walked eight). He was assigned to the Arizona Fall League and didn’t fare much better, allowing two homers, 12 runs, 15 hits, and 8 walks in only 10 innings. However, the Mets like his heavy sinker and slider, both thrown from a low three-quarter delivery, and see him as the heir apparent to Billy Wagner. He could get an extended look in spring training.
3. Scott Moviel, LHP, age 19
This 6’11”, 245-lb. man-child struck out 37 and walked only 11 in 40 innings in the Gulf Coast League last summer, riding a fastball that touched 95. His height, velocity, and lefthandedness might draw comparisons to Randy Johnson, but he has a more overhand delivery with less deception than Johnson. If there’s anything bothersome about Moviel, it’s how hittable he was — 45 hits allowed in those 40 frames. But he doesn’t turn 20 until May, and could climb fast depending on how quickly he develops secondary pitches.
4. Nathan Vineyard, LHP, age 19
Other than his age and lefthandedness, there’s nothing particularly exciting about Vineyard. However, he is very polished for his age, with command of three pitches and a consistent delivery. Think of him as the lefty Brian Bannister, and watch him rise through the ranks over the next few years.
5. Francisco Pena, catcher, age 18
This is the son of former Gold Glove catcher Tony Pena. Francisco Pena was force-fed into A ball last year as a 17-year-old, and struggled mightily — but what 17-year-old Dominican wouldn’t? He’s already 6’3″, 230 lbs., and has excellent raw skills behind the plate. If he can show progress over his initial pro campaign, there’s every reason to believe he’ll be at CitiField by the time he’s of legal drinking age.
6. Ruben Tejada, SS, age 18
Another 17-year-old prodigy last year, Tejada torched the Venezuelan Summer League to the tune of .364, then fared well with a .283 average in 121 ABs in the Gulf Coast League. Some eye-popping numbers: a .434 OBP, .857 OPS, 18 SBs, and 38 BB vs. 35 Ks in 241 combined ABs at the two levels. Did I mention this Panamanian did all that as a 17-year-old? If he keeps up these kinds of numbers he may compare to another SS named Tejada (no relation).
7. Lucas Duda, 1B, 22 years old
A 6’4″, 225-lb. first baseman with a long but sweet lefty swing, Duda projects to be a slugger in the mold of a Richie Sexson or Adam Dunn. His defense is less than adequate, so his future may be as an AL DH. He hit .299 at Brooklyn last year with an .859 OPS. Mets brass will be watching him closely as he ascends to high A ball in 2008.
8. Nick Carr, RHP, 20 years old
Few talk about this righthander, mostly because all the talk of young Mets pitching prospects surrounds Kunz, Vineyard, and Moviel. However, Carr is a nasty competitor along the lines of Rob Dibble. He struck out 74 in 61 innings with the Cyclones last year, holding opponents to a paltry .224 batting average. He continued to overpower hitters in the Hawaiian fall league, striking out 10 in 12 IP and posting a respectable 3.50 ERA — though he did also walk 10. Though he was used as a starter last season, he looks to me like a future middle reliever / setup man. He could rise quickly.
9. Tobi Stoner, RHP, 23 years old
Personally, I don’t know enough about Stoner to make a good analysis of him, and have never seen him pitch. However, my pal Matt “The Stat” Himelfarb talks highly of Stoner so he has to be on this list. Hopefully Matt will notice this post and add his comments below. If not for Matt I might have thought Tobi Stoner was a character’s name in “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”.
10. Dylan Owen, RHP 21 years old
This is another guy whom I haven’t seen pitch but I really like his story. He was the Division II pitcher of the year, but no one cares about D2 so the 5’11”, 185-pounder dropped to the 633rd pick in the ’07 draft. In other words, he had “no prospect” written all over him. So what does he do? He leads the NY-Penn League in everything, going 9-1 with a 1.49 ERA, 69 Ks, only 12 BB in 72 IP and holding batters to a .192 average. However, because his fastball hums just below 90 MPH, his secondary stuff is judged as mediocre, and he’s under six feet tall, no one is counting on him to repeat those numbers at higher levels. Maybe “they” are right, but Dylan Owen looks to me like the type of guy motivated to prove everyone wrong. I’m rooting for him.
There were a number of other guys I could have put on this list, but kept the list at ten because everyone likes top tens. For example, Nick Evans, Dan Murphy, Wilmer Flores, Bobby Parnell, Sean McCraw, and Jon Niese are just a few of many other prospects in the organization catching the eyes of scouts. While the Mets cupboard of near-MLB-ready prospects may seem bare after the Santana deal, the shelves could get full quickly after some strong, smart drafts over the past two years. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Moviel, Rustich, Kunz, and Vineyard take big steps in 2008 — much the same way the Yankees had pitching prospects such as Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, and Philip Hughes suddenly emerge. And my Nick Carr comparison to Rob Dibble was no joke — that dude is mean, and can bring the heat. Two years from now, the organization may be brimming with prospects, and we could be laughing at all the concern we had about the Santana deal.
Have a favorite intriguing prospect not covered here? Comment about him (or them) below.