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.