Inbox: Where do young Mets fit in?
Beat reporter Anthony DiComo fields questions from fans
Recently acquiring a few more relievers to round out their bullpen competition, the Mets are all but done with their offseason shopping. But we're not done answering questions. On the eve of Jonathan Mayo's Top 50 Prospects list hitting MLB.com, this week's Mets Inbox digs into some of the top young players who could make their way to Flushing.
What's your top 10 prospects list? The consensus seems to be No. 1: Jenrry Mejia; No. 2: Wilmer Flores; No. 3: Matt Harvey; and it differentiates from there. I would guess Reese Havens, Aderlin Rodriguez and Kirk Nieuwenhuis have to be in there somewhere, with Cory Vaughn, Jeurys Familia and Juan Urbina rising up as they progress.
-- Nick L., Jersey City, N.J.
Ranking the top 10 would be too subjective of an exercise for me to undertake -- of all the candidates, I've only seen Mejia, Flores, Fernando Martinez and Lucas Duda play in person. That said, I don't think it's a clear top three for the Mets -- at least not yet -- but instead a top two. In terms of raw talent, Mejia and Flores have the rest of the pool trumped by a significant margin. Mejia, who should begin this season in Triple-A after making his Major League debut last season, has the edge because he is that much closer to contributing at the big league level.
Harvey, the team's first-round Draft pick last June, certainly has talent. But he has yet to pitch professionally and has questions surrounding his command. A strong season in Class A ball could help him rocket up the list.
Beyond those three, the talent level dims -- or remains too young to accurately project. Havens boasts plus power, but has a history of leg and back injuries that have hampered him throughout his Minor League career. For evidence of how discouraging such injuries can be, just look to Martinez, whose own setbacks have dropped him to the back end of the top 10.
Nieuwenhuis and Duda also boast proven power at a high level, but neither owns the sort of raw potential to be much more than an average outfielder. Rodriguez does have that potential -- but at 19 years old, he remains too far away from the big leagues to accurately project. A strong season in 2011 could rocket him to the top of the list. Likewise, Vaughn and Urbina have plenty of potential with much to prove.
It's also important to note that despite its highlights, this is far from a strong system. One of the most pressing challenges facing new general manager Sandy Alderson is how to draft and sign international talent better than the previous regime.
What are your thoughts on Havens? Do you think he gets a cup of coffee this year? He needs to stay healthy, but the way he tore up the Eastern League last year in short time suggests that his bat is almost MLB-ready. Can he overtake Ruben Tejada in 2012?
-- Nathan C., Franklin, Mass.
As mentioned above, the most significant question surrounding Havens is health. If he can play a full season in the Minor Leagues this year, it's quite likely he may hit well enough to earn a September callup; new manager Terry Collins is one of his biggest supporters. But back and leg issues have haunted Havens throughout his young career, making such a run of success less likely.
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As for playing time, overtaking Tejada is not the primary issue. Havens unquestionably has a stronger offensive profile than Tejada, who should also begin this season in the Minors. But if either Daniel Murphy or Brad Emaus takes the second-base job from Luis Castillo this spring, the Mets may hesitate to strip their new young starter of playing time.
What's the latest word on the Mets' arbitration cases?
-- Bob H., Orlando, Fla.
Mike Pelfrey settled on a one-year deal immediately after exchanging figures with the Mets last week; he now has a $3.925 million contract for 2011. Now, the Mets are attempting to hammer out deals with their other two arbitration-eligible players: Angel Pagan and R.A. Dickey.
The difference between requested and offered salaries for those two players is roughly $1 million each, meaning the Mets shouldn't have much trouble agreeing to new deals with them. Dickey's contract, however, may take a bit more time to complete -- if the Mets can negotiate a two-year deal for him, they would buy out his first year of free agency (Pagan is under team control through 2012).
If the Mets cannot agree to terms with either player, they would go to hearing, in which a panel of three arbitrators would side either with Dickey and Pagan or the Mets -- there is no middle ground. But hearings are rare these days, and there's no reason to believe negotiations with those two would ever reach that point.
Which Mets on the 40-man roster are out of Minor League options?
-- Mark R., Irvine, Calif.
Quite a few young Mets are out of options, actually, which should make for some interesting Spring Training competitions. Though the team recently signed Scott Hairston and Willie Harris to compete for backup outfield spots, fellow outfielders Nick Evans and Jason Pridie are out of options -- meaning if they don't make the club, New York must expose them to other teams through the waiver process. Though both are Collins favorites, their days with the Mets may be numbered.
Also out of options are middle infielders Luis Hernandez and Chin-lung Hu. There isn't room on the roster for both of them, meaning whoever loses the Spring Training competition may need to seek employment elsewhere. And the fact that those two are out of options does not bode well for the chances of Justin Turner -- who does have remaining options -- making the team.
In the bullpen, Manny Acosta is out of options, making him a strong candidate to earn a spot. Same goes for Pat Misch, who would be first in line should Collins feel inclined to break camp with a long reliever.
What are the chances of Evans making the Major League team? I feel that he is wasting away in the Minors. Is there a bench spot for him?
-- C.C., Santa Clara, Calif.
The chances are slim, mostly for the reasons stated above. The Mets signed Hairston to a Major League contract, all but solidifying his spot on the roster. And though Harris is on a Minor League deal, New York may find it difficult to justify dumping him in favor of Evans.
The Mets could potentially keep Evans around as a backup corner infielder instead. But if Emaus wins the starting second-base job, New York would already have a strong candidate for that role in Murphy.
That said, with a strong spring, Evans could certainly crack the Opening Day roster. It's not impossible. But with their string of signings in recent weeks, the Mets have made it extremely hard on him.
Do you think Bobby Parnell would be an effective closer? He is still very young, and his fastball hits triple digits easy, with a low-90s slider. Hitters have a hard time touching his stuff. If he does well as a setup man this season, I think he should be the new Mets closer.
-- Logan B., Easton, Conn.
The stuff is there -- there's no question about that. And Parnell would certainly embrace the opportunity. Speaking last week, he expressed some polite disappointment that Hisanori Takahashi received all the save opportunities in Francisco Rodriguez's absence last season. Takahashi has since bolted to the Angels, and Parnell has little ninth-inning experience of note.
That said, Parnell is now the Mets' clear setup man, and any injury to Rodriguez would put him first on the depth chart. There's a good chance Rodriguez will be gone after this season, meaning if Parnell has a strong year, he could easily become the closer in 2012.
Whatever happened to Omir Santos? He performed well in 2009 and had some clutch hits. Has he fallen out of favor with the organization?
-- Robert S., Brooklyn, N.Y.
It's almost comical to think that at this time last year, Santos was the top catcher on the Mets' depth chart. Then the team signed Henry Blanco, Chris Coste and Rod Barajas, before Josh Thole claimed the starting job in July. By that time, Santos had fractured a finger in the Minors, wiping out most of his 2010 season.
In November, Santos exercised his right to refuse an outright Minor League assignment, thereby making him a free agent. He signed on with the Tigers shortly thereafter.