Mets 24-year-old left fielder Daniel Murphy is batting .309/.385/.443 through his first 221 big league plate appearances. That’s excellent production from someone who essentially is a rookie. It’s especially impressive considering Murhpy’s draft status. A 13th-round pick in 2006 as a Jacksonville junior, Murphy rocketed through the minors, busting out at Double-A Binghamton last season and making his big league debut last August, little more than two years after being drafted.
We know players like David Wright and Mike Pelfrey because of their first-round pedigrees, but it’s players like Murphy, who seemingly come from nowhere, who are a testament to an organization’s amateur scouting and player development efforts.
If you have a copy of our 2009 Prospect Handbook, you know the Mets’ top prospects already, but here we offer a watch list of prospects off the beaten path, presenting two each from the organization’s four full-season affiliates. (Well, OK, not all of the players here are under the radar—but the ones who are somewhat known are at least unconventional.)
Though the Bisons feature a trio of the Mets’ top prospects in outfielder Fernando Martinez, lefty Jonathon Niese and righthanded reliever Eddie Kunz, a pair of less-heralded minor leaguers stuck around big league camp this spring at the request of manager Jerry Manuel.
Righthanded-hitting utility infielder Jonathan Malo, 25, was part of the Mets squad that christened Citi Field in exhibition games this spring. The native of Quebec was a 48th-round draft-and-follow in 2003 from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M JC.
"He’s a steady guy, someone who’s not too flashy," Mets vice president of player development Tony Bernazard said. "He makes all the plays and is fundamentally sound. He’s got good speed, and he can play all over the place."
A 21st-round pick in 2007 from Texas-Arlington, righthander Dillon Gee parlayed a strong turn in the Puerto Rican League last winter (4-0, 2.22 with 43 SO, 13 BB and 2 HR in 49 IP) into an assignment at Triple-A. The 21-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 innings is impressive, but the 5.40 ERA and four home runs allowed in four starts . . . well, he’s got plenty of time to turn it around.
The Mets continue to be impressed with lefty-hitting catcher Josh Thole, 22, who up until last season had worked mostly as a first baseman. The 2005 13th-round pick from Mater Dei High in Breese, Ill., doesn’t have much power, but that may not matter if he continues to hit .300 (as he did in the Florida State and Arizona Fall leagues last year) and show a disciplined approach.
"He’s developing into very good defensive catcher," Bernazard said. "He’s a good leadership type, who is calling good games."
Pitching on the same Ponce team as Gee, 23-year-old lefthander Mike Antonini (2-0, 3.45 with 29 SO, 13 BB, 4 HR in 47 IP) also got an extended look in spring training. He’s an 18th-round pick from Georgia College & State, drafted in 2007. His Binghamton teammate Dylan Owen, who like Antonini and Gee is a late-round selection from 2007, didn’t pitch winter ball and is off to a slower start.
The most prospect-laden of all the Mets’ farm clubs, St. Lucie’s infield boasts two first-rounders from 2008—first baseman Ike Davis and shortstop Reese Havens—and two other modest prospects in Dominican second baseman Greg Veloz and third baseman Zach Lutz, who attended Division II Alvernia (Pa.).
Not only is the rotation headed by physical righthanders Brad Holt, a supplemental first-rounder from last year, and Scott Shaw, a 13th-rounder, it also features 19-year-old Dominican righty Jenrry Mejia, whom Bernazard described as having mid-90s velocity and the ability to work both sides of the plate. He continued: "He was steady in his game in spring training. He just throws some funny pitches—he’ll just cut the ball and it’ll do funny things. And then he’s got that plus changeup."
Though he’s been in the Mets system since 2004, spent the better part of four years in short-season ball and was left unprotected in last December’s Rule 5 draft, Venezuelan lefty Angel Calero, 22, is gaining traction in the organization. Though raw, he’s off to a good start to this season and features a firm 91-93 mph fastball, a changeup and a very good curveball.
The pair of 17-year-olds on the left side of the Sand Gnats’ infield have rightfully garnered the most attention. Both shortstop Wilmer Flores and third baseman Jefry Marte are holding their own in the South Atlantic League, and the organization did not hesitate to send either to full-season ball. Not with the way they played last year—Flores ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Appy League, while Marte was No. 3 in the Gulf Coast League—and not with the way they swung the bat in spring training.
But even on a Savannah roster that features a heavy dose of international flavor, with players from Montreal, the Dominican, Venezuela and Australia, one may be surprised the country listed as Kai Gronauer’s birthplace: Germany. The 22-year-old catcher, who signed with the Mets in April 2008, has been a mainstay on Deutschland’s national team since he was 18 years old, and a pro in his native land since he was 16. Gronauer hit .356/.408/.378 in his U.S. debut (16 games) in the GCL last summer and is off to a modest start to this season.
"As a catcher, he’s advanced," Bernazard said. "It’s a pleasure to see him call games, the way he leads pitchers and picks up things to help them out. He came in as No. 1 catcher, and he’s going to hit. Our industry is behind when it comes to catching, but we feel like we have a few good ones in Thole, (Francisco) Pena, Gronauer and (Jean Luc) Blaquiere."
An eighth-round pick from Boston College last year, 22-year-old, righthanded-hitting first baseman Eric Campbell has impressed the Mets with his grinder mentality. "He’s a blue-collar player," Bernanzard said. "He bats well, he runs well, he makes contact."
• Righthander John Holdzkom, the 21-year-old, 6-foot-7 sinkerballer who showed improved command with Rookie-level Kingsport last summer, will miss the season after having Tommy John surgery. New York selected him from Salt Lake CC in the fourth round of the 2006 draft.
• Outfielder Cesar Puello, who signed out of the Dominican for $400,000 in 2007, stayed behind in spring training while recovering from a hand injury. As a 17-year-old last year, he batted .305/.350/.364 in 163 plate appearances in the Gulf Coast League.
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