New York Mets Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Lacy Lusk
1. Alex Escobar, of
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Venezuela, 1995. Signed by: Gregorio Machado.
Background: When Escobar has been healthy, he has been awesome. Hes capable of playing any of the three outfield positions, is projected as a 20-30 stolen base threat in the big leagues, can hit for average and power and has an above-average arm. The only problem is that before 2000, those tools often were on the disabled list. In his first four years in the system, Escobar averaged just 153 at-bats a season. He was restricted to three games in 1999 because of two injuries: a lower-back problem and then a separated left shoulder that required surgery. Despite the lost season, he remained the organizations No. 1 prospect because no one could forget his scintillating 1998 season at Class A Capital City, when he hit .310-27-91 in 416 at-bats while stealing 49 bases. He was as good a power/
speed combination as anyone in the minor leagues.
Strengths: At Double-A Binghamton in 2000, Escobar did all the things he needed to do and stayed healthy while doing them. His work with a personal trainer certainly paid off as he hit well after a slow start. Almost halfway through the year, he had just four stolen bases. That was by design, though, so his sore hamstrings could heal. Afterward, he was back to his Sally League dominance on the bases, finishing with 24 steals. All of his other tools looked as impressive as they had two seasons earlier.
Weaknesses: By all accounts, Escobar needs just the benefit of time. In the outfield, he could use improvement on picking up hard-hit ground balls and on the accuracy of his throws. Hell still have to answer questions about his durability and scouts would like to see him cut down on his strikeouts, but Escobar could be the most exciting player in a young, talented Mets outfield in the near future.
The Future: Escobar is seen as a pure center fielder, but incumbent Jay Payton has a slight defensive edge on him at that spot and probably will push Escobar to right. As long as the Mets top prospect keeps his health, hell get a chance to show off his skills as an everyday player at Triple-A Norfolk in 2001. If all goes well, he may get a chance to continue New Yorks recent tradition of finding key late-season outfield additions from the farm system.
2. Pat Strange, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 240. Drafted: HSSpringfield, Mass., 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Bob Lavallee.
Background: The organizations minor league pitcher of the year, Strange has advanced faster than expected for a New Englander who didnt get a full year of baseball until 1999. He is durable and shows no signs of the loss in velocity that dropped him out of the first round of the 1998 draft.
Strengths: Strange has a nice feel for his offspeed stuff. His best pitch might be a changeup that he cuts a little, giving it the appearance of a slider when it feeds off his fastball. When he stays on top of his pitches, he has heavy sink on his 91-94 mph fastball and excellent control. He loves to have the ball late in the game.
Weaknesses: Compared to Bill Pulsipher because of how quickly he tackled Double-A, Strange already was considered a righthanded Pulsipher because of concerns about his mechanics. The Mets think Strange will overcome his inconsistent delivery, but his motion is something hell always battle. An exception in the organizations philosophy, he doesnt throw a curveball. His slider needs improvement.
The Future: Look for Strange to start 2001 back in Double-A, with an excellent chance at a taste of Triple-A by the halfway mark.
3. Brian Cole, of
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 172. Drafted: Navarro (Texas) JC, 1998 (18th round). Signed by: Dave Lottsfeldt.
Editor's Note: Brian Cole was killed in an automobile accident on April 1, 2001. The following text is as it appeared when originally published in January 2001.
Background: If Cole were a couple of inches taller, he would have been a much higher draft pick after he was named Baseball Americas Junior College Player of the Year in 1998. He and similarly diminutive Timoniel Perez are two of the most exciting prospects in the system.
Strengths: Cole has a combination similar to Escobar in terms of his power, speed, aggressiveness at the plate and baserunning instincts. Hes a plus defensive player and his arma notch below Escobarsis at least average.
Weaknesses: Likely a future No. 2, 3 or 6 hitter in a major league lineup, Cole projects as more of an RBI threat than a speedster. He has a sweet swing and gets power Perez wont ever have, but Cole can be a little too pull-conscious. He also could stand to draw a few more walks.
The Future: Coles only cold spell last year came in his first few weeks in Double-A after a midseason promotion, but he adjusted and thrived, then finished strong in the Arizona Fall League. Hes expected to try switch-hitting this spring, and that may carry over to Binghamton for the start of the minor league season.
4. Timoniel Perez, of
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 167. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000/Japan. Signed by: Omar Minaya.
Background: Though Perez bubble burst in the World Series, he was an important part of the Mets run in October. Before he became Derek Bells postseason replacement, he was signed by the Mets in 2000 after four years in Japan, mostly in the minor leagues.
Strengths: Perez already has stepped into the big leagues and shown what he can do. He stood out with his offense, defense and excitement on the bases. The Mets see him as a leadoff hitter who has a little punch. He covers considerable ground in the gap and has good accuracy on his throws.
Weaknesses: Perez weaknesses are almost identical to Coles. The Yankees exposed the impatient Perez by getting him to chase breaking stuff out of the zone. His arm strength is only average.
The Future: Perez should open 2001 as at least the Mets platoon right fielder. Hell be more of a known commodity to National League pitchers and must make adjustments. Hell also have to hold off a bevy of outfielders who will be competing for major league outfield spots.
5. Grant Roberts, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSEl Cajon, Calif., 1995 (11th round). Signed by: Jim Woodward.
Background: Once the systems top prospect, Roberts always has needed a little extra push. He may have gotten a wake-up call last year when the Expos rocked him in his first big league start. He has come back from November 1997 elbow surgery to flash excellent stuff again, and now his makeup may come closer to matching his repertoire.
Strengths: The durable Roberts has a good, live arm with a low- to mid-90s fastball, a hard curveball and an average slider. After returning to Norfolk after his first glimpse of the majors, he worked harder than ever. He picked up his running program on his own and ended the season with four complete games.
Weaknesses: His weakest pitch is a changeup that has made enough progress to border on average. Most of Roberts difficulty, though, has been his makeup. He hasnt been nearly as dominant after his surgery as he was before it.
The Future: After ending 2000 on a good note, showing positives in a couple of relief outings against Montreal, Roberts should make a bid as a long man or swing man on New Yorks Opening Day staff.
6. Enrique Cruz, 3b/ss
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1998. Signed by: Eddy Toledo.
Background: Cruz father played professionally in the Dominican. The climb from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League proved to be a little much, so he was demoted from Capital City to Rookie-level Kingsport. He rebounded to become the No. 2 prospect in the Appalachian League.
Strengths: Cruz received a $400,000 bonus because he has a major league average arm and plus power potential. Hes not as strong defensively at shortstop as Jose Reyeswho occupied the position most of the season at Kingsportbut he has good defensive tools. Cruz draws a healthy amount of walks.
Weaknesses: Mets officials arent sure which position best suits Cruz, so hell continue to play shortstop and third base. He has started growing into his body and becoming more coordinated and balanced in the field. He has been slow to make adjustments, but he was more coachable in 2000. Hell need to make more consistent contact.
The Future: Capital City, take two. Cruz will return to the South Atlantic League in 2001, and by the end of the year the Mets will know a lot more about his position and his adaptability.
7. Nick Maness, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HSRobbins, N.C., 1997 (12th round). Signed by: Marlin McPhail.
Background: Aside from Perez, Maness is the highest-ranking newcomer on the list. His cousin Dwight is a minor league outfielder who played the Mets system after an August 1995 trade with the Dodgers for Brett Butler. He spent last year in Double-A with the Mariners.
Strengths: Maness has a power arm. His low-90s fastball is the best in the system. His changeup gives him a second above-average pitch, and he also throws a curveball. When Maness is on, he can be unhittable. In 370 minor league innings, he has 356 strikeouts. He came on last year as he started taking his profession more seriously.
Weaknesses: Maness emotions can get the best of him. Command of his pitches remains an issue as well, as he walked the leadoff hitter in his first five Arizona Fall League starts this offseason. Even after he settles in, he sometimes has trouble finding consistency in his delivery.
The Future: Maness finished 2000 with a so-so performance in the AFL. Hell start this season in Double-A after making two appearances there last June.
8. Billy Traber, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Loyola Marymount, 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Bob Minor.
Background: Traber was the first college lefthander drafted in 2000. He was set to sign a $1.7 million bonus until a physical revealed abnormalities in his pitching elbow that suggested damage to the medial collateral ligament. He wound up signing reluctantly for $400,000 and getting his first taste of pro ball in instructional league.
Strengths: Based on his work in college and instructional league, Traber has impressed the Mets with his four-pitch repertoire. He throws in the low 90s, giving him a good fastball for a lefty, and picks up strikeouts with an above-average splitter. He also throws a curveball and slider.
Weaknesses: Traber hasnt required surgery yet, but he may have to keep his splitter under wraps because of the uncertainty about his elbow. His curve hasnt been as effective as his slider.
The Future: Trabers MRI yielded an all-too-familiar result for an organization that has been stung by injuries to its top prospects. If he stays healthy, his fastball and medley of breaking pitches could put him on the fast track. He would have headed to St. Lucie had he pitched in 2000, and hell likely make his debut there this year.
9. Tsuyoshi Shinjo, of
Age: 29. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Signed: Japan, 2000. Signed by: Isao OJimi.
Background: Shinjo became the second Japanese position player (after the Mariners Ichiro Suzuki) to sign a major league contract. The Mets gave the seven-time Central League Gold Glove outfielder a guaranteed one-year, $700,000 deal. In his 10 years in Japan, Shinjo made four all-star teams while hitting .249-145-518 in 1,061 games.
Strengths: Shinjo is a good fastball hitter who can run and has the ability to play all three outfield positions. He has a little power, as he showed with his 28 home runs and 85 RBIs for the Hanshin Tigers in 2000. In the annual U.S.-Japan major league exhibition series in November, he hit .409 in 22 at-bats.
Weaknesses: Shinjo doesnt draw many walks and never has hit for a particularly high average. His on-base percentage last year was just .321, and major league pitchers may be able to exploit his impatience. Considering how U.S. journeymen such as Sherman Obando and Bobby Rose dominate in Japan, Shinjos statistics hardly are inspiring.
The Future: Shinjo projects as a reserve outfielder for the Mets. Hell likely be used as a defensive replacement, pinch-runner and pinch-hitter.
10. Dicky Gonzalez, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HSBayamon, P.R., 1996 (16th round). Signed by: Junior Roman.
Background: Growing up in Puerto Rico, Gonzalez played basketball at Puig High, but had to play baseball at nearby Toa Baja because Puig, like most high schools in Puerto Rico, didnt offer the sport. In his first few years in the minors, he was a wiry pitcher who looked more like a middle infielder. He has filled out a little, but no one will confuse him with Roger Clemens.
Strengths: Gonzalez has an idea of how to pitch. He uses both sides of the plate with a fastball that sinks or runs in on a hitters hands. Gonzalez can throw his curve and slider for strikes, plus he has a deceptive changeup. His command is impeccable, as evidenced by his 597-122 strikeout-walk ratio in 647 pro innings.
Weaknesses: Gonzalez doesnt light radar guns up with his fastball and must locate his pitches with precision in order to succeed. He has bumped his velocity up a tick or two each of the last couple of years, to the point where he can reach 89-91 mph.
The Future: Maturity has been Gonzalez greatest feature since he was a 17-year-old pitching against major leaguers and veteran minor leaguers in winter ball. Hes ready to try his hand at Triple-A.
Rest of the Best:
11. Eric Cammack, rhp
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