New York Mets Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Bill Ballew
1. Aaron Heilman, rhp
Age: 23. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 225. Bats: R. Throws: R. Drafted: Notre Dame, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Joe Morlan.
Strengths: Heilman is a polished pitcher. Mature and focused, he works off his 91-94 mph fastball, which has incredible movement and bores in on righthanders. He also features a plus slider with excellent downward action, along with a decent changeup and splitter. His command is another positive, and he maintains control of all four of his offerings throughout the game with his improved stamina. Scouts love his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame and his feisty approach with runners in scoring position. His three-quarters delivery is easy and fluid, reducing the stress on his arm, a key trait for a pitcher who will be counted upon to eat innings at higher levels. Heilman has all the makings of a potential workhorse who could be a solid No. 2 or No. 3 starter in the New York rotation.
Weaknesses: Despite his maturity, Heilman has just seven starts and less than 40 professional innings. His secondary offerings, particularly his changeup, need more consistency. Most scouts dont believe his fastball will add any more velocity, so his 83-84 mph splitter must stay consistent in order for him to get experienced lefthanders out. He made strides with the pitch in college last spring.
The Future: Heilman is ready to jump on the fast track to the big leagues. His desire to learn and improve impressed the Mets at St. Lucie and during instructional league. Hes slated to open 2002 at Double-A Binghamton and could be a candidate for the New York rotation as soon as 2003.
2. Alex Escobar, of
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Venezuela, 1995. Signed by: Gregorio Machado.
Background: For a change, Escobar faced challenges on the field instead of struggling with injuries. He had difficulty finding his groove in between three promotions to New York, resulting in his first significant slump as a pro. Escobar managed to finish on a positive note after he watched videotape and discovered he was dropping his hands when preparing to swing.
Strengths: Escobar is a five-tool talent capable of posting big numbers across the board. When in a groove, he produces line drives with above-average power to all fields. A natural center fielder, he is a standout defender with plus arm strength. Escobar has the speed to steal 25-30 bases a year.
Weaknesses: Continual hitting advice from a variety of coaches left Escobar confused for most of the 2001 season. His strikeout totals went through the roof, and he looked tentative at the plate before returning to his open, wide stance with his hands held high.
The Future: Whispers in the scouting ranks say Escobar could be the second coming of Ruben Rivera. The Mets say another half-season of success at Triple-A is all Escobar needs to be an impact player.
3. Jose Reyes, ss
Age: 18. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1999. Signed by: Eddy Toledo.
Background: No player made greater strides in the organization than Reyes, the youngest player in a full-season league last year. After hitting .250 at Rookie-level Kingsport in 2000, Reyes placed fifth in the South Atlantic League in hitting, ranked second in the minors in triples and emerged as the leagues best defensive shortstop. Managers rated him the second-best prospect in the league.
Strengths: A good contact hitter from both sides of the plate, Reyes can drive the ball and make things happen with his above-average speed. His glove is his forte, as he has outstanding range, a plus arm and soft hands. He committed just 18 errors at Capital City and led Sally League shortstops with a .964 fielding percentage.
Weaknesses: Reyes has strong legs but needs to add strength to his upper body. He also lacks patience at the plate, but should improve as he gains experience.
The Future: Some Sally League managers suggested Reyes could jump to the big leagues without much difficulty. The Mets will be patient, but he could open the season in Double-A. With Rey Ordonez out of favor, Reyes will get a shot as soon as he is deemed ready.
4. Pat Strange, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 245. Drafted: HSSpringfield, Mass., 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Bob Lavalee.
Background: The Mets 2000 minor league pitcher of the year, Strange was more hittable in his second stint in Double-A. He made progress after raising his arm angle to a three-quarters slot.
Strengths: Strange is a sinkerball pitcher who succeeds when he keeps his pitches down in the strike zone. His fastball is clocked consistently at 91-94 mph, and he has impressive command of his changeup. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he is a potential workhorse.
Weaknesses: Comparisons to former Mets prospect Bill Pulsipher continue for Strange, in part because of his inconsistent mechanics. Though his violent arm action hasnt led to any injuries to date, some scouts fear he could get hurt unless he makes adjustments. His breaking ball isnt as good as his other two pitches.
The Future: Its easy to forget Strange didnt celebrate his 21st birthday until the end of the 2001 season. Yet he has made 74 pro starts, including six shutout innings in his lone Triple-A outing. Hell be invited to big league spring training and is expected to make his major league debut at some point in 2002.
5. Billy Traber, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Loyola Marymount, 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Bob Minor.
Background: Traber contined to pitch like a man on a mission. He agreed to a $1.7 million bonus in 2000, only to settle for $400,000 after ligament damage was discovered in his elbow. He had little trouble in his pro debut, reaching Triple-A Norfolk at the end of the season.
Strengths: Few pitchers do a better job of mixing their pitches, using both sides of the plate and setting up hitters. Traber works off his 89-91 mph fastball. He has an above-average curveball and saves his sharp-breaking splitter for key situations. He also does a terrific job of making adjustments and is proving to be one of the more intelligent hurlers in the minors.
Weaknesses: The Mets say Traber is only a solid changeup away from becoming an impact pitcher. He improved it in 2001 and threw it as often as his fastball. While his desire is unquestioned, a few scouts remain concerned about his elbow.
The Future: Traber is one of the more promising lefthanders in the game. New York is looking for a strong effort at Norfolk in 2002.
6. Jae Weong Seo, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 215. Signed: Korea, 1997. Signed by: Isao OJimi, Bobby Valentine.
Background: After missing nearly two full years following Tommy John surgery in May 1999, Seo emerged as a strong prospect again. He worked his way from Class A to Triple-A and posted a 2.77 ERA, the best of any Mets minor leaguer with more than 100 innings.
Strengths: Seo works off a fastball that reached 90 mph in 2001. His heater was 3-5 mph quicker prior to his surgery, and his velocity should continue to come back. Seo also had success with his splitter and changeup, giving every indication that he will be a solid three-pitch pitcher in the years to come. He has amazing control.
Weaknesses: The Mets werent pleased with Seos conditioning last spring. He gained weight after visiting his native Korea and needed six weeks to get into shape. He went to the Arizona Fall League to work on his conditioning and arm strength, though he pitched just three innings.
The Future: Manager Bobby Valentine was the driving force behind the signing of Seo in 1997. He impressed Valentine again in 2001 and is on the verge of earning consideration for the Mets rotation.
7. David Wright, 3b
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HSChesapeake, Va., 2001 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Randy Milligan.
Background: The 38th overall pick in the 2001 draft, Wright was considered one of the best high school hitters available. He adjusted to wood bats easily, with consistent line drives to the gaps.
Strengths: Wright has a strong body, quick wrists and improving swing extension that should allow him to hit for both power and average as his body matures. Many scouts say he has the ability and approach to hit .300 with 30 home runs in the major leagues. Hes aggressive and has good mobility at third base. He also runs well for a player his size, and Rookie-level Appalachian League observers raved about his work ethic.
Weaknesses: Wright simply needs to face better pitching to continue his maturation as a hitter. While some wonder if he can stay at third base, Wright has the instincts and athleticism to make a smooth transition to a corner outfield position if necessary.
The Future: Few teams are more conservative with young players than the Mets. With a solid debut under his belt, Wright is expected to move to Capital City in 2002. He has the talent to rise to the top of this list soon.
8. Grant Roberts, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSEl Cajon, Calif., 1995 (11th round). Signed by: Jim Woodward.
Background: A starter for most of his pro career, Roberts went 0-3, 8.54 in his first five outings at Norfolk in 2001. Not only did it keep him from getting a promotion when injuries struck New Yorks rotation in May, but it also prompted a move to the bullpen. He showed promise in his new role before tiring at the end of the year.
Strengths: Roberts has a 93-94 mph fastball with excellent movement. It can be overpowering, particularly against righthanders. When hes throwing his curveball and slider for strikes, Roberts does a good job of keeping hitters off balance.
Weaknesses: Due to an inconsistent release point on his breaking pitches, Roberts struggles with his command. When the going gets tough he becomes a one-pitch pitcher, allowing hitters to sit on his fastball. Roberts also tends to leave his pitches up in the strike zone, making him vulnerable to homers.
The Future: The Mets were encouraged with the maturity Roberts showed, compared with his brief stint in the majors in 2000. Based on the adjustments he makes in spring training, Roberts could be their fifth starter, part of their bullpen or a member of the Norfolk staff.
9. Jaime Cerda, lhp
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Fresno CC, 1998 (23rd round). Signed by: Chuck Hensley.
Background: Cerda signed as a draft-and-follow in 1999, only to have his original contract voided because of an injury. He re-signed with the Mets and didnt make his pro debut until 2000, posting a 1.27 career ERA and reaching Triple-A.
Strengths: Cerda succeeds with a deceptive delivery and consistency in throwing strikes. Fearless on the mound, he goes right after hitters and uses both sides of the plate. He has an average fastball in the 90 mph range with good movement, along with a decent repertoire of secondary pitches.
Weaknesses: After rising as rapidly as he did, Cerda must continue to be consistent at higher levels against more experienced hitters. Because his game is more finesse than overpowering, he needs to upgrade his changeup and breaking ball.
The Future: While Cerda is being penciled in for the Norfolk bullpen in 2002, he could make his major league debut should the need arise in New York. John Franco is the only lefty reliever guaranteed to have a job with the Mets.
10. Neal Musser, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HSOxford, Ind., 1999 (2nd round). Signed by: Joe Morlan.
Background: Musser boosted his stock as much as any pitcher in the Mets system in 2001. After working just 66 innings in two years, in part because his weightlifting routine left him stiff and tight, he worked a solid 141 innings between Capital City and St. Lucie.
Strengths: Musser throws an average fastball and a good changeup, and he has started to show more consistency with his curveball. He has made impressive strides with his command and works ahead of hitters on a regular basis.
Weaknesses: Some still wonder about Mussers durability. Hes not particularly big or strong, and he barely averaged five innings a start after his promotion to high Class A. It may have just been an anomaly, but Musser started slowly in 2001. His ERA was 5.96 in the first inning of his starts.
The Future: Musser probably will return to St. Lucie to begin 2002, with a promotion to Binghamton a strong possibility later in the season. Hell shoot up the prospect list if he continues to progress as rapidly as he did in 2001.
Rest of the Best:
11. Mark Corey, rhp
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