Mets Prospects 2-10
Age: 18. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HSHouston, 2002 (1st round). Signed by: Dave Lottsfeldt.
Background: Kazmir may have had the best arm in the 2002 draft. His reported bonus demands scared off several teams before the Mets got him with the 15th overall pickand signed him for a reasonable $2.15 million. After breaking Josh Becketts Texas prep record for strikeouts and earning Baseball Americas High School Player of the Year award, he overpowered hitters in the short-season New York-Penn League in 18 stirring innings.
Strengths: Kazmir has two plus-plus pitches: An electric fastball that sits in the 93-95 mph range and hits 97, plus a hard slider that he throws at different speeds. He shows an excellent feel for his changeup. Kazmir is a superb athlete with an easy delivery, superior arm quickness and strong leg drive.
Weaknesses: The Mets focused on speeding up Kazmirs delivery in instructional league. He has been so successful that he has little experience dealing with baserunners. His small frame is the only concern raised by scouts, but he has been durable and injury-free so far.
The Future: The Mets say they are determined not to push Kazmir too fast, though that may be easier said than done. Hes ticketed for low Class A Capital City in 2003.
3. Aaron Heilman, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Notre Dame, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Joe Morlan.
Background: A two-time first-round pick who spurned the Twins in 2000, Heilman has progressed rapidly since going 15-0, 1.74 as a senior at Notre Dame. He began his first full pro season at Double-A Binghamton and needed just three months to earn a promotion to Triple-A Norfolkwhere he threw eight shutout innings in his first start.
Strengths: Heilman is an excellent competitor with good command and a loose three-quarters delivery. He throws a heavy 92-93 mph fastball that he keeps down in the strike zone. His strikeout pitch is a nasty splitter. His slider has a good downward slant when thrown properly.
Weaknesses: Heilman needs to become more consistent with his changeup, though he has made major strides with the pitch since signing. Better command of his splitter and more consistency with his potentially nasty slider would allow him to dominate more frequently.
The Future: Heilman has the ingredients to be a quality No. 3 starter in the major leagues. He probably needs another half-season in Triple-A, but that could change with a strong showing in spring training.
4. David Wright, 3b
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HSChesapeake, Va., 2001 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Randy Milligan.
Background: Considered one of the purest hitters in the 2001 draft, Wright has lived up to that billing. After hitting .235 last April, he went on to tie for the Capital City lead in homers and ranked third in the South Atlantic League in RBIs.
Strengths: Wright is supremely confident in his abilities without coming across as arrogant. His makeup is off the charts and his determination is unmatched. His smooth and easy swing produces outstanding bat speed and hard line drives to all fields. His speed is just barely above-average, but hes an excellent baserunner. Wright has a strong and accurate arm at third base. He also has steady hands, good lateral movement and the ability to charge bunts.
Weaknesses: Natural maturity and more experience should boost Wrights home run totals. Hell also take pitchers deep more often when he learns to punish hanging breaking balls and other mistakes instead of taking them for balls.
The Future: Wright is at least two full years from the major leagues, but he has all the ingredients to be the long-term answer at third base for the Mets. Hell open 2003 at high Class A St. Lucie.
5. Justin Huber, c
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 190. Signed: Australia, 2000. Signed by: Fred Mazuca.
Background: Huber jumped on the fast track last year and emerged as one of the minors better catching prospects. He became the first unanimous selection in the South Atlantic Leagues midseason all-star game since Mike Hargrove in 1973. He continued to produce after a mid-July promotion to high Class A but looked exhausted in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: The Mets focused on Hubers defense last year, so everything he accomplished at the plate was a credit to him. Strong and intense, he has the bat speed and power to hit 25-30 homers a year. Huber understands the strike zone. He shows quick feet and excellent mobility behind the plate.
Weaknesses: Huber threw out just 24 percent of basestealers in 2002. He has average arm strength and accuracy and needs to improve his release. He worked with Capital City coach John Stephenson, a former big league receiver, on the finer aspects of game-calling.
The Future: Huber is on track to be the eventual replacement for Mike Piazza behind the plate in New York. A return to St. Lucie is likely in 2003, with a midseason promotion to Double-A a possibility.
6. Matt Peterson, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 217. Drafted: HSAlexandria, La., 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Bob Rossi.
Background: Peterson was disappointed he was sent back to Capital City at the start of 2002, after making 18 appearances there in his 2001 pro debut. He put pressure on himself by trying to do too much before regaining his confidence in June, with a streak of allowing two earned runs or less in eight straight starts.
Strengths: Peterson has great size and throws his lively 92-93 mph fastball on a fine downhill plane. His overhand curveball, which has a sharp 11-to-5 drop, has the makings of becoming a plus pitch. When he finds his rhythm, Peterson shows why he projects as a dominating pitcher who could become a middle-of-the-rotation starter or better.
Weaknesses: Petersons focus wanders at times on the mound, and he needs to be more dedicated in his preparation. His changeup is still in the developmental stages.
The Future: Peterson made an emergency start at St. Lucie on Aug. 1 and allowed one run in six innings to earn the victory. Hell return to high Class A in 2003 and could climb the ladder quickly if a few intangibles fall into place.
7. Pat Strange, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 243. Drafted: HSSpringfield, Mass., 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Bob Lavallee.
Background: Strange has reached double figures in wins in each of his four full pro seasons, including 14 in 2000, when he was the Mets minor league pitcher of the year. Last year, he tied for the Norfolk lead in victories and strikeouts before making an impressive major league debut in September.
Strengths: Strange has solid overall stuff, with the size and stamina to be a workhorse. When at his best, he keeps the ball down in the strike zone with a 91-94 mph sinker. He can throw his plus changeup at any count. His command is another asset.
Weaknesses: Despite his size and the quality of his pitches, Strange can be more of a finesse pitcher than a strikeout pitcher. His mechanics are inconsistent and have hurt the development of his breaking ball. His maximum-effort delivery raises health concerns.
The Future: Strange has thrown more than 140 innings in the last four seasons, including a career-high 173 last year. A starter for most of his career, he did an excellent job out of the bullpen in New York. Hell be a strong candidate to make the big league staff this spring.
8. Jaime Cerda, lhp
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Fresno CC, D/F 1998 (23rd round). Signed by: Chuck Hensley Jr.
Background: Cerda had his original contract voided when the Mets discovered that he needed Tommy John surgery. He signed a new deal five days later and made his pro debut in 2000. After allowing one earned run in 21 Triple-A innings to lower his career minor league ERA to 1.35, Cerda was effective in his big league debut.
Strengths: Cerda has a deceptive delivery and gets ahead in the count with his fearless approach. He does an excellent job of working both sides of the plate with his 89-91 mph sinker. Cerda can cut his fastball to lock up righthanders, who hit just .204 against him in the majors.
Weaknesses: Because hes not overpowering, Cerda needs to become more consistent with the fade on his changeup and the command of his breaking ball. While he has moved rapidly through the organization, he must continue to make adjustments as major league hitters become more familiar with him.
The Future: Cerda is a leading candidate to fill one of the lefty roles in the New York bullpen in 2003.
9. Bob Keppel, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HSSt. Louis, 2000 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Larry Chase.
Background: Keppel has put together back-to-back steady performances in his first two full seasons in pro ball since signing as the 36th overall pick in 2000. One of the youngest starting pitchers in the Florida State League last year, he led the St. Lucie staff in starts and innings while ranking second in wins.
Strengths: Keppel has impressive poise, a solid repertoire and good command of all his pitches. He has good sinking action on his low-90s fastball and throws it to both sides of the plate. He also throws his changeup for strikes and has made significant progress over the past year with his curveball. The Mets appreciate Keppels maturity and work ethic.
Weaknesses: Keppel needs to continue developing his secondary pitches by locating them better within the strike zone. He can lose the feel for his curve on occasion. His slider continues to look like a cutter at times and hasnt been as consistent as it was earlier in his career.
The Future: Keppels progress is unmistakable and encouraging, which could lead to bigger things in a hurry. A move to Double-A is on his immediate horizon.
10. Craig Brazell, 1b
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 211. Drafted: HSMontgomery, Ala., 1998 (5th round). Signed by: Bob Rossi.
Background: Drafted as a catcher, Brazell moved to first base in 1999 and has earned team MVP honors in the last two seasons in Class A. He boosted his performance after his July promotion to Double-A last year, and continued to excel with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Brazell makes hard, consistent contact, and managers rated him the best power-hitting prospect in the FSL last year. His home run totals have increased as he has learned which pitches hes capable of driving. Brazell has a knack for rising to the occasion, which helped him record a 10-game RBI streak last season.
Weaknesses: The Mets want Brazell to work deeper counts after he walked just 14 times last year. That will not only increase his on-base percentage, but it will also make him more productive if he looks for a hitters pitch. While he has made steady progress at first base, he needs to get better at making difficult plays.
The Future: New York officials consider Brazell the most promising lefthanded hitter theyve developed since Rico Brogna. He should be a candidate for the big league club in 2004.
Best of the Rest
With general Steve Phillips tendency to trade minor leaguers for major league talent, virtually all of the Mets best prospects are homegrown. There are four notable exceptions, all acquired since the end of the 2001 season.
Lefthander Mike Bacsik, obtained from the Indians with Roberto Alomar, had a good year at Triple-A Norfolk while bouncing back and forth to New York on a couple of occasions. Bacsik succeeds with a deceptive knuckle-curve, excellent command and the ability to change speeds. Phil Seibel, who came from the Expos with Scott Strickland in a deal for Bruce Chen, is a crafty lefthander who has four pitches and the ability to start and relieve. The Mets also have hopes for righthander Tyler Yates, whom the Athletics gave up in a trade for David Justice. Yates, whose fastball peaks in the mid-90s, had a 1.32 ERA in Triple-A before having Tommy John surgery. Righthander Franklin Nunez, claimed off waivers from Philadelphia, throws even harder. Clocked as high as 99 mph, Nunez is trying to harness his command.
The farm system could provide a few contributors in 2003. Righthanders Heath Bell, Tyler Walker and Jae Seo enjoyed some success in Triple-A last year. Catcher Jason Phillips is a steady receiver with a potent bat, but his path is blocked by Mike Piazza and Vance Wilson.
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of Opening Day 2003.
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