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New York Mets Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams

By David Rawnsley

1. Alex Escobar, OF
Age: 20  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 185
Signed: Venezuela, 1995  Signed by: Gregorio Machado

Top Prospects of the 90s

1990 Julio Valera, rhp
1991 Anthony Young, rhp
1992 Todd Hundley, c
1993 Bobby Jones, rhp
1994 Bill Pulsipher, lhp
1995 Bill Pulsipher, lhp
1996 Paul Wilson, rhp
1997 Jay Payton, of
1998 Grant Roberts, rhp
1999 Alex Escobar, of
Background: Escobar was signed as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela in 1995, but had accumulated only 184 professional at-bats before the 1998 season because of a series of hamstring injuries. The injuries covered up his growing strength and physical maturity and he took the South Atlantic League by storm, easily winning that league's best prospect designation. Incredibly, Escobar hit 27 home runs in 1998 after hitting only one the previous two years.

Strengths: When describing Escobar's natural abilities, the Mets use the increasingly hallowed comparison to Expos right fielder Vladimir Guerrero as a base, especially offensively. Escobar's tools grade out as above average or better in all areas. His raw arm strength from the outfield doesn't match up with Guerrero's, but Escobar is a natural center fielder who is sure handed and very fast. Offensively, the ball explodes off Escobar's bat, giving him power to all fields, but Escobar also has the blinding speed and baserunning instincts to be a disruptor on the bases.

Weaknesses: Despite enjoying the healthiest season of his career, Escobar still played in only 112 games in 1998 due to a variety of nagging injuries, so there is still concern among the Mets about keeping their thoroughbred on the field. More repetitions will help Escobar recognize pitches better, as he still makes youthful mistakes on breaking balls outside the strike zone. Another youthful weakness of Escobar's is learning to play with more emotion and concentration on a day-to-day basis.

The Future: Because he has improved so much in such a short period of time, there is still the thought that Escobar has some projection left physically. Scouts who have seen him play in Venezuela this winter say that he has taken his game to the next level and is completely comfortable playing with older and more experienced players. The Mets outfield of Rickey Henderson, Brian McRae and Bobby Bonilla is old and deteriorating and it will be difficult for the Mets to keep Escobar out of the mix for long.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Capital City (A) .310 416 90 129 23 5 27 91 54 133 49

2. Octavio Dotel, RHP
Age: 23  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 175
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1993  Signed by: Eddy Toledo

Background: After Dotel struggled with his control throughout 1997, the Mets considered switching him to the bullpen last season. It was fortunate they didn't. Dotel blossomed into the Mets' best starting prospect in 1998, leading the high minors with 200 strikeouts.

Strengths: Dotel has scary raw stuff. His fastball is in the 92-94 mph range with good life and can reach 96 mph. His best pitch is a hard curveball that he has trouble controlling if he lets it get too big. Dotel also throws a sharp slider.

Weaknesses: Dotel has never been able to throw a changeup even as a show pitch. Physicallly, he's severely loose and double-jointed, which undoubtedly accounts for much of his ability but also worries the Mets because of the threat of injury and instability in his shoulder and elbow.

The Future: With their win-now attitude, the Mets will probably not give Dotel an early shot at a rotation spot this spring, though he would provide a contrast to the finesse righthanders currently in New York.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
Binghamton (AA) 4 2 1.97 10 10 2 0 69 41 24 82
Norfolk (AAA) 8 6 3.45 17 16 1 0 99 82 43 118

3. Grant Roberts, RHP
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 205
Drafted: HS--El Cajon, Calif., 1995 (11th round)  Signed by: Jim Woodward

Background: Roberts was the Mets' top prospect last winter but was sidelined for the first half of 1998 after undergoing offseason elbow surgery. He rehabbed successfully and was considered by many scouts to be the Maryland Fall League's top pitching prospect.

Strengths: Roberts has a great pitcher's body, a sound straight over-the-top delivery and two potentially dominating pitches. His fastball is regularly in the mid-90s, and he has a power curveball that gets excellent downward bite. Considering his raw stuff and age, Roberts has shown very good control potential.

Weaknesses: The elbow problems have set back work on the fine tuning that Roberts needs, mostly with his changeup and spotting his pitches more consistently in the strike zone.

The Future: The Mets do not have a very good track record of rehabbing pitchers from elbow injuries, but Roberts looked to have put his problems behind him in Maryland. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Mets move him directly to Double-A in 1999.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
St. Lucie (A) 4 5 4.23 17 17 0 0 72 72 37 70

4. Jae Weong Seo, RHP
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 215
Signed: Korea, 1997  Signed by: Isao Ojimi, Bobby Valentine

Background: After missing much of the '98 season with an elbow injury, Seo pitched in the Florida State League playoffs, instructional league and the Asian Games, where he earned an exemption to his compulsory military service by helping South Korea win the championship.

Strengths: Seo is the pitching antithesis of Chan Ho Park, though they share the same muscular, athletic build. His fastball is solid average in the 90-92 mph range and he throws a good slider. Seo's best pitch is his changeup, which he will sink or run depending on the situation. His command of all his pitches is excellent.

Weaknesses: Like most pitchers from Asia, Seo has thrown a ton of innings for his age and the Mets were extremely conservative in his rehabilitation schedule. Reports from the Asian Games had him only throwing in the 86-88 mph range.

The Future: Seo has pitching savvy and experience beyond his years. The Mets plan on starting him at Double-A in 1999, but he could move up quickly.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
GCL Mets (R) 0 0 0.00 2 0 0 0 5 4 0 5
St. Lucie (A) 3 1 2.31 8 7 0 0 35 26 10 37

5. Terrence Long, OF
Age: 23  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 190
Drafted: HS--Millbrook, Ala., 1994 (1st round)  Signed by: Bob Rossi

Background: Long has stopped at every level in the Mets system since 1994, but finally began playing with more consistency last season. He established career highs in batting average, home runs and walks, a sign of across the board improvement.

Strengths: Scouts feel that Long has 30-30 type tools. He has a lithe, strong Barry Bonds-type body. A key to his improvement in 1998 according to scouts was he started making adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, especially in hitting the ball to left field.

Weaknesses: Long has the potential to be an above average defensive first baseman but the Mets organizational needs and Long's athletic ability put him in the outfield, where he still needs work on his reads on flyballs. The Mets would also like to see him continue to play more relaxed and to forget bad at-bats.

The Future: Long has continued his development with a good winter season in Venezuela, and should take the next step to Norfolk this year.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Binghamton (AA) .297 455 69 135 20 10 16 58 62 105 23

6. Jorge Luis Toca, OF
Age: 27  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 190
Signed: Cuba, 1998  Signed by: Omar Minaya

Background: Toca is a former Cuban national team first baseman who defected to the Bahamas last March. Because he had married a Japanese citizen on a prior trip to Japan, he was given asylum. He debuted late in the Arizona Fall League this offseason then moved to Caguas in the Puerto Rican League.

Strengths: Toca is a line-drive hitter who may develop more power than the 10-15 home run production he projects to at present. Toca was hailed as the top defensive first baseman in Cuba, but the Mets have him working in the outfield to increase his versatility.

Weaknesses: The Mets say that Toca still has a lot of work to do in the outfield but that he is athletic enough to master left field. Adjusting to wood bats after a lifetime of aluminum seems to have been no problem based on his performance this winter.

The Future: Toca's real age is three years older than what the Mets list, so he shouldn't spend too much time in the minor leagues. He could be in the big leagues by the end of the season.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did not play — Signed 1999 contract

7. Lesli Brea, RHP
Age: 20  B-T: R-R  Ht: 5-11  Wt: 170
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996  Signed by: Ramon de los Santos (Mariners)

Background: Brea was slated to be included in the Mariners' Top 10 prospect list before being traded to the Mets for Butch Huskey. He recorded the fourth best strikeout ratio among relievers in full season minor league baseball last season, at 13.19 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Strengths: Despite his short and slender build, Brea is a pure power pitcher. He throws a fastball that can reach 97 mph and regularly runs in the 93-94 mph range. He complements that with a hard slider. The Mariners were grooming Brea as a closer and he will likely assume the same role with the Mets.

Weaknesses: Brea showed much improved control last year, but his command still needs plenty of work. He doesn't throw any offspeed pitches, and the Mets are sure to try to encourage him to develop one so they can expand his role in the future.

The Future: Given the Mariners' history of trading away future big league players, Brea's future looks promising. He should start the season at St. Lucie.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
Wisconsin (A) 3 4 2.76 49 0 0 12 59 47 40 86

8. Juan LeBron, OF
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 195
Drafted: HS--Arroyo, P.R. (1st round)  Signed by: Johnny Ramos (Royals)

Background: LeBron has the distinction of being included on two Top 10 lists this winter. He was the Royals No. 8 prospect, but was traded to the Mets at the Winter Meetings in exchange for third baseman Joe Randa.

Strengths: LeBron is a strong athlete with plus power potential and arm strength. The biggest development in his game in 1998 was his dramatically improved plate disipline. LeBron went from a total of 33 walks in three seasons to 57 walks alone in 1998. He is a surprisingly good runner underway and a good instinctive baserunner.

Weaknesses: After four years of slowly watching LeBron develop, the Royals felt that his long swing would never enable him to make consistent enough contact to develop his power potential. LeBron also needs continued work on his routes in the outfield.

The Future: In trade for a player, Randa, who the team had no use for, the Mets think that they have a young player who could surprise many people. LeBron will likely begin the '99 season at St. Lucie.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lansing (A) .251 442 70 111 26 9 17 84 57 129 18

8. Jason Tyner, OF
Age: 21  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 170
Drafted: Texas A&M, 1998 (1st round)  Signed by: Dave Lottsfeldt

Background: Tyner wasn't drafted out of high school, but has proven talent evaluators wrong at every turn since. He was the starting center fielder at Texas A&M from his first day and led Team USA in hitting after his sophomore season.

Strengths: Tyner's game is speed. He has excellent first step quickness, getting down to first base on bunts in the 3.5-3.6 range, and enough top end speed to become an excellent center fielder defensively. He understands what his skills are and knows how to use them. He's an outstanding bunter, can work a pitcher for walks and makes consistent contact at the plate.

Weaknesses: Tyner does not even attempt to hit with power and has not hit a home run since high school. He has an inside-out, slap swing that serves soft singles to left field and puts the ball on the ground where he can beat out even moderately routine balls. He must prove that better pitchers can't just blow him off the plate with hard stuff inside.

The Future: Given Tyner's success in Class A in 1998, the Mets will most likely move him right to Double-A this season.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
St. Lucie (A) .303 201 30 61 2 3 0 16 17 20 15

10. Scott Hunter, OF
Age: 23  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 210
Drafted: HS--Philadelphia, 1993 (4th round)  Signed by: Bob Miske (Dodgers)

Background: Hunter was originally drafted by the Dodgers as a catcher in 1993 but was immediately switched to the outfield because of an old shoulder injury. He joined the Mets as part of the Brett Butler trade in 1995.

Strengths: Hunter combines excellent speed and baserunning ability with growing power potential and hitting skills. The Mets love his aggressiveness and makeup. Defensively, Hunter gets good jumps in the outfield and uses his speed well.

Weaknesses: Although he has played frequently in center field, Hunter projects as more of a left fielder at the big league level, where his lack of arm strength will be less of a factor. He has some stiffness in his swing, which gives the Mets some concerns about how he will fare against better pitching.

The Future: The Mets have little doubt that Hunter will develop into a major leaguer, but are split on what type of player he will become. He is a gamer whose mismatch collection of muscular body but excellent speed skills have always confused scouts.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Binghamton (AA) .314 487 80 153 25 3 14 65 47 75 39

Rest of the Best:

11. Dan Murray, rhp
12. Tyler Walker, rhp
13. Mo Bruce, 2b
14. Kevin Dougherty, lhp
15. Eric Cammack, rhp

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