Trio Of Mets' Prospects Look To Emerge In 2011

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ST. LUCIE, Fla.—Baseball is a game of failure.

Hitters are considered great if they get a hit 30 percent of the time, but the bar is set much lower for scouting directors. The draft currently lasts 50 rounds and getting one everyday player to the big leagues out of that group is considered a success.

The Mets' 2008 draft already can be viewed as a success because it yielded Arizona State first baseman Ike Davis, the team's first pick that year at 18th overall. Davis, 24, hit .264/.351/.440 with 19 home runs and 33 doubles last year, his rookie season.

That crop still has a chance to go from good to great. Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis has consistently produced since his third-round selection out of Azusa Pacific (Calif.), and lower-profile prospects from that class, such as lefthander Mark Cohoon and righty Kyle Allen, offer promise.

But the biggest key to making that jump is getting second baseman Reese Havens and righthander Brad Holt back on track.

"Whenever you have a chance to get guys of that caliber to have a chance to impact the game the way they could, and get them sort of back on track, it can be really helpful," Mets vice president of scouting and player development Paul DePodesta said.

"As you go into any draft, you know you're not going to hit on every round, on every pick. The fact that Ike's already up in the big leagues and contributing already makes that draft a pretty good success, but if we can get those other guys back to where they were a year, a year and a half ago, we'll be in really good shape."

Forget 2010

Holt started the 2010 season where he finished in 2009—Double-A Binghamton. But things got off to a rocky start and it was all downhill from there.

Holt hurt his right wrist in spring training last year and started the season on the disabled list. When he got back on the mound, he just didn't have the confidence he had in college and during his first full season.

"It was just a mental thing last year," Holt said. "I couldn't locate a fastball . . . Last year was just a huge cluster. It just kind of snowballed and filled my thoughts, so I didn't have a good mentality ever going into a game."

Holt was demoted to high Class A St. Lucie in June and finished the season at 3-14, 8.34 with 87 strikeouts and 79 walks over 95 innings. His quality stuff was still there—including a 92-94 mph fastball, a curveball that shows flashes of being an above-average pitch, a changeup and a new cutter—but the results weren't. Some scouts said the problems were mechanical, but Holt doesn't agree.

"I don't think it was anything mechanical," he said. "We were comparing film from '08 to last year and, I mean, maybe something small, but something real small that doesn't matter and wouldn't make a difference in pitching. It was just all in the head, basically."

Holt says he's tougher because of the year he had, and he's using the experience to create a positive outcome going forward instead of dwelling on the negativity of the past.

"Looking back, recapping on it, I'm not saying that it's a bad thing that happened," Holt said. "Because I feel like that should be the rock bottom. It can't really get any worse than that. It helped me go through a full season constantly struggling—nobody wants to do that—but looking back on it, now having a better mindset and getting back to having a lot of confidence, it's easier if that does happen to just clear it and say it's not going to happen again."

Too Many Training Room Trips

Havens' struggles have been a little easier to explain—he just hasn't been able to stay on the field. When he has played, he's done well, but he's been hampered by a slew of injuries during his two full years as a pro.

Since his selection 22nd overall in 2008—four spots after Davis—Havens has suffered one injury after another, to almost every part of his body. He's dealt with injuries to his elbow,  groin, quadriceps, hand, oblique and back. This winter, he had an inch of the last bone cut off his ribcage to deal with what is known as rib tip syndrome. The ailments have limited to just 152 minor league games.

Still, Havens doesn't think the injury-prone tag applies to him.

"I wouldn't say I'm injury prone," Havens said. "I hadn't had an injury before I stepped on a field in pro ball. I was always healthy and never missed a game in college. It just kind of hopped on me. It's kind of weird how things work out, but sometimes you have to deal with obstacles and it's all about how you overcome them.

"Right now I'm just focused on taking care of what I need to do on a daily basis, because I think that's better for me to have that mindset, instead of thinking about what I should have been or could have been and all of that."

A shortstop at South Carolina, Havens made the transition to second base and has hit .261/.363/.467 over parts of three seasons. Healthy this spring, he's itching to get back into action, but the Mets are being careful with him to try and curtail his string of injuries.

"Since he missed a good part of last year, the tendency is to say, 'Well, let's get him extra work, let's get him caught up,' " DePodesta said. "But I think the reality is that you just need to take it a little slower and make sure he's healthy. He's shown already that he's ready to swing the bat. As long as we're cautious with him and keep him healthy, he'll perform the way we expect him to."

No team has written off their 2008 draft picks yet, but it'd be tough to blame Mets fans for losing faith in Holt and Havens after what they've been through so far.

"When you're taking guys up that high, these are guys that probably haven't failed as amateurs," DePodesta said. "So the most important thing is to just remain confident in them so they can remain confident in themselves. We still believe whole-heartedly in those guys and believe they'll come back and be everything the Mets thought they would be."

Nieuwenhuis No Longer New To Outfield

The Mets' best chance to get a second impact player from the 2008 draft class appears to be Nieuwenhuis. He burst out of the gate by leading the high Class A Florida State League in four categories during his full-season debut, including extra-base hits (56) and slugging (.467).

Over his first two-plus seasons, Nieuwenhuis has hit .278/.347/.459 and reached Triple-A last year. While his bat has been consistent, other parts of his game have improved since he was drafted.

"Probably defensively I've improved the most," Nieuwenhuis said. "Just because I was relatively new to the position. I didn't start playing the outfield until sophomore year in college. I played first and second base, mostly, and I also pitched."

Nieuwenhuis said he's working to improve his approach at the plate and to make adjustments faster as the game speeds up around him. Being in big league camp has helped in that regard.

"I'm just learning the game more from the veterans," he said. "It's just been a blessing to be around all these guys and learn from them and stuff like that. Everybody's been great and has set a great example. I've been feeding off their energy and just learning from them."

While he's likely to begin 2011 back in Triple-A Buffalo, it may not be long before he's roaming the outfield at Citi Field.

"He's one of the only internal non-roster guys invited to big league camp, but we felt he was ready," DePodesta said. "He'll probably be in Buffalo this year, in all likelihood, but I think certainly he's shown he's ready to compete for a major league job and if we had a need during the course of the year, he's certainly one of the stronger candidates."