Labor Day weekend typically means the unofficial end of summer, and therefore the summer travel ball schedule. Despite their major league struggles, the Mets don't want the summer to end quite yet.
The Mets have introduced the Metropolitan Baseball Classic, an eight-team tournament that will give players a chance to finish their summer on a high note playing in Citi Field. Six of the premier travel ball teams in the country and two scout teams will participate in a three-day, 16-game tournament beginning Friday.
The event is the brainchild of second-year Mets scouting director Tommy Tanous, who developed the idea during his time in the Blue Jays organization after conversations with Bob Fontaine Jr., the former Mariners scouting director, who ran the Mariner Cup from 2004-2008. That is the last time a team hosted a similar event, but the Mariner Cup had a smaller geographic focus, featuring the top players in the Northwest. But the MBC has a larger national pull, with players from 24 states.
“When you do a tournament like this you have to separate yourself from other tournaments and one way is to bring in the whole country,” Tanous said. “By making it more than a regional tournament, it will make the event more attractive and help the scouting industry.”
After the tournament was announced, the Mets organization has received encouraging feedback from the rest of the scouting community, with as many as 75 talent evaluators expected to attend. “I started getting feedback at East Coast Pro and several scouting directors said they are sending multiple guys to cover this,” Tanous said. “Many said, ‘I will be there myself and it is a great idea.’ It has been all positive feedback.”
To draw the most interest in the scouting community, the Mets targeted many of the top travel ball teams in the nation, including the EvoShield Canes, Team Elite, Marucci Elite and the Orlando Scorpions.
“Our goal was to have as many of the premier teams as possible,” Tanous said. “We looked at the draft in previous years and, for instance, Team Elite had Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier, two first-rounders in their program. If they are coming up with that kind of talent we want them here.”
These teams have many of the top players for the 2014 draft, especially some of the top pitchers. Righthanders Dylan Cease (Team Elite) and Grant Holmes (EvoShield Canes) have fastballs that can touch 96 mph. Lefthander Mac Marshall (Team Elite), who has been up to 94 mph, offers present stuff, athleticism and upside. Infielder Michael Chavis and outfielder Michael Gettys, both of Team Elite, are toolsy position players that are among the best players in the country at their respective positions.
The Mets will have two scout teams, one from Texas and the other from the Northeast, because it made more sense from a logistical standpoint. Both of the rosters are immensely talented, as the Northeast team has a premier pitcher, righthander Joseph Gatto, and a deep lineup with infielders Isan Diaz and Liam Sabino and outfielders Tristan Rojas and Zach Sullivan. The Texas scout team has physical 6-foot-4, 220-pound catcher Michael Cantu and outfielder Stone Garrett and 2015 righthander Beau Burrows, who has been up to 96 mph.
Having some of the premier players in the country will attract the talent evaluators, which will allow some players that have not yet gained national to emerge on a big stage.
“For the all years I crosschecked, you put your list together going in the fall and set a plan for the spring, yet every single year there are a handful of players that you look back after the draft wondering, 'What was this guy doing last summer and why didn't we see him more?'” Tanous said. “This is just another opportunity for more stars that want to come out.”
The MBC commences Friday morning with batting practice and infield/outfield for each team, followed by four seven-inning games at Hofstra University and MCU Park-Brooklyn, the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League. Each team will play two games Saturday at Hofstra or Citi Field.
“I have been a huge advocate of the showcase circuit but it has hampered (American) Legion baseball, where you would see teams go on a run and get to know the teams and the kids and their personalities,” Tanous said. “I thought this would be an extension of that. You get a team together for three to four games and you get to see them play, so it is almost more like pro coverage.”
After three games, the teams will be seeded for Sunday’s four games at Citi Field to determine the tournament champion in a nine-inning game, a showcase that Tanous credited the Wilpons, the Mets' ownership, for allowing to happen during the major league season.
“We thought having everyone play at least one game in Citi Field was a huge selling point to make it worth their trip,” Tanous said. “We are really proud of our field and we think that it is the best field in baseball. We want to show it off any chance we get.”
The Mets front office put in a lot of work to set up the event, with Tanous citing manager of baseball analytics Ian Levin (whom he called "the hero of the event") and amateur scouting assistant Bryan Hayes in particular among a larger group that includes the scouting department and interns.
For their efforts, the Mets will get a long look at the players and a bit more. Members of the Mets front office will hold a symposium discussing the organization and its affiliates with the players. The Mets will have as many as 15 of their scouts in attendance, some of which will be in uniform coaching the two scout teams.
As the calendar flips to September, a quiet period for college recruiting begins. That was simply a byproduct of the busy summer schedule and the timing was not designed to exclude college programs, who could still attend the first two days of the event. In the coming years, the Mets hope to find a date that will allow college recruiters to attend because it will provide more opportunities for players.
The Mets front office has already been contacted by many other top travel programs in an attempt to lock in their spot for next year. Supported by a sharp and innovative front office, the Metropolitan Baseball Classic has the potential to become a premier destination for the top teams and best players, as well as scouts.
“The future is very bright for the event,” Tanous said. “It is something we want to do every year. We want teams to start thinking about this as an event that they want to put on their schedule every year.”