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Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon once predicted Carlos Gomez and Martinez would flank Carlos Beltran as the outfielders when the team christened its new stadium, Citi Field, in 2009. Gomez since has joined the Twins as part of the Johan Santana trade, and the acclaim for Martinez has diminished a little. Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $1.3 million in 2005, he has been pushed aggressively by New York. Martinez was the youngest player in the Double-A Eastern League in each of the last two seasons, and the youngest player in the history of the Arizona Fall League in 2007. Because of his youth, Martinez hasn't dominated in the minors, but he had a solid return engagement with Binghamton last year, then got off to an excellent start in the Dominican League over the winter. Martinez still has youth on his side. He turned 20 during the offseason, making him the equivalent of a college sophomore or junior, and he'd surely be a first-round pick if he were entering the 2009 draft coming out of a U.S. college. His bat speed helps him catch up to good fastballs, and he has power to all fields. He can hit some monster home runs when he connects. While he profiles to play an outfield corner in the future, Martinez is holding his own in center field. He has improved his defense and now shows average range and arm strength. He has solid-average speed once he gets going on the bases, ramping it up when he goes from first to third base or senses a triple. His attitude is top-notch. Binghamton manager Mako Oliveras noted that Martinez often was the first player at the ballpark so he could get extra work. Martinez has been injury-prone. He missed time in 2006 with a bone bruise in his hand and a knee sprain; in 2007 with a broken hamate bone in his right hand; and in 2008 with recurring trouble with his right hamstring. The lost development time has stymied his efforts to improve his strike-zone discipline. Martinez's outfield routes also need work, though they did get better last season. He'll probably wind up in left field, where he played regularly in the Dominican this winter, though the Mets won't make that move until he reaches the majors. Martinez is slow out of the batter's box and isn't going to steal many bases. When he signed, Martinez acquired the hype that goes with a big signing bonus and being a top prospect for a New York team. He's not going to be the next Beltran because he doesn't have the same package of all-around plus tools. Some scouts outside the organization see Martinez as a tweener, a left fielder who lacks impact power, while others see a gifted hitter with an improving approach who should develop average to plus power. General manager Omar Minaya has said he expects Martinez to begin the year at Triple-A Buffalo.
As a 14-year-old at the Agua Linda Academy in Valencia, Venezuela, Flores already stood out against players preparing to sign contracts as international free agents. He belted 90-mph fastballs to the opposite field over a 300-foot wall. Organizers at the academy, which also has produced Pablo Sandoval (Giants), Mario Martinez (Mariners) and Alex Monsalve (Indians), were so impressed with Flores' arm that they debated grooming him as a pitcher before opting for shortstop. He signed with the Mets in 2007 for $750,000 and became short-season Brooklyn's youngest player ever when he finished the 2008 season there. Flores quickly established himself as a dangerous hitter, and in a Rookie-level Appalachian League game last summer, Danville walked him intentionally with runners at first and second. He has premium bat speed and a knack for finding the ball with the barrel of the bat. His patience and selectivity improved even as he saw a steady stream of offspeed pitches. Flores has a plus arm at shortstop, though he doesn't flash it on routine plays. Flores lacks first-step quickness and is a below-average runner (4.6 seconds to first base), so he doesn't profile as a shortstop down the line. He showed a tendency to chase pitches up in the zone and can get pullhappy. He's so green that the Kingsport coaching staff had to teach Flores how to dive for balls. Flores already has started to draw some Miguel Cabrera comparisons. He'll open 2009 at low Class A Savannah as a 17-year-old, and with the way the Mets challenge their top prospects, he could find himself as high as Double-A by his 18th birthday in August. New York will keep him at shortstop until he shows he can't play there, with third base or an outfield corner his eventual destination.
Born the day the Mets won their last World Series, Niese comes from the same Defiance (Ohio) High program as Chad Billingsley. Summoned to the big leagues ahead of schedule last September, he struggled in two of his three outings but tossed eight scoreless innings against the Braves in his second start. Niese's signature pitch is a 12-to-6 curveball. He also throws an 88-93 mph fastball with natural cutting action that allows him to combat righthanders, as does his solid changeup. He generally has good control, though like many young pitchers, he nibbled too much in his first taste of the majors. His mechanics create deception that's imperative for a pitcher with solid but not outstanding stuff. After he battled weight issues early in his pro career, improved eating habits have allowed him to shed 21 pounds. Niese needs to do a better job of throwing his curveball for strikes. His delivery, which features a pronounced arch in his back, may hinder his command. Given the team's history of awarding a young pitcher a rotation spot--including Mike Pelfrey, Brian Bannister and Tyler Yates in recent years-- it's entirely possible that Niese will break camp with the Mets. He's the early favorite to be New York's No. 5 starter in 2009, and he profiles as a possible No. 3 starter down the line.
Though he was their third choice in the 2008 draft at No. 33 overall, the Mets view Holt as their top pick in retrospect, ahead of first-rounders Ike Davis and Reese Havens. Signed for $1.04 million, he led the short-season New York Penn League in ERA (1.87), strikeouts (96), strikeouts per nine innings (11.9) and opponent average (.171). Holt's fastball typically ranges from 93-96 mph and registers as high as 98. He has good control of the pitch. He has a strong frame and solid mechanics, so durability shouldn't be an issue. He's mentally tough, with the makeup to get out of jams as a starter or finish games as a closer. Holt relies mainly on his fastball for success. He'll flash some average or plus sliders, but he usually holds on to it too long before releasing it. His changeup is even more raw. He has trouble throwing his secondary pitches for strikes and ranked second in the NY-P with 33 walks. Mets farm director Tony Bernazard compares Holt to Mike Pelfrey and considers him ahead of Pelfrey at a similar stage of their careers. Holt could open 2009 in the Binghamton rotation and appear in the majors by season's end. Some scouts think he's destined to be a reliever, but New York is grooming him as a starter for now.
After limited previous experience on the mound, Parnell began pitching regularly at Charleston Southern. He posted 6.82 and 8.86 ERAs in his final two college seasons but has surged ahead as a professional. He earned the trust of Mets manager Jerry Manuel and pitched some critical relief innings in September. Parnell throws a heavy fastball anywhere from 89-97 mph. When he's throwing strikes, he gets plenty of strikeouts and groundouts. His slider and changeup give him the chance to have three plus pitches. While he has a good fastball, Parnell doesn't show his top velocity consistently within games, either as a starter or as a reliever. He lacks a feel for pitching that made it hard to go through a lineup three or four times as a starter, but that won't be a problem if he's a reliever. His lack of confidence in his changeup is another obstacle to starting. Before the Mets signed Francisco Rodriguez, Parnell was a candidate to become their closer of the future. His best chance of breaking camp with the Mets in 2009 is out of the bullpen, though he continued to work as a starter in the Arizona Fall League.
Signed by the Mets after turning 16 in 2007, Marte received a $550,000 bonus. International scouting director Ismael Cruz labeled Marte's bat the quickest in the 2007 international class. He ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in his pro debut. An outstanding young hitter, Marte uses the whole field when he's at his best. Mets officials are confident he'll hit for average and draw his share of walks while developing solid-average power. The ball jumps off his bat differently than with most players, and he has good pitch-recognition skills for his age. He's a deceptively good runner, with baserunning knowledge and aggressiveness enhancing his average speed. He's also advanced in terms of maturity. His arm is solid-average. While he has the tools for third base, Marte is an erratic and raw defender, and there's no certainty that's his ultimate position. He gets in trouble at the plate when he wants to pull the ball. He swings at some bad breaking pitches, though he should develop more discipline with experience. New York isn't shy about pushing its top prospects. Assuming Marte follows the path of comparable Mets international signings, he could begin the season in low Class A.
The Mets are ecstatic about the bargain they received in signing Mejia for just $16,500. The second-youngest regular pitcher in the New York-Penn League last summer, he got knocked around in his first two outings before going 3-1, 2.40 the rest of the way. Mejia has a quality fastball, sitting in the mid-90s even while pitching out of the stretch and touching 98 mph at times. Some scouts believe he'll hit 100 mph once he matures. His changeup has such sink and depth with high-80s velocity that some scouts consider it a two-seam fastball, while some hitters think it's a curveball. He attacks hitters and competes well. He's also in top physical condition, so he should be durable. He attacks hitters and competes well. Mejia has difficulty repeating his delivery, hampering his command. His curveball is his third-best pitch and it's wildly inconsistent. Like many young power arms, he's overly reliant on his fastball. The Mets will continue to challenge Mejia and could jump him to high Class A in 2009. He'll continue to start to gain experience and work on his secondary pitches, but he could fit best as a late-inning relief option in the long run.
Drafted out of high school by the Rockies, Havens passed on seven-figure offers from teams that wanted him in the first round. After two disappointing years at South Carolina, he took off after shortening his swing while hitting .315 in the Cape Cod League. Havens batted.359/.486/.645 as a junior, went 22nd overall last June and signed for $1.419 million. An offensive-minded grinder, Havens has a good idea of the strike zone, gets into hitter's counts and consistently drives balls to the gaps. He has average power and strong offensive instincts. He's a savvy defender with good hands and arm strength, tools that had some clubs dreaming of him as a catcher. Some scouts wonder how Havens' new stance--he lowered his hands in the Cape--will translate to wood bats. He works a lot of deep counts and needs a better two-strike approach to cut down on his strikeouts. Elbow trouble and a groin pull limited him to DH duties in his pro debut, and the Mets need to find out where he fits defensively. He's a fringe-average runner and his range doesn't stand out at shortstop. Havens declined the chance to play in Hawaii Winter Baseball, preferring to rehab at home. He'll stick at shortstop for now, but projects as an offensive second baseman once he reaches the majors. He should begin 2009 at high Class A St. Lucie.
After Evans spent the 2007 season in high Class A, he headed home to Phoenix because a stress fracture in his right hand left him unable to play in Hawaii Winter Baseball. Healthy again last season, he surged all the way to New York, breaking into the majors with a three-double performance May 24 in Colorado. Primarily a first baseman in the minors, he ultimately platooned in left field with fellow rookie Daniel Murphy. Mets officials believe Evans ultimately will hit for more power than Murphy. While his swing can get long, he has above-average bat speed and can beat good fastballs. He mashed lefthanders throughout the minors and in the majors. He has a solid-average arm and has worked hard to catch up defensively in left field. Power is Evans' lone above-average tool, and he needs to be more selective to be more than a platoon player. Scouts question whether he'll produce enough to be an everyday first baseman and think he may be best suited as a utility corner bat. He needs to improve his physical strength and polish his defense. He's a fringy runner but not a baseclogger. Evans was rushed to the big leagues and should get more seasoning in Triple-A with Fernando Tatis re-signing with the Mets. With Carlos Delgado's contract up after the 2009 season, Evans could find himself in New York's first-base mix a year from now.
For the second straight season, the Mets brought a reliever from the previous year's draft to the big leagues. Unlike Joe Smith, Kunz had little success and was demoted after just four appearances. Part of two College World Series championships at Oregon State, he signed for $720,000 as New York's top pick (sandwich round) in the 2007 draft. Kunz built up his arm strength through the 2008 season. He regularly threw 91-92 mph sinkers in April, then worked at 94-95 and touched 97 later in the season. His 3.6 groundout/ airout ratio ranked first among Double-A relievers. When it's on, his slider parks in the mid-80s with good bite. Kunz gets himself into trouble with an inconsistent release point and varied arm slots. He'll fly open too soon in his delivery, causing his arm to drag and elevating pitches in the strike zone. He needs to continue to improve the command of his slider, which made some progress in 2008. Though he'll compete for a bullpen spot with the Mets in spring training, he's more likely to open the season as a closer in Triple-A. He projects as a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever in the majors, especially now that Francisco Rodriguez has come to New York.
Davis shouldn't be intimidated when he ultimately arrives at Citi Field, the Mets' new home. The Mets' top pick in the 2008 draft already was taking batting practice off Hall of Famer Goose Gossage at Yankee Stadium at 14 years old. Davis' father Ron was a big league reliever for 11 seasons, including from 1978-81 as a Yankee. After flashing power in college, Davis was slow to recover from a strained oblique muscle and failed to homer in 215 at-bats at Brooklyn after signing for $1.575 million. Still, the Mets regard Davis as a future power hitter. Davis needs to mature physically--unlike Reese Havens, their other 2008 first-rounder, whom they feel will have a quicker route to the big leagues. He carried the pressure of being the Mets' top pick and pressed. He's considered a slick defensive first baseman--the type who could contend for a Gold Glove some day, which will help if his bat doesn't develop as hoped. Davis may eventually be asked to play right field because of his strong arm. Davis--a lefty thrower and hitter, unlike his father--pitched his freshman year at Arizona State, then played right field his sophomore year and first base and pitcher as a junior. He was capable of registering 92 mph on the mound. He has below-average speed. Davis appears ticketed for high Class A to begin 2009.
An athletic teenager who eventually should hit for average as he matures, Puello showed steady improvement during his first pro season, batting .242 in June, .271 in July and .357 in August in the Gulf Coast League. He cut down chasing breaking balls out of the zone and, as a result, lessened his strikeout tendency. Puello is considered a faster runner than fellow '07 international signee Jefry Marte and should be a proficient basestealer despite not being a burner. He needs to improve his jumps and learn the proper stealing situations. Puello covers ground well in the outfield. Projected to hit for some power, Puello still will need to concentrate on improving his on-base percentage. He hits a lot of balls in the air, so coaches are working to temper his uppercut swing. He walked five times and struck out 32 times in 151 at-bats in 2008 and still needs to resist swinging at breaking balls in the dirt, an area in which he actually showed progress. Puello, who signed with the Mets for $400,000, has a slightly above-average arm. While he should play center field in the lower minors, the Mets view him as a player whose value is tied to his bat and should wind up in left field. A pure projection at this point, Puello likely will begin 2009 at Kingsport.
The youngest of four brothers, Moviel comes from a baseball family. Sibling Greg, a lefthander, pitched in the Mariners organization. Paul, a fellow righthander and a 36th-round pick in 2003, pitched in the White Sox and Rays organizations. Moviel was prepared to follow the path of fellow Ohioan-turned-Yankees-first-rounder Andrew Brackman: pitch for North Carolina State, and compete for the Wolfpack basketball team--or at least try to as a 6-foot-11 walk-on. Then the Mets selected Moviel 77th overall in the 2007 draft and he bypassed college for the minors. Moviel sat at 90 mph with his fastball, tossed an 84-86 mph changeup and had a 75-79 mph curveball, with the more effective breaking pitches being the ones thrown with more power. Like many taller pitches, Moviel needs time to grow into his body, though the former University of Michigan basketball recruit is not as awkward as might be expected for his size and is considered an above-average athlete. Moviel needs to develop a changeup as he rises in the Mets' system. He's ticketed for high Class A to open 2009.
Lutz had been billed as the player to watch at Brooklyn in 2007, but in the first game of his pro debut, he suffered a season-ending injury. Fielding a backhand play down the line in the first inning of his Cyclones debut, Lutz's foot rolled over. He gutted through two at-bats, but spent the next six months on crutches with a fractured navicular bone at the top of the foot. Lutz, the first freshman first-team all-American in NCAA Division III history, and the D-III national player of the year his final collegiate season, finally returned to action as the Cyclones opened their 2008 season. He has a chance to be a special hitter if he can stay healthy. The ball has a different sound off of his bat. While Lutz has the ability to play third base, he also could land at first base or left field. He's considered an average fielder at best, with an unspectacular arm and fringy range. Mets officials, however, insist that some of that less-than-stellar range stemmed from gutting through a quadriceps injury last season. That leg issue resulted in Lutz's season prematurely ending July 18. The Mets hope Lutz says healthy for once as he heads for low Class A and club officials again are looking for a breakout season from him.
Antonini's baseball tutor was his stepfather John Fleming, now the head coach of NCAA Division III Neumann College in Aston, Pa. Fleming was Antonini's pitching coach through his junior year of high school, then served as interim head coach his senior year when Antonini's Cardinal O'Hara High (Springfield, Pa.) team won its first Catholic League championship in 20 years. Antonini's primary assets: He's lefthanded, he has a feel for a plus changeup and he is considered fearless and crafty with the ability to pitch inside. His fastball settles in the upper 80s and reaches 90 mph on occasion, and he has an ordinary curveball. Mets officials say in a bestcase scenario, Antonini would resemble Mark Buehrle, who has premium command and a cutter, two major separators. Scouts project Antonini as a bullpen/swing pitcher with less-than-overpowering stuff. Regardless, he's proven to be a quick riser. In his first full professional season, Antonini figured he would settle into St. Lucie for the rest of the season after receiving a promotion from low Class A in mid-June. Seven starts later, after posting a 4-0, 1.84 mark, he instead continued his rapid ascent by moving to Double-A. He's scheduled to begin the 2009 season in the Binghamton rotation. He will need to improve his curveball in order to start in the majors.
Signed out of Panama, Tejada was moved from the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League to the Gulf Coast League midway through the 2007 season. That served as a springboard to Tejada producing a hitting exhibition in the 2008 Grapefruit League while being borrowed from minor league camp. Put on the fast track with a twolevel promotion to high Class A, Tejada was overmatched at age 18 but handled the challenge. Team officials had Tejada on an extensive weight-training program during the season to build up his strength, which resulted in fatigue later in the year. Despite that, the Mets continued challenging him in Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he impressed more with his grinder mentality than his tools. Tejada has calmness about him and has appeared unfazed by the lack of success. Tejada may hit 10 home runs a season once his skinny frame matures. Hitting line drives, producing a high on-base percentage and using his legs likely will be the keys to his game. He tends to swing for the fences more than he should and needs to focus on making hard, line-drive contact. Solid defensively with a strong arm and excellent lateral range, he's shown the ability to make the spectacular play. Tejada will remain at shortstop for now, though he has experience at second base and ultimately may land there. He's an average baserunner and basestealer, though sound instincts will allow him to swipe some bases. Mets officials laud his heady play and his advanced knowledge of the strike zone. Scouts outside the organization believe he needs another year in high Class A to catch up.
Gee is part of a middle-round college pitching class from the 2007 draft that has Mets officials excited. Mike Antonini (18th round), Dylan Owen (20th round, Francis Marion (S.C.) and Gee (21st round) all finished last season in Binghamton's rotation. Gee didn't foresee getting picked for the high Class A Florida State League all-star game in 2008, and his subsequent promotion to Double-A was far more than he expected in 2008. Gee, who has solid command, asked permission to add a curveball to his repertoire last season, then worked with St. Lucie pitching coach Dan Murray to develop it. He still throws a slider and uses his slow curve more as an early count option. Gee's breaking balls are his current weakness, though that's offset by a solid changeup, sound control and makeup. His fastball generally ranges from 88-90 mph, fringe-average, though he will sneak in a 91-92 mph now and then and knows how to pitch. His fastball command puts him ahead of Owen and Stoner in the organization's pecking order. Gee's results are hard to ignore, and the Mets are eager to see how far his pitchability will get him. After pitching well again in Puerto Rico's winter league (on the same Ponce team as Antonini), Gee is expected to open the 2009 season in Binghamton's rotation.
Shaw had underwhelming numbers at Illinois, including a 4-4, 7.83 record his final season, dropping his draft stock. But scout Scott Trcka was impressed with Shaw's raw ability, much like the Mets saw potential in Bobby Parnell despite lackluster numbers at Charleston Southern. Shaw did have success in wood-bat summer leagues during college, and Trcka signed him for $30,000. With a superior breaking ball to Dillon Gee, but comparable in terms of being a competitor, Shaw does a solid job mixing what are considered average pitches (fastball, slider, curveball, changeup) and throws strikes. With a big-bodied, strong frame, he may have more left in the tank. His fastball sat at 88-89 mph in Brooklyn, but regularly registered 90 mph in Hawaii Winter Baseball and can reach 92-93 mph. Shaw, who has indicated he overthrew in college trying to impress scouts, has retooled his slider since turning pro and consistently repeats his motion. He used to get college batters to chase the slider by throwing it wide, but professional hitters lay off it, so he's now done a better job of vertically using the strike zone. Scouts in HWB considered him the best of the Mets' contingent in the league, though he'll have to command his fastball better if he doesn't add velocity to it. After he pitched more than 100 innings between Brooklyn and Hawaii, Shaw's arm should be ready for a full season of pro ball. He'll spend 2009 in high Class A.
Born in Landstuhl, Germany, where his father Neil served as an Air Force intelligence officer, Stoner's family settled into their Oakland, Md., home by the time he turned 6. After two years of junior college, Stoner played NCAA Division II baseball for two seasons at Davis & Elkins (W.Va.). He became the college program's first draft pick since Tim McLoughlin in the same round by the Padres 23 years earlier. The Mets stumbled onto Stoner seemingly by accident. Scout Matt Wondolowski attended the Davis & Elkins game in order to watch opponent West Virginia State. Stoner got on the Mets' radar with a 15-strikeout performance, though the game was bittersweet. Stoner surrendered a game-deciding homer at the very game he was handed a Mets questionnaire by Wondolowski. Stoner's four-seam fastball generally sits at 91-92 mph, though he's touched 93. Stoner has a solid slider, which functions as his second pitch, and needs to improve the consistency of his curve and changeup. He has a chance to be a swing guy or set-up man, but needs to improve his changeup to emerge as a starter. Stoner was also part of the Mets' Hawaii contingent and built more stamina and gained experience. He's expected to begin 2009 in Binghamton's rotation with Antonini, Gee and Owen.
Duda shows well above-average power in batting practice and in his 2007 debut, when he hit 20 doubles at short-season Brooklyn, but it didn't translate into games in 2008, when the Mets jumped him to high Class A. The first baseman is considered to have a long swing and misses too many pitches. Still, his power displays in BP will buy him time, even if he ultimately stalls at Triple-A. In some ways Duda is similar to Ike Davis, as both pitched and hit as prep players. Duda had Tommy John surgery and just hit at Southern California, but both are capable first basemen who could play in the outfield. Another difference is that Davis showed significant improvement as a college junior by better incorporating his lower half into his swing. Last season, Duda fell into a rut of only using his upper body, which the Mets sought to correct when he participated in instructional league. Duda has good strength but hits a lot of balls to the big parts of the field, which the Mets also sought to address. Primarily a first baseman with the Mets with average fielding skills at best, Duda also saw action in seven games in right field and two games in left field in 2008. Duda does not have much speed. His progression should take him to Double-A to open the season.
The son of five-time all-star Tony Pena, Francisco signed for $750,000 in 2006. He repeated at low Class A Savannah in 2008, and didn't draw rave reviews. Take his throwing arm. He has plus arm strength, and he's been timed as quick as 1.90 to 1.95 seconds on occasion throwing to second base. However, he has widely inconsistent ranges in time and accuracy thanks to an awkward arm action and poor transfers. He threw out just 23 percent of basestealers last season. Pena's weight also has been an issue--scouts estimate he carried at least 250 pounds in 2008--though reports from the instructional league suggested Pena made dramatic improvements in his physical shape. Pena isn't projected to be more than an average hitter or defensive catcher at this point, and is not likely to be moved to another position. He still has youth on his side, as well as raw power and good hands that work behind the plate and can work at the plate. Pena is a pure fastball hitter and needs to learn how to hit the slider, which he chases a lot, in order to advance in the minors. He was exposed in the instructional league by offspeed pitches, which he often waved at. Pena does hit to the opposite field well, so team officials hope it's just a matter of repetition to improve his performance against offspeed pitches. After two seasons in low Class A, Pena should get tested in the Florida State League in 2009.
An excellent athlete with good makeup, the switch-hitting Veloz doesn't lack confidence. He failed to make adjustments at the plate and rolled over a lot of balls, though he may have been over his head in Class A leagues as a teenager. One scout compared him to a minor league Jose Vidro. Veloz has strength and a line-drive swing but doesn't have significant power potential, and like Vidro in his heyday he does a decent but unspectacular job at second base. After initial struggles, the wiry, athletic Veloz came on at the end of the season. He only began playing second base after signing with the Mets. He had manned third base as a youngster in the Dominican, but his fringy arm strength profiles better for the right side of the diamond. Mets instructors are still teaching Veloz to use his backhand more instead of trying to get in front of everything, and suggest his 19 errors primarily were throwing miscues because he wasn't correctly positioning himself. While his speed is just average, Veloz did record 29 steals. He wore down and didn't impress scouts who saw him in Hawaii Winter Baseball, showing hard hands defensively and poor technique. Veloz is expected to begin 2009 in high Class A, where he played 21 games last season.
Thole received limited playing time at St. Lucie to begin 2008, including just three games at catcher during the opening two weeks. But with the team stumbling to a 2-11 start and Sean McCraw struggling at the plate, the door opened for Thole to see more action. He became a Florida State League all-star while hitting .300/.382/.427. Thole caught in high school, but until 2008--when he caught 75 games for St. Lucie--he primarily had played first base as a professional, with just 26 games behind the plate from 2005-07. Working with minor league catching instructor Bob Natal, Thole revamped his catching techniques and did a passable job. At the plate, Thole has a decent swing path and will hit mistakes, but is not projected to hit for much power. His best attribute is his plate discipline, as he gets into hitter's counts and jumps on fastballs. He has a thick lower half and runs poorly, making catcher his best fit. He has plenty of work to do defensively, particularly with his receiving, as he tends to box some pitches. His arm is average but he threw out just 22 percent of basestealers last year. Thole has limited speed. He passed through the Rule 5 draft after being left off the 40-man roster and should report to Double-A in 2009.
A susceptibility to injury and questions about toughness caused Rustich to cultivate critics within the organization. The former UCLA closer had a chance to impress in big league camp in 2008, but arm soreness resulted in him sitting out. The Mets, disappointed with Rustich's lack of tenacity, sent him to low Class A to begin the season once he was declared healthy. He pitched poorly in the first half but finally showed improvement after moving to the rotation, posting a 3.03 ERA in that role (4.76 in relief ). Rustich ranges from 91-96 mph with his fastball and has the potential for an above-average slider to go along with a changeup that has flashed plus potential. With Mets special assistant Sandy Johnson watching one game at Savannah, Rustich dominated with five no-hit innings and possessed an unhittable breaking ball. Scouts say that early in the season, that quality of stuff was not there, with a stiff arm action. Mets officials hope he'll grow out of the injury susceptibility, as Johnson once watched Robb Nen and Darren Oliver do in the minors with Texas. Rustich is currently considered a thrower without feel. The Mets haven't yet resolved whether Rustich will be a starter or reliever, but he'll be 24 this year and still will be ticketed for A-ball. He has better stuff than fellow 2007 draftees Antonini, Gee and Owen but lacks their durability and feel for pitching.
Vineyard made just two starts in low Class A before a shoulder injury led to surgery last May. His recovery is expected to take perhaps longer than a full year, so Vineyard may remain behind in Port St. Lucie, Fla., at the organization's rehab center when the 2009 season begins. Vineyard appeared at No. 9 in the previous year's rankings, and at just 20 years old isn't being written off. The Mets signed Vineyard for $657,000 after he did the summer showcase circuit for Georgia's East Cobb program. Before he got hurt, Vineyard's fastball sat at 88- 91 mph with good movement. The Mets projected he would add velocity prior to his injury, and to fulfill that projection he'll have to attack his rehabilitation. His slider was a plus pitch, though he threw too many as an amateur, which may have led to his shoulder injury. He didn't need his changeup much in high school and it needs refinement. Right now, the Mets just hope he'll be healthy enough to log some innings in 2009.
Ramirez was nearly 18 when he signed out of the Dominican Republic and remains fairly raw, but after three years in Rookie ball, the Mets challenged him with a full-season assignment at Savannah. Results were mixed. Ramirez used his plus fastball--which has registered as high as 96-97 mph and sits at 89-94--to pitch well through the first half of the season. His fastball is notable for sink as well as velocity and he got plenty of groundouts (1.77 for every airout) while allowing only one home run. He also showed a hard curveball that has promise and a decent changeup. A muscle strain in his back, injured while exercising, sidelined him, and Ramirez didn't pitch again after July 9. Ramirez returned for instructional league at full strength. Ramirez's rough delivery is hard to repeat, and scouts outside the organization consider Ramirez strictly a reliever in the future. He's inconsistent with getting extension out front in his delivery, and the Mets have worked to lengthen his stride to help him finish off his pitches and gain more velocity. Lean and wiry, he has arm speed and power for a bullpen role. He lacks the command to start anyway. A move to the bullpen could be in the offing as soon as 2009, when Ramirez will head to high Class A.
Twelve hours after trading sidearm reliever Joe Smith to the Indians in a three-team deal that landed J.J. Putz, the Mets selected the submarine-throwing O'Day in the major league Rule 5 draft to fill Smith's void. O'Day was the closer on Florida's 2005 College World Series team, having created a niche by dropping his arm angle while playing in an adult league in Jacksonville. He earned a spot as a walk-on, pitched four years and signed with the Angels in 2006 as a nondrafted free agent prior to the draft. He surprised observers by making the Angels out of spring training last season. He keeps the ball down and throws strikes, though his fastball registers just 88 mph. In addition to a heavy sinker with a whipping action that's tough on righties, O'Day also throws a sweeping slider. He has a labrum tear but opted to rehab over the winter rather than have surgery and the Mets expect he'll be able to contribute. If he doesn't stick on the big league roster, he has to clear waivers and get offered back to the Angels for half the $50,000 draft price before he can be sent to the minors. New York also took a second big leauge Rule 5 reliever, righthander Rocky Cherry from the Orioles.
Mets officials consider Owen a strike-throwing machine, and he has had nothing but success the last three years. That includes being a NCAA Division II all-American in 2007, when he led the level with a 1.04 ERA. He set a Peach Belt Conference record with 334 strikeouts in his career. As a pro, he's 22-8, 2.96 despite a short, wide body that lacks projection and modest stuff. While his fastball has hit 93 mph, he sits at 87-90 and has good feel for the pitch, spotting it to all parts of the strike zone. His slider has made progress and can be an above-average pitch at times; he varies the break and velocity on it to get strikeouts or early count groundballs. His curveball and changeup are just playable but he throws them for strikes. Owen was leading the Florida State League in wins and strikeouts and ranked eighth in ERA when he was promoted and got his feet wet in Double-A. He'll return to Binghamton in 2009 with fellow 2007 draftees Dillon Gee and Mike Antonini. His slider is the best breaking ball of the trio, but his fastball ranks third among them and might make him a future relief candidate.
Drafted in the second round by the Mets last June out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and signed for $585,000, Rodriguez is a raw player who struggled to make adjustments in the Gulf Coast League. Club officials view Rodriguez as a potential four- or five-tool player, despite his poor debut, and were encouraged by his showing in the instructional league in the Dominican Republic. Rodriguez's best tools are his bat speed and strong arm. He's also an above-average runner, covering 60 yards in 6.7 seconds at a pre-draft workout. Just 18, he's very slim physically but should hit for decent power as he fills out. He has a tendency for a long swing and gets into trouble when he loses his direction with his stride foot and steps in the bucket. He showed major improvement in correcting those flaws in the instructional league, allowing him to stay on pitches longer and use the entire field. Rodriguez needs to improve on his strike-zone discipline. He encouraged club officials by taking charge pre-pitch in instructional league and being a leader among young outfielders. With a strong spring-training performance, Rodriguez could open 2009 in low Class A. If he's still not ready, he'll remain in extended spring training and head to Kingsport.
The Mets' top international addition in 2008 with a signing bonus of $600,000, Rodriguez is director of international scouting Ismael Cruz's latest find. Rodriguez primarily is a hitter. Third base is a work in progress for the raw fielder, though his showing there was not as bad as had been feared. He has a big frame, having substantially added to his size even from the time the Mets signed him until he began participating in the instructional league. Mets officials are excited about Rodriguez's potential to hit for power, though his swing has a tendency to get a little long and pull-happy--traits attributed to his youth. When he's on, Rodriguez can go to right-center with the best of the Mets' prospects. He has below-average speed, and there's concern he could get too big size-wise for third base. While at this early age the Mets hope Rodriguez can remain there, moving to first base or left field may be in his future. Assuming he follows in the tracks of Jefry Marte and Cesar Puello, the Mets' top Dominican signings from 2007, Rodriguez could find himself in the Gulf Coast League to open 2009.
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