So, after some reflection, I believe I’ve come up with the actual philosophy behind these rankings. What I’m really getting after is this: If you were an expansion team set to play in 2014 with the sole goal being to field a competitive team in 2014 – that is, you care about 2014 and nothing else – and you can only pick current Mets players, whom would you take and in what order? The only other limitation being that the player must be under team control in 2014. That’s the idea here. Young players and prospects.
That’s the guiding philosophy. So some of the movements in this edition of the rankings are due to a fuller realization of the philosophy. And some come from spring training observations and performance. And some come just because.
1. Ike Davis (Last Time: 1) – He didn’t hit particularly well (.208/.311/.358 in 18 games), but Spring Training stats don’t matter (unless we want them to matter). Of more importance, Davis didn’t die from Valley Fever or a misapplied walking boot, and thus retains his hold on the top spot.
2. Ruben Tejada (Last Time: 2) – Again, same idea as Davis — health is all that matters. For his part, the neophyte shortstop survived both his on-time-but-somehow-late-arrival and a groin injury. Tejada also put on solid-looking-weight during the winter, hopefully protecting him from injury during the long season and starvation during the Hunger Games. Perhaps most importantly, Tejada didn’t cause Terry Collins’ head to boil and explode, despite the at-times-distinct-seeming possibility. Success!
3. Lucas Duda (Last Time: 5) – The Mets have hit 14 home runs in the Grapefruit League. Duda mashed four of them, putting up a .314/.410/.647 batting line. Spring Training stats and so on, but that’s not why Duda moves up two spots. He was penalized in the last list for his defense, and upon deep and meaningful reflection, that may have been unfair. Right field doesn’t appear to be Duda’s final destination as much as a rest stop on the road to left or first. He’s a first baseman stuck in the outfield because the Mets have too many first baseman. It’s not his fault, nor a reflection upon his value. So up two spots with Duda.
4. Daniel Murphy (Last Time: 3) – He’s had a particularly Murphy-like spring: Three errors, six walks, two strikeouts, and 18 hits, all singles. No season-ending knee injuries yet, and he looks like a passable second baseman. So far, so good.
5. Jon Niese (Last Time: 4) – Reports are out that Niese and the Mets are working on a contract extension, potentially buying out the lefty’s remaining years of team control and a year free agency, with team options for 2017 and 2018. This doesn’t change his ranking on the list – Niese was already under Mets’ control for 2014 – but an extension would be a nice move. Barring a career-altering injury, the Mets would be paying Niese until he hits free agency anyway, extension or no, because he’s a pitcher and no one ever has enough pitchers. So there’s little added risk involved, with the added upside of buying up some of those starting pitcher, early free agency seasons at a discount. I’m not sold on Niese being better than a 4.00 ERA pitcher . . . but a cost-controlled lefty pitching 170 innings with a 4.20 ERA still has value.
6. Josh Thole (Last Time: 8 ) – He didn’t move up, just some pitchers moved down. Thole serves as a sort of useful buffer zone, though: Everyone above him seems a good bet to be a solid major league player in 2014, with everyone below being more of a risk in our imaginary 2014 draft where you can only pick players under Mets’ control in 2014. Which would make for a remarkably un-fun fantasy league, when I think about it.
7. Matt Harvey (Last Time: 6) – Harvey made three appearances for the big league Mets this spring: A pair of scoreless innings, and then a burning man festival hosted by the Nationals, with Harvey getting lit up for three home runs and five runs in a one inning road start. He looks like a major league pitcher, in that he’s wearing baseball pants and owns a glove and such. But I don’t know how good of a major league pitcher, though. Harvey will start the season in Triple-A Buffalo.
8. Dillon Gee (Last Time: 9) – The Mets’ rotation isn’t that bad, really. Their fielding should be abysmal, but the actual quality of the staff shouldn’t be awful. Over the past two seasons, R.A. Dickey has the 11th best ERA among starting pitchers. Johan Santana, once the best pitcher in baseball, appears healthy. Niese, we covered above. Mike Pelfrey is Mike Pelfrey, but that can just as easily mean 200 innings of 3.60 ERA as it does 190 innings of 4.80 ERA. And Dillon Gee, believe it or not — actually, do believe it, because it’s true — owns a 3.95 ERA in his first 32 major league starts.
The depth is a little tricky right now – Miguel Batista and Chris Schwinden — but there’s hope that one of Matt Harvey or Chris Young or Jeurys Familia will be ready by mid-season. The poor fielding support is going to make everyone’s numbers look worse than they should be. But, general point being, there are potential positives in the pitching.
9. Jeurys Familia (Last Time: 10) – While in Florida, I watched Familia working on his changeup during a bullpen session, pitching coaches watching. “Changeup,” he’d yell to the catcher, the hard “ch” turned into a soft “y.” Familia couldn’t throw the changeup for a strike, every one diving down and in where a righthanded batter’s knee would be. After a dozen pitches, a coach directed the catcher to set a target a few inches off the plate. The changeups were suddenly knee high strikes.
I found this a little disappointing: I figured professional pitching gurus might have something more complicated than “move the target.” But if it works, it works.
Like Harvey, Familia will start the season in Triple-A Buffalo.
10. Zack Wheeler (Last Time: 7) – His rank is down for philosophical list reasons only. I actually like him better than Familia or Harvey. Harvey and Familia, when they pitch, it looks like they’re competing and succeeding against relatively well-matched opponents. (Familia looks like he’s having a blast; Harvey looks like one of those little league kids with the overly-serious dads.) Wheeler looks like he’s throwing lightening bolts at horrified mortals, albeit without any guiding purpose or self-awareness.
But Wheeler is ranked lower than those two because he’s an extra step away from the majors, starting this season in Double-A, and is probably not a big league Met until 2014. If I’m picking guys for 2014, I’m taking the ones closer to the majors.
11. Jenrry Mejia (Last Time: 11) – Still recovering from Tommy John surgery. I saw him pitching bullpen sessions in Port St. Lucie, but I have no idea when he’ll be pitching in real games.
12. Kirk Nieuwenhuis (Last Time: 12) – Whatever small shot Captain Kirk had at making the club out of Spring Training, it disappeared when an oblique injury limited Nieuwenhuis to just four Grapefruit games. Another Buffalo Bison, Nieuwenhuis’ stock may be more closely tied with Jason Bay’s performance than his own.
13. Jordany Valdespin (Last Time: Unranked) – The rising star of the spring: Valdespin hit .310/.340/.452 in 20 games, with three extra base hits, three stolen bases, and played shortstop, second base, and an experimental turn in center field. He’s a little bit buried on the roster – Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, Ronny Cedeno, Omar Quintanilla, and Justin Turner all sit ahead of him on the middle infield depth chart – but Valdespin looks set for a cup of big league coffee in September, if not sooner.
14. Matt Den Dekker (Last Time: Unranked) – In my estimation, the second-best defensive center fielder in the Mets’ organization right now, trailing Andres Torres. Actually, Torres might not be a bad comp overall: Both strike out a bit, draw some walks, some power, have some speed, strong defensive games, and four syllable names. Den Dekker’s bat is a ways away, but plenty of center fielders have major league careers without ever figuring out hitting.
15. Justin Turner (Last Time: Unranked) – Here’s why I’ve added Turner: I’ve got a theory that Turner is going to be a pinch hitter extraordinaire. He can hit fastballs, which is pinch hitter skill numero uno. He can slap breaking balls the other way, which we’ll call skill numero dos. (Perhaps related to the breaking ball thing, Turner has thus far hit righties better than lefties in his major league career.) I foresee a number of at-bats this season where Turner is inserted against a lefty, the opposing manager brings in a righty reliever, and then Turner pokes a two-strike slider into right field.
Others to watch:
Cesar Puello, Reese Havens, Wilmer Flores, Bobby Parnell, Juan Lagares, R.A. Dickey (if he’s extended through 2014), David Wright (if extended), Johan Santana (Mets hold a club option for 2014), Jason Bay (mostly kidding, but his contract does have a vesting option for 2014).