There’s a baseball saying – well, there are a lot of baseball sayings, but this specific one is relevant here – there’s a baseball saying that goes, “every team has prospects.” I don’t know who said it, but I like it. In other words, don’t get too excited about your team’s budding stars, because every other team has budding stars. For every Ike Davis, there is a Jason Heyward. For every Jenrry Mejia, there is a Stephen Strasburg. For every Josh Thole, there is a Derek Norris. In fact, there is a team that plays in Oakland that is always made up entirely of prospects. So there you go. Every team has prospects.
Only, like a lot of baseball sayings, this one is only half-right part of the time. Or maybe it’s sometimes all-right part of the time – or maybe it’s just that baseball sayings, like people, can’t be all right all of the time. Yes, baseball teams always have prospects because teams have farm systems stocked with players who may one day become major leaguers, and essentially all major leaguers were at one time minor leaguers. So it makes sense that some of the current minor leaguers will turn into major leaguers, and it’s fun to guess which ones. There are always toolsy outfielders* in single A and live arms in AA that might turn into stars one day, and home sick kids playing rookie ball who might develop power when they grow into their frames. Some of them will work out, some of them won’t. But every team’s got ’em.
*Is calling an outfielder “toolsy” becoming redundant? What other players are ever described as “toolsy”? Hasn’t toolsy just become synonymous with “outfielder” at this point?
But not every team has prospects ready to make the jump to the major leagues. I know this to be true because I watched the 2009 Mets. The Mets lost, for extended periods of time, their starting center fielder, third baseman, shortstop, first baseman, they never really had a left fielder to begin with, and four starting pitchers. And the team was bad on top of it, or because of it. That’s a lot of meaningless playing time begging to be eaten up by maybe-not-quite-ready guys in AAA. Only there weren’t many prospects readily available to fill the gaps for a fading team. By my count, of the 53 players to take the field for the 2009 Mets, just four were under the age of 24: Jon Niese, Josh Thole, Fernando Martinez, and Nick Evans. So while every team may have prospects, not every team has prospects they can use.*
*Or, they refuse to use the ones they have. Sorry, Nick Evans.
Omar Minaya is the one blamed for the Mets lack of depth in 2009. Someone needs to be blamed. Jeremy Reed played first base at one point. Angel Berroa played, period. Emil Brown was around long enough to contribute to a base running blunder and make me aware of his existence. Apparently Robinson Cancel had an at-bat, but I honestly don’t remember that happening. Minaya was the one to construct a roster with the depth of a basketball team. It is ultimately his responsibility. However, if blame is going to be placed on Omar for the lack of depth last year, then Minaya deserves equal credit for what is developing this season. The New York Mets have six players who can smell the corn-on-the-cob from El Verano Taqueria. And yes, I am fantasizing about Citi Field food already. Check it out:
Ike Davis – drafted 2008: age 22
Fernando Martinez – signed July 11, 2005: age 21
Jenrry Mejia – signed April 4, 2007: age 20
Jon Niese – drafted 2005, age 23
Ruben Tejada – signed July 11, 2006: age 20
Josh Thole – drafted 2005: age 23
First, let me freely cop to knowing essentially nothing about player growth and development, other than AAA is higher than AA, and AA higher than A. I think. That being said, while Jon Niese seems to be the only one here ready to go on Opening Day, the other five could all make cameos this year, and all may very well be ready for the 2011 Mets. I’m not saying all these guys are going to be stars. I’m also not saying any of them are going to be stars, or even useful players. I’m not really saying anything about any of them because I know nothing about any of them. Just, you know, I wanted to point out that they exist. The Mets didn’t have any players this close to the majors going into 2009, so the baseball world was again introduced to Ramon Martinez. It’s looking like that age has passed.
Among many other things*, Minaya has been criticized often for the Mets farm system, especially in light of 2009, when almost every team in the Mets system finished with a miserable record. Perhaps Minaya did salt the fields by surrendering draft picks to sign type-A free agents earlier in his tenure. But in his defense, maybe it just takes a little longer for a general manager’s influence on a team’s farm system to be felt on the major league level. Maybe these guys emerging just now are the first wave. Supposedly his strength has always been spotting talent – he discovered Sammy Sosa! – maybe this is the result of that skill. Maybe Omar Minaya isn’t as bad as I sometimes think he is.
*I tweeted this a couple of weeks ago, but I think it’s worth repeating as a possibly misleading baseball statistic. Last season, there were only 8 major leaguers with sub .300 OBP and slugging percentages above .400 in at least 400 plate appearances: Rod Barajas, Mike Jacobs, Jimmy Rollins, Clint Barmes, Chris Davis, Hank Blalock, Miguel Olivo, and Bengie Molina. The Mets have two, tried to sign a third, and have another player, Jeff Francoeur, who may very well accomplish this feat. I’m not sure what this says, but it’s got to say something about the team’s thinking. Or maybe it just says that 3 of the 8 were catchers, and the Mets needed a catcher.
Still, I remind myself that every other team has prospects. Jenrry Mejia? He’s got a live arm. So what. Every organization has players with live arms. Sometimes they turn into Mariano Rivera, and sometimes they turn into Ambiorix Burgos. Usually they wind up somewhere in between. But as I learned last year, not every team has players that are ready to stop being prospects and make the plunge, for better or for faceplant.
None of these guys are guaranteed to work out, of course. I try not to get excited about batting practice power and cut fastballs. What I am excited about though, is that instead of guys that definitely won’t work out, the Mets finally have guys that might not work out. It’s a welcome change.
There’s hope in those live arms and quick bats. Even if every other team has them too.
Josh Thole image courtesy of slgckgc.