Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tryin to Dig up Dirt on the Farm

I am the one who accused the Mets farm system of being dry, spent, and being a system that has come to an abrupt halt for the first time since the mid-60's since Joe McDonald was over-see'er of operations.  I've said that more than once I suppose.  The last two impact players this system has developed were Jose Reyes and David Wright (and Scott Kazmir).  Those players were inherited by Omar Minaya when he assumed GM duties towards the tail end of the 2004 season.  There has not been a farm development of impact since.  That is the gist of what I've felt for some time now.

But even I can't ignore what is transpiring in Met Camp this spring.  The Mets' minor leaguers are holding their own in camp and some are even impressing.  The player/prospects in camp this year, last year and to a very lesser degree 3 years ago are not just prospects to speak of, they are here in a bunch.  And interestingly this is all after the Johan Santana trade.

Fernando Martinez, Josh Thole, Mike Pelfrey, Fernando Nieve, Jon Niese, Eddie Kunz and Bobby Parnell we already know and are familiar with.  This spring it's hard to ignore what Henrry Mejia, Ike Davis and Miguel Tejada are doing.  I'll be nice and toss in Daniel Murphy and even say there is hope yet for Nick Evans.  My point is, even I have to look around and admit that these guys are here in a bunch.  Where did they all come from?  I, many fans, critics and analysts all agreed the Mets farm system was barren of talent.
I guess they had more than we realized.

This forces my to rethink my whole position.  I'll stick to this century.  As I mentioned Reyes and Wright (and Kazmir) were the last impact players the system produced.  They were drafted under the Steve Phillips/Duquette days.

For ten years I've watched the NYM Class A affiliate, the Brooklyn Cyclones stay in contention within their league.  They've won division titles, appeared in a couple of championship series and even won one.  These are low level prospects and signings from the June draft.  But for ten years I've watched most of them fizzle out at AA Binghamton.  I understand the minor leagues is a weeding out process.  But our prospects were getting outright deleted at Binghamton.  Under Steve Phillips, the Mets hired a Howie Freiling as manager of AA for the 2001 and 2002 seasons.  In 2003 John Stearns was given the job followed by Ken Oberkfell in 2004.

When Omar Minaya took over as GM of the Mets, he hired Tony Bernazard to be his Special Asst. to the GM.  In December of 2004 Tony Bernazard was made Vice President of Development.

The Binghamton Mets made the Eastern League playoffs in 2000 and 2004 and got bounced in the first round both times.  The AA Mets have not made the Eastern League playoffs since.

Upon his promotion, Bernazard purged AA operations and hired Jack Lind to manage Binghamton in 2005.  The next year he hired Juan Samuel to manage.  The team came in 3rd place in 2006.  The following year Bernazard hired Mako Oliveras and he lasted three years finishing 6th, 3rd, and 6th again.  As I mentioned and as you can see, no playoffs and quite poor finishes.

Now I'm stuck trying to make sense of all the possibilities swirling around my skull matter.  I need someone to blame for making me arrive at my original conclusions before I'm ready to admit I fell victim to my own propaganda.

We know Bernazard needed to be fired for his behavior and conduct unbecoming a Team Executive.  He ripped off his shirt and challenged team members of AA to fight in the locker-room.  We know all about that.
My question is, was Tony Bernazard addressing a very real concern and malignant attitudes within the AA team and just went about addressing it in an entirely inappropriate way?  I'm still convinced this farm system was suffering an aneurysm at the AA level.  Again, I have been watching the A-level Brooklyn Cyclones play and move on to A-Long Season and AA only to get caught in the prospect Black Hole.

We (Mets) are still looking for that one prospect we can call Omar's.  There is yet that player we can point to and say, "Yea, that's Omar's guy".  And by Omar we have to include Bernazard.  The quantity (and I am in no way discussing the quality of these prospects here, no.  I merely want to push forward the notion that we have a bunch, and they are working their way into the conversation) of farm hands we are discussing today is very different from the discussion being held just 3 years ago.

Tony Bernazard was fired for his actions in December of 2009.  Tim Teufel will be managing AA this season.  Teuful managed the Cyclones several years ago.

There is no doubt that all the prospects listed in this post are attributable to Omar's regime and in part to Bernazards work.  The two have been over-see'ers of the minor league operation since 2004 (with no AA playoff appearances).  Are we now starting to see the fruits of drafting over the last 4 years? 

Some of the better drafting teams around the league are Milwaukee, Oakland, Boston, L.A., Phila, L.A.A,  etc. - but that's a short list with obvious omissions.  Was Tony Bernazard and Omar Minaya doing a better job than anyone realized and keeping it on the down-low?  That remains to be seen.  These are still prospects and nothing is ever certain with them.  What I am certain of however, is there are more of them to talk about than there have been in the last 6 years.

My position has been that during Phillips as GM the farm system was still operating but in dire need of rejuvenation.  Under Omar Minaya, 2004 through 2007 were meager harvests from the farm; an exhausted soil was producing no more I thought/think.  But then again those year's players would have been some of the previous regime's drafts.  But the trickle which started in 2007 seems to have graduated to a stream it appears.  There is a very healthy amount of young players in camp making a case for themselves why they should be breaking camp with the Mother Ship.

Now again I ask you to judge, did I sell myself on self-hyped, self inflicted propaganda?
Did I jump the gun too early on Omar and Bernazard's effectiveness building the system back up, and we are only now beginning to see the benefits of a couple of years of revamping operations?
Am I wrong to think that in Phillips' last days everything was going to pot and the minor league operations with it?

It's hard to ignore all the prospects and options (if you want to stretch things further) currently in camp being supplied by the farm.  This is Omar and Bernazard's work.  As such Bernazard should be given credit if in fact many of these prospects pan out.  But Damn It!!!  He was a social misfit, quite unprofessional to say the least, and completely out of line with his behavior and absolutely needed to be fired.  But if in fact we are starting to realize the fruits of his unorthodox ways, the only thing I can really say is "Only in Met's Ville".

Maybe that aneurysm I thought the farm suffered from at the AA Level was what Bernazard was looking to correct and he just took the wrong course of action.  Maybe the system's screeching halt I accused the Mets' higher ups of causing was merely the adjustment period from one regime to the other.  I accused Omar of not living up to his reputation as being a talent evaluator.  I accused the system of breathing it's last breaths.

If this is the beginning of a flow of prospects we'll get to see in years to come, then Omar and even Bernazard deserve more credit than I ever gave them regarding this.  Perhaps that aneurysm I thought existed was really the Phillips regimes last gasp of  breath and we're finally seeing the sytem's resuscitation.

Getting a good read on players in spring training is not an exact science.  Minor league player development is.  There's no doubt Tony Bernazard acted like a punk many times, not only during the incident that got him fired.  But if in fact he is the one who fixed the pot hole at AA, all I can say is - What a Shame.  If in fact Omar is equally responsible for a re-invigorated farm, then let's trust him to find another Seargent-at-Arms.
That's if he (and Jerry Manuel) last the season.  These kids just might save both of their jobs.  Only time will tell at this point.

Now if I've over-reacted over the last few years I'll admit being too hard on management.  If I'm wrong, I'll be wrong.  It wouldn't be the first and it won't be the last time.  I just want to wait a little longer and see what happens.  I still feel I'm right about some things, I'm willing to bend on the others.  But we shall see.

The early feel of the 2010 season is tasting eerily similar to last years BeatLoaf so far.  Yep!  These kids could save some jobs, make a lot of fans happy and prove a lot of baseball pundits wrong.  Yep.

This is a work in progress.  There will be no conclusion for this post tonight.  I'm trying to be open when it's easier to just abuse them.  I also had to think about Tony Bernazard in a way no one has really taken the time to consider.  Him being, and acting out like a street punk and the fans not seeing anything coming up the pipe may have eclipsed what good he may have actually affected.  Time will definitely tell.

But today, I post as a pleasantly surprised Met fan, who over the last 2 to 4 days took notice of  the collective group of prospects and said to myself, this looks healthy.  When you deal in quantity you can pick out the quality.  The thing is the numbers.  There's strength in numbers.  Old adage; Same truth.

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