Thursday, May 23, 2013

N.Y. Mets: Build It In Binghamton, And They Will Come

From the desk of:   HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

NEW YORK METS - Breaking Through The Wall.  For Long Mets Prospects Have Hit A Dead End In Binghamton....

In recent years, there has been a renaissance in minor league development, but for long now, we've heard how AA is the new AAA.  Whenever assessing the health of the New York Mets minor league operations, I've always looked to Binghamton first.  For the great majority of minor league players, AA is the level demarcation.  Here, is the teetering point in a minor league player's career - a level where no one is allowed to linger long.  This is where players either get demoted, promoted, or disappear.  In general speak, under-perform and it's back to class-A.  If a player excels, he can potentially expect a major league debut within a reasonably quick time, with only so much as a brief stint in AAA.  Otherwise, time marches on for borderline players and perpetual bus riders excluded from the 40-man roster.  Facing those who cling-on long enough, inevitable waivers, Rule V, minor league free agency, or a jump to the independent circuits awaits them down the road.  Such is the life of an aspiring affiliated baseball player.

Triple-A ball, you have to admit, is overpopulated with rehab assignments, stop-gap one year free agents, and career minor leaguers.  Naturally, that comes with the territory of being a major league affiliate, but to an extent, these are all contrary to the developmental process.  Somewhere along the line, AAA players became akin to weeds - if they were hard to grow, everyone would want them in their gardens too.  Since I'm a little old school, l like to think playing at AAA still offers a genuinely quality experience, yet I understand the prevailing trend is to overindulge in AA players, and can't say that I'm opposed.

Crowning their inaugural season at Binghamton, and first as a New York Mets affiliate, the B-Mets won the 1992 Eastern League championship, repeating the feat two short years later.  The Mets long time AA affiliate of twenty-two years reached the playoffs again in 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2004, but not since.  The last time they finished above .500 came in 2008, when they concluded the season in third place with a 73-69 record.  Only one player from Binghamton's 2008 season currently plays for the Mets - David Wright.  In fact, there is nary a current major league player among the 2008 roster.  That's just one very strong indictment of their system among many.   Since 2008, the B-Mets have posted a 253-312 regular season record, finishing sixth once, and fifth three times. Extend out to encompass the eight year period covering the Omar Minaya and Sandy Alderson era, the Binghamton Mets have posted an overall 520-611 mark.  That said, maybe we can better appreciate the efforts of second year manager Pedro Lopez and the 2013 Binghamton Mets.

With a 26-20 record prior to Thursday's action, the B-Mets are currently tied for second most wins in the Eastern League, and lurk just one game out of first place.  They are one game over .500 on the road, and 15-10 at home.  Both offensively and on the mound, their overall team comparisons actually rank middle of the league.  They lead the circuit in one category, stolen bases, with fifty-three.  That's it.  Instead, they have a solid overall team effort going.

Individually, several players share responsibility for Binghamton's strong start.  More importantly however, two outfielders are trying to make themselves known to Mets hierarchy.  Cory Vaughn, 24, had a tremendous professional debut season with the 2010 Brooklyn Cyclones, leading the New York-Penn League with a .557 slugging average, as well as a .953 OPS.  He finished runner-up in both home runs with fourteen, and runs batted in with fifty-six, and batted .307 in 264 at-bats, all in what is widely considered to be a pitcher's league.  In light of this year's June 6th amateur draft,  Cory was a 2010 fourth round selection.  His performance and luster diminished somewhat during two seasons playing at Savannah and Port St. Lucie, as numbers of Mets fans soured on him as a future Flushing hopeful.  Presently making the most of this year's promotion to AA-Binghamton, Cory Vaughn is fresh off winning the Eastern League's offensive player of the week, for May 13th through the 19th.  For the season, he is batting .301 after 126 at-bats, and with fifteen walks his OBP is up to a .389 mark.  Vaughn has five doubles, five home runs and twenty-seven runs batted in.  Needless to say, after thirty-four games this season, he is making a compelling case for getting back in Mets fans good graces and maybe even earning a ticket to Flushing sometime soon, so as to help alleviate the big club's outfield woes.

Fellow outfielder, Cesar Puello, 22, was a young free agent signed out of the Dominican Republic, who started playing for the Mets Gulf Coast Rookie squad at age seventeen.  After full stints at Kingsport, Savannah and Port St. Lucie, the Mets promoted him to Binghamton for the 2013 season.  He is currently hitting .303 after 132 at-bats, and sports a .366 OBP.  He is slugging a career high  .523, with seven doubles, two triples, and a team leading six home runs.  His twenty-seven runs batted in tie him with Cory Vaughn for the team lead as well.  In thirty-nine games, he additionally has nine stolen bases, forty hits, and twenty-four runs scored.  His previous best season came in 2011 with St. Lucie, when he only batted .259, but hit twenty-one doubles, ten home runs and drove in fifty runs in 441 at-bats.  He displayed good speed with nineteen stolen bases, but lacked discipline at the plate, striking out 103 times.  With thirty-one strikeouts this season, he is off to another prolific rate.

Juan Lagares deserves an honorable mention after spending all of 2012 in Binghamton.  He batted .346 in seventy-eight at-bats for Las Vegas this season, and has been playing for the Flushing Mets since April 23rd.

Binghamton is an early season contender because of their pitching.  Starting with the bullpen, Jeff Walters, 25, was the Mets 2010 seventh round selection.  He currently leads the Eastern League with twelve saves.  He owns a 2.60 ERA after 17.1 innings pitched, has eighteen strikeouts, but allowed sixteen hits and five walks to give him a 1.212 WHiP.

Southpaw Jack Leathersich, 22, continues to pitch with eye-popping results.  A 2011 fifth round selection, he has sixteen appearances with 21.2 innings pitched as the set-up man.  Jack has limited opponents to just four earned runs for a 1.66 ERA.  Fourteen hits allowed and twelve walks give him a somewhat lofty 1.200 WHiP.  His H/9 average is down to 5.8, while his W/9 is improved at 5.9 percent.  His rate of strikeouts continues to skyrocket.  With thirty-eight strikeouts so far, he is averaging 15.8 per nine innings pitched.  Jack has two saves and has finished nine other games.

John Church, 26, was the Mets 23rd round selection of the 2009 draft.  I like him because he's big, as in 6'2'', 235 lbs., big.  Jack Leathersich tips the scale at 205 lbs., while Jeff Walters only comes in at 187 lbs.  In nineteen appearances and 23.1 innings pitched, Church has allowed six earned runs for a 2.31 ERA.  Surrendering nineteen hits and six walks gives him a 1.071 WHiP, a 7.3 H/9, and a 2.3 W/9.  His twenty-five strikeouts gives him a 9.6 K/9 average.

As the outfield and the bullpen are clearly what ail the New York Mets most, these aforementioned players can potentially help the Mets later this season, or by Opening Day 2014, or mid-summer thereof.  Additionally, next year's starting rotation stands to look quite differently than today's version.  By then, the Mets should be featuring Matt Harvey, Jon Niese and Zack Wheeler, complimented in the back of the rotation by the winners of an open competition.  Depending how the rest of Dillon Gee's 2013 campaign goes, he should no longer be a lock for the fourth spot in the rotation.  It stands to reason then, two spots in the starting rotation will be up for grabs next spring, if not sooner.

The 2014 regular season is still too early for tapping into the Mets cache of young pitching currently in Savannah and St. Lucie.  That's why we should sooner expect a pair of this year's Binghamton starters to join the upcoming competition.  With Rafael Montero temporarily in Las Vegas, Logan Everrett continues to solidify the B-Mets starting rotation.  Of course while in Binghamton, Montero is/was getting the lion's share of notoriety.  And why not?  In eight starts and 46.2 innings pitched, his ERA only recently escalated to a 3.47 mark.  Command of the strike zone however is what keeps pushing Montero through the Mets system.  He has only issued six walks while striking out fifty-four.  He averaged 10.4 K/9 and just 1.2 W/9 before being summoned to Las Vegas.  In his much hyped start for the 51's, he pitched 6.2 innings of four hit ball.  Montero allowed two earned runs, one home run, walked one batter, and struck out five, but turned out earning a hard luck loss.

Right-hander Logan Verrett, 22, continues leading Binghamton's rotation with a 6-2 record.  He has a 3.28 ERA after nine starts, and 60.1 innings pitched.  Logan has limited opponents to forty-nine hits, and issued fourteen walks for a respectable 1.044 WHiP.  With forty-five strikeouts and a 6.7 K/9 average, he is not the power pitcher so many others in the Mets system are.  However, in just his second full season of minor league ball, he's making quite a name for himself.

It is hard to predict how soon current select B-Mets can help the big club.  If you believe that if a player succeeds at AA, then the majors are not far off, there you go.  I imagine their continued levels of proficiency will decide how soon we'll ultimately see them in Flushing.  Of course we know success at this level guarantees nothing.  Case in point - Ike Davis, who in 2009 wielded a bat which contended for the Eastern League triple crown, currently has more problems than a math book.  Wilmer Flores batted  .311 for the B-Mets last season, but has yet to find his stroke with Las Vegas.  His replacement at shortstop, Wilfredo Tovar enjoyed a good second half promotion with the B's last year, but so far has stumbled out of the starting block this season as well.  Lastly, Cory Mazzoni is finally back to pitching regularly again.  Following his first start on April 4th, Mazzoni missed the next month, but has now reeled off three starts in May.  Cory is 2-1 in four starts this season, with a 3.60 ERA.  In twenty innings pitched, he has allowed twenty-five hits, but has only walked three batters and struck out eighteen.

The real point is to recognize there is life pumping through the arteries of Binghamton again.  In fact, the Binghamton Mets currently seem quite vigorous.  Recent drafting and replenishment of system's lower levels appear poised to pipeline Binghamton with promising prospects for a few more years to come.  Surely, this year's class and subsequent seasons of Binghamton baseball stand to provide their parent club with more than just one player worthy of major league play, unlike the paucity of promotable prospects on the B-Mets 2008 roster.

So, every time the 2013 New York Mets make you sick this season, take a look towards Binghamton to gauge the real health of the organization.  There is nothing overwhelmingly great going on their, but at the moment, the talent at Binghamton is good, and getting better.


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