Tuesday, April 12, 2016

N.Y. Mets: Las Vegas 51s 2016 Preview

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

Home of the Las Vegas 51s

LAS VEGAS 51's: Should the Mets continue rolling the dice in Sin City? They've been lucky so far...

The New York Mets' player development agreement with the Las Vegas 51s expires this season.  Options for both teams are clear - come Autumn they must mutually renew for two, or four years, or part ways.

How did the Mets end up in the Nevada desert in the first place?

Many fingers point directly at Omar Minaya's regime.  After the 2006 season, Norfolk served the Mets with divorce papers, thus ending a 38 year relationship.  The displaced Mets wound up in New Orleans for a brief two year fling with the Zephyrs (whom won a division title in 2007, which incidentally remains their last).  But, that felt like exile more than anything.

Omar Minaya then seemingly found the Empire State promised land when he and the Buffalo Bisons entered into a PDA in September 2009.  But within short two years, Buffalo grew displeased with Minaya, whom was dismissed as Mets general manager, and replaced by Sandy Alderson.  The new Mets general manager succeeded in extending their strained agreement with the Bisons for another two seasons, but not a day longer.  Buffalo moved on from the Mets with haste after 2012 (citing a lack of talent among other their gripes).

In fact, a major PDA reshuffling took place between MLB clubs and respective AAA affiliated members during the 2012 Open Period.  When the musical chairs stopped, Las Vegas and the Mets were the proverbial last clubs standing, which effectively forced them into an agreement together.

The clubs even renewed their PDA in 2014.

For the Mets, affiliating with Las Vegas has helped removed some sense of being AAA nomads.  And in truth, the logistical effects Mets fans initially feared over having the team's affiliate so far away from New York City have proved negligible for three full seasons now.

From a Las Vegas fan's point of view, I suppose it's been both good and hot times in the city.  I don't think locals would disagree.  Once affiliated with the Mets, the 51s won back-to-back division titles in 2013 and 2014, and came just a game short of capturing a third straight PCL South Division flag last season.

Prior to their agreement with the Mets, Las Vegas last won a division title back in 2002 when still affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  A long playoff drought then ensued throughout the remainder of their affiliation with the Dodgers, then continued through their four years (2009-2012) with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Other factors Sandy Alderson and the front office should consider nevertheless remain.

The 51s have been under new ownership since 2013, whom thus far have failed to escape outdated Cashman Field for typical reasons - municipalities and politics, financing, and
business enterprise usually tend to stymie any given process.  Specific to this case, a new stadium on the western edge of the city remains questionable, if not doubtful.   Proposed solutions with the city itself have similarly failed to gain traction.

At the risk of insulting local fan's whom may find Cashman Field more near and dear to them (than perhaps yours truly from Brooklyn), the near 35-year old complex is notoriously substandard for AAA-level baseball.  That's a wide circulating Baseball industry opinion (not necessarily mine, although I have visited Cashman Field and was simply happy to be there).

Moreover, many Mets fans, and even local media to a certain extent, continue making arid conditions and varying elevation levels within Pacific Coast League member locations a point of contention when ever the subject of Mets prospects playing in Las Vegas is broached.

I perhaps do not feel as strongly as others.  I would offer Mets pitching prospects are better served passing through Vegas under pitching coach Frank Viola's influence, and facing the challenge pitching in the PCL poses head on.  I believe strongly in a pitcher's ability to adapt, overcome, and learning art of alternative strategies.

My opinion aside, as an organizational executive Sandy Alderson must nevertheless attempt to optimize his minor league structure and operation, and strongly consider getting back into the International League.  Of course, the 2016 Open Period will dictate much of that.   But should an opportunity present itself, perhaps Sandy Alderson should seize it.

Even then, one must be fair.  No one can argue the mutual relationship, in any way, has been counterproductive.

Team Preview/Potential Reinforcements

On the mound, the 51s feature Rafael Montero, whom at the moment, might represent the lone starting reinforcement the Mets can reasonably call upon.  Although being utilized as a starter by Wally Backman in Vegas, Montero was primarily used in the bullpen during his brief stint with the Mets last year.  His season ponderously ended prematurely last year due to what initially began as shoulder stiffness.  In 2013, he made eight starts for the Mets.  He did himself no favors this season during Grapefruit League play.

Starters Seth Lugo and Gabriel Ynoa are making their first respective touches at the AAA level.

As far as bullpen reinforcements, the graduates of Binghamton are led by prospect Jeff Walters and Paul Sewald.  Reliever Josh Smoker is a well-traveled 27-year old.  As a seven year minor league veteran, he's perhaps a bit more seasoned and could conceivably see time in Queens this season.  Zack Thornton is likewise 27-years old and a seven year minor league veteran, however, his chances of pitching off the Citi Field mound grow more remote by the day.

More familiar relievers Mets fans may see from time to time are Erik GoeddelDario Alvarez, certainly Sean Gilmartin, and perhaps even Chase Huchingson.
Behind the dish, the Mets recently signed Rene Rivera, and still retain Johnny Monell, whom started Las Vegas' opening game on Thursday.

The Las Vegas infield is potentially their ultimate strength.  Shortstop has been a point a contention for the New York Mets in recent seasons, and although addressed during the off-season, Gavin Cecchini appears a year closer to the big leagues after enjoying a breakout season last year with Binghamton.

Of course, all eyes will remain on the highly touted second baseman Dilson Herrera.  The infield will also feature Matt Reynolds, and a token mention to Danny Muno.

In the outfield, Brandon Nimmo, now 23-years old, is the player who'll be most scrutinized this season.  Sandy Alderson's very first amateur draft pick back in 2011 (13th overall), is entering his second season with Las Vegas.  In 32 games last season, he batted .264 with 3 home runs and a .393 OBP in 91 at-bats.  Many fans are beginning to doubt his ability, noting his underwhelming rise through the minor league levels.

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