The MLB draft begins tonight at 7 p.m. EST. I don't mention the time so that readers know when to tune in; rather I say it because it marks a crucial step for the New York Mets rebuilding mode. With the budget supposed to be cut even more next year, the draft figures to be that much more important. Besides that point, there is really no better way to build a competitive team on a consistent basis (plus it's cost efficient) than through developing young players.
The problem with the Mets over the years is that they've had one of the weaker farm systems in the entire major leagues and have really had to overspend for over-the-hill veterans. For this year, ESPN's Keith Law ranked them 26th in the majors, saying: "Earth to Fred Wilpon: This is what a strict adherence to slot recommendations will buy you. Parsimony has its price."
Not many of the other prospect gurus ranked the overall farm system -- but Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein said, " The new administration has much work to do." Continuing with: "Neither great, nor awful, the Mets' organization is a middle-of-the-road one that provides more long-term bets than immediate assistance to the big-league squad."
The major issue with the Mets' system is just that -- they don't have a lot of high-ceiling players ready for the big leagues right now. The injury and Tommy John surgery for Jenrry Mejia, probably their closest major-league ready prospect -- puts a damper on a system that needs an infusion of "sure" talent. Even so, Mejia's ultimate role as a starter versus reliever was questioned.
Besides Mejia, who is the Mets' next best propsect? Even though most of these prospect guys had Wilmer Flores higher heading into the year, you'd have to think that Matt Harvey has really pushed him for the top spot with Mejia down. Harvey, a UNC product, is blazing throught Class A advanced, with a 2.44 ERA and 71 strikeouts (with 20 walks) in 59 innings. On the same team, Flores, just 19, is hitting .259 with four home runs and 36 RBI. He's still young yet -- and very much a question mark -- but the fact that Harvey has really pushed his timetable up gives him the slight edge. Jeurys Familia, in Double-A, is another pitcher with great raw stuff but many question his command and secondary pitches. Between two levels this year, he has a 2.10 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 64 innings but has also walked 20.
Besides these two, is there anyone close to the majors? Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the a 23-year-old center fielder for the Triple-A team, is almost to the point of being overcooked in the minors. Scouts question his ability to play center field and with that comes skeptics that question whether his bat would play in an outfield corner. With a .295/.401/.506 line with six home runs and 14 RBI , he hasn't exactly lit it up this year, but he did have 18 home runs and 77 RBI last season. There doesn't appear to be star potential here, but he does seem destined for a shot (and at least be a steady regular) once Carlos Beltran is moved.
Fernando Martinez is another outfielder who seems to be ready, but also can't stay healthy and sustain production for long periods of time. Plus, he hasn't exactly been too great when he's gotten big-league time. Add in the fact that he has arthritis in his knee, and it's hard to envision the Mets putting too much faith in him.
Reese Havens figured to be the Mets' second baseman of the future, but he's now 24, and hasn't really managed to stay healthy since he was drafted. He's played 11 games this season with a .273/.385/.455 line. There's no clear-cut long-term second base option for the Mets (despite how well Justin Turner has played), but Havens needs to stay off the disabled list and produce from this point onward to really get his shot in the majors.
What does this all mean for the 2011 draft? It's easy to see this team has far too many question marks in the minor leagues than players ready to make an impact now. They also have a number of guys to dream on in the lower levels, but they need so much growth it's hard to bank on them right now. With the success of Harvey, a college-armed 22-year-old, there has been rumblings of the team going to the college pitcher route with their No. 13 pick. You can't argue with that purely based on the fact that college guys are often more polished and the Mets need bodies to move through their system at a quicker pace.