The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, each preseason, MLB.com takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.
The Mets will be the first to say that reports of the farm system's demise following the Johan Santana deal have been greatly exaggerated.
Yes, the Mets gave up four of their top 10 or so prospects in the deal for the left-hander. Yes, they lost other talented Minor Leaguers in deadline deals last summer. But the cupboard, they insist, is not bare.
It certainly ain't what it used to be, no matter how it's portrayed. But that's life in New York, where winning now is Rule No. 1 and the farm system is developed for trade purposes.
The good news is that the Mets did not have to part with Fernando Martinez in that deal, and the uber-prospect is poised to break out in 2008, with the possibility of joining Santana in New York before season's end not so far-fetched.
There are some other intriguing names still around, but in many ways the system's success centers around how quickly F-Mart can realize his ridiculous potential.
Ten prospects to watch out for in 2008:
Wilmer Flores, SS
Since Omar Minaya took over as general manager, the Mets have been extremely active on the Latin American scouting front. Flores is the latest high-profile prospect to join the system and the Mets are very excited about what he can do, especially after a strong showing at instructs.
Flores is lean and tall and his best tool is undoubtedly his bat, drawing comparisons to a Miguel Cabrera when he first began his pro career. He'll stay at shortstop for now, but there's a chance he'll grow out of the position and end up at third. It's up in the air where he'll begin the year and the Mets will use Spring Training to determine if he's ready to go to Savannah on Opening Day or if having him stick around in extended spring training makes more sense.
Eddie Kunz, RHP
The Mets didn't have a pick in last year's draft until the supplemental first round (No. 42 overall) and they used it to take Kunz, the big right-handed closer out of Oregon State. He struggled a bit in his pro debut and in the Arizona Fall League, but considering he had helped OSU win its second straight national title, he gets a bit of a mulligan.
|ON THE VERGE
Here's a player on the brink of breaking into the Major Leagues:
• Carlos Muniz, RHP
His 54 saves over the past two years show he doesn't mind pressure. He won't close but could help back up Billy Wagner.
Audio: Muniz closes it out
At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Kunz has tremendous presence and likes to be on the mound in pressure situations. His fastball, which sits in the mid-90s, works as a power sinker and has plenty of movement. He also throws a slider and can throw a changeup. The Mets drafted him in the hopes he'd move quickly and that's still the plan, with the right-hander likely to begin the year with Double-A Binghamton.
Audio: Kunz gets a K and a save
Fernando Martinez, OF
In some ways, the key to the Johan Santana deal was the fact that New York did not have to give up its top prospect. Martinez is a natural hitter, the kind of talent the Mets feel comes around once in a generation.
Martinez missed a lot of time in 2007 with a broken hamate bone, but he's completely healthy and he showed up to camp this spring with the goal of reaching the big leagues this season -- before he turns 20. He has the ability to hit for average and power and can run, though as he fills out, that might not be the best of his five tools. His makeup is off the charts -- he's worked tirelessly at improving his English and is willing to do what it takes to become great. He'll start the year at Binghamton and the Mets won't get in the way of his talent. If he stays healthy and produces the way he's capable, he could see New York before season's end.
Audio: Martinez hits a walk-off single
Scott Moviel, RHP
There's no doubt Moviel, the Mets' second-round pick last June, will stand out in a crowd. At 6-foot-11, that much is certain. It also seems like the kid can pitch a little.
Moviel has proven to be extremely coordinated and athletic, especially considering his size. He throws three pitches -- fastball, changeup and breaking pitch -- and he's got plenty of potential for increased velocity. The breaking ball is what needs the most work; right now, it's a curve and he'll continue to develop it. Though he's just out of high school, his athleticism should help him handle a full-season assignment in Savannah.
Daniel Murphy, 3B
There are some players who simply are hitters, and the Mets feel Murphy fits in that category. Taken in the 13th round of the 2006 draft out of Division II Jacksonville University, Murphy had his pro career slowed in his debut summer due to injuries. He bounced back with a solid, if unspectacular, year in St. Lucie for his full-season debut and played well in Hawaii Winter Baseball.
The left-handed-hitting Murphy's got a line drive stroke that produced 11 homers and 34 doubles in the Florida State League, and there might be more power to come. Primarily a third baseman, he'll get some work at first and even some in the outfield to increase his flexibility and give the organization more options. He'll work on becoming an offensive-minded utility guy with Binghamton this season.
Audio: Murphy ties it with one swing
Jonathan Niese, LHP
Niese showed up to Spring Training a year ago about 30 pounds overweight and paid the price for much of the season in St. Lucie as he tried to get in shape and then readjust to his body. He took better care of himself as the season wore on and had the results to show for it (a 2.62 ERA in six August starts).
Now taking conditioning and, more importantly, nutrition seriously, Niese was in tip-top shape this spring and has looked very sharp. He's got a very smooth delivery and repeats his mechanics well. That enables him to throw his fastball, changeup and his best pitch, a 12-to-6 curve, for strikes at any point in the count. With the lesson learned, Niese could step up and help fill the void left by the departures of Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra. He'll begin the year in Binghamton's rotation.
Audio: Niese's ninth K
Robert Parnell, RHP
People look at the right-hander and see his power arsenal -- fastball/slider -- and the fact that his third pitch, a changeup, is behind the other two and say he belongs in the bullpen. He throws in the low- to mid-90s and can touch 97 mph, and there's little doubt that in a short relief role, he'd be in the upper-90s consistently.
But here's the thing. Parnell can maintain his velocity deep into games and that's something that isn't easily found. So the Mets are inclined to leave him in a rotation, at least for now, so he can continue to work on all of his pitches and stay in the same routine. He'll do that in Binghamton, and perhaps after this year, if the changeup doesn't come around, a switch will be made.
Audio: Parnell strikes out the side
Francisco Pena, C
The Mets were aggressive with Pena and several other international signees last year and Savannah's roster was full of teenagers. The son of Tony Pena, Francisco started out like he'd handle the transition just fine, hitting .278 in April and .256 in the first half.
Then the wheels fell off and Pena saw first-hand just how long a full season is. He hit just .166 after the break and clearly was out of gas. He learned how important staying in shape, eating well and resting is over the long haul of a pro season. He'll go back to Savannah for another try and, since he'll be just 18 all year, it's not like he's fallen behind the curve.
Video: Around the Minors with Pena
Brant Rustich, RHP
Another big right-hander with arm strength, the Mets got Rustich out of UCLA with a second-round pick. A reliever in college who had issues with a finger injury, Rustich has been working this spring to convert into a starter, something he did at the beginning of his up-and-down college career.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander does have the stuff to succeed, with a fastball, slider and split-finger fastball. Command was an issue for much of his college career, but he was a strike-thrower during his pro debut last summer. The Mets say they were planning on making Rustich into a starter all along -- that is wasn't a reaction to the Santana trade -- but just took it easy on him last summer after a long college year. Whatever the case, he'll join a rotation in April, either St. Lucie's or Binghamton's, depending on how he takes to the transition.
Audio: Rustich strikes 'em out
Nathan Vineyard, LHP
The Mets feel they made up for a lack of a true first-round pick by getting a talent like Vineyard in the supplemental first round. The teenager out of Georgia came highly recommended by scout Sandy Johnson. And when Johnson talks, people tend to listen.
Vineyard's got a good three-pitch mix with a fastball, slider and changeup to go with a poise and maturity far beyond his years. With smooth mechanics and a competitive streak, he's making a very easy transition to the pro game. That's why the Mets likely will not have any problem sending him to full-season Savannah to start the year.
Under the Radar
Michel Abreu, 1B
Remember him? Abreu was a Cuban defector who made his Mets debut in 2006 at age 26. The first baseman promptly led the Double-A Eastern League in batting average (.332) and on-base percentage (.404) while finishing third in slugging (.530). From there, he went on to put up good numbers in the Arizona Fall League. Sure he was older, but it seemed like he might be able to contribute soon. Then 2007 came. Abreu made it to camp in St. Lucie but had problems with his work visa. He was allowed to stay in the country, but he wasn't legally able to work. So he missed the entire season, spending it working out at the Mets' facilities in St. Lucie. That's all straightened out now and he's in big league camp. He missed some time with a strained hip flexor, but was getting a lot of time with the injuries to Carlos Delgado and Marlon Anderson. He's no kid -- general consensus is that he's now 33, though that's been tough to confirm -- but with the problems the Mets are having at first base, having Abreu at Triple-A New Orleans might not be a bad thing.
Nick Evans, 1B
Taken in the fifth round back in 2004 out of high school, Evans has been making slow but steady progress up the Mets' ladder. He missed some time in 2007 with injuries but managed to raise his average more than 30 points (along with vast improvement in OBP and SLG) from his full-season debut in 2006. He matched his career high with 15 homers in 103 games, and the right-handed hitter might have more power to come. He'll head to Binghamton at age 22.
Audio: Evans goes deep again
Dylan Owen, RHP
The Mets took Owen out of Francis Marion University in South Carolina in the 20th round of last year's draft. He promptly set the New York-Penn League on fire, going 9-1 with a 1.49 ERA for Brooklyn while holding opponents to a .197 average. He was named a league All-Star as well as Topps' NYP Player of the Year and MiLB.com's Short-Season Starting Pitcher of the Year. He's a strike-thrower who's already thrown expectations for a Division II pitcher taken that late in the draft out the window. Won-loss record isn't the best way to measure a pitcher's value, but it's clear that Owen had some serious success in 2007. He went 10-1 in his final season at Francis Marion, giving him a 19-2 record -- and an ERA well under 1.50 -- for the year.
Audio: Owen rings up another
Hector Pellot, 2B
Sometimes repeating a level is a good thing. Pellot was sent to the South Atlantic League in 2006 at age 19, and it didn't go so well. The second baseman hit .189 in 100 games for Hagerstown, then the Mets' affiliate. Last year, he went back to the SAL, this time with Savannah, and the results were much different. Pellot batted .274 with 33 steals in 114 games and was named a SAL All-Star. He finished the season with a nice six-game stretch in St. Lucie and a good showing in Hawaii Winter Baseball, so he's ready for a full year with St. Lucie at age 21.
Audio: Pellot pounds one
2007 Draft Recap
RHP Stephen Clyne (3rd round), a fifth-year senior out of Clemson, posted a 2.05 ERA and eight saves in 20 games for Brooklyn. He struck out 30 over 26 1/3 IP and held opponents to a .214 average. ... 1B/OF Lucas Duda (7th) hit .299 with a .398 OBP in 67 games for Brooklyn, then batted .340 in 15 games in Hawaii Winter Baseball. ... SS Matt Bouchard (11th) was a New York-Penn League All-Star even though he hit just .267 in 70 games. He finished strongly, batting .348 with a .937 OPS over his final 22 games. Between Kingsport and Brooklyn, LHP Michael Antonini (18th) had a 1.96 ERA over 36 2/3 IP. He struck out 30 and walked seven while holding opponents to a combined .216 average.
Video: Clyne K's two for the save
Video: Duda doubles twice
Audio: Bouchard's walk-off blast
Audio: Antonini posts his seventh K
Organizational Player of the Year: Fernando Martinez
Come on, you think we'd really pick someone else? The only thing that would keep this from happening is if he's so good, he ends up in New York earlier in the year. But this is the season he really starts putting it together.
Organizational Pitcher of the Year: Jonathan Niese
Someone needs to fill the void created by the trades, and Niese looks ready to step up. In great shape and ready to prove he can contribute, look for him to be ready to hit the bigs by 2009.
Level-repeater of the year: Francisco Pena
If you push a teenager to full-season ball and he fails, there's the benefit of the fact that sending him back to that level won't hurt him because he's so young. Pena will have learned his lessons from last year's disappointment and show why he was such a highly sought prospect when the Mets signed him.
Good college reliever, bad college reliever: Eddie Kunz will hit the ground running and dominate Binghamton and New Orleans, reaching the Mets' bullpen by the All-Star break. Brant Rustich's transition to starting won't go nearly as well and the Mets will move him back to the 'pen right around the time Kunz hits Shea.
"We gave up a lot of talent for Johan Santana, but we still have plenty of players. Our scouting department did a tremendous job getting us players. We have three [early] picks this year, so we'll be in an even better position to help the ballclub, either directly or through trades. We're OK. We're more than OK." -- Mets vice president of player development Tony Bernazard