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.
There's been much discussion on the impact Omar Minaya has had on the Mets over the past couple of years, particularly the general manager's recommitment to Latino baseball. Heck, there's even a book about that pursuit at the big-league level: Pedro, Carlos and Omar: The Story of a Season in the Big Apple and the Pursuit of Baseball's Top Latino Stars.
As excited as Mets fans rightfully were about the additions of Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and then Carlos Delgado, they should be even more pumped about how the "Latino-ization" of the Mets has infused energy and talent into the farm system.
Since Minaya was named GM in fall 2004, the Mets have signed some high-ceiling international talent, the most notable being uber-outfield prospect Fernando Martinez. The teenage phenom is closer than you might think to New York. He's one step behind fellow Dominican Carlos Gomez (signed in 2002, pre-Omar), allowing Mets fans to dream about an all-Latino outfield of Martinez, Gomez and Beltran.
The next wave is a few steps behind, with Venezuelan hurler Deolis Guerra on a similar fast track. But if you really want to see what this renewed commitment to international scouting is yielding, head to Savannah, the Mets' new South Atlantic League affiliate, where several teenagers are primed for their United States debuts.
Couple these developments with some advanced college pitchers (Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey) rising quickly through the ranks and you've got an organization flush with some serious talent. Those who want to see that talent at the highest Minor League level face a slightly different journey than in years past, since the Mets no longer have their Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, Va. With the Tides rolling out, New Orleans is now home, giving the organization the ability to try the Pacific Coast League on for size while providing a lasting impact on a community that still sorely needs it.
Regardless of where the Mets affiliates are located, things are definitely looking up for the farm system as a whole. Sure, Pedro, Carlos and Carlos (among others) may help New York in the short term, but it's names like Fernando Martinez, Carlos Gomez and Deolis Guerra that should keep the Mets at the top of the NL East for years to come.
Climbing the Ladder
Triple-A New Orleans
Carlos Gomez, OF
Before the 2006 season, the Mets decided to challenge Gomez, then 20, by jumping from low-A ball to Triple-A. They had the feeling the heady youngster would be able to handle it, and they were right. After a rough start and an injury, Gomez recovered to hit .281 for the year with 41 steals. As he continues to grow and mature, he should develop some more power to make him more of a five-tool threat. He's got the arm to play right field, which is a good thing since Carlos Beltran is signed through 2011 to play center in Queens.
Philip Humber, RHP
Humber made an improbable journey from Tommy John surgery in July 2005 all the way to the big leagues last year. In 76 1/3 Minor League innings in 2006, Humber had a 2.83 ERA, 79 strikeouts and a .199 batting average against, returning to form quicker than most. A sore shoulder forced him from getting more innings in the Arizona Fall League last fall, but he's ready to go. Some thought he might get a crack at the No. 5 spot in the rotation (recently won by Mike Pelfrey), but with just over 150 professional innings under his belt, the 24-year-old will head to New Orleans as the staff ace.
Video: Humber in Spring Training
|2006 Organizational Record
|* Won league championship
Others to watch: LHPs Adam Bostick and Jason Vargas came to the Mets from the Marlins in return for Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom. Both will pitch behind Humber and wait for a turn to help the big club should the need arise. ... 1B Brett Harper lost almost all of 2006 with a shoulder injury after hitting 36 homers in 2005. If he can stay healthy, he could put up some good power numbers in the PCL.
Fernando Martinez, OF
It may be a surprise to hear that the 18-year-old Martinez will be heading to Binghamton to start the season. But that was the Mets' plan all along, beginning with the decision to send him to Arizona as the youngest player in AFL history. Martinez hit .253 with a pair of homers there, more than holding his own considering his age. That helped the Mets realize Martinez -- similar to Gomez the year before -- could handle the jump to Double-A. Martinez had just 192 at-bats in low-A ball because of some injuries, but hit .333 during that span and showed plate discipline well beyond his years. That should serve him well with the jump to Double-A, where he'll continue to play center field. The Mets, though, can easily dream of an outfield with Beltran in the middle, flanked by Martinez and Gomez.
|2006 Organizational Leaders
Michael Devaney, Evan MacLane
|Complete MiLB statistics
Kevin Mulvey, RHP
The Mets didn't have a first-round pick in 2006 and grabbed Mulvey out of Villanova with their first selection in the second round. Though he signed late and threw just 15 1/3 innings (followed by 15 more in the AFL), he showed the ability to get Double-A hitters out in three late starts with Binghamton. Mulvey can throw four pitches for strikes, with an above-average fastball, a good slider and curve and a developing changeup. In a year, the Mets could be talking about a homegrown rotation with Pelfrey, Humber and Mulvey. For now, he'll head straight to Binghamton -- thankfully his college career in Philadelphia has him used to pitching in cold weather already.
Others to watch: SS Jose Coronado hasn't hit much in his pro career, but he's an outstanding defensive shortstop. The Mets feel the bat will start coming soon, so they didn't hesitate to send the soon-to-be 21-year-old to Double-A. ... C Mike Nickeas is now the top advanced catching prospect in the system with Jesus Flores gone. The Mets got him from the Rangers for Victor Diaz, and he profiles as a strong defensive backstop. ... OF Corey Coles had a huge year in St. Lucie in 2006, helping them win the FSL title by hitting .341 with a .407 OBP and 21 steals.
Class A Advanced St. Lucie
Dustin Martin, OF
Seniors taken in the 26th round aren't supposed to do much, but Martin has already surpassed expectations. The Sam Houston State product was a New York-Penn League All-Star last summer, hitting .315 and helping Brooklyn make the playoffs. He can play all three outfield positions and runs fairly well. He'll be 23 on Opening Day, so the Mets are skipping Class A ball and sending him right to the FSL.
Deolis Guerra, RHP
Guerra is kind of the pitching version of Fernando Martinez in terms of youth and how excited the organization is about him. He'll turn just 18 this April and will likely be the youngest player in the FSL. At age 17, Guerra had a 2.20 ERA in 17 South Atlantic League starts. Opponents hit just .208 against him, earning Guerra a late promotion to St. Lucie and a playoff start.
Others to watch: Joining Guerra in the St. Lucie rotation should be LHP Jon Niese and RHP Bobby Parnell. Niese led the organization with 142 K's in 133 2/3 innings. Parnell had an up-and-down year, including an injury last spring. He's healthy now and should help give St. Lucie a deep rotation. ... SS Emmanuel Garcia, 21, will leap to Class A Advanced ball after hitting .281 with 22 steals between the Appy and New York-Penn Leagues in 2006. ... OF Sean Henry has taken a little while to develop, but he found a new home in center field and stole 30 bases last year. He moves up to St. Lucie after just 21 low-A games in 2006. ... 1B Nick Evans is a former third baseman with some power potential from the right side. He had 15 homers and 33 doubles in Class A a year ago.
Class A Savannah
Francisco Pena, C
The Mets made a big splash when they signed Pena, son of former big leaguer Tony, to a $750,000 deal last summer. Not surprisingly, he's got outstanding defensive skills, particularly his arm strength and quick release. His overall offensive game has a ways to go, but he does have a good approach and can hit to all fields. Pena is a bright kid who already speaks English fluently, so even though he hasn't played at any kind of pro level yet, the Mets felt he could handle the rigors of a full-season league behind the plate at 17.
John Stinson, RHP
The Mets may have gotten one of the better late draft picks in 2006 when they nabbed Stinson in the 37th round. He made an immediate impression by posting a 1.79 ERA over 40 1/3 innings, finishing the season as an 18-year-old in the South Atlantic League. He was an extreme ground-ball pitcher in the Gulf Coast League, and finished the summer with a 1.83 GO/AO ratio thanks to a fastball with some heavy sink. The Shreveport, La., native will head back to the SAL in 2007, this time with Savannah. At 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, he's got the projectable body that scouts love and a three-pitch mix that should enable him to be a decent starter down the road.
Others to watch: The Mets are being very aggressive with a number of their Latino prospects, not just Pena. Joining the catcher will be a number of players making their United States debuts. SS Juan Lagares is an 18-year-old shortstop who hit .255 and stole 12 bases for the Mets' Dominican Summer League team in 2006. ... His double-play partner will be fellow 18-year-old Greg Veloz, who hit .262 and stole 28 bags in the DSL. ... By comparison, OF Jonathan Sanchez and INF Hector Pellot are old-timers. Sanchez, 21, played in the DSL back in 2004, missed all of 2005 due to injury and made his U.S. debut last year in Brooklyn and Hagerstown. Pellot is 20, made his debut last year with Hagerstown as a second baseman but hit just .189, so he'll get another crack at the level.
Under the Radar
Jose Coronado/Jose Castro, SS
Coronado and Castro are a level apart, but they're kind of in the same boat. They've drawn plaudits for their defensive play, but haven't hit much as pros so far. Coronado has hit .244, Castro just .236. But both have shown improvement, particularly with their approach at the plate, leaving them poised for a breakout in 2007.
Daniel Murphy, 3B
Murphy didn't get the chance to make much of a first impression last summer. After the Mets took him in the 13th round out of Jacksonville University last June, he got just 80 at-bats because of injury. The lefty-hitting infielder hit .398 in his final year at Jacksonville with a 1.004 OPS, and the Mets are confident he can hit as a pro. Now healthy, he's had great at-bats this spring with a tremendous approach at the plate. He's even looked good at third, though it's uncertain whether he'll be able to stay there in the long term.
2006 Draft Recap
It was obvious the Mets were targeting pitching in this draft. Eight of their first 10 picks were pitchers and six of the first seven make their living on the mound. Third-rounder Joe Smith, a college reliever, made it to Double-A last summer and finished with 40 strikeouts, a .190 batting average against and a 2.48 ERA over 32 2/3 innings. A strong spring will land him in the big-league bullpen to start this season. ... RHP Tobi Stoner (16) was outstanding in Brooklyn, going 6-2 with 2.15 ERA over 83 2/3 frames. The league hit just .219 against him. ... RHP John Holdzkom (4) has one of the best fastballs in the class, but doesn't always command it well. He fanned a batter an inning, but walked almost as many and finished with a 7.71 ERA.
Organizational Player of the Year -- Carlos Gomez
It's a little too much to ask Martinez to jump to Double-A and be the organization's top hitter. Gomez isn't exactly a fall-back plan and should put up some gaudy numbers with New Orleans while getting ready for the bigs in 2008.
Organizational Pitcher of the Year -- Deolis Guerra
Mulvey's probably the safer choice, or Humber, if you think he'll be in Triple-A most of the year. But Guerra's got that projectable body, the vast ability to improve on a fine 2006 season and a very friendly pitching league to call home.
"I don't think it will affect anything from the development standpoint. It's going to mean a lot more travel for us, but for me it's closer to home. I'm looking forward to it. I was in the PCL way back when, but with some of these new ballparks, I'm excited about it." -- New Orleans Zephyrs manager Ken Oberkfell, a Houston native, on the new Triple-A affiliate