Stars keep Mets on the winning track

Righty Montero strikes out 150 across the highest two levels

Rafael Montero led all Mets Minor Leaguers with 150 strikeouts. (Kathy Willens/AP)

By Robert Emrich / | November 21, 2013 5:00 AM

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

This season the Mets system built upon the on-field success established in 2012. The club compiled a .533 winning percentage, the second straight season with a record above .500.

Double-A Binghamton went 86-55, the best mark in the Eastern League, before falling to Trenton in the first round of the playoffs. Triple-A Las Vegas and Rookie-level Kingsport also reached the postseason before exiting in the first round as well.

The most successful team was Class A Savannah, which won the South Atlantic League Southern Division first-half title. The club then went 5-1 en route to winning the club's first championship in 17 years.

On the player front, first-round pick Dominic Smith finished seventh among Mets farmhands with a .301 average in his pro debut. Zack Wheeler was 4-2 in 13 Triple-A starts before making his Major League debut in June while Travis d'Arnaud, the club's top position prospect, joined Wheeler at Citi Field later in the season.

Mets Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Kevin Plawecki, Savannah (65 games), St. Lucie (60 games): Mostly an afterthought heading into the season, Plawecki started out strongly for Savannah, smacking 31 extra-base hits in 245 at-bats before being promoted to the Class A Advanced Florida State League.Though his extra-base pop later diminished, he still batted a solid .294 and posted a 19-21 walk-to-strikeout ratio for St. Lucie. Overall, he finished fifth in the organization with a .305 average and tied for fifth with 80 RBIs.

"He was a high pick for us in the comp round in the 2012 Draft," director of player development Paul DePodesta said. "We thought he had a chance to be an offensive player at a premium defensive position. We were certainly thrilled with what he did in 2013 on both sides of the ball. He did well with both pitching staffs he worked with. Offensively, he started hot and never really let up. He did well at two places that are difficult hitting enviroments. An impressive year all around."

First base -- Allan Dykstra, Binghamton (122 games): A first-round pick by the Padres in the 2008 Draft, Dykstra had a breakout season, earning Mets co-Player of the Year honors along with Plawecki. The California native led the Eastern League with a .938 OPS for the Mets, drawing 101 walks and slugging 21 homers en route to winning the league MVP award. Dykstra drove in 82 runs, fourth among Mets Minor Leaguers and scored 56 times.

"I don't think he did a whole lot different," DePodesta said of Dykstra's season. "I think the main difference was he hit for a little bit of a higher average. He's always gotten on base and done damage. He's always been a productive offensive player, even when he's not hitting for average. No doubt he had a terrific year. As productive as any player as in the Eastern League."

Second base -- Wilmer Flores, Las Vegas (107 games), (New York 27 games): Long considered one of the Mets' best position prospects, Flores cemented that status with a strong season in the Pacific Coast League. The 22-year-old Venezuela native batted .321, slugged 15 homers and drove in 86 runs, the latter of which was good for second most in the organization. Flores also smacked 36 doubles, third in the Pacific Coast League, despite playing fewer games than the two players ahead of him. He also played more second base than he had before in his career, putting together a .975 fielding percentage in 79 games at the position.

"This is his first full season playing second base," DePodesta said. "He came up as a shortstop and got some exposure to second last year in Double-A. Really happy with the progress at second base, turns a really good double play and had good hands. I think he makes all the plays you expect a guy to make and he does it while being a middle-of-the-order bat. We think he has a chance to hit at the Major League level.

"He's a physical young man and is still growing into a big frame. I think he's starting to tap into that power -- some of those doubles are starting to turn into homers. I think the hardest thing is that he was such a big name at 15, 16, coming out of Venezuela. It's hard to say he's only 21 even though he's been a name in the Minors for five years. I think what he might look like at 25, 26, 27 as an offensive player is pretty exciting."

Third base -- Zach Lutz, Las Vegas (111 games), New York (15 games): A fifth-round pick by the Mets in 2007, Lutz has been one of the steadiest contributors in the system, never posting an OPS lower than .800 or having an average below .278 over the course of a season. This season was no exception as the Pennsylvania native hit .293, slugged 13 homers, drove in 80 runs and posted an .856 OPS for the 51s.

"He's always hit, he had a couple of years where he battled some freak injuries," DePodesta said. "This year he was healthy, spent some time in the Majors. He's dangerous, hits the ball very hard, has a good strike zone. He's improved defensively, played some at first and some in the outfield to improve his versatility."

Shortstop -- Wilfredo Tovar, Binghamton (133 games), New York (seven games): A keystone player on one of the best teams in the Eastern League, Tovar produced solid numbers, batting .263 with 33 walks, 12 stolen bases and scored 70 runs. Tovar, who turned 22 during the season, was also the best defensive shortstop in the league, committing nine errors in 128 games in the field and was second among shortstops with 65 double plays. The defensive numbers don't quite put into context how good he is defensively, according to DePodesta.

"His defense is special, it's really, really good," he said. "It's a difficult one when you have a player that is so advanced on one side of the ball. From a player development [point of view], it's difficult to figure out what the right level is for him. Defensively right now, no doubt in our minds, he could play every day in the Majors. The bat has progressed. [He] got off to a slow start but swung the bat a lot better in the second half. We'll see what the offense looks like moving forward."


Dustin Lawley, St. Lucie (122 games), Las Vegas (six games): After two solid seasons in the system, Lawley exploded in 2013, leading the organization with 26 homers and 96 RBIs. The 24-year-old batted .262, earned Florida State League All-Star honors and ended up being named the league's Player of the Year as well.

"It was a big, big year," DePodesta said. "He didn't come with a lot of fanfare, he was a senior sign in 2011. Last year, he went to Savannah and had a very good year but was obscured a little by the ballpark. Then he goes to St. Lucie this year and had a monster year -- 25 homers there, went to Vegas and hit a few more.

"He hits the ball extraordinarily hard, he's super strong, he also plays third base. He's a good athlete, he really does move well defensively. He's a legitimate right-handed power bat, which can be hard to find."

Travis Taijeron, St. Lucie (55 games), Binghamton (65 games): An 18th-round pick in 2011, Taijeron began the year in the Florida State League, hitting .303 with a .960 OPS before injuries sent the California native to Double-A. Though his average dipped to .243, Taijeron slugged 14 homers, giving him a season total of 23, and compiled an .826 OPS in 65 Eastern League contests.

"Almost the same story as Dustin Lawley," said DePodesta. "Another guy who was a senior sign. Went to Savannah last year and tore it up in the first half and went to St. Lucie and struggled. Started in St. Lucie and hit over .300 with a lot of power. And then we had some injuries in Double-A and he moved up and held his own there and hit some homers. More of a corner outfielder -- he's another guy who's dangerous, he has big right-handed power."

Cesar Puello, Binghamton (91 games): Despite missing the final month of the season due to his BioGenesis suspension, Puello's numbers were good enough to put him among organization and league leaders. The 22-year-old batted .326 while slugging 16 homers and driving in 73 runs, with the latter two numbers representing career highs. Puello also stole 24 bases and posted a .950 OPS for the Mets.

"It was very exciting," DePodesta said of Puello's season. "He's always had the tools. Puello's always been a guy who's had as many tools as anyone, a true five-tool talent. We had seen flashes of tools through the year but had never put them together on a consistent basis until this year. Hits for average, hits for power, plays defense, runs, throws. He missed the last 50 games because of his connection to BioGenesis, but when he was on the field, he was a dynamic player."

Utility -- Jayce Boyd, Savannah (65 games), St. Lucie (58 games): After scuffling in his pro debut in 2012, Boyd more than rebounded in the South Atlantic League, hitting .361 for the Sand Gnats and earning a promotion to St. Lucie in the process. Predictably, the average inevitably dipped there, but the Florida State product still batted .291 for the club and led the organization with a .330 average between the two stops. Boyd also collected 40 extra-base hits, 83 RBIs and 61 walks.

"He's always hit. He has raw power, though he didn't show it in college," he said. "He's a good hitter, a guy who's gonna hit for average, who's gonna drive the ball in the gap, who doesn't strike out and who walks -- which is a combo we like. That park in Savannah is one of the toughest parks in baseball to hit, and to go down there and hit .360 is remarkable. I think, for the year, he basically had as many walks as strikeouts, it was very close. He's a tough out. As he continues to progress, he's going to tap into that raw power he shows in batting practice."

[Ed. note: Boyd indeed had 61 walks and 61 strikeouts.]

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Rafael Montero,Binghamton (11 games), Las Vegas (16 games): Montero's 2013 season was simply more of the same from the 23-year-old. He went 12-7 with a 2.78 ERA and led the organization with 150 strikeouts while pitching at the highest two levels of the Minors. Montero held opponents to a .232 average and allowed six home runs in 155 1/3 innings while issuing 35 walks.

"He's always been an extreme strike thrower, which I think has been one of the reasons behind his quick rise," DePodesta said. "We were most impressed with two things: The first was that, after his first four or five starts in Triple-A, he walked more guys than he's ever walked before. He made that adjustment and started attacking guys more and more, and by the end, he was the same guy he had always been in A-ball and Double-A.

"The second thing, which I think ties into that, he's a fly-ball guy and he gave up just four homers pitching in Vegas. I think that's pretty remarkable, I think it shows the weak contact he gets, even though it's primarily fly balls."

Honorable mention: Gabriel Ynoa, Savannah (22 games): The Mets Pitcher of the Year led the organization with 15 wins and was fifth with a 2.72 ERA for the Sand Gnats. Ynoa was a big contributor to Savannah's championship run, allowing two runs over 14 2/3 innings while racking up a pair of wins.

"We think he's the next Montero in our organization," DePodesta said of the 20-year-old. "You hear the term 'projectable lefty' often. You don't hear the 'projectable right-hander' often, but that's what Ynoa is. When he first came over from the Dominican Summer League and pitched in the Gulf Coast League in 2011, [he had a] very clean delivery, good tempo and was mainly at 87-89 mph, but had a good year because he's a good strike thrower. He was only 17, 18 at the time.

"He goes to Brooklyn [in 2012] and the velocity is more like 88-91 mph and occasionally touched 93 mph. He had a dominant year in Brooklyn. This year it was 90-94 mph and touching 95 mph. He's still a very young guy -- we're very excited to see the continued development because of the great delivery and athleticism. He's a guy who has a chance to move quickly if he keeps this up."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Steven Matz, Savannah (21 games): You'd be forgiven for not knowing much about this 2009 second-round pick. Matz entered 2013 having played in six professional games following 2010 Tommy John surgery. The 22-year-old had a stellar season, posting a 2.62 ERA while fanning 122 batters over 106 1/3 innings for the Sand Gnats. He was just as good in the postseason, not yielding a run in two starts.

"I think we were just so happy for Steven," DePodesta said. "He's put in so much work and so much time and all the rehab ... and had gotten to a point where he could pitch a full season. He had a terrific year, his ERA was great and he struck out a ton of a guys. He has a plus changeup to go with his fastball.

"The thing we were happiest about was his 21 regular-season starts. Just the fact that he was able to take the ball that many times and have no injuries. He's always had the stuff, it was just a matter of him being healthy."

Reliever -- Jeff Walters, Binghamton (53 games): The best closer in the Eastern League, Walters set a single-season Binghamton record with 38 saves. The Florida native added four wins, posted a 2.08 ERA and struck out 60 batters in 56 innings for the Mets. DePodesta thinks Walters is someone who might come out of the big club's bullpen in 2014.

"He certainly could -- he has the stuff to, he has the mentality to," he said. "He had a terrific year, led the league in saves, has a plus fastball, plus slider and pounds the zone with it. He's very aggressive with it, I could see him making the jump to the big leagues in 2014. We'll see what happens, but I'd certainly feel confident that he could do the job out there."

Robert Emrich is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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