First round studs flourish in Port St. Lucie

By Adam MacDonald / St. Lucie Mets | April 13, 2016 11:50 AM

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Two years ago the cover of the St. Lucie Mets program featured former St. Lucie Mets aces Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and a silhouette of a pitcher asking "Who's Next?" It implied that the next great Mets pitcher was groomed in Port St. Lucie.

It turned out to be right. Jacob deGrom pitched briefly for St. Lucie in 2013 and went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2014. Steven Matz began his 2014 season in PSL and dominated the Florida State League. A year later he was in the big leagues.

Now it looks like the time of the great minor league pitcher has passed. Last summer, in order to boost the major league roster and make a World Series run, General Manager Sandy Alderson traded away several talented minor league pitchers to bring back major league bats and relievers. Budding pitchers Michael Fulmer, John Gant, Casey Meisner, Matt Koch and a handful of others were shipped off. That's the price a team pays to win now.

What softened the blow for the Mets was they knew their current rotation is young, uber talented and under team control. Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz and Zack Wheeler will make it tough for any current Mets minor league starter to reach Citi Field.

The 2015 summer purge of Mets minor league pitching was two fold. Yes, it weakened the system overall, but it also brought to the forefront some promising position players.

The Mets brass could see this coming. When Alderson took over as GM in 2010 he knew the starting pitching was already in the pipeline so he has used every first round pick in his tenure on a position player. All four - Brandon Nimmo in 2011, Gavin Cecchini in 2012, Dominic Smith in 2013 and Michael Conforto in 2014 - have played in St. Lucie in the past two seasons.

And they have all played extremely well.

Nimmo, an outfielder from Wyoming who played American Legion baseball because his high school didn't have a team, was a Florida State League All Star in 2014. He lasted half the season before being promoted to Binghamton.

Cecchini, a short stop from Louisiana, started his 2014 season in Single-A Savannah and was promoted to St. Lucie midseason after an All Star appearance with the Sand Gnats. He finished 2014 with St. Lucie and spent all of 2015 with Binghamton where he was named the Eastern League's Rookie of the Year

Smith and Conforto both started 2015 in St. Lucie. Conforto put together an All Star first half and was promoted to Double-A before participating in the All Star game. As most fans know, he was eventually brought up to the majors and played in the World Series where he hit two home runs in game 4.

Smith, the fourth youngest player in the FSL, stayed in St. Lucie all season and led the league in RBIs and doubles. He finished in the top five in batting and won the league's Most Valuable Player award.

It's safe to say St. Lucie fans have been spoiled over the recent years - first with pitching and now with the bats.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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