These days, with the Mets’ lineup increasingly like the surface of the sun—I can’t look straight at it without enduring great pain—I found myself looking instead to this year’s draft with extra anticipation. Sure it’ll be a long time before any of the drafted prospects see the lights at Citi Field, but the promising crop of young talent Mets’ scouts pulled in does make me feel a bit better. That said, for the next few weeks I’ll be covering all the Mets’ 2016 draft picks, starting with the top 10 today:
In keeping with their current strategy of “have a superstar starting rotation,” (and shoring up their ability to trade for bats from an area of depth should the need arise) six of the Mets’ top 10 picks over the first nine rounds were pitchers.
Additionally, while most teams had begun drafting high school prospects as early as round three, the Mets’ top 10 consists entirely of college players. What this means is certainly up for interpretation, but to me, choosing players that are more stable in their physiological development and more seasoned on the field with experience in higher pressure environments can only be a positive—the Mets are more likely to get what they paid for, and the players will be strong enough to play professionally sooner. Which is good news for us fans, because these guys sound pretty freakin’ exciting:
Justin Dunn (19th overall pick)
Ranked the #22 prospect by Baseball America and piquing the interest of multiple teams when he transitioned from reliever to starter at Boston College this season, the Mets have emphasized their surprise that Dunn was still available by the time their turn came around. But the 20-year-old right-handed pitcher became the Mets first pick, prompting this adorable celebration by Dunn and his BC teammates, and marking the first time the Mets have used their number one pick on a pitcher since Matt Harvey in 2010.
Dunn, who is originally from Long Island, played shortstop at his private Connecticut high school before transitioning to pitching at Boston College. Upon joining the starting rotation this year, Dunn hit his stride, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 1.49 ERA—and a 1.43 mark with 43 strikeouts in seven starts. His fastball, usually around 95 MPH, has been clocked at up to 99 MPH, and his breaking balls are in keeping with major league averages.
As an African-American, Dunn represents an increasingly rare demographic in professional baseball: currently only 14 of 449 major league pitchers are African-American, and only 8.27 percent of all major league players overall, a problem about which the Mets’ Curtis Granderson has spoken out and attempted to combat with his Grand Kids Foundation. The MLB at large has also been working to bring African-American kids back to the diamond with a variety of baseball-centric programs especially for inner-city youth, and the last five years of the draft have shown an uptick in black players, many of whom were participants the MLB’s programs.
Anthony Kay (31st overall pick)
The Mets used their other first-round pick for another pitcher from Long Island—this time a 21-year-old lefty from the University of Connecticut.
At five-foot-11, Kay is among the shorter pitching prospects the Mets have drafted, but scouting director Tommy Tanous seemed confident in Kay’s natural abilities, noting that Kay was “advanced” even as a high school player, “so it’s not like [he] had a long way to go.”
Indeed, the Mets originally drafted Kay in 2013 in the 29th round, but he decided to go to college. Given his jump to the first round of this year’s draft, it looks like the education paid off. At Connecticut he improved his velocity and changeup, with his fastball currently peaking at around 95 MPH. This season he struck out 111 batters and walked 35, and won the American Athletic League’s Pitcher of the Year award.
Kay attended the same Long Island high school as Steven Matz, and though Matz was four years his senior, the two said they were friendly with one another, both returning to visit their school during the winter and keeping in touch with their baseball coach.
Peter Alonso (64th overall pick)
The Mets started round two with power-hitting hopeful Pete Alonso, a first baseman at the University of Florida. Alonso leads his team this year with 12 home runs in 53 games; he’s also hit 55 RBIs with a season average of .368.
While some scouting reports question his versatility in the field, for his part, Alonso, who had played third base in high school before switching to first, said he learned the new position via repetition, “improving [his] footwork and changing [his] body in the weight room,” and is confident in his ability to switch back to third or play the outfield should the team need it.
But the reports also commend Alonso for his raw hitting power, which he showed off in full days before the draft. In May Alonso was hit by a pitch that broke his hand, but he returned with a vengeance, going 8-for-14 in the NCAA Regional conference, with three home runs and eight RBI.
Blake Tiberi (100th overall pick)
Tiberi has experience playing for a strong team. Hailing from the University of Louisville, considered the number two team in the NCAA, the switch-hitting third baseman hit .318/.371/.518 in his two years with the Cardinals, batting .340 with 51 RBI this year.
Tiberi was also a Cape Cod Summer League All-Star in 2015, where he ranked eighth in the league; he batted .315 and his team played the league championship series.
Michael Paez (130th overall pick)
The 21-year-old shortstop often goes unnoticed because of his size, but this year after improving his swing and hitting 15 home runs—making him second among NCAA shortstops—he’s finally getting the credit he deserves.
The MLB has him at five-foot-eight, but Paez called himself five-foot-seven in an interview with Miami Herald. Both Paez and the Mets’ Tanous point to Paez’s height as the reason why he’s been overlooked until now, but undervalued is probably good for the Mets’ checkbook, and there’s no denying Paez has fielding skills and swinging power despite his size, and good speed in part because of it. He currently leads the Big South Conference with 52 runs scored.
The Dean’s List student also clinched Coastal Carolina’s first College World Series appearance Monday night when, game tied in the bottom of the ninth and a man on second, Paez hit a double and sent the winning run home.
Colby Woodmansee (160th overall pick)
And the winner of the best last name of the bunch undoubtedly goes to this guy. Also a 21-year-old shortstop, albeit considerably taller at six-foot-three, Woodmansee has hit .280/.328/.418 during his time at Arizona State.
An Arizona native, Woodmansee grew up aspiring to ASU’s strong baseball program, and proved himself a solid, reliable player in that competitive atmosphere: Woodmansee has 91 hits with 55 RBI, seven home runs, and 36 runs scored over 86 games, having reached base in 61 of his past 72 games.
Christopher Viall (190th overall pick)
That the 20-year-old RHP says his favorite pitcher is Noah Syndergaard is predictable given the lightning Syndergaard’s thrown this season; what’s more unusual is that Viall, at six-foot-nine, has two inches on Thor.
Going 4-7 with a 4.80 ERA in his time at Stanford, Viall has (metaphorical) room to grow, but Mets scout Tyler Holmes said he was impressed by Viall’s natural coordination and skillset—he throws a fastball that routinely clocks in at 97 MPH and a 90 MPH changeup, and has the ability to repeat his delivery; Holmes calls Viall a “high-risk, high-reward pick,” so it’ll certainly be interesting to see if Viall can harness the power of his enormous arm.
Fun fact: Apparently a two-time Bachelorette contestant (and twice the runner-up, that’s gotta hurt) shares the last name. Happy Googling!
Austin McGeorge (220th overall pick)
A California native, the 21-year-old reliever has an ERA of 1.63 over his career at Long Beach State University. He’s pitched 83 innings in 63 games over three years at the school, going 4-2 with six saves.
In 2015 he made 31 appearances out of the bullpen, a team high; this year he led the Big West Conference with 33. The 2016 season was his best yet, with an ERA of 1.05 over 53 innings, keeping opposing batters at an average of .197.
Placido Torres (250th overall)
Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey, the 23-year-old lefty led the NCAA Division II with a 0.71 ERA for Tusculum College (Tennessee). In 2016 he went 11-0 in 14 starts, and leads college baseball across all levels with 162 strikeouts.
Alongside Kay at 5’11″, Torres doesn’t quite fit the cannon-esque profile of the Mets current pitching staff, but that didn’t stop him from throwing seven complete games and four shutouts (four!) this season. I can’t help but feel a bit aflutter about this guy from the sheer numbers—it will be exciting to see what he can do when faced with some stronger bats.
Colin Holderman (280th overall)
The Mets rounded out their top 10 picks with one final pitcher, hailing from Heartland Community College in Bloomington, Illinois. At six-foot-six, Holderman sees eye-to-eye with Syndergaard, and went 8-1 with two shutouts for the Heartland Hawks this season, posting a 1.57 ERA with 92 strikeouts.
He also hit an impressive .489/.565/.831 with 13 home runs this season, giving him the third-best average in the NJCAA.
Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports