2017 Mets Affiliate Preview: St. Lucie Mets

Following the path laid out for Matt Harvey six years ago, the Mets will be starting their first round pick, right-handed pitcher Justin Dunn (#6), in St. Lucie to begin his first professional season. Dunn—who spent his first two and a half seasons at Boston College as a relief pitcher—will look to prove that he has a future in the rotation. Since this is his first full season as a starting pitcher, his innings and pitch counts will be tracked carefully throughout the season. Dunn’s four-pitch repertoire features a plus fastball that has touched 99 mph, a slider that flashes plus, and a developing changeup that could end up being a real weapon for him down the road. Given his smallish frame and past success out of the bullpen, there will be temptation to fast track the 21-year-old to the majors this season and hope he’s the next young flame-throwing relief star, but the Mets seem to be opting for a more conservative route with Dunn. However, if he performs well in St. Lucie to open the season, it might not be long until he is promoted to Binghamton and even to the majors. A September call-up, while not something to bet on at the moment, is certainly not far-fetched or out of the question.

Joining Justin Dunn in the St. Lucie rotation to open the season—and hopefully in Binghamton before the year is over—is Marcos Molina (#15). Like Dunn, the 22-year-old pitcher comes with questions as to his ability to remain as a starter, yet those doubts are even louder with Molina. While athletic with plus stuff, Molina’s mechanics are far from ideal as he makes his return from Tommy John surgery. After sitting in the upper 80s with his fastball on the minor league backfields at the end of spring training, Molina has found his way back onto the disabled list to open the season. The complete lack of involvement of his lower body in his delivery puts an exorbitant amount of stress on his arm, which is unlikely to be sustainable for a starting pitcher. While his mechanics are not ideal for a relief pitcher—any kind of pitcher, really—shorter stints out of the pen would put less stress on Molina’s arm and allow him to sit closer to his peak velocity. While Molina is older now than this comp was then, Roberto Osuna’s 2015 promotion from a single-A starting pitcher who had undergone Tommy John surgery to a late-inning role in a major league bullpen is not out of the question for Molina. While that is obviously not what the Mets are planning to do with him at the moment, moving Molina to the bullpen sooner rather than later might make the most sense for all parties. With his stuff, Molina could legitimately pitch out of a major league bullpen before the 2017 season is finished.

Best known as the “non-elite prospect” the Mets acquired in the R.A. Dickey trade in 2012, the now-22-year-old Wuilmer Becerra (#10) has made the Baseball Prospectus Mets Top Ten two seasons running. Becerra, who underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in July, was protected from the Rule 5 Draft this winter despite not yet being ready to play the field to open the 2017 season. As the projected everyday designated hitter for the St. Lucie Mets for the first stretch of the season, Becerra will look to combine his above-average raw power with the plus hitting ability he has flashed in his recent seasons. While dealing with the shoulder injury during the first half of last season, Becerra hit only a single home run for St. Lucie in 2016, which isn’t going to work for a major league right fielder, his usual defensive home. However, if Becerra is able to put the whole package together, the tools are loud enough for him to project as an everyday right fielder in the majors. But even beyond the injury concerns, it’s a package with plenty of risk at the moment. A healthy and productive season that ends in the upper minors, highlighted by an increase in in-game power, could propel Becerra further up the Mets prospect lists and potentially onto global prospect lists next winter.

The Mets’ 2015 eighth-round pick out of Stetson University, Patrick Mazeika is a bat-first prospect whose ultimate future value is going to be determined by his defensive home. Mazeika, who has walked almost as many times as he’s struck out so far in his pro career—and gets an additional OBP boost from his Brandon Guyer-esque attraction to pitched baseballs—also offers a potential major-league-quality hit tool. If he is able to stick behind the plate, that is a good offensive starting point for a major league catcher. If he is forced to move off the position, which is a legitimate possibility given his current below-average glove and 6’3″ frame, he veers dangerously close to non-prospect status. His relative lack of power and line drive approach would not play well at first base—a position he has played some in his career—and the bat isn’t much more attractive in a corner outfield spot; he may not have the defensive chops for that anyway. His most realistic path to the major leagues is as a bat-first catcher whose high OBP makes up for his mediocre home run power and lackluster defense behind the plate.

2016 second-round pick Peter Alonso (#19), however, does not lack for power. Alonso has the best raw pop in the entire Mets minor league system. A right-handed hitting and fielding first baseman, he represents a bit of a rare breed as a prospect. Rarely are right-handed hitting first basemen considered to be prospects worthy of a high draft pick and the $909,200 signing bonus that Alonso received. Given that profile, his prospect status and baseball future relies solely on his bat and his ability to reach into his 70 raw power in games. After jumping over the South Atlantic League to open his first full professional season, Alonso will come to the Florida State League with the expectation that his bat will carry him into the upper minors and eventually to the major leagues. If he is able to adjust to better pitching than he saw in the SEC and shorten his swing from what he has shown to this past, he has a chance to develop into a middle-of-the-order bat sooner rather than later.

After selecting RHP Andrew Church (#21) with the 48th pick in the 2013 draft, the early returns for the Mets were less than stellar. At the end of the 2015 season, the now-21-year-old Church had yet to get out of short-season ball, and only struck out 75 batters in 132 professional innings.  2016 was a different story. Church emerged from extended spring training on May 24 to strike out nine batters in five innings for Columbia in his 2016 debut. For the season, he started 15 games, posting a 2.92 ERA and an improved, yet still pedestrian, 20.2% K-rate. Church, whose fastball touches as high as the mid 90s and slider flashes plus, will look to build on his 2016 campaign with an aggressive Double-A assignment. As Jarrett Seidler wrote recently, this season will be Church’s last before he is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, so his performance—or lack thereof—in 2017 should give us a lot more clarity on his major league future.

Yet another 2016 draft pick making the jump from the Brooklyn Cyclones to the St. Lucie Mets in 2017 is fifth-round pick Colby Woodmansee. Woodmansee—who, given his tall frame, is likely to eventually move off of shortstop—skips over the South Atlantic League despite a mediocre 2016 season in his time at both the collegiate and professional levels. Following a strong sophomore year at Arizona State, Woodmansee was penciled in as a first or second round draft pick. However, a lack of improvement in his junior season allowed him to slip to the Mets in the fifth round, where they are hoping he can show again why he was considered by some to be a first round talent just a few months before the draft…St. Lucie’s lineup will also feature the return of 23-year-old John Mora. Mora, who got some burn in major league spring training, has limited power and average-at-best tools elsewhere. If he doesn’t end this season in Binghamton or Vegas, his chances of making the major leagues down the road can be considered minimal at best…the bullpen will feature Tyler Bashlor, who received a well-over-slot $550,000 signing bonus after being selected in the 11th round in 2013. Bashlor boasts a fastball that can touch 98 mph and a developing breaking ball. He has a chance to rise quickly to the majors if he is able to stay healthy and keep his walks under control.

Photo Credit: Reinhold Matay – USA Today Sports

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