Minor League Baseball: Tampa Yankees at Port St. Lucie Mets

Prospect Watch: Week Three

Welcome back to the Baseball Prospectus Mets Prospect Watch! This weekly column will take a look at one pitcher and one hitter from each level of the Mets organization and offer thoughts on their performance thus far, as well as a brief scouting report with a future outlook.

BP Mets writer Tyler Oringer joined me this week to offer his opinions on former Prospect Watch players Luis Guillorme, Justin Dunn and Jeremy Vasquez.

Las Vegas 51s (Triple-A)

Pitcher: Gerson Bautista

Bautista started the year in Binghamton but he’s already pitched at three levels this season, including a brief ride on the Mets bullpen shuttle. He was part of the return from Boston for Addison Reed and fits in the same mold as the other relievers that were acquired during the 2017 sell-off. Bautista has a live arm and is mainly fastball-slider, but he mixes in a below-average changeup as well. The fastball sits in the high 90s and regularly touches 100; it’s already a legitimate 70, a plus-plus pitch. The problem for Bautista is his fastball’s so good that he hasn’t had to develop his secondary offerings to get minor league hitters out. This season marks the first time Bautista’s pitched above A-ball and his lack of another quality offering has gotten him into some trouble. In his cup of tea in the majors earlier this season, Bautista threw his fastball an astounding 86% of the time. He’s more comfortable throwing his slider than his changeup (11% and 3%, respectively) but neither is even an average offering at this point. That’s a big problem for a potential high-leverage reliever, especially considering Bautista has poor command as well. I’m extremely doubtful that Bautista can be an effective high-leverage guy throwing his fastball almost 90% of the time. In order to pull that off, he’d need to add a couple more ticks to the fastball, which seems unlikely at this point. The Mets sent Bautista to Las Vegas to work on developing his secondaries further, but he’s struggled with his command and has been hit hard. Here’s my biggest gripe with Bautista: I’m concerned his 70 fastball is going to play down in the majors because of how often he throws it. Bautista has great velo but ultimately it’s nothing major league hitters haven’t already seen. It’s extremely hard to throw your fastball by major league hitters that know you throw a fastball nine out of every ten pitches. I’m lower on Bautista than most due to the lack of secondaries and poor command, but he’s still young and should get plenty of opportunities to keep developing his off-speed.

Hitter: Luis Guillorme (*Called up to New York Mets*)

I did a scouting report a few weeks back on Guillorme and Alex briefly discussed him in a prior Prospect Watch.

The most impressive defensive Mets prospect (and my favorite) has been called up to the big league club.  His surge in Triple-A over the last two weeks is just a small sample size of what he has done his entire minor league career.

I’ll get to his aforementioned future Gold Glove defense in a second, but his hitting and approach to the plate forced Sandy Alderson’s hand following the injury of Todd Frazier.

On April 28, Guillorme was slashing just .213/.333/.279. However, these numbers were bound to change as his quick yet through-the-zone swing and knack for recognizing pitches led to an absolute tear. By May 7, the day of his promotion, the middle infielder was raking .300/.390/.433 with seven doubles, a triple and a home run. He’s been clutch in that time, versatile in the order and even showing a bit more speed. For context, if I had to compare Guillorme’s initial bat and approach to someone in the Majors right now it would be Greg Garcia of the Cardinals with less power. The similarities are actually glaring. This is all in addition to his second-to-none glove.  Though he is just 5’10”, he gets to balls that he should not be able to get to and moves with a Major League smoothness.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but he projects as an 80 second baseman and 70-75 shortstop. High praise, but well deserved.

Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Double-A)

Pitcher: Joshua Torres

Originally a member of the Milwaukee Brewer’s organization, Torres was released in March 2016 and signed a minor league free agent contract with the Mets in December of the same year. Like Bautista above, this is his first season above A-ball in his seven-year minor league career and he’s off to quite the start. In just 10.2 innings for Binghamton thus far, Torres has been really impressive with his 0.84 ERA and 16 strikeouts against four walks. He’s always had decent strikeout numbers, but he struck out 77 in 63 innings last year at High-A Port St. Lucie in what was his best professional season to date. Torres was old for the level, but he’s shown much of the same strikeout prowess in Binghamton so far. I’ve gotten a couple of live looks at Torres this season and to be honest, his stuff is pretty underwhelming for a relief prospect. He sits just 91-94 with his fastball and it’s just an average pitch, but the results have been good so far. Here’s the bad news: Torres is an extreme flyball pitcher in an era where you really don’t want to be one. He’s currently running a pathetic 17.4% groundball rate this season and his HR/FB of 0.0% makes him a prime regression candidate. I haven’t even mentioned that he’s stranded 93% of base runners this season, a mark that should level off near his career average of 73.1% sometime soon. This is a classic case where the results are not indicative of the stuff, and a reminder that there’s more to scouting than just the stat line. I don’t think Torres will be more than organizational depth at Triple-A, but he’s someone to keep an eye on this summer until his underlying numbers catch up to his results.

Hitter: Jeff McNeil

McNeil was a 12th round draft pick of the Mets in 2013 and has played at pretty much every level of the system throughout his six-year minor league career. Primarily a second baseman, McNeil projects as a super-utility type based on his ability to play all over the diamond. He’s the owner of a gorgeous left-handed swing and has an opposite field approach at the dish. While he does have six home runs already this season, McNeil has never had much pop and isn’t likely to add that to his game now that he’s 26. The Mets system is light up top but seemingly full of interesting relievers and utility players, and McNeil looks like a major leaguer bench piece for someone. He’s currently slashing .276/.364/.609 in just under 90 at-bats for Binghamton and could get a call to Las Vegas if Luis Guillorme is up for an extended amount of time. The age is obviously an issue here, but our own Jeffrey Paternostro saw McNeil this week and thinks he’s still a low-risk bench player for some organization. It’s hard to see a path to playing time for McNeil with the Mets anytime soon, but I prefer him to Phil Evans, who I wrote about in last week’s Prospect Watch and is already on the 40-man. My reasoning for preferring McNeil is quite simple: I think McNeil’s a better defender and more likely to hit for average than Evans. I’ll be getting my first live look at McNeil next week and will have a more in-depth look in my next scouting notes piece.

Port St. Lucie Mets (High-A)

Pitcher: Justin Dunn

Alex discussed Dunn in Week One of the Prospect Watch, but I am here to expand a bit on his evaluations.

The 2016 first round pick out of Boston College, Dunn was expected to be a massive part of Mets future.  He flashed an explosiveness when pitching for Boston College that caught many scouts’ eyes. He was initially a reliever and then closed for BC, eventually being moved into the starting rotation. The 6’2”185-pound lanky righty extends fairly far to the plate out of the windup, something that was very deceptive for hitters that faced him in 2016 in short season A-ball and throughout his time in college.  With the Brooklyn Cyclones, Dunn notched a 1.50 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while striking out 35 in 30 innings pitches.

Alarming though, Dunn struggled mightily in 2017 at high-A.  The concerns about his lack of command and ability to find an outpitch other than his slider led to his beatings against lefties versus whom he got absolutely rocked. He walked 48 batters in 95.1 innings pitched and finished the season with a 5.00 ERA. After an abysmal and scary year for his career, Dunn needed to show Mets brass and scouts alike that his first round value was no fluke.

In 2018, so far, kind of good. But certainly better. The former BC Eagle’s fastball runs from 92-95 and can reach 96-97 on rare occasion.  Due to his deceptiveness strictly due to the extension of his motion, his slider has fooled opposing hitters. Now at High-A St. Lucie again, Dunn’s adjustments are noticeable: He has improved his pseudo-curve/slider and changeup a bit and is mixing his pitches better. In five starts thus far this year, the former first rounder has compiled a 2.13 ERA, and is clearly pitching to contact more often.  However, because of this, he has given up 29 hits in 25.1 innings pitches.  Impressively, he has still struck out 28 batters while walking nine – but his proneness to serving up hittable pitches is a bit frightening. Of course, though, now he is on the DL with a minor injury.

Dunn can be a solid number three starter if he expands on his third and fourth pitches, but at the moment is worthy of future backend rotation/long relief consideration with his current attributes. Initially, he struck me as someone who may be converted into a late-inning long reliever to closer type due to his college experience and two-pitch repertoire, but with his new tendencies and high WHIP, I think he’ll be relied on as just a starter as planned.

Columbia Fireflies (Low-A)

Hitter: Jeremy Vasquez

Alex discussed Vasquez in Week Two of the Prospect Watch, but I am here to expand a bit on his evaluations.

If you’re a Mets fan, the name Dominic Smith has been drilled into your head as the next “guy” at first base for the past few years.   However, it is appearing more and more likely that Smith is not what he was once touted to be. Now, Peter Alonso is shaping up to be the favorite in the organization. But there is another impressive first baseman looming. Jeremy Vasquez, the 2017 Round 28 pick, is tearing up Single-A pitching and making a case for a promotion if Alonso finds himself in Triple-A or even the majors.

The lefty Vasquez transferred to Nova Southeastern after two productive years at the University of Florida and has really impressed so far in 2018. Though he does not fit the profile of a typical first base prospect or even typical first baseman for that matter, the 6’1” 205-pound former Gator has the tools to make some sort of impact at the highest level. Last season, Vasquez slashed .266/.368/.430 – nothing too special. Yet, his swing and eye were noticeably advanced for the level he was playing at.

Now adjusted to A-league pitching, the newly notable prospect is slashing .315/.426/.514. At 21 years old, he is old for the level he’s at and while this isn’t necessarily a good thing, he has proven that he’s soon to be ready for the next step. Because of his lack of power, average defense, and presence of Alonso (and Smith), Vasquez may need to shift to right field, where he played during his sophomore year at UF, at some point to carve a role with the Mets. He still needs more reps at full season A-ball, but flashes a solid hit tool and advanced eye. The first baseman needs to put more torque in his swing to truly rise the ranks of the Mets system, but is looking like a great find for New York.

Photo credit: Jasen Vinlove – USA Today Sports

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