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Prospect Watch: Week Four

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.

Las Vegas 51s (Triple-A)

Pitcher: Tim Peterson

I haven’t seen him live and don’t have a recent report on him, but I can’t ignore Peterson’s performance in Las Vegas any longer. A 20th round pick in 2012, Peterson’s striking out almost 40% of batters to go with a pristine 2.91 ERA in 17 appearances this season. The fact he’s doing it in the hitter’s paradise that is Las Vegas makes it all the more impressive. This level of performance isn’t coming out of nowhere; he was really good for Binghamton last season too, with a strikeout rate above 26% and a 1.14 ERA. Combine that with a 5% walk rate and there may be something here. There is some inevitable drawback though. Peterson is 27 years old, isn’t on the 40-man and wasn’t selected in the Rule 5 draft. He only ran a 31.1% groundball rate in Double-A last season but he excels at keeping the ball in the park. I don’t know what the Mets have here and they clearly don’t either, but if a 40-man spot opens up I think Peterson could be worth a look. If he doesn’t get a chance with the Mets, some team is going to see the minor league numbers and give him a chance.

Hitter: Dominic Smith

I’ll refer you to the recent piece BP Mets writer Tyler Oringer and I wrote on Smith, but let’s talk a little more about what happened last week. With Jay Bruce heading to the paternity list for the weekend series against Philadelphia, the Mets had the bright idea to use the roster spot on Smith. It was a curious choice that became even more controversial when Smith took only one official plate appearance in the shortened series. Smith’s a former first rounder who made a couple of Top 100 lists, but his prospect shine wore off completely when he flopped in the majors last season. He’s now been passed by Peter Alonso as the first baseman of the future and there doesn’t seem to be a role for Smith at the major league level. Smith’s got a good glove at first but if the Mets didn’t plan to start him, wouldn’t Phillip Evans (whose since been called up) have made more sense?  I couldn’t tell you one good reason why Smith got the call, but I can tell you that he hasn’t been great in Vegas. Smith’s striking out in 23% of his plate appearances and has only two home runs in 119 at-bats. That’s a problem when you’re a 1B only prospect. It’s hard to decipher what the Mets plan to do with Smith at this point, but I wouldn’t put anything past this organization.

Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Double-A)

Pitcher: Andrew Church

Church is off to an interesting, if uninspiring, start to the 2018 season. On one hand, he’s been relatively healthy and has bumped his K/9 from 5.79 in Port St. Lucie last season to 7.68 with Binghamton thus far. Health and strikeout rate have been two of the biggest knocks on Church as a prospect, so it’s nice to see the improvement on both fronts. On the other hand, though, he’s been getting hit hard and his fastball has backed up a bit. I was in Binghamton Wednesday night to see Church for the third time this season and he was mired in the same inconsistencies that have plagued him all year. In four innings of work, Church was knocked around for eight hits and six earned, but he also struck out eight. Church has touched 95 in the past, but repeated arm injuries have taken a toll and I’ve had him in the 88-92 range, topping at 93, in all three of the starts I’ve seen. The fastball doesn’t have great movement and Church has really struggled to locate it in my past two looks, so much so that he’s pretty much abandoned it following the first inning. Instead, he’s been primarily working with an 82-84 mph slider that’s easily his best pitch at this point. He’s comfortable throwing it in any count, for strikes and whiffs, and it’s flashed average for me in all three looks. Church also has a changeup I haven’t seen much of and a curve that’s rarely thrown but shows signs of usefulness. The curve sits 74-78 mph with good depth but is mainly reserved for two-strike counts. I mentioned that Church has abandoned his fastball after the first inning in my two most recent looks, and he’s seen some really good results for the next couple of innings. The second and third times around the order are a problem though, as opposing hitters have gotten a good look at the slider and are just sitting on it. I don’t think there’s enough here for Church to cut it as a starter at the major league level, but he could be a guy who moves to the bullpen in a middle relief role and sees a needed velo bump.

Hitter: Tim Tebow

Love him or hate him, Tebow’s surpassed all expectations at Double-A, slashing .248/.323/.419 in almost 120 at-bats. I was as skeptical as everyone when this whole thing began, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve seen in my four looks this season. Now don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking about a future superstar here, or anything close for that matter, but take the name off the back of the jersey and Tebow looks and plays like your average Double-A outfielder. The problem here is Tebow’s already 30 years old and anything but your average minor league baseball player.

Tebow’s been swinging a hot bat recently, giving me hope for a better look than my previous ones, but I was left disappointed yet again. We’ll start at the plate, where he actually didn’t look as overmatched against good velo as he did earlier in the season. His first at-bat was a nine-pitch, six foul-ball battle against Beau Burrows that was easily the best AB I’ve seen from him all season. The swing looks better than it did even earlier this year and I’m more confident than before that he can catch up to major league fastballs. That’s the good news.

The bad news is he’s still kind of a mess in left field. He really struggles to track deep fly balls and to be honest, he kind of looks lost out there. His footwork isn’t good and he takes bad routes to balls that he should easily catch. For a former NFL QB, his arm leaves a lot to be desired. I know that’s primarily the reason he’s out of the NFL and in MLB, but one would think he’d get a little more zip on his throws in from the outfield. Back to the hitting side of things; Tebow still swings through fastballs up in the zone, something that’s going to get exposed by major league pitching when he reaches that level. The off-speed recognition still isn’t there either, but that’s something that should improve with more experience and it’s hard to knock a guy who was out of the game for 10 years.

There’s a real argument to be made that Tebow is one of the best outfield options in the high minors of this system. Now, that’s more of a reflection on the outfield depth in the system rather than his talent, but we’ve officially entered “this isn’t crazy” territory. He’s going to get a chance in the majors this year or next.

Port St. Lucie Mets (High-A)

Hitter: Andres Gimenez

The No. 1 prospect in the system, Gimenez is more than holding his own as a 19-year-old in High-A. Port St. Lucie was an aggressive assignment to begin the season, but Gimenez destroyed rookie ball and showed enough promise in Columbia last season that it didn’t feel forced. He doesn’t have a standout tool, but Gimenez projects as a major league shortstop with some skills at the dish. A left-handed hitter, he has good bat control and should grow into a plus hit tool eventually. There is some projection left, but not enough to project average game power, which may not be a problem considering Gimenez already hits a bunch of line drives. The line, .262/.331/.418, is actually really impressive for a 19-year-old in High-A, as are the 12 extra base hits. Gimenez is also an above-average runner and has nine stolen bases against two caught stealing’s. Out in the field, he has good actions at short and a strong enough arm that should allow him to stick there. Gimenez isn’t tooled up, but it’s an impressive package coupled with great results thus far. Gimenez should be a frequent member of the Prospect Watch for years to come.

Columbia Fireflies (A)

Pitcher: David Peterson

The Mets’ first-round draft pick last season is off to a good, if not great, start with Columbia. Peterson’s a tall lefty out of Oregon with a chance for three above-average offerings. He stands 6’6” and looks intimidating out on the mound, but he’s not a power pitcher by any means. His fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 95, but Peterson gets great movement on it. There probably isn’t a whole ton of projection left on the fastball, but it’s already above average so that shouldn’t be a big problem. Peterson also throws a slider and a changeup that both flash above average. He throws the slider more often, but the changeup might be the better future offering, although it does need some more work. In 30.2 innings for Columbia this season, Peterson is only running a 20.5% strikeout rate, which isn’t all that promising for the first returns on a collegiate first rounder. He is running a terrific 64% groundball rate though, which is very encouraging. Currently the best pitching prospect in the system, Peterson is more of a No. 3 starter than someone with ace or even No. 2 potential. His value mainly derives from the fact that he should be able to climb the minor league ladder relatively quickly. If the changeup doesn’t develop, Peterson should still be able to carve out a role as a big league reliever. Like Gimenez, look for Peterson to make frequent appearances on the Prospect Watch in the coming years.

Photo credit: Scott Rovak – USA Today Sports

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