Minor League Baseball: Portland Sea Dogs at Binghamton Rumble Ponies

Scouting Notes From Double-A Binghamton

BP Mets prospect writer Alex Rosen dropped by the Binghamton Rumble Ponies on May 16 for an updated look at Jeff McNeil, Peter Alonso, Jhoan Urena and yes, Tim Tebow.

UTIL Jeff McNeil

So I wrote up McNeil in week three of the Prospect Watch and concluded that he’s a better Phil Evans, which is exactly what I saw in Binghamton this past Wednesday. In 128 at-bats this season, McNeil’s slashing .328/.407/.719 with more home runs (12) than he combined for (9) in over 1,200 ABs over the past five years. McNeil isn’t your average 26-year-old in Double-A; injuries limited him to only 188 at-bats in the past two seasons, with his last full season coming back in 2015.

It took all of one measly inning to ask myself what McNeil was still doing in Binghamton. In his first at-bat of the game, he worked a 3-2 count against Top 101 prospect Beau Burrows and then promptly punished a curveball that missed middle-middle over the wall in right for a solo home run. It’s a beautiful left-handed swing with natural loft and I don’t think he’s selling out for this new power at the expense of his hit tool. McNeil made loud contact all night — even his outs made it to the warning track — and I thought his approach was way too advanced for Double-A. While McNeil does have pull power, he likes to go to the opposite field and his base hits seem to gravitate toward left center. It never looked like he was trying to do too much at the plate and, in his third at-bat against Burrows, he took a first-pitch fastball down and away for a line drive single to left. I will say that it remains to be seen if McNeil can carry this approach through Las Vegas and the majors, but the early returns are extremely promising.

McNeil didn’t just impress at the plate; he displayed good hands and feet out at second and didn’t look rushed. I think it’s average second base defense at peak, but McNeil has also seen time at third and shortstop, which would be a boon to his value. If the power surge is real, McNeil can be more than a future utility guy; he could be a fringe regular at second. There’s nothing left for him to prove in Binghamton and at 26, McNeil needs to be promoted so the Mets can see what they have here. Whatever it is, I’m confident that it’s better than whatever “value” Jose Reyes is bringing off the bench in Flushing.

LF Tim Tebow

With Juan Lagares out for the season and poor outfield depth in the upper levels of the organization, there’s a chance Tebow may be needed in the major leagues this season. Not to sell jerseys or improve attendance, I mean Tim Tebow may actually be needed for baseball reasons and honestly, credit Tebow and the Mets coaching staff for that. I was as big a skeptic as any when the signing was announced in 2016 but after seeing him four times this season, this really isn’t as crazy as was once thought.

This wasn’t a great look at Tebow — he was 0-4 with two strikeouts — but he didn’t look nearly as overmatched at the plate as he did earlier this season. In my first look back in April, Tebow was swinging through 88 mph fastballs from Dedgar Jimenez. Now, he’s catching up to 94 mph from top pitching prospects. To be fair, he’s still struggling to create meaningful contact against good velocity, but it’s an improvement nonetheless.

In the field, Tebow still needs a ton of reps. Deep fly balls are a struggle and he doesn’t take efficient routes to catchable balls. His footwork isn’t great and it’s like a 40 arm out in left. I’m still concerned about his ability to hit fastballs up in the zone and his two-strike approach needs work, but he’s by no means the laughing stock I expected to see when he was sent to Binghamton.

That being said, I’ve resigned to the fact that Tebow’s going to play in the major leagues and, well, you probably should too. As I previously mentioned, that’s primarily because of the depth, or lack thereof, in the upper levels of the minors. But look, they didn’t sign him to toil away in the minors and Sandy Alderson said this spring that Tebow’s going to play in the big leagues.

1B Peter Alonso

Alonso was in the lineup as the designated hitter, so I was unable to get another look at him in the field. His defense has been far from good in my previous looks, but the Mets have publicly said that they’re satisfied with his progress and believe he’s playable at first. I’ve seen the improvement on ground balls — he hasn’t had trouble on a grounder for me in three looks and he’s actually made a couple of nice plays — but it’s uncomfortable watching Alonso try to catch a pop-up.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed this either, as our own Jeffrey Paternostro saw Alonso two weeks ago and asked me if he’d looked wildly uncomfortable on pop-ups in my looks too. It’s a problem with few solutions and honestly, I’m not sure how much better it’s going to get at this point. The reason we’re even talking about Alonso in the first place is because he can hit and hit for power and if he does that at the major league level, no one’s going to bat an eye when he awkwardly drops a foul ball.

With the word out on Alsono and every pitcher in the Eastern League seemingly pitching around him, he’s cooled down a bit at the dish. Alonso was 0-2 with two walks Wednesday, but he didn’t try to force the issue and didn’t chase a single ball on the evening. He’s running a .475 OBP and I’ve seen enough at this point that I’m confident he should skip Triple-A. I don’t think there’s anything for him to learn in Vegas and the hitting environment isn’t going to tell us anything we don’t already know. Alonso’s ready to be challenged at the major league level. When that actually happens, and it quite honestly already should have (see Soto, Juan), still remains to be seen.

RF Jhoan Urena

Urena started in right for Binghamton Wednesday, but there’s no world, certainly not the one we’re currently living in, in which he’s a right fielder. He had quite possibly the worst misplay I’ve ever seen live, as he misjudged a line drive hit directly at him. Urena stepped forward three steps, then back and jumped to catch the ball, ultimately dropping it.

I saw him at third earlier this season and while he did look much better there, he’s not a third baseman either. He has slow feet and his reaction time isn’t great, which isn’t a good recipe for a big league third basemen. He can be an emergency starter at third, but he’s a first baseman or left fielder in the majors.

Despite having already spent six years with the organization, this season is Urena’s first in Double-A. He’s still only 23 years old and has more than held his own at the dish, slashing .286/.322/.459 thus far. It’s a max effort swing in any count and Urena can get pull happy, especially from the left side. He hits too many infield fly balls, which are basically as good as a strikeout, for my liking. With this defensive profile though, Urena is going to need to show more game power. Improved game power is the difference here between a shot in the majors and a career in the minors.

Photo credit: Gregory Fisher – USA Today Sports

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