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: P.J Conlon
If you pulled up P.J Conlon’s player page and looked solely at his career minor league stats: 2.85 ERA, 0.67 HR/9, 1.98 BB/9, you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking the Mets have another solid pitching prospect on their hands. What those stats won’t tell you though is that Conlon’s fastball averages just 86 mph; and that folks is why you don’t scout the stat line.
Conlon’s a former 13th round pick that’s surpassed all expectations thus far but honestly, no one’s quite sure how. Standing only 5’11” with a fastball that barely touches 90 mph, it’s honestly perplexing that we’ve even arrived at this point. In need of a spot starter in Cincinnati, the Mets added Conlon to the 40-man roster and he made his major league debut, allowing three runs in 3.2 innings.
Conlon pairs a good changeup with a funky delivery that generates some much-needed deception. The change sits in the mid to high 70s and, while it is his best offering, it just doesn’t generate enough whiffs for Conlon to cut it as a starter in the big leagues. One might think that if Conlon isn’t succeeding via the strikeout, he must be elite at inducing groundballs. That’s not his secret to success either though, as his career groundball rate stands at a middle of the pack 43.08%.
So how exactly has Conlon been able to achieve this level of success? It’s a great question that no one seems able to answer, not even the Mets. Although he’s not going to be a starter in the majors, Conlon has good career splits against lefties and could potentially fill a LOOGY role for some organization.
Hitter: Phillip Evans
I’m honestly not sure if Evans still has prospect eligibility (spoiler alert: he does!) but have you seen the 51s roster recently? It’s rougher than you can even imagine and the reason why Tim Tebow is talked about as a legitimate call-up candidate.
Evans was with the big league club just this Tuesday, but Jose Bautista took his roster spot and poor Phil has to wait for another chance. A former 15th round pick in the 2011 draft, the versatile Evans will turn 26 later this year, his seventh as a pro. He actually made the Opening Day roster but was sent down rather quickly in favor of an almost but not really healed Michael Conforto.
I saw Evans in Vegas last month and while I’m not his biggest fan, I’d much rather see him on the Mets bench than Bautista. Evans won a batting title in 2016 and is showing some improved power this season with nine home runs in 118 at-bats, but he’s yet to get an extended look in the big leagues. It seemed like he was finally going to get his chance when the Mets finally DL’d Yoenis Cespedes but nope, Jose Bautista!
I’m skeptical of Evans’ potential as a major leaguer long-term, but I think he’s deserving of a chance to show why he belongs. A utility man who can play passable infield defense, be an emergency catcher and has some pop is an intriguing player that can provide some value off the bench, especially in the National League. If only the team that employs Jose Reyes could use someone like that…
Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Double-A)
Pitcher: Marcos Molina
Where do I even begin on Marcos Molina? After flashing a plus fastball/slider combo in the lower depths of the system, Molina missed all of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery. Which is fine, considering Tommy John isn’t the death sentence for pitchers that it once was and Molina was still young.
The problem is we’re now two years removed from the operation and Molina’s stuff is still nowhere to be found. After a mediocre 2017 with Binghamton, the Mets sent Molina back again to repeat the level, hopefully with better results. It was a reasonable idea in theory, but the results have been disastrous thus far and that’s a big problem considering Molina’s occupying a 40-man spot.
With Anthony Swarzak seemingly close to a return and in need of a reinstatement to the 40-man, there’s a high possibility that it’s Molina whose roster spot is in jeopardy. That’s because Molina’s been downright awful this season with both Binghamton and Las Vegas. In 36.2 innings for the Rumble Ponies, Molina’s got a 6.14 ERA to go along with a putrid 6.38 K/9 and 3.93 BB/9. He was even worse in Vegas, holding a 9.35 ERA and a 5.19 BB/9 in just eight and two-thirds innings. The possibility of converting Molina to the bullpen is becoming increasingly likely with each passing day, especially considering the Mets are running out of time with him. Having never been known for possessing good command, a move to a relief role could suit both parties well, and it’s likely the only scenario in which Molina keeps his roster spot.
Hitter: Jhoan Urena
It’s hard to believe, but this is Urena’s seventh season as a pro and we’re still waiting for the breakout season above Low-A. I’ve seen Urena a bunch this season and have come away from each look wanting to like him a lot more than I really do. Urena has the look of a future big leaguer with some deceptive athleticism to boot, but he’s yet to put it all together and I’m increasingly worried he never will.
For starters, Urena is awful in right field, where he’s started the majority of games this season for the Rumble Ponies. He’s also played third base and while he’s better there, I have him as a 35, which is just an emergency starter. That means Urena is destined for a future in left or at first, positions where he’s really going to have to hit to justify his position, and I’m just not confident that he’s going to be able to do that.
I should mention that Urena’s battled hamate bone injuries in the past, a pesky injury known to sap power from hitters. Urena has just three home runs this season, which isn’t a surprise considering his swing doesn’t have much loft, but game power is an important part of the profile at first base or left field. That being said, the swing is max effort in all counts and Urena strikes out too much for a guy with this little power.
I’m down on Urena’s chances as a future major league contributor, but I’m still holding out some hope that he can add some more power to his game. It’s been seven seasons though and we’ve yet to see it, so it’s hard to be too hopeful here.
Port St. Lucie Mets (High-A)
Pitcher: Ryder Ryan
Acquired from Cleveland in last year’s Jay Bruce trade, Ryan is off to a really nice start with Port St. Lucie. In his first 16 appearances this season, Ryan’s got a 1.77 ERA and a 23:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 20.1 innings.
I know what you’re thinking: a reliever acquired at the 2017 deadline must be a fastball/slider guy, and well, you’re correct. Ryan sits in the mid-90s with his fastball and complements it with his slider, but not much else. He’s currently running a strikeout rate of 30% to go along with a 6.5% walk rate, which bodes well for a potential future as a high leverage reliever. Ryan is 23 and in A ball but he pitched all of one inning in college, so there aren’t really age concerns here.
What’s really interesting is that Ryan’s numbers were pretty average with the Cleveland organization, but since the trade he’s seemingly found a new gear. The Mets have a proven track record of developing this profile, so Ryan couldn’t have found a better landing spot than New York. If Ryan keeps this up, he’s going to be looking at a promotion to Double-A Binghamton by year’s end. He’s certainly a name to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Columbia Fireflies (A)
Hitter: Wuilmer Becerra
Becerra came over as an additional piece in the R.A Dickey trade that brought Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud to New York back in 2012. He’s flashed potential when healthy but injuries have really slowed his development down, and that’s why we’re talking optimistically about a 23-year-old in A ball.
Becerra’s noteworthy skill is his hit tool, which looks like a 60 at peak. He’s struggled with shoulder injuries, including but not limited to a torn labrum, that have robbed him of his power and ability to throw.
Becerra was held back in extended spring training and has only played five games with the Fireflies, so we don’t have any new information on him yet. If he stays healthy though, this is the sort of player that could break out and turn heads by the end of the year. We’ll need to see a power spike to improve the future outlook, but if he stays healthy, don’t be surprised if Becerra ends the season in Binghamton.
Photo credit: David Kohl – USA Today Sports