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)
BP Mets writer Tyler Oringer has been hammering the table for a Drew Smith call-up, so I figured who else better to bring in to write Smith’s Prospect Watch debut than him.
Pitcher: Drew Smith
Little has gone right for the 2018 New York Mets and before this somewhat historic offensive draught, the bullpen was what seemed like the main cause of concern for Sandy Alderson, Mickey Callaway and Co.
Still, the bullpen has wavered significantly. But luckily, help may be on the way soon in the form of the right-handed Drew Smith.
Smith, who was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in the Lucas Duda trade last year, has been straight-up dominant in Triple-A and has limited opponents to no earned runs, six hits and four walks in his last 14 innings, as well as fanning 14 batters.
After being drafted in the third round of 2015 MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers, it was clear after his first two years in the minors that Smith projected to be at least a serviceable set-up man. Now, following a strong 2017 campaign where he finished with a combined 1.65 ERA in mostly High-A play, it is clear that he is an advanced caliber arm.
2018 has seen him jump from Double-A immediately to Triple-A after 4.1 innings of near-shutdown ball. Smith has excelled against PCL hitting and improved his already plus fastball and secondary slide-curve, which seems to garner more break with each year. He is explosive off of the mound and comes aggressively towards the plate with a violent over-the-top motion. Smith will lift his left knee above his belt buckle, allowing him to get nice extension for power pitches from his back leg. He has struggled with command this year, but has shown improvement recently and clearly has professional stuff.
Smith’s fastball sits around 95 miles per hour, but can get up to 98 on the somewhat rare occasion. Factored in with his ability to deceive batters with his motion, it is no surprise he has compiled an eye-popping career 1.95 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 171 minor league innings.
The prize of the Duda trade currently sits in Vegas, likely awaiting a call despite limited Triple-A action, but once the phone rings – Smith should be ready to perform.
Hitter: Jeff McNeil
The 26-year-old McNeil finally got healthy and tore through the Eastern League this season, hitting .327/.402/.626 with 14 home runs and a 23:22 strikeout to walk ratio. It’s easy to look at his age relative to the league (1.7 years older than the average player) and dismiss his performance, but McNeil hasn’t been this healthy in years. Injuries took a major toll on him the past two seasons, robbing him of valuable at-bats and developmental time, but he looks major league ready right now.
The Mets finally chose to promote McNeil, along with teammate Peter Alonso, to Triple-A Las Vegas Thursday, a move long overdue in this writer’s opinion. While it’s nice to see McNeil and Alonso rewarded for their stellar play, the promotion feels like too-little-too-late. There isn’t a single good argument to be made as to why both are toiling away in the minors while the major league club can’t score a run if Jacob deGrom’s life depended on it. At the least, McNeil’s an upgrade on Jose Reyes as a useful utility man with some pop from the left side. The Mets are sorely lacking capable hitters and McNeil’s age and current talent level mean this move would make too much sense.
McNeil has worked incredibly hard to get to this point, a testament to his work ethic, and is more than deserving of an opportunity in the big leagues. When that opportunity will come, no one knows, but there’s no denying he’d be a welcome midseason addition to a Mets team in dire need of a spark.
Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Double-A)
Hitter: Patrick Mazeika
Take one look at Mazeika’s triple-slash this season with Binghamton, .212/.311/.359, and you’d likely assume the 24-year-old catcher is struggling for the first time in his professional career. A career .305/.414/.402 hitter, Mazeika is running an incredibly low .206 BABIP this season, a number more than .100 points below his career BABIP. Add in the fact that he’s running a 20:18 strikeout-to-walk ratio and Mazeika’s 2018 looks a lot better than it does on the surface.
Mazeika’s already launched six home runs this season after hitting just seven with Port St. Lucie last year. Once his BABIP normalizes, likely around .280, Mazeika is going to be a guy we talk about as a potential 2019 contributor. If the BABIP stays in the low .200s for the remainder of the season, he’ll be one of my sleeper prospects this offseason.
While he’s going to turn 25 this October, Mazeika still looks like an offense-first backup at peak. I don’t think he’s quite a good enough defender behind the plate to be a regular there, but the bat should play well enough for him to stick as a backup, likely be as the strong side of a platoon. The only concern is the lack of pop, but if Mazeika, who’s run a career 144:130 strikeout-to-walk ratio, can keep his approach, he’s going to provide positive value.
Pitcher: Adonis Uceta
After a breakout 2017 (1.51 ERA across three levels), the 24-year-old Uceta was promoted to Binghamton. Uceta has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a change that flashed plus in the past, but his stuff has backed up a bit. He was sitting 92-95 for me with a change that didn’t flash better than average. One of the names to watch prior to the season in a loaded Binghamton bullpen, Uceta’s development has stalled a bit, and I have questions about whether he can be a major league reliever. While I do think his stuff is better than his current results (4.26 ERA), the lack of fastball command and the inconsistency on the changeup is concerning. Uceta has been comfortably passed on the totem pole by Eric Hanhold, Drew Smith and even Tim Peterson. I think he’s likely to repeat Double-A next season, and shouldn’t be counted on when Sandy Alderson and co. are constructing the 2019 roster.
Port St. Lucie (Advanced-A)
Pitcher: David Peterson
What exactly was a former Pac-12 lefty drafted in the first round in part due to his impressive track record against good competition doing in A-ball? I don’t know either. Peterson dominated in the Sally League, to the tune of a 1.82 ERA and 57 strikeouts against 11 walks in 59.1 innings.
It’s par for the course though, and Peterson received a long-awaited promotion to Port St. Lucie last week. I, for one, have a hard time understanding the fascination with a polished college starter if you don’t plan on moving him quickly. If the Mets were looking for an arm to develop for a couple of years, why not draft a prep pitcher instead of Peterson? Realistically, Peterson should be in Double-A by now. Instead, the Mets messed with his timeline by starting him in Columbia. Yet another puzzling decision for an organization oh so prone to them.
Columbia Fireflies (Low-A)
Hitter: Jeremy Vasquez
Vasquez has cooled off mightily after a hot April and that, my friends, is why we don’t jump to rash conclusions so quickly. There was talk that Vasquez was in the same tier as Alonso and Dominic Smith, but that line of thinking is honestly quite absurd. While the Mets do like Vasquez and believe in his ability to hit, he’s a soon to be 22-year-old with an OPS below .800 in A-ball.
While he’s still running a respectable strikeout-to-walk ratio (48 to 35), the complete lack of power (three home runs in 210 at-bats) is concerning for a first base prospect. In 447 career minor league at-bats, Vasquez has hit just 11 home runs. If the Mets truly want to learn what they have in last year’s 28th rounder, they should send him to Port St. Lucie after the All-Star break. Until we see him perform at the upper levels of the minors, I’ll remain skeptical that Vasquez is anything more than a role 3.
Photo credit: Steve Mitchell – USA Today Sports