By Ed Coleman
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Spring training is nearby, just around the corner - success for the Mets, though, may not exactly be around the same proverbial bend. But things are looking up. The much-maligned farm system is actually getting better. And it’s spearheaded by what you need at the top - good, young, strong cost-efficient pitching.
No, it’s not Top 10 yet, and it’s probably strongest in pitching, with a lack of impact position players being the most obvious weakness. Most Met fans know all-too-well the short-circuited stories of Generation K - three highly-touted young pitchers - Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen (that name sounds familiar) - who were supposed to lead the Mets to the Promised Land but were waylaid by injuries and excessive expectations. The latest Holy Trinity are all powerful righthanders - Zack Wheeler, the # 6 overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Giants, traded by San Francisco to the Mets last season in the Carlos Beltran deal at the trading deadline - Matt Harvey, the Mets’ 1st-round pick from the University of North Carolina in 2010 - and Jeurys Familia, an international free-agent signing back in 2007.
Mets G.M. Sandy Alderson and V.P. of Player Development and Scouting Paul DePodesta both have roots in the Oakland organization, and are obviously very attuned to the success that the A’s trio of pitchers - Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder - experienced. Wheeler, Harvey and Familia all have outstanding fastballs, power breaking balls, and the ability to strike people out. Combined, they averaged 1.1 strikeout-per-inning last season. Harvey probably has the best fastball of the three, Wheeler likely possesses the best command of his secondary pitches, and Familia may have the best overall stuff of the trio, especially if he can master the changeup which is rapidly coming.
There are other righthanders as well, like last year’s compensatory round draft pick Michael Fulmer, the 2011 second-round pick Cory Mazzoni from North Carolina State, and Rafael Montero. As for southpaws, there’s Robert Carson, who’s on the 40-man roster and has a chance to make the team out of the bullpen this spring. Carson has a lively fastball and a very good cutter, but he struggled at Double AA last season, so an impressive spring is a must. Darin Gorski may have a limited upside but he went 11-3 for St. Lucie last year with a Florida State League best 2.08 ERA, and had an almost 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio - 140 K’s with just 29 walks in 139 innings. There’s also 18-year-old Juan Urbina and Chase Huchingson, an outfielder-turned-pitcher who notched a 1.82 ERA while allowing just one home run over 84 innings.
There are no Bryce Harpers at the moment amongst Mets’ position players, but the depth is getting better. Last year’s # 1 draft pick - outfielder Brandon Nimmo of Wyoming - is still some time away, but Kirk Nieuwenhuis may be close. Nieuwenhuis is a good contact hitter with improving power who hit .298 with a .403 OBP before being injured last June. Nieuwenhuis suffered a torn labrum in his non-throwing (left) shoulder and it shouldn’t affect his already strong defense. There are other outfielders as well - Cesar Puello, a terrific all-around player - Cory Vaughn and Matt Den Dekker, drafted in consecutive rounds (4th & 5th) in the 2010 draft, and Den Dekker was extended an invite to big league camp this spring - Juan Lagares, who had a breakthrough season at two levels (St. Lucie and Binghamton) last year - and Darrell Ceciliani as well.
The infield stock is not quite as deep, but it’s a big year for SS Wilmer Flores, who actually might be better suited at 3B. Second baseman Reese Havens will come quickly if he can remain healthy, and there’s also the extremely talented and quite precocious Jordany Valdespin too.
The Phillies and Braves remain strong. The Nationals and Marlins are making great strides. It’s not going to come easy keeping up in this division, extra wild-card team or not. We’ll see how soon we see some of these names in New York.
C U soon