The Big Picture Part 4: Down in the Farm System

By David Weiss

 

Click here for part 3

Currently the Atlanta Braves are really turning heads around the league. Before the season, Sports Illustrated predicted that they would be 73-89. This is in line with how bad they have been over the last few seasons. Therefore, we should ask the obvious. What did the SI experts and others totally miss? The answer is the minor leagues.

Braves
Thanks to Camargo, Albies and Acuna, the Braves are in first place. 

In 2013, the Braves won the NL east. In 2014, the Braves spent much of the first half in first place battling with Washington. However, they felt flat after the all-star game. On July 28th they beat the Padres, were 58-48 and looked like they would either take the division or a wild card spot. After that point, they went 21-35 which was the second worst record from that day on in the majors. The Braves under GM John Coppolella realized that they had a flawed team and decided to trade their big-name players for minor league prospects. The rebuild was on.

Prior to opening day 2015 the Braves traded away, Tommy La Stella, Evan Gattis, Craig Kimbrel and the Upton brothers. In return they got Matt Wisler, Ardoys Vizcaino, Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried and Dustin Peterson. In other words, they gave up stars for no-name minor leaguers. At the same time, Atlanta was making big international signings. After the 2015 season Atlanta made more trades. The biggest deal sent pitcher Shelby Miller (after an all star season) to Arizona for the top overall draft pick, Dansby Swanson, and Ender Inciarte. They also traded star shortstop Andrelton Simmons for a package that included Sean Newcomb. Meanwhile in the minors Atlanta was developing international signees like Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna and Johan Camargo. While few were paying attention, Atlanta had been building a farm system filled with great talent.

Coppolella
Before his disgraceful departure, Braves GM John Coppolella built the best farm system in baseball.

Many of you may be wondering what with the Mets besides the fact that they are also in the NL East? The answer is that the Braves were years ahead of the pact. The realized in 2015 that they weren’t going to be good for a few years. Rather than fighting this fact with their structurally flawed team, they tanked and sold off for parts. Many of their trades included getting draft picks from other teams. While it is true that Coppolella broke the rules of international signings, he risked it since he knew that he was building a championship caliber team. While the Braves have only been good for three months, it is clear that they are well built.

The Mets on the other hand have spent the last several seasons in win-now mode. They went all in for the 2015 season. They began to trade many of their talented minor leaguers. Prior to the season, the Mets signed Michael Cuddyer. He came with a qualifying offer attached so the Mets did not have a first round pick that year. During the season, the Mets traded Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa for Cespedes. Fulmer won the rookie of the year award the following season and Cessa has been a decent pitcher. The Mets also traded Matt Koch for Addison Reed. Koch is now a middle of the rotation starter. This is not to say that they were bad trades. In fact, they were great trades since both were crucial for the 2015 and 2016 pennant runs. With that said, we need to acknowledge that the win-now mentality did thin out the Mets minor league system. There were other players the Mets gave up who are yet to make the majors or have much or an impact, and in the years to come we will be able to close the book on these trades.

Trades
Fulmer and Koch were two promising young pitchers that the Mets traded in order to get to the 2015 World Series.

Additionally, the Mets have had the habit of hanging onto older players. On two occasions, they offered Yoenis Cespedes a qualifying offer. On both occasion he turned it down and signed with the Mets anyway. Had he left on either occasion, the Mets would have ended up with an extra first round pick. When the Mets do trade away their veterans, it is when they are older and on a walk year. That is what happened in 2017, and as a result the Mets got lower level talent in return. The Mets traded, Bruce, Duda, Granderson, Reed and Walker. While the Mets have gotten some decent players back, none are considered huge prospects.

There are some players the Mets got from these trades worth noting. Drew Smith, the pitcher acquired for Lucas Duda, pitched well in Vegas this season and recently made his major league debut. Eric Hanhold, the pitcher acquired for Neil Walker, pitched well in AA but has gotten hit hard in AAA. Ryder Ryan, the pitcher who became infamous for not being worth Jay Bruce, was promoted to AA and has been pitching well there. However, those trades had one noticeable flaw. All the players acquired were pitchers. The Mets didn’t get any great everyday players. The Mets minor league system is rather weak and is ranked 28th overall.

Draft
In just a handful of games, Mets top pick Jarred Kelenic has put up an OPS of 1.356 in rookie ball.

The biggest Mets prospect right now is Andres Gimenez. The 19-year-old shortstop has been playing well in A+ ball. He is one of two Mets on the top 100 list. The other is Peter Alonso, who has been grabbing headlines after tearing it up in AA ball. He slashed .314/.440/.573 in Binghamton and got promoted to AAA. Alonso hasn’t been as dominant but has a .782 OPS there. Jarred Kelenic got a lot of attention when he was drafted with the sixth overall pick by the Mets in the 2018 draft. However, he is a high school kid and still in rookie ball. Best case scenario, he is in the majors in 2021. More likely, we don’t see him until 2022 or even 2023. Their other big hitting prospects are Mark Vientos and Desmond Lindsay. Both are raw and look like they are still several years away from playing in the majors.

To sum it up, building a great young team is hard. It requires a lot of patience and scouting. The player development also needs to be top notch (which is something I think that is lacking with the Mets). Not all trades that Atlanta made turned to gold. Not every international signing yielded an Albies or Acuna. With that said, when you stack your minor league system the way Atlanta did, many good players will pop out. For the Mets, my advice is to do the same. It is time to rebuild. In a previous article, I listed some trade ideas that don’t include giving away Syndergaard nor deGrom. However, trades for the Mets aces could yield a plethora of prospects that will one day lead the Mets to glory.

 

(David Weiss is a lifelong Mets fan. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and runs the Facebook page Jewish Mets Fans.)

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