Mets' minor-league preview: Players to watch, breakout candidates for an improving system (2024)

The most anticipated New York Mets minor-league season in recent memory gets fully underway this weekend. While Triple-A Syracuse started last week, Double-A Binghamton, High-A Brooklyn and Low-A St. Lucie begin their seasons on Friday.

For your sake, we can elide rather than elucidate some of the reasons why this is the most anticipated minor-league season in recent memory for the Mets, given that excitement about the future often runs inversely to excitement about the present.

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The main reason, from the Mets’ perspective, is the depth of talent across the minor-league landscape. Over the past few years, the Mets have had pockets of concentrated talent in the minors. Now, thanks to some trades bringing in prospects at last year’s deadline and a lack of trades involving their own recent first- and second-round picks, the Mets can talk about the major-league potential at every level.

So let’s run through that talent by affiliate, with rankings coming from Keith Law’s hierarchy of the farm system and analysis help from Andrew Christie, the Mets’ assistant director of player development.

Syracuse Mets (Triple-A)

Pitchers
SP Christian Scott (No. 6 in organization)
SP Mike Vasil (No. 10 in organization)
SP Dominic Hamel (No. 11 in organization)

Syracuse’s rotation might be the focal point of the entire organization. One reason the Mets have taken the conservative approach to fixing their major-league rotation, with a lot of short-term deals, is their intrigue in pitchers like Scott, Vasil and Hamel (as well as José Buttó, who was called up to start the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader).

While all three had strong 2023 seasons, Scott made the biggest leap, landing on Baseball Prospectus’ top-100 list. He looked like the real deal with a new sweeping slider in spring training. Scott struck out nine and allowed three runs in four innings in his Triple-A debut on Thursday.

After Scott threw 87 2/3 innings last season, the Mets don’t have a set number in mind for a threshold this season. As with any of their pitchers, the Mets will closely monitor Scott’s workload, lean on more advanced technology that tracks his health and performance and sneak in some shorter stints when necessary.

“We’re willing to be flexible,” Christie said about innings limits in general. “We have a lot more technology now that will allow us to constantly stress-test our pitchers, in terms of the ability to bounce back after outings, where their strength is at, where their range of motion is at. That’s probably more the priority than having an innings limit.”

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Vasil and Hamel might not possess the same kind of ceiling as Scott right now, but they both could prove capable big-league starters before long.

For every pitcher in Syracuse, adjusting to the automated balls and strikes system in use takes time.

Lineup
IF Luisangel Acuña (No. 2 in organization, No. 45 overall)
OF Drew Gilbert (No. 4 in organization, No. 100 overall)

Two-thirds of the return the Mets received for Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, Acuña and Gilbert are on the precipice of the majors. Acuña’s offense dipped after the deadline trade with the Rangers last year, and the Mets want to see him refine his pitch selection to better get to more power than his frame suggests he’d have. That doesn’t just mean eliminating some chases out of the zone; it’s also about being more aggressive on pitches he can drive in the zone.

“The root of what we’re looking for from him is to hit the ball in the air a little more and swing at slightly better pitches,” Christie said. “That should hopefully lead to tapping into more power.”

Acuña will primarily play second base and shortstop while also seeing a game per week in center field. He and Jett Williams have similar defensive profiles, and the club wants to provide them as many paths to the majors as possible.

The Mets have already moved Brandon Nimmo from center field to left field this season after signing Harrison Bader to a one-year deal. That could open center long-term for Gilbert. In the meantime, he will see time in both corner outfield spots to ensure he’d be ready for a fourth outfielder role in the majors this season if the opportunity arises.

Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Double-A)

Pitchers
SP Blade Tidwell (No. 9 in organization)

Tidwell and Tyler Stuart, who both reached Binghamton late last summer, headline the rotation. A second-round pick out of Tennessee in 2022, Tidwell built a solid base of more than 100 innings last season. Now it’s about harnessing command of his excellent stuff to turn it into more consistent results at this level.

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Stuart led the entire minor leagues in ERA last year, a startling breakthrough for a former reliever at Southern Mississippi. Stuart uses his 6-foot-9 height and excellent extension to get more out of his stuff than the radar gun shows.

Lineup
IF Jett Williams (No. 1 in organization, No. 30 overall)
C Kevin Parada (No. 7 in organization)
OF Alex Ramírez (No. 18 in organization)

Like Gilbert, Williams is looking to build off what was an outstanding 2023. Like Acuña, for him that comes down to being a bit more aggressive within the strike zone.

“His biggest focus this offseason was getting more selectively aggressive on pitches in the middle of the plate, knowing he can pick pitches early in the count and drive them for extra-base hits and homers,” Christie said. “It’s really just how can you select the best possible pitch.”

Williams will see time at short, second and center. On the infield, he’s got some work to do on his footwork to cut down on throwing errors and acclimate more to double-play turns from second base.

Parada’s first foray into full-season ball didn’t go as swimmingly as it did for Williams. It’s often tough for catchers to retain their offense when they reach pro ball because of all the responsibilities of handling a pitching staff. The Mets want Parada to be more direct with his swing path to the ball — something they’ve mentioned with hitters like Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty in the majors — and to continue to progress defensively with his framing and throwing.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, but moving the needle consistently will get him to the big leagues relatively soon,” said Christie.

This is a big year for Ramírez, who despite a terrible 2023 season in Brooklyn was protected from the Rule 5 draft and placed on the 40-man roster over the winter. That showed a belief in the talent level, and Ramírez impressed the organization with his work in the offseason at its academy in the Dominican Republic.

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The Mets were pleased with most of Ramírez’s swing decisions last season; his adjustment has more to do with the actual mechanics of that swing.

“He was just late on everything,” Christie said, with the Mets working on getting Ramírez’s swing started earlier. “That was leading to a lot of the poor contact quality.”

Brooklyn Cyclones (High A)

Pitchers
SP Brandon Sproat (No. 13 in organization)

The pitcher so nice, the Mets drafted him twice. New York failed to sign Sproat after selecting him in the third round in 2022 only to take him again in the second round last year (with his consent), and the right-hander is already showing why the Mets were so infatuated with him. He touched 99 mph in a dominant inning in the Spring Breakout game in March.

The Mets have tinkered with Sproat’s delivery to get more consistent shape on that high-90s fastball, with ride up in the zone.

Calvin Ziegler, a second-round pick in 2021, is also back after a frustrating year of injuries. Ziegler had a bone spur removed from his elbow before spring training and then suffered a hamstring injury that limited him to a single late-season outing in 2023.

Nolan McLean will be a two-way player for Brooklyn. The Mets liked McLean more as a starter coming out of Oklahoma State, but they’re intrigued enough by his bat to have him in the lineup three times a week as a DH.

Lineup
1B/OF Ryan Clifford (No. 8 in organization)
IF Jacob Reimer (No. 15 in organization)

Clifford, who came along with Gilbert in the Verlander trade, has about as much power as anyone else in the system. Just don’t expect to see evidence of it right away in Brooklyn, where the winds off the Atlantic Ocean beyond the right-field fence can be punishing in April.

The Mets have emphasized that to Clifford and everyone else slated for Brooklyn.

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“It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be difficult to hit,” Christie said. “So really sticking to process-level checkpoints is going to be huge for him early in the year.”

St. Lucie Mets (Low A)

Pitchers

St. Lucie’s starting rotation can run about nine guys deep, and so the team is going to make ample use of piggybacking — multiple pitchers going three or four innings in the same game. That’s a strategy the Mets are fond of in general at the lower levels, since it gives more pitchers the chance to show they can be starters long-term.

“Getting as many of those guys out there for three innings or more, getting them to have platoon-neutral arsenals to lefties and righties is huge,” Christie said.

While there’s less name recognition among that group right now, Christie expects an arm or two to break out this season. Jack Wenninger, last year’s sixth-round pick out of Illinois, gets the Opening Day nod.

Lineup
IF Colin Houck (No. 5 in organization)
OF Nick Morabito (No. 12 in organization)
IF Marco Vargas (No. 14 in organization)
IF Jesus Baez (No. 17 in organization)
C Ronald Hernandez (No. 19 in organization)

The infield is intriguing here, with Houck, Vargas and Baez all capable shortstops at the level. All three will see time there, with Vargas getting additional time at second, Houck more time at third, and Baez extra time at both second and third. Jeremy Rodriguez, who cracked FanGraphs’ top-100 list after coming over in the Tommy Pham trade, could figure into that infield mix eventually. He’ll start in the Florida Complex League.

Last year’s first-rounder, Houck enters his first full season of pro ball.

“Really more than any performance level goal, it’s more getting a season under his belt, maintaining confidence in himself and his own ability and understanding there have been very few players that sail right through,” Christie said.

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Morabito, the club’s second-round pick in 2022, held his own when promoted to St. Lucie late last season. A shortstop in high school, the Mets like Morabito’s potential in center field given his speed. Morabito stole 21 bases in 57 games last season across two levels.

(Top photo of Christian Scott: Rich Storry / Getty Images)

Mets' minor-league preview: Players to watch, breakout candidates for an improving system (2)Mets' minor-league preview: Players to watch, breakout candidates for an improving system (3)

Tim Britton is a senior writer for The Athletic covering the New York Mets. He has covered Major League Baseball since 2009 and the Mets since 2018. Prior to joining The Athletic, he spent seven seasons on the Red Sox beat for the Providence Journal. He has also contributed to Baseball Prospectus, NBC Sports Boston, MLB.com and Yahoo Sports. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBritton

Mets' minor-league preview: Players to watch, breakout candidates for an improving system (2024)
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