Mets minor-league update: Four teams, five games and plenty of storylines in one night for the franchise’s affiliates (2024)

The Mets, as a team, had Thursday night off, settling in down in St. Petersburg as they prep for the start of a three-game series and three-city road trip.

The Mets, as an organization, still had a very busy Thursday night, with five games across four levels of the minor leagues. It’s the second week of minor-league baseball after a year away from it, and New York’s affiliate structure is of course different after the sport’s reorganization of the minors.

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So with the big club off, I chatted Thursday morning with Jeremy Barnes, the Mets’ director of player development initiatives (and de facto farm director now that Kevin Howard has been bumped up to assistant hitting coach in the majors) and then fired up MiLB.tv Thursday night to check in on New York’s affiliates. I kept a journal along the way, because I’m not above stealing ideas.

5:35 p.m.

We’re starting on the radio in Daytona Beach, where the Low-A St. Lucie Mets (whose games are not available on MiLB.tv) are restarting a suspended game in the bottom of the third inning against the Tortugas, the Reds’ affiliate. And we’re starting immediately with bad news: On the third batter of the day, Francisco Álvarez is injured in a collision at home while tagging out Tyler Callihan. Álvarez limped off the field and would be held out of the rest of the day’s action. By night’s end, though, there was not long-term concern about his well-being.

Álvarez entered the day leading the Mets organization in hitting with a .571 average, .677 on-base percentage and .857 slugging percentage. The catcher is considered the best or second-best prospect in the organization, depending on who you ask, and is rapidly climbing up prospect lists across the game. He’s built to stick at catcher, and he can be a middle-of-the-order pillar.

“Special. He’s built like a brick house and has a hit factor about him,” said Barnes. “The thing that has impressed me the most is he’s taking his walks right now. There’s a process to it. And he’s swinging at the pitches that he wants, for the most part, and he’s drawn walks too. If he’s not going to swing at the balls, and he’s only going to pull the trigger on pitches that he wants to swing at, he’s going to do some damage. That presents a difficult puzzle for the pitcher to solve.

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“The sky’s the limit.”

Earlier in the day, St. Lucie had placed 2020 first-round pick Pete Crow-Armstrong on the injured list with a jammed right shoulder. Like Álvarez, Crow-Armstrong had gotten some big-league run in spring training and hit the ground running in the minor-league season, with an average north of .400 through the first week.

“I would classify him almost like a baseball rat,” Barnes said. “He just loves it. His energy, it’s 100 miles an hour in every aspect of the game. Early indications are he’s electric. He’s drawn walks, he’s gotten hits, he’s stolen bags — he’s been as advertised.”

The two 19-year-olds are the biggest reason to pay attention to St. Lucie this season, and neither are going to play in the next 14 innings. This is called foreshadowing.

6:36 p.m.

Two more levels are getting underway, as Adam Oller delivers the first pitch for the Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies against the Altoona Curve and an up-and-coming prospect named Brandon Nimmo steps to the plate for the Triple-A Syracuse Mets.

Nimmo is officially the first Met out on a rehab assignment since Jeff McNeil played for Syracuse at the end of the 2019 season. It’s a helpful step for returning big leaguers — a chance to see honest-to-goodness game action before being back in the majors.

You can expect most Mets rehab appearances this season to be with Syracuse. While major leaguers can rehab at other levels, they would then have to undergo a round of intake testing when back in the majors, because those other levels aren’t considered part of the organization’s bubble. So while Brooklyn may be a tempting geographical spot for rehabs, the Cyclones are unlikely to see any big leaguers this year.

This is a good time to remember how horrendous this situation would be for the Mets if their Triple-A affiliate was still across the country in Las Vegas.

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7:22 p.m.

Jake Hager goes yard the other way off former Mets farmhand Stephen Gonsalves in Worcester, extending Syracuse’s early lead to 4-1. Taken 19 picks after Nimmo in the first round of the 2011 draft, Hager signed with the Mets prior to the 2020 season and spent all of last year at the alternate site. He, too, is off to an excellent start this season, hitting .405 with three long balls in nine games.

That could end up being important: The Mets have grown very thin in position players of late, with Nimmo, J.D. Davis, Luis Guillorme and Albert Almora Jr. all on the injured list. Hager came up as a shortstop but has added center field to his responsibilities early this season, and he could become a versatile option for the major-league club down the road.

7:38 p.m.

In Worcester, left-handed starter Thomas Szapucki rebounds from his first (and only) walk of the evening with his best stretch of the night. First, he picks Jarren Duran off first base, and then he strikes out Jeter Downs looking with a nasty curveball.

As an organization, New York’s strength resides in its position players, with most prospect lists ranking seven or eight of the club’s top 10 prospects as hitters. The pitchers who always cracked the top 10 are Matt Allan and J.T. Ginn; the former is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery, the latter is returning from it. (Barnes said the Mets are hopeful Ginn, who had the surgery March 1, 2020, can pitch in a game this season.) The one who sometimes did? Szapucki, who’s charting his own recovery from the surgery.

Szapucki, who turns 25 next month, has been outstanding whenever he has pitched for the Mets: His ERA as a professional is 2.51. But he’s thrown all of 154 innings since being drafted in 2015, and his developmental window is closing: He runs out of options by 2023.

This season, thus, is a critical one for the lefty. Thursday marked his first start — he’d made one long relief appearance last week — and it was mostly good. The final line — five runs (four earned) on seven hits with five strikeouts and a walk in 5 1/3 innings — conceals that he was in command for much of the night. A hanging curveball that lefty Josh Ockimey drilled to right field for a two-run homer was the big mistake. It was the second time in the last four years he pitched into the sixth inning.

If figuring out how many innings anyone can pitch this year is a quandary, how much harder is it for a guy like Szapucki?

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“We have pitching coaches here that are tuned into this thing,” said Barnes, who emphasized the word “fluid” throughout our conversation. “I think the worst thing that we can do is just throw a number out there in April and say, ‘If he does X, it’s over.’ We have to take in all the factors involved and make a good decision for the individual in the organization.”

7:48 p.m.

Ten minutes later in Binghamton, Oller hits his apex for the night, striking out Ji-hwan Bae and Oneil Cruz back-to-back with the bases loaded to keep the game tied at two in the fourth. Given Oller was teammates with Bae and Cruz with the Pirates organization back in 2018, one imagines it was especially fulfilling.

Oller is one of a number of minor-league free agents or Rule 5 picks the Mets brought in to help pad out their pitching staffs for this unusual season. Binghamton’s starter Friday is Sam Tewes, who signed with the organization this offseason after beginning his career in the Cardinals system. The Rumble Ponies also have Justin Dillon, who was one of five players New York drafted in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft to restock its upper levels. (Another one, Jesus Reyes, is part of Syracuse’s rotation, alongside minor-league free agent Jerad Eickhoff.)

When asked whether the Mets had stockpiled enough pitching, Barnes reciprocated, “Can you have enough pitching? That’s the question I’ll ask.

“Coming off a COVID season where everyone’s innings were down, a shortened spring training added another layer of complexity,” he said. “The reality of baseball is pitching is not a healthy endeavor. There is inherent risk in being a pitcher, but we want to mitigate that risk as much as possible and be smart.

“We feel like guys are getting built up to where they need. We feel like we did that in a healthy manner and we did everything that we could do to get us to the point that we are right now. And now it’s just a matter of monitoring it and making sure that we were staying on top of that and making the best decisions we can for these guys’ health and careers.”

8:33 p.m.

It is unfortunate that the rules governing doubleheaders cannot be fluid. Daytona led St. Lucie 15-0 after seven innings, but instead of calling the game then and playing a nine-inning nightcap, the two trucked along for two more low-leverage frames in a 15-2 Tortugas win. The seven-inning capper to the day won’t start for another half hour.

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8:43 p.m.

Replacing Szapucki in the sixth inning in Worcester, Sam McWilliams looks like he strands a runner on third by getting a key strikeout and a pop-up. However, the pop-up to right-center drops thanks to a miscommunication between Mason Williams (who replaced Nimmo) and Drew Ferguson (another one of those minor-league Rule 5 picks). That allows the inherited runner to score to close out Szapucki’s line with an unearned run.

9:02 p.m.

Hey, we haven’t checked in on High-A Brooklyn yet, playing down in Greenville against another Red Sox affiliate, the Drive. After starting the night 0-for-2, Brett Baty extends his modest hitting streak to five by fighting off a pitch in on his hands for a base hit to center that may have broken his bat. Baty has got enough pop in his bat to muscle poor contact over the infield.

Baty is with Brooklyn while Mark Vientos, New York’s other power-hitting third-base prospect, has the night off for Binghamton one level up. That was an interesting placement decision for the Mets: Even though Vientos was taken two years earlier in the draft, he’s actually still a month younger than Baty.

“Every year those decisions are big decisions, but especially this year, being new to the organization and coming off an unprecedented COVID year added some different challenges,” said Barnes. “One thing that we’re trying to push here is collaboration and really leaning on people and making sure that everyone does have a voice and everyone has a piece of the pie. And that’s how we did it. We leaned on people that may have experience with certain guys, we leaned on information that we have from the analytical department, looking at 2019 data. You just take in all the information and you try to lean on all the resources that we had.”

With Vientos and Baty at different levels, there’s less of a feeling of competition between them.

“They’re both playing third base (right now), and I’m not going to pigeonhole either one of them to make sure we split things up,” Barnes said. “I hope they create a problem for us in that regard. I hope they do so well we have to make a tough decision.”

Baty is off to a terrific start: His 1-for-4 Thursday dropped his average to .417. Vientos has had a rougher go of it, as you might suspect at the higher level, with four hits and a strikeout rate just below 50 percent in 26 at-bats. These things happen in seven-game samples.

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On a normal night for the Cyclones, Baty will be playing the left side of the infield with Ronny Mauricio. On Thursday, neither did, with Baty DHing and Mauricio getting the night off. The shortstop is the one jockeying with Álvarez for the title of the organization’s top prospect, and he too has been wrecking the ball early in the season. He’s put on significant muscle since his last game action in 2019, and the switch-hitter is opening more eyes in a quick glimpse this season.

“He’s a specimen. It’s the old scouting cliché: He looks good in the uniform,” Barnes said.

Like Baty and Vientos, Mauricio has a muddled defensive future, though his is thanks to a guy on the big-league club. Francisco Lindor is slated to be the Mets’ shortstop through 2031. So where does that leave Mauricio?

“It’s a good problem to have,” said Barnes. “He’s a shortstop right now, and I think saying he’s not could be a disservice for him in his career. The skills that he needs to work on at shortstop are transferable to second, or third, or any secondary positions he could potentially play in the future.”

Still, Barnes dropped the word “fluid” again in discussing Mauricio’s defensive position, and it stands to reason that the closer he gets to the big leagues, the more the Mets will look to expand his pathways to playing time. The good news is that Mauricio’s bat can play in a corner spot, which opens up plenty of opportunities for him to get there.

9:39 p.m.

The WooSox close out Syracuse, 7-4, with Duran’s two-run missile over everything in right off McWilliams closing the scoring. The Mets’ affiliates are off to an 0-2 start on the day.

9:56 p.m.

Carrying a 6-2 lead into the eighth, Binghamton sure looked like it was going to get off the schneid — not just for Mets affiliates on Thursday but for the Rumble Ponies all season, as they entered the day 0-7. Instead, the Curve scored once in the eighth and three more times in the ninth, with Mason Martin tying the game with a two-run homer off Yeizo Campos.

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10:28 p.m.

While Binghamton is laboring in extras, Greenville closes out Brooklyn 8-2. Jake Mangum, who became the SEC’s all-time hits leader while at Mississippi State, got the Cyclones on the board with his first professional home run in the eighth.

Down in Daytona Beach, right-hander Junior Santos is done after restoring some sanity to the day for St. Lucie. Santos, who might be the next-best pitcher in the organization after Szapucki, tossed four scoreless innings, striking out five. Barnes mentioned him alongside Binghamton’s Tylor Megill — who’s struck out 17 and allowed one run on four hits in 10 innings across two starts — as an arm that has impressed him early on.

10:47 p.m.

The other shoe falls for the Rumble Ponies, who drop a 9-6 decision in 10 innings to Altoona. They are 0-8. Mets affiliates are 0-4 on the day. This was probably the wrong night to do this.

11:19 p.m.

The most exciting play of the day comes in its final inning. With St. Lucie in an extra eighth inning at Daytona, the Mets don’t just settle for a Little League double steal to take the lead; they remix it with an added layer of Little Leaguery.

With runners on first and third, LT Struble stole second, and on the throw down José Peroza — not to be confused with José Peraza at the big-league level — broke home. The throw from the infield was late and wild, allowing Struble to move not just to third but to actually score on the play. He made it from first to home on one pitch without the ball being put in play.

11:33 p.m.

Almost exactly six hours after the day started, it finishes in Daytona Beach with a 2-0 St. Lucie win in extras. Austin Faith got the win thanks to his three perfect innings behind Santos, and his name seems apt: The Mets were outscored 13-4 on the day by the Tortugas but still earned a doubleheader split.

And New York manages to find one win Thursday, finishing 1-4 as an organization. There are four more games Friday.

(Top photo of Ronny Mauricio: Tom Priddy / Four Seam Images via AP)

Mets minor-league update: Four teams, five games and plenty of storylines in one night for the franchise’s affiliates (2024)
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