The Arizona Fall League opens on Tuesday, with seven Mets prospects assigned to Mesa, along with farmhands from the Angels, Cubs, Phillies and Pirates.
Right-hander Brad Holt, a 2008 supplemental first-round pick by the Mets, gets the Opening Day start. The team also these includes Mets prospects: catcher Kai Gronauer, right-hander Nick Carr, left-handers Robert Carson and Eric Niesen, second baseman Jordany Valdespin and outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
Right-hander Josh Stinson had been on the initial list to participate, but was pulled because of his workload this season (138 1/3 innings).
Ricky Bones, the pitching coach for Triple-A Buffalo this past season, will serve in that capacity for Mesa.
Farm director Adam Wogan offered details on each prospect to ESPNNewYork.com after traveling to Fort Myers, Fla., to take in the final four days of the Mets’ instructional league:
On Carr (2-2, 4.70 ERA between Gulf Coast Mets, Brooklyn and St. Lucie), who returned from Tommy John surgery during the 2010 regular season: “He’s not past that 18-month [recovery] mark, so he’s still kind of in a rehab portion of his return. We’re keeping a close eye on him. And it really gave us a lot more comfort knowing Ricky Bones would be there to be able to assess some of these pitchers out there. Nick throws hard. He was a starter at the beginning of his career and it was a good place for him to get the innings. He threw both a curveball and a slider. He’s more throwing a slider now and can show really good fastball velocity -- anywhere up to 98 mph, even 99 mph. I think he’s touched triple-digits in the past for whatever accuracy you give that on some of these guns. He definitely throws the ball hard, and is working on commanding the fastball and the slider a little better.”
On Carson (8-11, 5.67 ERA between St. Lucie and Binghamton): “We probably challenged him a little quicker because we knew mentally he could handle it. We challenged guys in the past, obviously, and this year he was the guy who was having a good run of success in A-ball. We had some opportunities for someone to go start in Double-A. We really all debated it for a little while and felt confident, regardless of how he performed, he’d benefit from the experience. And we think he has. He’s much better off having been at that level to see what he needs to do. Coming into next season he’ll be in a good spot to go back there.”
On Gronauer (.291, 4 HR, 43 RBIs between Savannah and St. Lucie), who hails from Germany: “He had a real good year offensively. He missed a short amount of time, but he’s just a tough guy, a good leader behind the plate, a real competitor. He’s a little bit behind just in terms of continuing to get a high level of baseball. Age (23) isn’t as much of a factor with him if you put it in the right context. We feel like he had a positive year. He’s a real good defensive catcher who is starting to swing the bat pretty well.”
On Holt (3-14, 8.34 ERA between Binghamton and St. Lucie): “I think Brad would be the first to admit his season didn’t go anywhere near the way he wanted it to for him, but he came back down in instructional league and the guys raved about him down there. They said he came with a great approach, great attitude and looked for a fresh start and was ready to go to work. And he did and really threw the ball well before he left for Arizona. So we were happy with how it looked, and now we’ll see how it goes once the games start and the games are for real.”
On Niesen (4-6, 5.14 ERA at Binghamton: “We wanted him to start, even though we might have been eyeing that lefty [specialist] role potentially. We still wanted to see if he could start, and we wanted to get him more innings to continue to develop in all areas. He did have a bit of a tough year and the transition to relieving was a little tough for him, but as the year went on, he just gradually made some adjustments. Being down in instructional league he was able to work on those and get back to where he needed to be. That went really, really well for him. He and Brad were the two guys who benefited the most from being down in instructional league from Day 1.”
On Nieuwenhuis (.274, 18 HR, 77 RBIs, 13 steals between Binghamton and Buffalo): “Out there, just based on the setup of the league, I’m sure he’ll get work at all three outfield spots and it kind of evolves over time. Our hope is that he plays a decent amount of center field, but as long as he’s in the lineup as often as he can be, it doesn’t really matter. We still believe he can play center field at the major league level, and play it well. Hopefully he continues to get experience at the other spots, but we believe he’s a good center fielder.”
On Valdespin (.272, 6 HR, 41 RBIs, 17 steals between St. Lucie and Binghamton): “He’s out there as a priority second baseman, which by the league definition means he’ll get four days a week at second. If he needed to play shortstop, he could. But I believe there are a few other shortstops on that team, so it’s not a concern for us. The athleticism, the speed, really the tools that he has -- he shows some power, he shows the ability to hit the ball hard -- it’s more a matter of refining his game, which is why we wanted him to go to the Fall League. And then I believe he’ll hopefully fully get an opportunity to play a little bit again in winter ball [in the Dominican Republic]. The more he can play the better. He was with Licey, and as far as I know he’s back with Licey again. They granted permission for him to play in the Fall League even though he’s on the primary reserve list. He’ll return down to them. And if they have the opportunity for him to play down there, then he’ll get to go back. We’d love it if he played down there again.”
On Stinson (11-5, 3.90 ERA between Binghamton and Buffalo), who was scratched from the AFL: “No injury at all. We felt like he had gone far enough, especially when at the end of the year he threw that complete game. He had a great finish to the season, and his innings count was high enough that he really didn’t need even 15 more innings.”
As for the instructional league, which concludes this week, the Mets held it in Fort Myers, Fla., rather than the Mets’ complex in Port St. Lucie. Mets farmhands used Boston’s major league complex, and competed against three other organizations' farmhands: from the Rays, Red Sox and Twins. (The Marlins did a 10-day camp in early September and the Cardinals cancelled their instructional league, leaving only the Nationals within a two-hour radius from St. Lucie.)
Daniel Murphy played second base, and is now poised to go to Aguilas in the Dominican Republic for winter ball.
“We’ve certainly been happy to see Murphy back on the field,” Wogan said. “Since he just got back into it, he’s just been playing second. It’s my understanding that in winter ball that while they’ll agree to play him primarily at second, he may also play other spots.”
2010 first-round pick Matt Harvey, a right-hander from the University of North Carolina, did not throw a pitch in a game. He had not thrown a ball over the summer, before signing with the Mets at the Aug. 16 deadline.
“He was right on the cusp. He was throwing bullpens,” Wogan said. “Everything was going well. We were just being real cautious with him. And then, unfortunately, he had a death in the family that he needed to go home for. That alone was enough to set him back, so he just wasn’t going to be able to get into a game. He went home this past weekend for the funeral, and since we only have four days remaining, we’ve allowed him to stay home.”
As for guys who have stood out, Wogan said: “Certainly guys like [Cesar] Puello, he’s definitely continued to stand out despite a long season and the number of games he’s played. On the mound, whether these are the guys who stood out or not, it’s great to see guys like Juan Urbina [age 17] and Domingo Tapia [age 18] down here competing with these guys as young as they are.
“They got to play one game at the Trop [home of the Rays], and [Wilfredo] Tovar hit a real good fastball out. There were some positives down here.”
Wogan said he did not have a current report on Fernando Martinez (knee), but the last word was that he should be able to play winter ball. As for second baseman Reese Havens, a 2008 first-round pick who spent the end of the season in New York trying to deal with oblique/back issues, Wogan did not foresee surgery needed.
“He just went home,” Wogan said about Havens. “He was spending time in New York with our doctors. There was no sense trying to rush him back and get him into a game in the Fall League. He’s working back right now from it. He’s doing some baseball activities. So we’re just discussing what the next step is for him.”