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Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Farm report: DiFelice guides K-Mets

By Adam Rubin

Mike DiFelice spent parts of 13 seasons as a major league catcher, and actually was assigned to Double-A Binghamton late in his playing career so that he could serve as a batterymate and mentor for a then-recently drafted Mike Pelfrey.

Jonathan Hurst made a combined 10 major league pitching appearances with the Mets and Montreal Expos during his playing career and pitched in the minors from 1987-98.

Now the duo is in its second season as the manager and pitching coach, respectively, of the Mets’ Class A affiliate in Kingsport, Tenn.

“We’ve got a really good relationship,” DiFelice said. “I think from Day 1 last year when I started my career here as a manager, the first person I went to was Jonathan when I found out he was my pitching coach to say, ‘Listen, I was a catcher. There are going to be times when I’m probably going to interject things. Don’t feel like I’m stepping on your toes or anything like that.’ We’ve got such a good relationship now. We understand each other. And we basically tag-team these pitchers. Jonathan is an experienced guy. He’s pitched in the big leagues. He’s pitched professionally for over 18 years.”

Their rookie-level team features some of the top Mets pitchers taken in last month’s draft.

The top performer so far may be 12th-round pick Bret Mitchell. The right-hander from Minnesota St.-Mankato sits at 90-91 mph and tops out at 93 mph. He has a four-pitch arsenal (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup), although the curveball has been his out pitch so far as a pro. Mitchell had allowed one earned run apiece in each of his first three starts before surrendering four runs in four innings Monday, which lifted his ERA to 3.10.

Eleventh-round pick Adam Kolarek, a left-hander out of the University of Maryland, already has been moved to Brooklyn after striking out 15 in 9 1/3 innings spanning five relief appearances.

And while seventh-round pick Jeff Walters’ numbers haven’t been impressive so far (0-2, 8.10 ERA), DiFelice has liked the University of Georgia product’s arm strength and understanding of pitching concepts. Walters relies on a fastball-slider combo.

Right-hander Jacob deGrom, a ninth-round pick out of Stetson, is being converted to pitcher after primarily playing shortstop in college. He possesses a 93 mph fastball with a tight slider. His changeup is a work in progress, as is often the case with position players transitioning to pitching.

“We’ve got a lot of the new pitchers here from the draft,” DiFelice said. “Our scouts did a really good job of going out and getting some young arms.”

Organization leaders

Average: Darrell Ceciliani, Brooklyn, .388; Justin Schafer, Kingsport, .387; ZeErika McQueen, Kingsport, .356; Joe Bonfe, Brooklyn, .346; Javier Rodriguez, Kingsport, .333; Eric Campbell, Binghamton, .327; Josh Satin, Binghamton, .315; Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Binghamton, .306; Lucas Duda, Buffalo, .303; Wilmer Flores, St. Lucie, .301.

Homers: Mike Hessman, Buffalo, 18; Nick Evans, Binghamton, 15; Lucas Duda, Buffalo, 15; Mike Jacobs, Buffalo, 14; Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Binghamton, 14.

RBIs: Lucas Duda, Buffalo, 61; Mike Hessman, Buffalo, 57; Wilmer Flores, St. Lucie, 54; Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Binghamton, 52; Sean Ratliff, Binghamton, 52.

Steals: Cesar Puello, Savannah, 27; Pedro Zapata, Savannah, 25; Juan Lagares, St. Lucie, 23; Emmanuel Garcia, St. Lucie, 18.

ERA: Jimmy Fuller, Savannah, 1.83; Angel Cuan, Brooklyn, 1.87; Mark Cohoon, Binghamton, 2.15; Brandon Moore, St. Lucie, 2.51; Yohan Almonte, Brooklyn, 2.79; Edioglis Villasmil, GCL Mets, 2.79; Mitchell Houck, Brooklyn, 2.90; Armando Rodriguez, Savannah, 3.03; Bret Mitchell, Kingsport, 3.10; Pat Misch, Buffalo, 3.12.

Wins: Pat Misch, Buffalo, 9; Mark Cohoon, Binghamton, 8; Dillon Gee, Buffalo, 8.

Saves: Manuel Alvarez, Buffalo, 13; Michael Powers, Savannah, 11; Jose Bierd, St. Lucie, 8.

Strikeouts: Brandon Moore, St. Lucie, 114; Dillon Gee, Buffalo, 102; Mark Cohoon, Binghamton, 88; Armando Rodriguez, Savannah, 87; Jimmy Fuller, Savannah, 86.

Short hops

Right-hander Jeurys Familia allowed two runs on three hits in one-third of an inning while representing the Mets in Sunday’s Futures Game in Anaheim, Calif. … Mike Jacobs and Lucas Duda have been on home run binges with Triple-A Buffalo. Jacobs had five homers in a five-game span last week, including a July 5 shot off left-hander Ron Villone. Duda has eight homers in 13 games since June 28. … Outfielder Jesus Feliciano, who hit .385 in 53 games with the Bisons through June 6 before a call-up to the major leagues when Gary Matthews Jr. was jettisoned, will rejoin Buffalo once play resumes after the Triple-A All-Star break Thursday. … Ex-Dodger Ramon Ortiz, who is 0-2 with an 8.53 ERA in four starts since joining the Bisons, starts the second-half opener, followed by rehabbing Oliver Perez on Saturday. … Center fielder Jorge Padilla lost a 12-game hitting streak Saturday, which matched the longest by a Bison this season. Feliciano also had a streak of that length. … Left-hander Pat Misch (9-3, 3.12 ERA) represents the Bisons in the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday night in Lehigh Valley, Pa. … Binghamton center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis was named the Eastern League Player of the Week after having five multi-hit games in a seven-day span. Nieuwenhuis is hitting .455 with four homers in 13 games this month. He is due to participate in the Home Run Derby before competing in Wednesday night’s Eastern League All-Star Game. … Catcher Mike Nickeas, who is having his finest offensive season as a professional with a .307 average, three homers and 26 RBIs in 55 games, and right-hander Josh Stinson also are representing the B-Mets at the Eastern League All-Star Game. Nickeas was named as a replacement for first baseman Nick Evans, who was promoted to the major leagues. Shortstop Luis Hernandez originally was named an All-Star, but he’s now with Buffalo. … Sean Ratliff, who was promoted in mid-June from St. Lucie to Binghamton when Nieuwenhuis suffered a shoulder strain, has moved from center fielder to left field with Nieuwenhuis’ return. Ratliff, a Stanford product, missed a couple of weekend games after tweaking his right shoulder. He returned Monday for Binghamton’s first-half finale and produced a game-tying eighth-inning homer against New Hampshire. Ratliff is hitting .333 with eight homers and 22 RBIs in 108 at-bats since the promotion from the Florida State League. … Reliever John Lujan was returned from Buffalo to Binghamton after producing a 6.00 ERA in 26 Triple-A appearances. Lujan’s fastball and slider command aren’t what they were in April, during his first tour with the B-Mets, when he converted both of his save chances and had a 2.89 ERA in six relief appearances. … Savannah third baseman Jefry Marte has an eight-game hitting streak during which he’s hitting .469 (15-for-32) with four doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs. … Right-hander John Church has not allowed an earned run in 22 2/3 innings since May 30 and is 2-0 in three starts since moving from the bullpen to Savannah’s rotation. … Sand Gnats first baseman Travis Ozga had 11 RBIs in five games against Asheville. … Robbie Shields, who was drafted in the third round in 2009 out of Florida Southern, advanced from serving as DH to playing shortstop in the Gulf Coast League last week. Shields is returning Tommy John surgery. … St. Lucie right fielder Rafael Fernandez is 12-for-his-last-24 with two homers. … Shortstop Wilmer Flores, who had a .427 average in his first 17 games after a promotion from Savannah to St. Lucie, inevitably had his production slow. The 18-year-old Flores had consecutive 0-for-5 games Sunday and Monday at Charlotte as his average dipped to .376. … Catcher Kai Gronaeur, who was promoted with Flores to St. Lucie, is hitting .340 in 14 games in the Florida State League. … Right-hander Brandon Moore has allowed only five earned runs in three starts since rising from Savannah to St. Lucie. Moore -- the organization’s strikeout leader -- walked four in his last outing, but limited Fort Myers to only one run on four hits in six innings and took a tough-luck loss. … 2008 ninth-round pick Eric Beaulac from Troy, N.Y., has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last six starts. The right-hander has thrown eight wild pitches in his last four games, however. … 14th-round pick J.B. Brown from the University of the Pacific started off slowly with Brooklyn, going 3-for-his-first-32. Since then, the second baseman has gone 13-for-35 to lift his average to .278.

Adam Rubin’s farm report appears Wednesdays during the season