New York Mets: Mackey Sasser

30 for 30 Short: Sasser's Field of Fears

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29

NEW YORK -- Despite playing in the league for close to a decade, Mackey Sasser's Mets career is defined by one word, "Yips." Via interviews with Sasser and his sports psychologists, and a look at his treatment, this film examines the mental side of sports.

Farm report: Undrafted Rivera ascends

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
NEW YORK -- T.J. Rivera last regularly started at shortstop during his freshman year in college, while he played for ex-Met Mackey Sasser at Wallace-Dothan Community College in Alabama.

However, once Matt Reynolds earned a promotion to Las Vegas in mid-June, and with Wilfredo Tovar having not yet returned to Double-A following surgery to repair a thumb ligament, Rivera at least temporarily has been restored to the position he also played at Lehman High School in the Bronx as a teenager.

Rivera, 25, is hitting .340 with one homer and 13 RBIs in 27 games with Binghamton. He spent the first half at St. Lucie, hitting .341 with four homers and 47 RBIs in 252 at-bats.

Courtesy of New York MetsT.J. Rivera

Overall, his .341 season average leads the organization, narrowly ahead of Reynolds’ .337.

“With Reynolds going up to Triple-A, we didn’t have a shortstop,” B-Mets manager Pedro Lopez said. “Talking to [director of player development] Dicky [Scott], I felt like it was a good opportunity for T.J. to basically go out and play short on a daily basis. He’s done a good job.”

Said Rivera: “It’s awesome. I haven’t played there in a while. When I first signed, I played a little bit of it. But after that, last year I played maybe one or two games when Reynolds didn’t play. It’s been a great experience. It’s a great position if you can play it -- a lot of opportunities open up for you. I’m really just trying to go out there and make every routine play I can to help the team and the pitchers.”

Rivera has earned his way to Double-A, perhaps more so than most farmhands. He went undrafted as a senior as he finished his college career at Troy University in Alabama. He still doesn’t know how the Mets found him, although he believes Sasser, his JUCO coach, must have put in a good word. Rivera signed with the Mets a week after the draft in 2011.

“It was weird,” Rivera said. “My senior year I p1ayed my whole year and didn’t really talk to any scouts or anything like that. I don’t know if they had seen me in junior college or they had been watching me at Troy. It was the week after and I got a call. It was out of the blue.”

For Rivera ultimately to reach the majors would be a big-time accomplishment.

According to MLB data, there were 853 players on Opening Day rosters -- either active or on the DL or restricted list. Of those, 650 were drafted and 188 were foreign-born and not subject to the draft. That leaves only 15 other players. Of those, MLB identified 10 who were eligible for the draft and went unselected: Heath Bell, Chris Colabello, Greg Dobbs, Ryan Hanigan, Elliot Johnson, Daniel Nava, Matt Shoemaker, Joe Thatcher, Dale Thayer and Ian Thomas.

Bell was an undrafted Mets signee who debuted with the Amazin’s.

Assistant GM John Ricco could only recall one Mets signee since Bell to reach the majors: right-hander Robert Manuel, who went to the Reds in a 2006 trade for Dave Williams and made his major league debut with Cincinnati in ’09.

“It’s nice that I’m showing that people that aren’t drafted can still have a chance as long as you prove yourself. I still have a lot more to prove, which I know,” Rivera said. “It’s awesome that I’m doing something like that. But either way -- if I was drafted high or not -- it’s a great experience. Hopefully I’m opening eyes for other people that aren’t drafted. We still have an opportunity to come out and play, just like anybody else does.”

Rivera by no means is a power hitter. He cleared the left-field wall once in batting practice at Trenton on Friday and expressed surprise that he accomplished it. If he reaches the majors, it probably would be as a versatile infielder. He has some minor-league experience at first and third, although the bulk of his work has been at second base and now shortstop.

“I like to stick to the gaps,” Rivera said. “When I try to do too much, my swing goes downhill. I try to keep low line drives and keep the ball in the gap and try to get on base. Once in a while I’m able to get them out.”

Said Lopez: “He’s patient, but at the same time he’s aggressive. He’s got pretty good plate discipline. Not to say he doesn’t swing at pitches out of the strike zone, because they all do. That’s the reason why they’re here. But he’s got a solid approach and he’s got a good understanding of the strike zone.”

Organization leaders

Average: T.J. Rivera, Binghamton, .341; Matt Reynolds, Vegas, .337; Wuilmer Becerra, Kingsport, .330; Matt den Dekker, Vegas, .326; Dilson Herrera, Binghamton, .320; John Mora, GCL Mets, .318; Kevin Plawecki, Vegas, .314; Enmanuel Zabala, GCL Mets, .306; Jeff McNeil, St. Lucie, .304; Josh Satin, Vegas, .304.

Homers: Brian Burgamy, Binghamton, 18; Dustin Lawley, Binghamton, 18; Andrew Brown, Vegas, 17; Allan Dykstra, Vegas, 14; Wimer Flores, Vegas, 13.

RBIs: Allan Dykstra, Vegas, 62; L.J. Mazzilli, St. Lucie, 62; Brian Burgamy, Binghamton, 60; T.J. Rivera, Binghamton, 60; Wilmer Flores, Vegas, 57.

Steals: Patrick Biondi, Savannah, 22; Dilson Herrera, Binghamton, 21; Champ Stuart, Savannah, 17; Jeff McNeil, St. Lucie, 16; Darrell Ceciliani, Binghamton, 14.

ERA: Martires Arias, Kingsport, 0.50; Marcos Molina, Brooklyn, 1.30; Octavio Acosta, Brooklyn, 2.14; Corey Oswalt, Brooklyn, 2.56; Steven Matz, Binghamton, 2.60; Robert Gsellman, Savannah, 2.63; John Gant, Savannah, 2.72; Kevin McGowan, St. Lucie, 2.86; Darin Gorski, Vegas, 3.33; Matt Bowman, Binghamton, 3.35.

Wins: Gabriel Ynoa, Binghamton, 10; John Gant, Savannah, 10; Greg Peavey, Binghamton, 9.

Saves: Chasen Bradford, Vegas, 13; Robert Coles, St. Lucie, 12; Randy Fontanez, Binghamton, 10; Akeel Morris, Savannah, 10; Cody Satterwhite, Binghamton, 10.

Strikeouts: Darin Gorski, Vegas, 105; Noah Syndergaard, Vegas, 100; Steven Matz, Binghamton, 99; Tyler Pill, Binghamton, 96; Dario Alvarez, Savannah, 95.

Short hops

• First-round pick Michael Conforto lost a 10-game hitting streak to begin his career when he went 0-for-3 with a walk in Brooklyn’s 4-1 win at Lowell on Tuesday. Conforto’s streak was the longest to start a professional career as a Cyclone since former first-round pick Ike Davis began his career with a 15-game hitting streak in 2008.

Conforto nonetheless is hitting .366 with four RBIs in 41 at-bats in the New York-Penn League. No promotion is imminent for the Oregon State product, but Conforto should finish his first season at a higher level -- potentially Savannah, which will be playoff-bound after winning the first half.

• Mets prospects will be assigned to the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League along with players from the Yankees, Phillies, Pirates and Giants. Jeff Bannister from Pittsburgh’s organization will manage the club. The Mets do not have a representative on the coaching staff, but Binghamton trainer Debra Iwanow will work with the AFL club.

• St. Lucie shortstop Gavin Cecchini went 3-for-6 Monday and ignited a 12th-inning rally. His Florida State League average climbed 16 points in one day, but still remains only .195 in 35 games since a promotion from Savannah.

• Binghamton first baseman Jayce Boyd, a Florida State product, had a .246 average on July 6. Since then, he leads the Eastern League with a .396 (21-for-53) average.

• Brooklyn’s Jhoan Ureña had his second 13-game hitting streak of the season snapped Monday. He became the second player in Cyclones history to have a pair of double-digit-game hitting streaks in the same season. The other: Angel Pagan in 2001, the inaugural season of the Cyclones.

• Binghamton second baseman Dilson Herrera, who was acquired from the Pirates last August, has hit safely in 29 of 35 games since a promotion to Binghamton. The production includes 12 multi-hit games. He also has produced 32 RBIs in 35 games.

• Princeton product Matt Bowman rejoined Binghamton after a spot start with Las Vegas in which he took a scoreless effort into the eighth inning.

John Lannan has joined Las Vegas after a seven-week absence from the organization, then a ramping-up process in the Florida State League.

• Tovar currently is playing with St. Lucie as he works back from a ligament tear that required surgery.

Jeremy Hefner will continue pitching with St. Lucie for at least one more start as he works back from Tommy John surgery performed last August.

Farm report: Bronx cheer for Rivera

May, 2, 2012
As a 12-year-old, T.J. Rivera pitched for his Little League team in the district-championship game in which it was eliminated by Danny Almonte’s squad. A half-dozen years later, Rivera went on to play junior college baseball for ex-Met Mackey Sasser.

Now, the 23-year-old middle infielder is making a name for himself in the Mets minor league system.

Courtesy of New York Mets
T.J. Rivera

Signed as an undrafted free agent last summer, Rivera -- a product of Lehman High School in the Bronx -- is the reigning South Atlantic League Player of the Week.

He completed April hitting .389 with four homers and 16 RBIs in 95 at-bats. He also has walked 15 times and been hit by pitches twice, giving him a .478 on-base percentage. Rivera’s average ranks third in the SAL behind West Virginia’s Alen Hanson (.410) and Hickory’s Christopher Grayson (.400). Rivera’s OBP ranks second to Grayson’s .500.

Rivera was signed last July 4 after going undrafted out of Troy (Ala.) University, where his team won the Sun Belt Conference title and beat Oklahoma State in the opening game of an NCAA regional at Vanderbilt last year.

“Once the draft was over, my coaches told me that I should get an opportunity to play and sign as a free agent,” Rivera said. “I was just really sitting around in Troy waiting for someone to give me a call, just give me an opportunity. My coach from Troy told me he was at a showcase or something and he saw [Mets area supervisor] Tommy Jackson, I think, and talked to him. That’s when I got a call about two days later that they needed an infielder at Kingsport, so I got my opportunity.”

Out of high school in the Bronx, Rivera wanted to play for a junior-college program in Florida or Alabama because of the quality of baseball and the weather. His summer-league coach sent him, as well as George Washington High School products Viosergy Rosa (now with Marlins system) and George Isabel (Yankees), who were summer-league teammates, to Sasser’s JUCO program in Dothan, Ala.

“We all went down together,” Rivera said. “So it was a little easier to get used to Alabama with a couple of guys out of New York.”

Rivera was unfamiliar with Sasser’s Mets history, including the ex-catcher’s noted throwing issues, until after joining the program.

“No idea,” Rivera said. “It’s funny. I’ve heard some stories now. Especially now that I’m with the Mets, everybody knows him. But I didn’t know who he was. I knew he played in the bigs for, I think, it was nine years with the Mets. But I didn’t know anything about him until I got down there, actually.”

Truth be told, Rivera grew up a Yankees fan. In fact, the lone Mets fan in his family is his father. Still, Rivera went to a fair amount of games at both Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium growing up -- more Mets games, in fact. The insurance company for which his mother worked would give tickets to its employees when they were not distributed to clients.

“I grew up a Yankee fan all my life,” Rivera said. “Everybody in my family is except my dad. My dad was the only Mets fan, believe it or not. I was actually pretty close. I was right in Throgs Neck, which is about 10 minutes away from Yankee Stadium. And if we took the train, it would be a little longer -- 15 minutes maybe. We’d just hop on the 4 train and be right there.”

While Rivera initially played for Kingsport last year after signing, he finished the regular season with Brooklyn, where he hit .326 in 15 games. He lived in team-sponsored housing, not with his family, because the subway commute was too lengthy from the Bronx and his car was still in Alabama. Regardless, the experience playing in New York City as a professional was a particular thrill given his roots.

“That was the best part of my career so far,” Rivera said. “I had a lot of family and friends that were able to come visit. Being in Alabama for four years, my parents really didn’t get to see me too much, or my friends. When I got to Brooklyn, that was a great opportunity for them to come see me. It was nice, too. We had 9,000 fans a game -- crazy fans, too, I’ll tell you.”

Organization leaders

Average: Bobby Scales, Buffalo, .397; T.J. Rivera, Savannah, .389; Jefry Marte, Binghamton, .347; Zach Lutz, Buffalo, .333; Wilmer Flores, St. Lucie, .318; Vinny Rottino, Buffalo, .316; Wilfredo Tovar, St. Lucie, .312; Josh Rodriguez, Binghamton, .308; Danny Muno, St. Lucie, .295; Valentino Pascucci, Buffalo, .292.

Homers: Valentino Pascucci, Buffalo, 6; Travis Taijeron, Savannah, 6; Cory Vaughn, St. Lucie, 6.

RBI: Wilmer Flores, St. Lucie, 19; Valentino Pascucci, Buffalo, 18; Aderlin Rodriguez, Savannah, 18; Cory Vaughn, St. Lucie, 17.

Steals: Luis Nieves, Savannah, 7; Cesar Puello, St. Lucie, 7; Danny Muno, St. Lucie, 5.

ERA: Alex Panteliodis, Savannah, 0.89; Chase Huchingson, St. Lucie, 1.32; Zack Wheeler, Binghamton, 1.75; Chris Schwinden, Buffalo, 2.05; Jeremy Hefner, Buffalo, 2.08; Tyler Pill, Savannah, 2.11; Mark Cohoon, Binghamton, 2.25; Collin McHugh, Binghamton, 2.33; Darin Gorski, Binghamton, 2.45; Angel Cuan, St. Lucie, 2.78.

Wins: Chase Huchingson, St. Lucie, 4; Gonzalez Germen, St. Lucie, 3; Jeff Kaplan, Binghamton, 3; Cory Mazzoni, St. Lucie, 3; Collin McHugh, Binghamton, 3.

Saves: Adrian Rosario, St. Lucie, 5; Fernando Cabrera, Buffalo, 4; Adam Kolarek, St. Lucie, 4.

Strikeouts: Zack Wheeler, Binghamton, 30; Jeurys Familia, Buffalo, 26; Collin McHugh, Binghamton, 26; Matt Harvey, Buffalo, 24; Jack Leathersich, Savannah, 24.

Short hops

• The Mets system owned the top collective record in minor league baseball in April. Fueled by Class A St. Lucie’s 20-4 record during the month, Mets affiliates went a combined 60-36. That .625 winning percentage was tops in baseball, exceeding runner-up Colorado’s system (59-38, .608). The Mets were the only franchise to have a winning record at the major league level as well as with each of its full-season affiliates. St. Lucie’s .833 winning percentage topped Fresno for the best April record in minor league baseball. The San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A affiliate went 19-6 (.760). The 20 wins broke St. Lucie’s record for victories in any month.

The success was fueled in large part by pitching. The Mets had the lowest collective minor league ERA in April, at 2.89, as well as the lowest opponent batting average against (.234) and on-base percentage (.307).

After another long ball Tuesday night, St. Lucie outfielder Cory Vaughn leads the Florida State League in homers with six.

Wilmer Flores, who has made the transition to third base this season, is having a bounceback year at the plate as well. The 20-year-old Venezuelan ranks second in the FSL in RBIs with 19, trailing only Daytona’s Greg Rohan (28). Flores had an 11-game hitting streak snapped Friday.

As for Flores’ adjustment to third base -- which he has played exclusively this season after previously playing shortstop -- that’s going decently. His footwork needs work, and he has bobbled a couple of balls. But Flores largely has managed to stay with those plays and complete the out. Flores committed only two errors in April. The arm is no issue at third base.

Matt Harvey enters Wednesday’s start for Triple-A Buffalo coming off his most effective outing this season. Harvey tossed seven scoreless innings last Wednesday at Lehigh Valley, allowing four hits while striking out five and walking none. Harvey sliced his International League ERA from 6.63 to 4.85 and has now won two straight starts. He also became the second pitcher in a three-day span for Buffalo to homer, joining Dylan Owen. No Buffalo pitcher had homered for 18 years before the pair of long balls last week. Harvey’s outing last week included improvement in throwing strikes (66 of 90 pitches) and more crispness with his fastball. He indicated after that start that his mechanics felt more comfortable than in any of his previous four starts.

• With Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jordany Valdespin and temporarily Zach Lutz at the major league level, and with outfielder Adam Loewen lost to a stress fracture of the second metatarsal in his right foot, the Mets signed a trio of players for Buffalo. 2011 Opening Day second baseball Brad Emaus returns, as does outfielder Dustin Martin. The Mets also signed former San Francisco Giants outfielder Fred Lewis.

Emaus, a favorite of J.P. Ricciardi’s while both were employed by the Toronto Blue Jays, was a Rule 5 pick by the Mets in December 2010, along with Pedro Beato. But after hitting .162 in 14 games with the Mets, he was returned to Toronto in mid-April, then immediately flipped in a trade to the Colorado Rockies. In January, he was acquired by the Red Sox. He went to camp with Boston, but was released. Emaus was planning to play for Laredo in independent baseball before the Mets called him while he was at home in Louisiana. Emaus so far has started one game, at third place, and may now just be a bench player with Lutz’s return.

Martin, 28, originally was drafted by the Mets in the 26th round in 2006 out of Sam Houston State. A favorite of former Mets VP Tony Bernazard, Martin nonetheless was traded with catcher Drew Butera to the Minnesota Twins on July 30, 2007 for Luis Castillo. Martin hit .259 with 31 homers and 189 RBIs over the past three seasons with Triple-A Rochester, which plays in a big ballpark. He was released from Twins minor league camp because of a crowded group of outfield prospects that includes Darin Mastroianni, Joe Benson, Ben Revere and Rene Tosoni.

Martin’s lone start so far came Saturday against his former club, in right field. After lightheartedly tweeting pregame to the opposing catcher Butera, “I need a bunch of fastballs today,” Martin went 2-for-4 and homered for the first time with the Mets organization since playing for St. Lucie in 2007.

Lewis, 31, appeared in 81 games for the Cincinnati Reds last season. He hit .230 with three homers and 19 RBIs in 183 at-bats. Lewis had been in camp with the Cleveland Indians during spring training.

• Lutz, who was returned to Triple-A when the Mets activated Andres Torres from the disabled list, started at third base Tuesday in his first game back. That’s his natural position, but Lutz now should see plenty of first-base exposure.

• Second baseman Reese Havens’ ability to produce at the plate has never been questioned. And, sure enough, after opening the season on the disabled list with a left upper-back strain, Havens joined Binghamton and demonstrated that proficiency with his first official 2012 swing. After taking a first-pitch strike Sunday in his first at-bat, Havens launched the second offering over the right-field wall at Jerry Uht Park in Erie. Since being selected four slots after Ike Davis when the Mets had two first-round picks in 2008, Havens has been limited to 215 professional games because of assorted upper-body injuries. He underwent surgery two offseasons ago to remove an inch of a rib that was believed to be irritating an oblique muscle.

• The hurried trade of Francisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers during last year’s All-Star break was a clear-cut dump to avoid his vesting option kicking in for 2012 with 55 games finished. And the players returned were not the motivation for the deal. Yet maybe the Mets did get a modest return for K-Rod. Right-hander Adrian Rosario, who came with Daniel Herrera as players to be named in the trade, has limited opponents to one run and three hits while striking out 17 in 13 1/3 relief innings with St. Lucie. A converted starter, the 22-year-old Rosario throws a low-90s fastball and also features a slider, which he uses with two strikes. He has five saves this season, including one of the six-out variety.

• Top prospect Zack Wheeler continues to be unhittable, despite command issues with his fastball. Wheeler’s 1.75 ERA ranks fifth in the Eastern League. His 30 strikeouts rank third, trailing Harrisburg’s Robert Gilliam (35) and Reading’s Trevor May (33). Wheeler also has walked 14 and hit four batters in 25 2/3 innings.

• At Buffalo, fellow highly regarded right-hander Jeurys Familia’s control issues continue. Familia walked seven while requiring 90 pitches to log three innings Friday against Rochester. He did record eight strikeouts the previous outing against Syracuse, but the Chiefs are light hitting. Observers believe a better offensive club would have taken advantage of balls up in the zone.

• Former Cub Bobby Scales leads the International League with a .397 average with Buffalo.

• Binghamton infielder Eric Campbell has returned after missing a week with a right shoulder strain.

• Savannah reliever Jack Leathersich, a fifth-round pick out of UMass-Lowell last June, continues to put up gaudy strikeout totals. He has fanned 24 in 15 innings.

Vinny Rottino might have been the call-up if the Mets needed a catcher because of Mike Nickeas’ flu, but the utility player actually has not squatted behind the plate this season while hitting .316 with a homer and 13 RBIs in 95 at-bats with Buffalo. Rottino has been confined to left field because of outfield shortages. Rottino was slated to catch his first game this season on Monday, but it was rained out.

• Right-hander Jeff Kaplan, who picked up two wins and two saves in six appearances with St. Lucie, has shifted to a long-relief role with a promotion to Binghamton. Elvin Ramirez has taken over as B-Mets closer with Josh Edgin moving to Triple-A.

Adam Rubin’s farm report appears Wednesdays during the regular season



Bartolo Colon
15 4.09 151 202
BAD. Murphy .289
HRL. Duda 30
RBIL. Duda 92
RD. Murphy 79
OPSL. Duda .830
ERAJ. Niese 3.40
SOZ. Wheeler 187