Loaded as they are with young pitching and still in contention, the Mets need to add bats. While they may seek them in the trade market, some may be found closer to home if they dare to start their arbitration clocks. 2014 first-round pick Michael Conforto rises to the top of that pile. Despite not having experience beyond the Double-A level, the left-handed hitter has shown himself to be a selective hitter, with a short disciplined swing exhibiting natural loft. The 22-year-old had no problem with rookie ball in 2014 and has driven through two levels of the Minors, though as expected, his strikeout rate has increased in Binghamton to over 21%, though coupled with a 14% walk rate. Conforto does not necessarily project as a high average hitter at the MLB level but is a 20+ HR threat capable of producing a .270+ batting average and solid OBP numbers.
Another possible, though dark horse, 2015 MLB contributor from Binghamton is shortstop Gavin Cecchini. The Mets former first-round pick had fallen down the prospect radar in recent seasons but has pushed his way back into consideration. At just 21 years of age, the younger brother of Red Sox prospect Garen is holding his own at Double-A, making contact 90% of the time while walking 7% and hitting .285 with a reasonable five homers and 22 total extra-base hits. Cecchini was already noted as an above average defender, so the combination of his hitting coming on line in concert with his glove could be a welcome addition to a team needing improvement in both areas. Just keep in mind that his long-term offensive ceiling is relatively modest. He is likely a better real-life player than fantasy player, and a late-season cup of coffee is probably the most playing time he’ll get from the Mets in 2015, barring injuries to other personnel.
I’ve been impressed for awhile by the Twins' Max Kepler. He has always been a solid athlete and has an advanced feel for the strike zone and ability to make contact. This year, at age 22, Kepler appears to be finally growing into his tools and putting them to work. In Double-A, he’s hitting .344/.418/.555 to go along with three homers and 11 steals while making contact 87% of the time with an 11% walk rate. I’m still waiting to see if the power starts to emerge some more, but it’s hard to argue with a .211 isolated power that has produced 31 extra-base hits already this season. Kepler is on track for a promotion to Triple-A in short order and could be up with the MLB club before September if he keeps hitting like this. The Twins have not hesitated to call up youngsters before (see Byron Buxton).
Speaking of young Twins, Kepler’s teammate Jose Berrios, could potentially be on a faster path to the Majors. The 21-year-old made it to Triple-A in late-2014 before being sent back to Double-A to begin 2015. A promotion up a level is likely in the cards after producing a 9.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 over 15 starts. The right-hander is advanced beyond his years and has a good feel for multiple plus pitches, including a changeup which he commands well and throws for strikes. He profiles as at least a #2 type starter and redraft leaguers should even take note in case the Twins decide to get aggressive with promoting him.
Josh Bell continues our theme of disciplined contact hitters drafted for their projectability as power hitters. Bell has hit well in his second go around for Pittsburgh in Double-A, walking more often than striking out and putting the ball in play nearly 91% of the time while producing a .325/.395/.444 slash. He’s showing some extra-base power but not over-the-wall power with just three homers, so my pre-season feeling of him developing into more of a James Loney type first baseman might be appropriate. At just 22 years of age, there is still some time to wait for the power to develop before jumping to that conclusion, however, although a 48% minor league ground ball rate is not all that encouraging.
The A’s Matt Olson is not destined to hit for average. Yes, he is patient, but he's patient to a fault, walking 19% of the time this season but striking out a quarter of the time. In other words, that’s roughly 43% of the time when Olson isn’t making contact. Olson has legitimate 30-plus home run power, but he has seen his power production fall dramatically with his promotion to Double-A. While he of course still has a shot to be the A’s first baseman down the road, he’ll need to show a lot more at this level, including less passivity.
Former Yankee farmhand and top prospect Manny Banuelos has recovered from Tommy John Surgery and is now expected to be recalled for his MLB debut this coming Thursday after producing a 2.29 ERA over 15 Triple-A starts. However, the 24-year-old is not quite the same pitcher he was with the Yankees. Most notably, his strikeout rates are down in the mid 7’s as opposed to the 8 or 9+ he was at prior to getting injured. Control, which was an issue before the injury, still is a problem as Banuelos has posted a 4.1 BB/9. Tread cautiously when considering him for a pick-up in NL-only leagues.
That’s all for this week. Tune in next week for more of The Prospector.