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Recap of Mets and Yanks Prospects in the AFL

By Chuck Johnson ~ December 11th, 2011. Filed under: Digest Contributors, Mets Minors, Yanks Minors.

The prestigious Arizona Fall League, baseball’s pre-eminent development program, recently wrapped up its twentieth season with the Salt River Rafters victory over the Surprise Saguaros in the Championship Game on November 19th.

Every year, each major league franchise sends six or seven prospects, some with major league experience, to the Valley of the Sun for a seven week season, with games played at a number of spring training facilities scattered throughout the area.

This season, Mets prospects were assigned to the Peoria Javelinas and played at the Peoria Sports Complex, spring training home of the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres.

The “Javs” were managed by Pedro Lopez, who had just completed his fourth year managing in the Mets system with St. Lucie. Promoted after each season, Lopez has yet to have a losing season in the system and has reached the postseason in three times. A Puerto Rico native, Lopez was the Padres’ 21st round selection in the 1988 draft and spent seven seasons in their system before moving on to Milwaukee and then Houston, retiring as a player following the 2000 season. Following his retirement, Lopez spent seven years in the Rangers system as an instructor, coach and manager before moving to the Mets in 2008.

The players the Mets assigned to join Lopez in Peoria were infielders Reese Havens and Wilfredo Tovar, outfielder Juan Lagares, catcher Juan Centeno, and pitchers Collin McHughRobert Carson, Taylor Whitenton, and Erik Turgeon. Before the season began Havens was scratched due to injury, and replaced by Jefry Marte.

Most of the players sent by the Mets are not considered high-end prospects, as only Carson (12) and Marte (26) appeared on Baseball America’s top thirty list at the beginning of the 2011 season.

I had the opportunity to see the Javelinas three times during the season, and was able to see Lagares, Marte, Whitenton, Turgeon, Carson, and Tovar.

Juan Lagares: Despite being just 22 years old, Lagares had just completed his sixth season in the organization and had reached Double HA for the first time in 2011. Despite posting career highs in most offensive categories in 2011, he nonetheless has little power and has a career .317 OBP in over 1900 plate appearances. He seemed lazy and disinterested on defense; while he was charged with one error in the games I saw, it easily could have been three or four. He booted a base hit, dropped a fly ball, didn’t catch a couple he should have, and made some pretty awful throws. The Mets have a half dozen or so projectable outfield prospects in the system, Lagares is, however, not one of them.

Jefry Marte: As is the case with Lagares, Marte is an International free agent signed at a young age. The 2011 was Marte’s fourth in the Mets system, despite his turning 20 years old during the season. Signed with a little more fanfare than Lagares, Marte has routinely been placed within the top prospects in the Mets system. During his AFL stint, Marte spent some time at first base, giving some thought to the believe Marte could have a future as a corner utility guy at the ML level. Unfortunately, his lack of defensive skill (career .874 FP at third) transferred to first, and Marte was exposed to the Rule V draft in December, where he went unclaimed.

Taylor Whitenton: Whitenton was easily the most impressive Mets prospect of the group, as a matter of fact, he was the only prospect from either the Mets or Yankees organization selected to play in the prestigious Rising Stars game, which is the AFL’s version of an All-Star game, with scouts and AFL personnel selecting the participants based on future ML success. Whitenton’s a 6’3″ right-handed reliever who was the Mets’ 39th round pick in the 2009 draft as a collegian. Whitenton has averaged fewer hits than innings pitched and more strikeouts in his career; although it is a negative he repeated the same level in 2011. Command has been a concern throughout his career, but from what I was able to observe in his brief appearances it appears he has a handle on that, especially considering I was told the Mets scrapped the slider from his repertoire. Despite not pitching above A ball to date, the gaping holes in the Mets bullpen leaves options Whitenton could be called upon to narrow them somewhat.

Robert Carson: The highest ranked lefty in the system for 2011, Carson promptly puked all over himself, posting a 4-11 record with a 5.05 ERA with Binghamton. The Mets have always viewed Carson as a starter, with scouting projections believing him better served as a reliever. After his performance this season, the front office finally bowed to conventional wisdom, with Carson’s transformation to the bullpen beginning with his second AFL assignment. While he’s a little bigger, Carson reminds me of Arthur Rhodes, both in delivery and body style. I think Carson could have some value as a middle reliever in New York.

Erik Turgeon: Somewhat of an unknown, Turgeon doesn’t appear in the Mets’ top 65 prospects. Their 25th rounder in 2008 out of UCONN, Turgeon’s posted a career 1.41 WHIP and a 9.5 H/9 ratio over 199 career pro innings. In talking with some scouts, Turgeon profiles as an org guy with no projectable ML future. He could conceivably fill a role as an emergency call-up for a short time, but realistically has no chance of securing a roster spot in the spring.

Wilfredo Tovar: Tovar’s kind of an intriguing story, even for a minor league junkie like myself, until I saw him here I had never heard of him. He’s a 5’9″ 160 pound International signing who turned 20 years old this past August. Signed as a shortstop, Tovar spent most of his time in the AFL playing second and was impressive. He looked natural around the bag and showed a decent, if not spectacular arm and good footwork. To the best I can find, he ranks pretty high on the scout scale for speed and contact, and below average in patience and overall hitting ability. If he’s healthy, Reese Havens should be the Mets second baseman for the next ten years, but with Jose Reyes leaving a gaping hole at short, the door is wide open for competition. As long as he shows better bat skills than Rey Ordonez, Flores could find himself in the mix for a major league job in a year or so.

The Yankees prospects played for the Phoenix Desert Dogs and played their home games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Spring Training home of the Oakland Athletics and Arizona Fall League Corporate offices.

The contingent of players assigned to the Fall League were pitchers Dan BurawaPreston ClaiborneDavid Phelps and Chase Whitley, infielders Corban Joseph and Ronnier Mustelier, and outfielder Rob Segedin.

As was the case with their cross-town rivals, the Yanks group of players aren’t thought to have much future in the majors, especially with the parent club. Only Joseph (20), Phelps (16), and Whitley (29) ranked in BA’s top thirty heading into the season.

I was able to see Phoenix play twice live and once on a delayed on-line broadcast, and was able to see everyone except Burawa.

Preston Claiborne: Claiborne’s a rather diminutive guy (5’10″, 180) who looks strikingly similar in appearance and delivery to Joba Chamberlain. He’s a max effort guy who leaves nothing on the mound with every pitch. Claiborne was the Yanks’ 17th rounder in the 2010 draft out of Tulane University where he was a teammate of Rob Segedin. Claiborne throws a fastball in the 86-92 range, but reached 94 from the stretch, a sure sign of a relief pitcher. His secondary stuff was below average, but good enough at least to keep minor league hitters on their toes. Claiborne reminds me a little of the Cardinals’ Jason Motte, a smallish, all-out type who may not stand out on the field talent wise, but does in the clubhouse because of his work effort. This guy has a chance.

David Phelps: Despite being named the Yankees 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Phelps’ seven week stint in the AFL was a job audition. Despite a 38-15 career minor league record, Phelps, the Yanks 14th rounder in 2008 out of Notre Dame, had yet to be added to the 40 man roster and was facing a possible inclusion in the Rule V draft. Despite his POY award, if you look at his secondary stats it’s hard to see Phelps as a regular member of a ML rotation. Phelps started the game I saw on-line and he was as bad as any pitcher I’ve seen, the game I saw live he was a different guy, but you could tell by his stuff he’s still short of ML quality, even though for him it was probably the best he could do. He showed enough over his last three starts to be added to the 40 man, but his chances of being a dependable starter at the major league level are slim.

Chase Whitley: Whitley was by far the most impressive of the Yankees prospect I saw. A fifteenth rounder in 2010, he showed a sharp breaking ball with a late break, a fastball with movement that touched 96. His best pitch however, is a plus changeup that the Yanks kept him from throwing for a while so he could develop his other stuff. The unknown about Whitley however is the fact he was a position player in college and didn’t start pitching full time until after he signed with the Yankees. That said, with his improving stuff, lack of depth in the system and inconsistency in the major league bullpen, Whitley has a pretty good shot at being a contributor within a few years.

Corban Joseph: The Yanks fourth rounder in 2008 out of high school, Joseph is known as a good bat, no field second baseman, and what I saw did nothing to change that opinion. He’s notoriously slow on the pivot, has a below average arm and seems unsure of himself at times. With Robbie Cano likely holding second base in New York for the foreseeable future, Joseph’s best chance for major league success is as a reserve or part of a trade.

Ronnier Mustelier: An International signing from Cuba, Mustelier is a smallish (5’9″, 180) third baseman whose best attribute is his bat. Typical of Latin players, he loves the fastball and is allergic to most everything else. The one game I saw him he was the DH, but some verbal reports on him defensively weren’t anything to get excited about. Like Jorge Vazquez, it appears Mustelier is nothing more than an org guy.

Rob Segedin: The Yanks third rounder in 2010, Segedin is a heavy legged outfielder with a decent throwing arm. It takes him awhile to get started on the break both offensively and defensively, but once he gets going he showed good instincts on the bases and is keenly aware of his limitations. He won’t win any Gold Gloves, but catches everything he gets to and shows an average arm. In the box, he hits from a slightly open stance with his hands in a good, high position. He clearly hits off the fastball, so the Yanks instruction staff will have to work with him on that. I saw a homer to left and a triple to right-center, so he uses both sides of the field and keeps outfielders honest with his power.

All in all it was good to see some guys I wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise, but, as was the case with the league in general, the talent level represented by both New York teams was not what I’m used to when covering the league.

A life-long Yankee fan who counts among his fondest memories seeing “The Mick” play in person, Chuck is a long time member of SABR and the Minor League Alumni Association. A staff researcher for Retrosheet, and a former part-time scout with the Mariners, Chuck now works for the Milwaukee Brewers in their Spring Training Operations Office and holds a similar role in the offseason for the Arizona Fall League. Chuck's newest venture is as a staff writer for MLB.com's new minor league blog http://thefuturists.mlblogs.com, led by Senior Writer Jonathan Mayo. You can check him out there under user cjohns56 (same as Twitter), and on his soon to be launched personal website, www.mlbprospectpulse.com.
Chuck Johnson
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5 Responses to Recap of Mets and Yanks Prospects in the AFL

  1. Yardisiak

    You lose credibility when you say “lack of depth in the system and inconsistency in the major league bullpen” when those are areas of strength right now.

  2. Piazza

    Tejada is not a gaping hole at SS. Otherwise, I like Tovar defensive ability but I see him as more of a utility MI. There isn’t any gaping holes in the bullpen either, but that’s where Whitenon will end up.

  3. Brien Jackson

    “You lose credibility…”

    Pretty sure Chuck’s already underwater there.

  4. Daler

    No anti Montero anywhere in the article?? Shocked

  5. Chuck Johnson

    He didn’t play in the Fall League, did he?


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