When the struggling Mets take a look towards their future right now, it’s hard to see much help on the way.
With exciting prospects like Francisco Álvarez and Ronny Mauricio still a few years away from reaching the majors, the organization finds its Triple-A roster stocked with veterans looking to make their way back to the top, rather than reach it for the first time.
That doesn’t mean the upper levels are completely devoid of talent, particularly in terms of potential depth pieces who could fill roles in the not-too-distant future.
CF Jake Mangum
2021 Stats: .289 AVG, .803 OPS, 9 HR, 12 SB
Mangum is going to play in the major leagues at some point in the future. Whether it’s a brief cameo as a reserve, a long career as a contributor, or somewhere in between remains to be seen, but some interesting profile changes this season have altered how many look at the switch-hitting outfielder.
Let’s start with what was known about Mangum, the Mets’ 2019 fourth-round pick, coming into 2021. He carried a reputation as a grinder, one of the most popular players in college baseball when he turned pro thanks to an unrelenting team-first, first-in-last-out mentality. It’s an approach to the game that’s well-suited for six-month baseball seasons.
Mangum has always played an exceptional center field, reading balls well off the bat and using his above-average speed to track them down in the gap. And the Southeast Conference’s all-time hit leader has always excelled at putting the ball in play. It’s just what would happen after leaving the barrel that had clouded his MLB future.
To his credit, Mangum has been able to complement his profile this year — not change it completely — by adding power that he legitimately has never shown in his career. Through Thursday, Mangum had hit nine home runs in 2021, a pedestrian total to some but an eye-popping number to those who recall that he hit just five in 1,200 collegiate plate appearances over four years.
The impressive part is that Mangum is still making as much contact as ever. His whiff rate in Double-A is 30 percent better than league average, so you can simply credit added strength, more loft, and a concerted effort on pull-side power to the explosion, rather than selling out for it.
What has always been concerning is Mangum’s age, given that he’ll already be 26 by the start of the 2022 season. On the other hand, the fact that he’s already a Double-A regular (where he’s just a year older than his average peer) in his first full professional season is a positive sign. He’s going to need to overperform to truly break through, but there aren’t many players in the organization more suited to meet the task.
RHP Adam Oller
2021 Stats: 17 GS, 3.49 ERA, 113 K’s, 34 BB
Many Mets minor leaguers have had success this season, but few have had as long of a journey to get there as Oller.
Oller, a Northwestern State alumnus, pitched three seasons in the Pirates organization after Pittsburgh drafted him in the 20th round in 2016. He was unremarkable. He was a body. He was released.
That’s typically the end of most careers, but Oller was determined to find a way back. He tore through the independent Frontier League in 2019 (15.0 K/9) but was caught off guard when he got a call from the San Francisco Giants, offering him a contract. Even so, San Francisco determined that offseason that he wasn’t one of the 78 best Rule 5-eligible players in the organization, leaving him unprotected in the minor league phase of the draft.
The Mets pounced, picking Oller up to provide depth, but he’s returned a lot more on their investment. After his organizational debut was delayed in 2020, he has barely missed a beat in 2021. Oller posted a 2.04 ERA with 50 strikeouts to five walks in his final six Double-A starts to earn a promotion to Triple-A, where he’s been even better.
In his Syracuse debut, the well-traveled righty struck out 13 batters, the most by a Mets minor league pitcher this season. His well-placed low-to-mid 90s fastball, darting changeup, and putaway slider were untouchable to Pawtucket hitters, collectively one of the best offenses in Triple-A.
The Mets have been starved for quality starting pitching in the upper minors, particularly from the products of their player development system, rather than stopgap veterans. Oller is one of the few, and despite turning 27 in October, the Mets could catch lightning in a bottle and squeeze some innings out of him if necessary.
LHP Josh Walker
2021 Stats: 17 GS, 3.41 ERA, 85 K’s, 24 BB
Walker isn’t supposed to be where he is now, and as a former 37th round draft pick, would anyone have noticed? Now at the doorstep of the major leagues, Walker is making sure no one forgets.
The 6-foot-6 southpaw was slated to start 2019 in the High-A St. Lucie rotation, a big task coming out of short-season Brooklyn the year before. The opportunity was quickly stripped away from him when, right before his season debut, his car was hit by another driver. Walker suffered serious nerve damage in his pitching arm, and was limited to just six rehab innings that year.
Between the injuries and the pandemic, the Mets conservatively started Walker, now 26, back at the High-A level with Brooklyn to open 2021. He moved up to Double-A in less than a month. Walker took on more experienced hitters in Binghamton. He moved up to Triple-A in less than two months.
Now in Syracuse, Walker’s old-school profile is being put to the test. His fastball sits 88-91 mph, reaching 93, so he relies on precision and good vertical movement to get ahead in counts. Once he’s there, Walker can mix in a changeup and slider, but his bread-and-butter is a slow curveball that hitters at all three levels have had trouble figuring out.
Like Oller, it isn’t difficult to envision Walker spending stretches in the major leagues eating innings at the back of a rotation or in low-leverage relief appearances. The Mets have been mediocre at best in developing these types of pitchers, leading to a revolving door of nondescript arms. Someone like Walker has the opportunity to break through relatively soon.
RHP Eric Orze
2021 Stats: 28 G, 3.61 ERA, 56 K’s, 9 BB
I’m not sure how many people would have wagered on the Mets’ final pick in the 2020 MLB Draft being the first to reach the majors, but Orze is on track to prove that baseball is anything but predictable.
Selected 150th overall in the 160-pick draft, Orze wasn’t flashy like Pete Crow-Armstrong or J.T. Ginn, but he has outperformed everyone so far, rocketing through the system in his debut season to reach Triple-A in three months.
Orze was good in Brooklyn. He was even better in Binghamton, striking out 25 and walking just one in 11 outings. He’s found Triple-A to be more challenging, but it’s clear that the stuff is good enough for the best hitters he’s faced in his career up to this point.
Orze, armed with a mid-90s fastball with good ride up in the zone and a deadly splitter, has produced whiff rates that have been 34 percent and 36 percent better than league average in Double-A and Triple-A, respectively. His command, a question mark as he entered pro ball, has steadily improved as the season has gone on.
Given the opportunity, Orze has the potential to fill a role in the Mets’ bullpen in the not-too-distant future. He’s still getting his feet under him as a professional, so while there isn’t a rush to get him to the majors, it might be best to strike while the iron is hot. As a two-time cancer survivor, Orze has plenty of motivation to keep pushing to heights that were unimaginable fairly recently.
C Hayden Senger
2021 Stats: .289 AVG, .833 OPS, 5 HR, 47% CS
While the discussion surrounding Mets minor league catchers rightfully starts and ends with Álvarez, it’s important to keep in mind that the 19-year-old is still a long way from the majors.
It’s possible that James McCann makes improvements over the remaining three years of his contract, or Tomás Nido becomes more than a backup, but in all likelihood the Mets will be looking for more bodies to bridge the gap until the debut of their prized prospect.
Senger is far from a long-term solution at catcher, but his strong arm, sound plate approach, and staff management skills make him a good bet to see major league time within the next couple of years.
He made a swing adjustment prior to this season to try and maximize his power and bat speed. While it hasn’t exactly manifested in terms of putting the ball over the wall, he’s produced a consistent approach since joining Binghamton at the end of May. Senger’s 29 percent line drive rate ranks ninth among all Double-A hitters and is a huge jump from his 19 percent mark in 2019.
Senger is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time this winter and has continued to build his case for protection or selection throughout the season. It’s unlikely the Mets carry both Patrick Mazeika and Chance Sisco throughout the offseason, leaving an opening for someone like Senger to serve as 40-man roster depth in 2022.
Source: Yahoo Sports