Friday, May 20 2022
Steve Cohen and Billy Eppler treated image, Cohen wearing blue Mets cap and Eppler with grey shirt

With their pre-lockout signings of Max Scherzer and three other free agents in their 30s, as well as the hiring of Buck Showalter, the Mets firmly stamped themselves as a win-now team while creating a feel-good vibe for a fan base unaccustomed to such a go-for-it mentality.

But if 2022 is about being all in on chasing a third championship in franchise history, it also looms as a pivotal year for the Mets’ long-term outlook thanks to a potential bonanza this summer.

That would be the MLB amateur draft, where the Mets almost certainly will have six picks among the first 100 players in what evaluators say will be one of the deepest draft classes in years.

The free agent departures of Noah Syndergaard and (presumably) Michael Conforto give the Mets two compensatory picks between the second and third rounds, and the decision not to sign Kumar Rocker last year means they will have the No. 11 overall pick in addition to their own first-round pick at No. 14.

Currently, the Mets have a handful of blue-chip prospects a year or so away from the big leagues, but in part because of trades of some key prospects in recent years, their farm system overall is considered “top-heavy” and “lacking depth” by minor league talent evaluators I spoke with this week.

Those opinions seem to be largely confirmed by Baseball America’s newly-released ranking of the 30 MLB farm systems, as the publication slots the Mets at No. 16.

All of which highlights the importance of the ’22 draft.

“With the extra picks, they could create some real depth,” one scout told me. “That would give them flexibility in the coming years so they can spend wisely and maybe make trades from strength, rather than spending being their only option.”

For the moment, with little immediate help emerging from the farm system, Steve Cohen had no choice but to spend big in attempting to win in 2022. However, relying on signing free agents is usually not a sustainable model to build a winner.

Steve CohenSteve Cohen

As the same scout said, “You need to develop young players no matter how much money the owner is willing to spend, or you could wind up looking as old and broken-down as those Yankee teams at the end of the (Derek) Jeter era.”

Mets evaluators believe their farm system is deeper than the perception from outside the organization. Their blue-chippers are primarily position players, yet Mets people say their emphasis on pitching in the 2021 draft will give their system more balance in the coming years.

“We took a ton of pitching last year and we’re really high on a bunch of those guys,” one Mets person said. “You’ll start to see it this year.”

They are especially excited about second-round draft pick Calvin Ziegler, and they believe they got a steal in the eighth round in Mike Vasil, a right-hander from UVA, in part because some tweaks with his mechanics added significant velocity in his brief minor league stint last summer.

“He might be the best of all the pitchers we took,” the Mets person said.

If quality pitching does emerge in 2022, and much-publicized prospects such as Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty, Ronny Mauricio, and J.T. Ginn live up to their billing, the Mets could be in solid shape to replace the likes of James McCann, Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha, and Starling Marte in the next few years, not to mention the 37-year old Scherzer.

Mets prospect Brett Baty at MCU Park on May 25, 2021.Mets prospect Brett Baty at MCU Park on May 25, 2021.

Either way, however, the 2022 draft looms as vital toward ensuring a brighter future.

“We realize it’s a big opportunity with the extra picks,” Mets’ VP of scouting Tommy Tanous said by phone this week. “We’re really excited about it. It looks like a very strong draft.”

Jim Callis, the long-time prospect guru for MLBPipeline.com, agreed that “it’s going to be one of the better drafts in recent years,” and said its strength is in the position players.

“It’s a really exciting group of high school and college hitters,” Callis said. “The Mets will have a chance to go out and make a difference for their system. With the extra picks they get extra bonus-pool money, so they can get creative in some different ways.

“Teams are usually wary of taking high school pitchers that high, mostly because of the injury risk, but there are some really good ones in this draft, and with the two first-round picks, you can mitigate some of the risk and go for a high-ceiling guy.'”

Callis said scouts are very impressed by several high school pitchers, most notably Dylan Lesko, who is considered the top high school prospect, and Brock Porter, who has been clocked throwing “100 mph with a pretty good changeup.”

Those might be names to remember, as the Mets have proven to be creative in recent years even without extra bonus-pool money.

In 2018, they convinced Jarred Kelenic before they took him with the sixth overall pick to sign for $4.5 million, or less than the assigned slot number for that pick, leaving them enough bonus-pool money for the player they wanted in the second round, high school right-hander Simeon Woods-Richardson, who was later part of the Marcus Stroman trade.

And in 2019, they pulled off a coup in getting Matt Allan in the third round. Allan was projected as a first-round pick but his agent, Scott Boras, had scared teams off with his asking price.

When Allan was still available in the third round, then-GM Brodie Van Wagenen took him with assurances from Mets scouts in Florida who knew the kid well enough to be convinced he didn’t want to go to college (he’d committed to Florida), and they could take advantage of Boras overplaying his hand.

Sure enough, the Mets signed him to a bonus of $2.5 million, well below what he’d been asking, but to make it work within their draft-pool money they had to sign college seniors, or players with very little leverage, with their remaining 37 picks.

“It was a nice piece of drafting,” Callis said. “Allan was a first-round talent.”

Unfortunately for the Mets, Allan tore his elbow ligament last spring and needed Tommy John surgery, meaning he likely won’t resume his career until summer of this season. And since he is considered the organization’s top pitching prospect, the Mets have a lot riding on him.

In any case, the point is the Mets will have options come the draft this summer, and if they cash in on their picks, they could well have one of the top farm systems in baseball by the end of this season.

That and Cohen’s billions could go a long way toward reaching the owner’s stated goal of building a Dodgers-like organization — something that ensures years of winning.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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