We all want to win today, but sometimes it’s important to know a bit about what the future of the Mets organization, i.e. it’s minor league system has in store.
With young players such as Nick Evans, Bobby Parnell, Fernando Martinez, Daniel Murphy, among others having a role due to various injuries, and Omar Minaya coming under fire for the system, now would be the best time to sit with SNY’s resident Minor League blogger, Toby Hyde, who has been following the Minor League system for 5 years.
Let’s start with a few questions about you and Metsminorleagueblog.com. How did you start it and how did you get affiliated with SNY’s blog network?
Toby Hyde: I started writing about the Mets minor league system in 2004. At that time I was working for the Stockton Ports, who were then the Texas Rangers advanced A California League affiliate. Reading Jamey Newberg’s Daily Newberg Report was a crucial piece of my daily preparation. MJ Hindman wrote daily, in-depth minor league recaps for him. I searched for someone, or some outlet covering the Mets organization with similar thoroughness, but found that there was no one writing about the Mets in the way I wanted to read about them. So I started writing. I sent out my first update via email to my parents and a few friends from Stuyvesant High School. Eventually, I built a decently sized mailing list and some poorly trafficked websites.
At some point, Matt Cerrone, who knows everything that happens in Met-land and especially online Mets-land, found my work. He and I corresponded for a while, and eventually, in the spring of 2008 I joined SNY’s blog network.
How do you gather you’re information? I know you do a yearly trip to each minor league branch, but is it purely box scores and recaps or do you have other methods?
Toby Hyde: The vast majority of my sources are publicly available including box scores and newspaper recaps. I do have my sources sprinkled throughout baseball and obviously firsthand accounting is just that – unique.
How do you want Metsminorleagueblog.com to evolve as the years go on?
Toby Hyde: Um, that’s a really good question. I want it to be a one-stop shop for information for Mets fans for everything Mets below the MLB level. I want it to appeal to the hardcore minor league aficionado and the casual fan. I want it to be a significant source of income as well. If anyone has constructive suggestions about how to achieve these ends, please email me here.
Let’s move on to some Mets-related questions. What’s the organization’s plan for Nick Evans? WIth Murph targeted as a first baseman and F-MART (Fernando Martinez) on the big squad, has Evans worked himself off this team?
Toby Hyde:The Mets like Evans power, an offensive attribute which has been in woefully short supply in Queens this year. Guys with power always have a home on MLB rosters. At this point, the more he hits, the more he plays. I’m going to do a story on Evans soon, with a mechanical explanation for his struggles in AAA.
If you had to pick a Met’s minor league manager to succeed Jerry, one day, who would it be – and why?
Toby Hyde:This is a great question. Lets run through the Mets minor league managers:
AAA: Ken Oberkfell
AA: Mako Oliveras
A+: Tim Tueffel
A: Edgar Alfonzo
SSA: Pedro Lopez
R -App: Mike DiFelice
R- GCL: Julio Franco
Oberkfell is the obvious choice. He’s a very good baseball man, he’s funny, he’s got big league experience as a player and a coach and his players like playing for him.
This is Mike DiFelice’s first season managing, but in a few years, he might well be at the top of the list.
Who’s the best starting pitcher, in your opinion, in the Mets minor league organization, and why?
Toby Hyde: I change my mind on this between Jenrry Mejia and Brad Holt. Mejia was throwing a little harder at AA, and I like his best secondary pitch – a hard changeup, better than Holt’s second-best offering. On the other hand, Holt has the easiest delivery, the best pitcher’s body and has shown an ability to improve his secondary offerings, a changeup and a curveball. I’ll take Mejia by a hair, but I’ll take both over Jon Niese, who despite an incredible run in his last six starts, doesn’t have the ceiling or fastball of the other two.
What are your thoughts on Jenrry Mejia so far this season? He’s certainly looked impressive, just going by the stats. Is he still working on his curveball?
Toby Hyde: Second question first, yeah, of course he’s still working on his curveball. However, his curve is still his third pitch behind his fastball and changeup, which sometimes gets mischaracterized as a two-seamer because it’s so hard and has such movement.
First question second: I think Mejia’s a terrific prospect and the Mets clearly do too, having promoted him to AA at the tender age of 19. He rolled through the FSL for two months and allowed one run or fewer in five of his last six starts. AA has been – well harder for him. He’s lost his last three starts, but the peripherals (24 K/21.2 IP & 2.00 gb/fb) and the superb stuff is still there.
What’s going on with Jefry Marte and Wilmer Flores in Savannah? Both have struggled early.
Toby Hyde:Well, they were playing against players who for the most part were 2-5 years older. Since May 20, Flores is hitting .305/.337/.409 in a span of 176 plate appearances. That’s very solid for a kid shy of his 18th birthday in low-A. He’s only striking out in 13% of his plate appearances, so he’s making plenty of contact. The power will come.
Marte hit better in June (.282/.306/.369), but is striking out roughly 20% of the time. He’s still just 18 and the tools are there. Let the kids play.
Is Francisco Pena still showing big time potential?
Toby Hyde: Well, it’s hard to be very positive about a guy hitting .231 in Advanced-A. However, he’s just 19 and as I write here today, he’s on a seven-game hitting streak. [Editor’s Note: This interview took place on July 7th.] Even if he repeats the level next year, he’ll still be young for the level, so he has time to adjust and improve. One real note of optimism is that he clearly needed to stop chasing pitches in 2008. In 2009, his strikeout rate of 16% is lower than that from his 22% in Savannah in 08 and the 19% in 07. He’s been passed on the organization’s catcher’s depth chart by Josh Thole.
Jon Niese draws comparisons to Barry Zito, do you think these comparisons are accurate?
Toby Hyde: As 6’4″ lefthanders with big curveballs, I can see that comparison. I happen to think that Niese would slot nicely in the back of a big league rotation, kinda like Zito, aside from the Giants $126 million mistake.
How far away is Brad Holt from the big leagues? I’ve heard a lot of mixed reports about Brad Holt with some saying he’s a front end bullpen guy and others saying he’s a refined changeup away from being a front line starter. At this stage of his development, what major leaguer does he compare to at the same age?
Toby Hyde: The options in the first sentence bullpen asset vs. a changeup away from a top starter aren’t mutually exclusive at all. Holt’s got the fastball to fit into a big league bullpen and be an asset. He’s improved command away from helping as a rotation candidate and the Mets will clearly give him all of the chances to start at the big league level. By the way, that’s command of both pitches and game situations and emotions.
I have to ask this: Fernando Martinez in his 2nd game didn’t run out a pop-up that was dropped. I’ve heard some radio personalities say he has a reputation of being lackadaisical. Mets management, including Okerfell, says the opposite. As someone who’s followed his whole career, where does the truth lie?
Toby Hyde: The Mets have treated Fernando Martinez as a special player all the way through his minor league tenure, and it would be a stretch to think that some of that has not seeped into his game. When I’ve seen him play, which really hasn’t been all that much, given his injuries, he’s played hard and said the right things. Judging a player’s effort is really, really hard without being around him everyday.
Is the accuracy of scouts charted in any publicly reviewable format? How can the public tell where an opinion is coming from and what success rate that opinion is born from. For instance, a scout looked at Alex Ochoa, Alex Escobar & a million other former Mets prospects and said “star”. How do I know the same guy isn’t looking at Wilmer Flores?
Toby Hyde: Um, no, the accuracy of scouts is not charted in any publicly reviewable format. Most of the public quotes you read in Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, or even on my site or in the local papers are given anonymously. The thing that writers and reporters should always be doing is paying attention to their sources and tracking who tells them what and who has a tendency to be right more often than not. Teams should be doing the same too, of course. No scout is going to be right all of the time, but like anything else, from ballplayers to accountants to presidents, some people are better at their jobs than others.
With regard to the last question, you don’t know whether or not the same guy who looked at Ochoa or Escobar isn’t looking at Flores. However, it would be surprising, if the same guy who saw Ochoa 13 years ago in the midwest league was now looking at Flores on the SAL beat 16 years later.
I’d also argue that reviewing Escobar’s minor league numbers, there were serious signs of trouble. He had a monster season for Columbia in the SAL as a 19-year old in 1998 hitting .310/.393/.584 with 27 homers and then missed essentially the whole 1999 season with injuries. In 2000 with Binghamton, he hit. 288/.375/.487 with 25 doubles and 16 homers but 114 strikeouts in 122 games. That trouble to make contact would be his undoing. By the following year in AAA, he hit .267/.327/.431 with 146 whiffs in 111 games. Strikeout problems kept his average down at AAA and the big leagues limiting his chances, and his power never played enough at the higher level.
With the Mets struggling Omar has been put on the coals for how he’s handled the minor leagues, with many fans feeling like he hasn’t done enough to either create new stars or give the Mets enough depth? How do you feel about his job working the minor leagues, especially in comparison to other big market clubs?
Toby Hyde: Holding a GM personally responsible for a productive farm system seems at once both fair and unfair. Let me explain.
It’s unfair in part because the reality is that the GM is primarily focused on major league talent, both on his own roster and elsewhere. Scouting Directors really run the draft and an active GM might really have input on only a team’s first few picks. GMs are not beating the bushes for talent in Latin America, far flung corners of the world, or even across America.
However, it’s fair because ultimately, a GM is held responsible for making the decisions that will put his team in a position to win. That includes overseeing the scouting apparatus, hiring, firing and assigning personnel and setting organizational policy and direction.
In terms of talent acquisition, the Mets have not flexed their financial muscle as much as some other big market teams, including the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Tigers in the draft in recent years. The Mets seem to sign a highly regarded player or two in Latin America each year, including Fernando Martinez, Wilmer Flores, Cesar Puello, and this year Juan Urbina. Money isn’t everything – Jenrry Mejia has come out of nowhere to become one of the organizations very top prospects.
Thanks for the interview Toby. For more Minor League information check out Metsminorleagueblog.com.
Posted by Robert Z, interview conducted by Kinerskorner.com staff Nik Kolidas, Gene Anthony, Anthony Agnese, Emily Doran & Robert Z