As baseball attempts to figure out the present, Mets officials are gathered in Port St. Lucie, Fla., trying to build a future.
The MLB draft, condensed to five rounds, begins Wednesday night. In the absence of games, it likely will receive considerably more attention than in past years, when the draft has served as primarily a curiosity obscured by the daily box scores.
In a nutshell, the Mets own the No. 19 pick in the first round. It’s a draft loaded with starting pitching, a fact that should excite general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and his lieutenants as they attempt to restock a low-rated farm system desperate for an infusion of talent. Pitching is still king, and the Mets should try to piggyback on the momentum from last year, when they landed Matt Allan (a projected top-15 pick) in the third round because teams were concerned he wouldn’t sign.
Asa Lacy, a left-hander from Texas A&M who is regarded as the top available pitcher in the draft, won’t be around by the time the Mets pick, but names such as Mick Abel, Garrett Crochet, Jared Kelley, Cole Wilcox and Tanner Burns could be possibilities.
The Mets have plenty of needs. They haven’t developed a franchise catcher since Todd Hundley in the early 1990s, and none of their top 15 prospects in the minor leagues are outfielders. But this has always been an organization built on pitching, and those reserves are thinning. It will be especially pronounced after the 2021 season — when Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz (under the current system) are eligible to depart through free agency, leaving Jacob deGrom as potentially the last of the homegrown starting pitchers from what has been a fruitful harvest over the past decade.
For that, much of the credit goes to former general manager Omar Minaya, who has since returned to the Mets as an adviser. It was during Minaya’s final draft as GM in 2010 that the Mets selected Matt Harvey and deGrom. A year earlier Steven Matz had been picked. Minaya’s replacement, Sandy Alderson, continued the influx with trades that brought Zack Wheeler and Syndergaard to the Mets.
Say what you want about the heralded five of Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz never fulfilling their true potential — the exception is obviously deGrom, a ninth-round draft pick who has won the past two National League Cy Young awards — but that unit has at least given the Mets relevancy in recent years. Yoenis Cespedes’ arrival in 2015 jumpstarted the Mets, but without the starting pitching there wouldn’t have been anything to resurrect for a ride into the World Series.
Maybe there is still hope for Seth Lugo to become a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter, but his primary value has been as a top reliever. As much as the Mets like David Peterson, their top pick in the 2017 draft, the left-hander hasn’t dazzled the past two seasons in the minors. Another top pick, right-hander Justin Dunn (2016), was included in the package that brought Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from the Mariners before last season.
Of course, the most notable prospect in that deal was outfielder Jarred Kelenic, the Mets’ top pick in the 2018 draft. Two other highly regarded arms, Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson, were dealt to the Blue Jays at last year’s trade deadline for Marcus Stroman, who can depart through free agency after the season.
Allan and Josh Wolf (last year’s second-round pick by the Mets) were both high school pitchers we probably won’t see in the majors leagues before 2023. If the Mets select a pitcher in the first round on Wednesday, will they pick from the college crop to expedite development?
Adding to the draft’s inherent unpredictability is the fact these players didn’t get an opportunity to perform for most of the season this year due to the pandemic shutdown for the coronavirus. Scouting reports will be less reliable than previously. Van Wagenen and his crew are involved in a crapshoot, but when in doubt go with the pitching.
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