[editor's note, by Jeff Sackmann] This is a guest piece authored by Ed Tsunoda, who runs the great Mets prospect site NY Future Stars. Enjoy the article, and check out Ed's great site!
Right now, it's a great time to be a Mets fan. The organization is doing all the right things to build a sustained stretch of winning for the long term and have made a commitment to developing, promoting and playing their own players. And the formula is working.
Typically, an assessment of the Mets minor league depth concludes that though the Mets are strong in premium top-level talent, they lack depth. Acknowledged generally that Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber, Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez are splendid blue chip guys, but, then what?
And I think that assessment is probably not even strong enough a statement of how top heavy the Mets are. David Wright (24), Jose Reyes(23), John Maine (25), Oliver Perez (25), and Ambiorix Burgos (23) are all of an age not atypical of "prospects" (i.e., Pelfrey is 23. Humber is 24) but aren't considered as such because of their big league experience. And further, Joe Smith (22) made the team out of spring training. And 20 year old first baseman Mike Carp made a great impression in his first big league camp, sticking around until late spring, mostly to allow both Carlos Delgado and Julio Franco to avoid bus trips, but also because his bat has earned it after posting a very impressive .287/.379/.450/.829 in the notoriously pitching friendly Florida State League last year.
That's 30% of your big league roster, all 25 or younger - including three fifths of their rotation, and 2 of their 4 best offensive players. For basically no money down.
In that context the Mets really have 10-12 premium blue chip - producing in the big leagues immediately to latest 12-18 months from now - level talents. And that's a lot of cream.
Part of the reason the Mets appear to have fewer big name prospects lower in the system is because they have accelerated their development process. Even a few years ago, David Wright and Jose Reyes were "young being 20/21 at high A/AA." Now the Mets routinely assign players of that age to AA/AAA (Milledge and Gomez), assign first year college pitchers to hiA and AA (Smith, Mulvey) and start 17 and 18 year old players playing against older competition, at full season levels, so they may not be as statistically impressive, but "develop" faster and are reaching higher levels at younger ages.
The Mets strategy has been to draft college pitching early and often (e.g., Joe Smith, Kevin Mulvey, Pelfrey, and Humber), trade for rushed top prospects that have already struggled through some big league experience but have top tier "stuff" (Maine, Perez, Burgos), and leverage their investment in scouting and development in the Caribbean to find and sign the premium available talents as amateur free agents (e.g., Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez, Deolis Guerra, and Francisco Pena), and rush them all to the top levels of the system.
They've also done a great job of stockpiling reserves for continuing this strategy and it's success. They've completely revamped their organization from signing big name and profile Latin stars that are icons in their communities, to changing their minor league culture to include nutrition and surroundings that are more conducive to the players comfort, to reorganizing their scouts and development team to have as much pull as possible with young blossoming Caribbean talent.
They've also stockpiled an impressive array of early draft picks in the 2007 amateur draft to continue that channels development as well.
The Mets received both Baltimore and Cleveland's second round picks, and two "sandwich" picks - meaning draft choices made between the first and second round (30-45th level picks) - as compensation for losing Robo and the Janitor. The sum total is that going into the off-season the Mets would have selected 29th, and then somewhere after 70th in the first two rounds. Now, they will have four picks in the first 60. Four 1st/2nd round level selections.
In the last 6 years, their draft picks at that level have netted Kevin Mulvey, Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber, Joe Smith, Lastings Milledge, Scott Kazmir, David Wright, and Aaron Heilman. These are guys who have and are arriving in the big leagues and having an impact on a 2-3 year time schedule.
So for at least the next 5 or 6 years, the Mets not only have a ridiculously talented and inexpensive third of their big league roster locked up, but they have in the till, and lined up for this summer's draft and international free agent signings, enough new talent to keep the success rolling for the next five or six years.
And that's before you even get to the ever growing revenue of their second year cable network, the new Citifield ball park being constructed, and just the improved overall organizational loot from fielding a winner for several years running.
Beyond the big name prospects, the Mets also have a cache of second and third round level picks - both of their own and that they have culled from the chafe of other organizations. Jason Vargas is a terrific top ten level prospect from the marlins system that was rushed getting virtually zero minor league experience before being thrown out against Major League hitters with only occasional success. Shane Hawk and Matt Durkin are both in camp hoping to return to the form that made them high level draft picks 2 or 3 years ago after surgeries. They also quietly added the 22 year old Marcos Carvajal from the Rockies system.
All that adds up to an organization building a great system from top to bottom, designing and executing a strategy that works, and having the foresight to put systems in place to keep priming the pump.
The Mets have coveted and acquired specific types of players: two-way offensive/defensive talents with great athleticism. Both speed and power for hitters, and power armed pitchers, plus flash and personality. The have used the passion and energy of the Caribbean game, not just tapping that area as a resource for top players, but really understanding the love and passion the game creates in that culture, what elements create that excitement and energy, and have brought that style and love of game to New York.
As a fan, you can see the organizations understanding of not only of both how to successfully build an organization and their understanding of how to make it an entertainment product you can love as a fan, but also their intent to build a system that supports those things as a long term state of the organization. And that's a great combination.