Wheeler, d'Arnaud shining stars of Mets' farm system
By Anthony DiComo
NEW YORK -- It has been years, if not decades, since the Mets headlined their farm system with a pair of prospects as talented as Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud. The two most significant pieces the Mets acquired in trades for Carlos Beltran in 2011 and R.A. Dickey last winter, Wheeler and d'Arnaud have captivated the Mets as fully as any prospects can.
But they are hardly the only reasons why team executives are so eager to see what happens down on the farm this year. Since taking over as vice president of amateur scouting and player development after the 2010 season, Paul DePodesta has made acquiring impact shortstops and catchers a goal. He went about transforming their system with up-the-middle players, from d'Arnaud to 2012 first-round Draft pick Gavin Cecchini to high-profile international signing German Rosario.
"We sort of identified a couple of areas that we really wanted to strengthen, and now we feel like at every level there's someone that we're excited about," DePodesta said. "I'm really happy with the depth that we've been able to create at those spots. I'm pretty confident that not every one of them will turn out exactly the way we want, but I think we've gotten to the point now where we have enough of them that someone will."
The strength of this system, of course, is still pitching. From Wheeler at Triple-A Las Vegas to Rafael Montero at Double-A Binghamton to a banner rotation at Class A St. Lucie, the Mets feel they have potential aces at every level of the Minors. As DePodesta noted, not all of them will turn into stars. But if the next Jon Niese or Matt Harvey lurks among that group, the Mets are eager to find him.
where to watch
Where the Mets' Top 20 prospects are starting the season:
St. Lucie (DL)
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
"They're guys that have stuff and throw strikes, and so far they're off to a great start -- almost every single one of them," DePodesta said. "Every night, you go into the day knowing that we have three or four legitimate guys starting games throughout the Minor Leagues, which is really fun."
With those games under way, fans can keep track of the Mets' top prospects throughout the season on MLBPipeline.com and Prospect Watch. Scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more are available for all of the organization's Minor League teams on MLBPipeline.com/Mets.
The Las Vegas 51s are the only team in the country featuring two of MLB.com's Top 10 prospects, with Wheeler and d'Arnaud both starting the season in the desert. Though neither is likely to stay more than a few months, they should combine to put on a show early this summer.
The elite talent in Vegas does not end with those two. MLB.com's fifth-ranked Mets prospect, Jeurys Familia, is back in Triple-A working out of the bullpen. The Mets loved what they saw from Familia in Spring Training, and they believe he has all the skills necessary to develop into a lockdown late-innings reliever. Infielder Wilmer Flores is also in Vegas after breaking out offensively last summer. If he manages to submit another strong offensive season, he could knock on the door to the big leagues by midsummer despite still lacking a long-term defensive home.
Also of note is the rotation at St. Lucie, which includes high-ceiling right-handers Noah Syndergaard, Domingo Tapia, Hansel Robles, Luis Mateo and Jacob DeGrom. Michael Fulmer should join that group after he returns from right knee surgery, which he underwent during Spring Training.
Debuts and Draftees
Though the Mets caught a quick look at Cecchini late last summer, they will get a more significant sample for the first time this season. Cecchini should start at Class A Brooklyn, where he ended last season, with the potential for a promotion later this summer. If everything breaks right, he will take tangible steps toward developing into New York's shortstop of the future.
Other intriguing names from the 2012 Draft class include catcher Kevin Plawecki, who hit eight home runs in 67 Class A games last season, and shortstop Matthew Reynolds, who could ultimately wind up at third base. Those two started at Class A Savannah and St. Lucie, respectively.
Another shortstop to watch closely is Rosario, who will make his professional debut a year after inking a $1.75 million bonus -- more than half the Mets' $2.9 million international signing budget. Rosario is all projection right now but could develop into a superstar if everything breaks right. His journey officially begins this summer.
New kids on the block
d'Arnaud is not simply a new kid -- he's the crown jewel of this system. A power-hitting catcher with a strong reputation for both defense and hitting, d'Arnaud would have made his Major League debut in 2012 had he not torn a ligament in his left knee in June, ending his season. As it is, he started this season back at Las Vegas.
The Mets took on significant risk in acquiring d'Arnaud, dealing reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Dickey to the Blue Jays in a seven-player trade in December. Though the Mets also acquired their catcher of the present in that trade, John Buck, the deal from their perspective centered on d'Arnaud.
The other key chip in that trade was Syndergaard, a hard-throwing right-hander who began this summer at St. Lucie. Though Syndergaard remains a few years away from the big leagues, the Mets believe he has top-of-the-rotation potential. A 6-foot-6 Texan, Syndergaard struck out 122 batters in 103 2/3 innings at Class A Lancaster last season.
Teams on TV
Las Vegas is among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV -- good news for Mets fans, considering both Wheeler and d'Arnaud will spend the early summer with the 51s. The 2013 MiLB.TV package includes more than 3,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.