In honor of pitchers and catchers reporting, I will subscribe to the notion of spring optimism, for the failures of the winter have been exhausted and beaten to death. We all understand that this was a brutal off-season where the Mets didn’t accomplish many of their goals, inferred or stated. I will focus instead on one major objective that the organization did manage to achieve, and in my estimation, with great efficacy: assembling a potent club in Buffalo.
In the first of a two-year player development contract with the Mets, the 2009 Bisons were an International League worst 56-87. The league’s third best starting rotation (38.1 pitching runs above average according to StatCorner) was sullied by a most hideous roster of position players comprised primarily of journeymen, some with Major League experience and most too old to have any upside. Only Fernando Martinez, and to a lesser extent, Nick Evans were considered prospects. Once Martinez was summoned for big league duty (before falling to injury) and Evans was exiled to Port St. Lucie after a bad slump, the cupboard was bare. The likes of Jesus Feliciano (.339), Cory Sullivan (.336) and Argenis Reyes (.336) led the team in wOBA, Javier Valentin (Jose’s hefty brother) saw time at third base, Mike Lamb received 466 plate appearances and Chip Ambres led the team with twelve home runs.
A major reason why the 2009 Mets spiraled out of control was the inability to build a competitive team in Buffalo. When Beltran, Reyes and Delgado hit the deck, there were few candidates from the Triple-A club who could fill-in suitably. It’s not that New York should’ve had players of that quality in the minor leagues, nobody does (well, except maybe the Rays); it’s that nobody in Buffalo had useful skills. Players like Cory Sullivan don’t do anything particularly well – they’re average or below across the board.
This season, however, Bisons fans will see evidence of a wholesale makeover. In addition to the return of Martinez and the promotion of prospects Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Ruben Tejada, the organization made a host of minor transactions acquiring a group of useful players ticketed for Triple A. This roster will undoubtedly be better equipped to support their parent club, while providing the city of Buffalo with some entertaining baseball.
Infielder | Russ Adams
This former first round pick is a left-handed hitter with a patient, contact-oriented approach. He brings versatility to a franchise in dire need of middle infield depth. Though he lacks the range to play SS regularly, Adams could be used there in spot duty for the Mets should Alex Cora get injured. Russ and his .278/.354/.404 career minor league slash line ostensibly replace Argenis Reyes (.281/.331/.349) in Buffalo.
3B | Shawn Bowman
A Canadian with a sterling glove at third base, Bowman’s promotion is something of achievement in and of itself. Chronic back troubles limited the right-handed hitter to 125 games played between 2005 and the first half of 2008 (he’s remained relatively healthy since). Bowman is not likely to be much better than average (more than likely below) with the bat due to poor plate discipline and average power. Possessing good range and arm (he’s pitched in 30 minor league games), perhaps the Mets could use him in the same vein as the Jack Hannahan of the Mariners – a rangy reserve 2B/3B/SS, who’s not a complete sinkhole offensively. There’s value in such players, but in the meantime, he’ll be an asset to the ground-ball inducing Buffalo pitching rotation.
Hitter | Chris Carter
A career minor league slash line of .306/.380/.510 and no defensive ability, Chris Carter is your generic Quad-A player, who’ll entertain the crowd by hitting ropes all around the ballpark. He can hang in against left-handed pitchers, so expect him to be a staple in the potent Bisons lineup at first base, left field or designated hitter. Carter’s hitting prowess is something the Mets could use should Daniel Murphy turn out to be an offensive sinkhole and Ike Davis struggle adjusting to Triple-A pitching. He’ll work hard to get his defense comfortably below average.
Catcher | Chris Coste
Coste’s career .325 Major League wOBA is higher than the other catchers in camp, which in typical Mets fashion, places him fourth on the depth chart. He’s ticketed to Buffalo to mentor Josh Thole and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The veteran can teach the young catcher a thing or two about blocking balls in the dirt
Outfielder / 1B | Nick Evans
The Blue & Orange love affair with “Nasty” Nick Evans isn’t without merit. He was the 2008 Mets Minor League Player of the Year (co-winner with Daniel Murphy) and is a legitimate lefty-killer. The Mets soured on him due to 87 miserable plate appearances for last year’s Bisons, which is semi-chronicled here. Nick would be best served and optimally used in left or right field, where he has some defensive chops.
Utility Outfielder / Infielder | Mike Hessman
The former 2007 International League MVP owns a three true outcomes hitting profile (.229/.312/.454 career MiLB) that the Mets organization typically undervalues. He’s a four corners guy with a good defensive reputation (especially at third base) and middle infield experience, and can help the Bisons in a multitude of ways. He’s virtually a poor man’s version of Fernando Tatis, substituting contact for defensive acumen.
Center Field | Jason Pridie
Pridie, claimed off waivers to the chagrin of Dave Cameron, is a poor hitter, but an excellent defensive center fielder (+44 Total Zone in AAA). He’s fifth outfielder insurance, but will more than likely become Eric Niesen’s best friend.
Old hands / Bench Players | Andy Green, Jesus Feliciano, Val Pascucci (see Tedquarters.net for write-up, altar), Mike Cervenak, Jolbert Cabrera, Shawn Riggans