How close are Mets' top prospects to MLB? Predicting where 9 key minor leaguers will begin 2021

Jacob Resnick
·8 min read
Pete Crow-Armstrong, Brett Baty, Matt Allan, and Ronny Mauricio TREATED ART
Pete Crow-Armstrong, Brett Baty, Matt Allan, and Ronny Mauricio TREATED ART

Minor League Baseball will be back in 2021, though the system that everyone is accustomed to is no longer.

In addition to a May 4 start date, MLB teams will be working with just four affiliates (in addition to complex-level development teams) and dealing with limits on how many players can be in the organization at any time.

The cancellation of the 2020 minor league season throws a major wrench into trying to predict where players will be assigned this year, as mostly everyone’s development has happened behind closed doors.

We’re going to attempt the exercise anyway, combining 2019 performance with early looks at the Mets’ top prospects during spring training.

As a reminder, here is the Mets’ new minor league structure:

Triple-A Syracuse

Double-A Binghamton

High-A Brooklyn

Low-A St. Lucie

Rookie Gulf Coast League

Rookie Dominican Summer League

LHP Thomas Szapucki

SNY rank: 11

Highest level: Double-A

2021 prediction: Triple-A Syracuse

After tearing through Kingsport and Brooklyn in 2016, Szapucki looked like an electric arm who would make a rapid ascent to the upper minors and majors.

It hasn’t been that simple for the left-hander. He needed Tommy John surgery early in 2017, sat out the following season, and made 18 starts around multiple starts and stops in 2019. Despite being on the 40-man roster in 2020, he spent the entire of the year at the alternate training site.

Turning 25 in June, Szapucki has just four innings of Double-A experience, with most of his current prospect stature the result of holding out hope that he still is what he once was. Reports from the ATS said he struggled to top 88-89 mph, though he hit 95 mph in his first outing of the spring.

Szapucki’s profile always held bullpen risk, and a multi-inning role in the Syracuse pen could be what gets him to the majors in 2021.

RHP Matt Allan

SNY rank: 2

Highest level: Short Season-A

2021 prediction: High-A Brooklyn

At just 18, Allan was on the mound in the New York-Penn League championship game for Brooklyn. You wouldn’t have been able to guess his age — he tossed three perfect innings as the Cyclones captured the title.

Allan’s first full year, which likely would have been spent in Low-A, was interrupted by the pandemic. Nothing can replace a minor league season, but he was still able to build up at the ATS and instructional camp, and had been participating in his first major league spring training, before being reassigned on Tuesday.

It’s hard to tell at this point how many innings Allan could realistically throw in a full minor league season. An assignment to Low-A St. Lucie would indicate a careful, slow approach, while sending him back to Brooklyn (now the High-A affiliate) says that he’ll rise through the system faster than most pitchers his age.

RHP J.T. Ginn

SNY rank: 6

Highest level: College

2021 prediction: Gulf Coast League

Only one 2020 draft pick (Garrett Crochet of the White Sox) played after being selected, but Ginn, a Tommy John patient last March, would have continued his rehab even if there was a season.

Now a year removed from the operation, Ginn was a late addition to the spring training roster and threw a bullpen session in camp on Tuesday.

“He’s on schedule or ahead of schedule, and everything is going great,” Mets director of player development Kevin Howard told Newsday’s Tim Healey.

Still, it seems unlikely that Ginn would be ready to shoulder even a limited workload when the minor league season starts on May 4. The second-round pick can continue his rehab in Port St. Lucie and join St. Lucie when he’s ready to return to game action.

C Francisco Alvarez

SNY rank: 1

Highest level: Rookie

2021 prediction: Low-A St. Lucie

In the two-plus years since his summer 2018 signing, Alvarez has become a glimmer of hope for Mets fans who haven’t seen an elite catcher since Mike Piazza’s prime.

In reality, Alvarez’s career could take any one of a plethora of paths between now and his eventual major league debut. His tools, as any scout will say, are tantalizing, but the Venezuelan is only about to embark on his age-19 season.

Only four catchers since 1996 have earned a full-time major league job before turning 24. Gary Sanchez was on Baseball America’s Yankees top 30 list seven times before becoming a full time major leaguer.

In short, it’s ambitious to expect Alvarez to push for the upper minors at any point in 2021, and maybe not until well into the 2022 season. Even playing at Low-A St. Lucie, he’ll still be much younger than his peers.

3B Brett Baty

SNY rank: 5

Highest level: Short-Season A

2021 prediction: Low-A St. Lucie

Baty was unusually old for a high school draft pick, and thus will play his first full season at 21. That’s typically the age at which college juniors enter pro ball.

Instead of coming in cold, Baty has half a season, two instructs, and a summer at the ATS under his belt. He has also displayed his tantalizing bat in some major league spring training games, recording a double at 107 mph last week.

Like any young power hitter, Baty still has plenty of swing-and-miss in his game. The fine line that needs to be balanced is pushing a talented player through the system versus hammering out those issues at a level more suited for development.

He clearly has the in-game power to stack up against anyone in the organization, but sending him to Brooklyn without any previous full season experience might be a difficult first assignment.

SS Ronny Mauricio

SNY rank: 3

Highest level: Low-A

2021 prediction: High-A Brooklyn

No one could have used a normal 2020 as much as Mauricio, who held his own as an 18-year-old in Low-A over the first half of 2019 but fell off hard over the season’s last two months.

Mauricio was looking to improve on a low walk rate and high ground ball rate last season, but instead spent the summer at the ATS refining his skills.

Lean and lanky when we last saw him on the field, he showed up to major league camp this spring looking physically massive. He had success at the plate early on as well, hitting .455 (5-for-11).

If the minors hadn’t been dealt the blow of the pandemic, Mauricio would have been at High-A in 2020 and pushed for a full season at Double-A this summer. He’ll be 20 in April, so that High-A experience is probably more important than maintaining the track he would have been on without the pandemic.

3B Mark Vientos

SNY rank: 7

Highest level: Low-A

2021 prediction: High-A Brooklyn

Vientos, like Mauricio, experienced plenty of ups and downs at Low-A Columbia in 2019. In the end, the 2017 second-round pick was more successful in translating his tools into game performance.

Despite playing his home games in an extreme pitcher's park, Vientos had no issues clearing the center field fence on multiple occasions. His athletic swing would have played well in St. Lucie in 2020, but the decision is now whether Brooklyn or Binghamton will be his next home.

Vientos has seen time at both third and first base this spring, the latter being a relatively recent experiment. If he checks all the defensive boxes before the season starts, an assignment to Double-A for the 21-year-old isn’t out of the question, but High-A would be more age-appropriate.

Both Mauricio and Vientos will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next winter, so it’s very likely both will see adequate Double-A action during the season. Just don’t expect it to be from the start.

OF Pete Crow-Armstrong

SNY rank: 4

Highest level: High school

2021 prediction: Gulf Coast League

Seeing Crow-Armstrong in action during major league spring training is an exciting development, but it doesn’t change the fact that he was facing high schoolers at this time last year.

It’s easy to forget that Crow-Armstrong is still 18, as he carries himself like a veteran and might be the best defensive outfielder in the organization -- major leaguers included. He’s also shown promise with the bat this spring, hitting the ball hard, though maintaining it through a full season as a teenager is a different beast.

The pressure to rush him through the system is non-existent, and it’s important for Crow-Armstrong to use 2021 as his true introduction to professional baseball.

OF Khalil Lee

SNY rank: 8

Highest level: Double-A

2021 prediction: Triple-A Syracuse

Lee was an unexpected but welcome addition to an organization that lacks players with impact potential in the upper minors. That the Mets were able to acquire him for a relatively low cost makes any future major league success a nice thing to have, rather than a necessity.

In 2019, Lee’s Double-A stats were right in line with his scouting profile. He reached base at a .363 clip, while his game-changing speed produced 53 stolen bases. On the other hand, his 28.2 percent strikeout rate and .372 slugging percentage were indicative of a hitter who had to adjust to advanced pitching all season.

Lee has been a highly-regarded prospect for quite some time but is still just 22. Though he’s on the 40-man roster and should be at Triple-A to start the season, Lee is looking at another year for development, rather than one where he’ll push for a major league role.