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The common refrain entering the 2021 season was that the Mets’ minor league system was stocked with a handful of high-upside prospects and devoid of much else.
While that small group of exciting young players lived up to the hype, the rest of the organization did very little to change the narrative. Director of player development Jeremy Barnes, entering his first full off-season with the team, isn’t shying away from the reality, recognizing the work that still needs to be done.
“For me, it’s what we as the ‘new’ New York Mets are all about and that’s collaborative effort,” Barnes said. “It’s leaning on R&D and analytics, it’s working with the system department to create really good coaching tools. It’s up to us on the PD side to convey that and create really good development plans. It’s an all-hands-on-deck process.
“I think we’re making strides in adding more depth and creating good processes and systems. But it’s where we are right now.”
Until the Mets get to the point where their 15th, 25th, and 35th-best prospects look the part of eventual major leaguers, they’ll be putting immense pressure on the likes of Francisco Álvarez, Ronny Mauricio, Brett Baty, and Mark Vientos to be significant contributors in the not-too-distant future.
Álvarez, in particular, did nothing but live up to expectations in 2021. Entering the year with a level of mystique surrounding his name, the 19-year-old catcher put himself into the conversation for the top 10-20 prospects across the game with a season that can only be evaluated one way.
“I’d grade it as an A+,” Barnes said. “The thing that stands out to me about Álvarez is that he has an infectious personality and a desire to get better every day that he comes to the ballpark. To be that young and that talented offensively is incredibly rare.”
It doesn’t take a grizzled scout to look at Álvarez’s tape-measure home runs or check on his .941 OPS and make that determination for oneself. On the other side of the ball, he’s continuing to work on perhaps the only current deficiency in his game, though the organization is confident it will match up eventually.
“He’s absolutely made strides on the defensive side, and with what I would call the soft skills that are needed to be a catcher,” Barnes said. “He’s running advance meetings — doing it in English — and he’s learning hitters. I’m not too concerned about the catching side of it because his personality and the attributes he has as a human being are elite. He’s already made strides in the areas we want him to and I’m confident he’ll continue to move forward.”
Mauricio, not too far removed from being the Mets’ top prospect before Álvarez’s ascension, showed flashes of elite potential — his 22 home runs were more than three times his career total entering the season — while enduring prolonged plate discipline and quality-of-contact struggles throughout the summer.
The organizational focus with Mauricio going forward will be hammering down on his knowledge of the strike zone, to allow his natural tools to flourish.
“Each month he’s gotten a little bit better at controlling the strike zone and not chasing,” Barnes said. “For him, that’s the name of the game. If he can stay in the strike zone, continue to figure out a professional approach, and stick to it, he’s going to do damage and do his thing at the plate.”
Barnes also noted that while the organization likes where Mauricio is at defensively, he still has another level he can reach, particularly in the mental aspect of fielding his position.
“He’s a young guy, and it’s very normal to — not on purpose — to lose focus for a play or two. It’s just a matter of overcoming the repetitiveness that is baseball and staying locked in every single night.”
Over at third base the Mets are excited by the progress of both Baty and Vientos this season. Though standout offensive production was expected — Vientos’ .949 OPS led the system and Baty crushed his way to the Futures’ Game and a promotion to Double-A — they continue to work on defensive refinements, some small and some, like introductions to new positions, more major.
Both Baty and Vientos were exposed to left field for the first time in their careers this season, a decision that was partially motivated by the potential conundrum that would arise if both were strictly third basemen upon reaching the majors.
“It can be dangerous at times, especially when you have a young bat to say ‘you’re just a third baseman,’ or ‘you’re just this,’” Barnes said. “There’s power in the development process and learning how to overcome something new. We want them to go through this process and have a little versatility, which only makes it an easier opportunity to get their bat [to the majors].”
In summary, the players who the organization expected to play well in 2021 did exactly that. Outside of the elite prospects, though, sporadic progress was made towards establishing quality system-wide depth. That isn’t an overnight (or one-year) process, and it starts with the small things.
“We’re starting to talk about the game a little differently,” Barnes said. “We’re starting to think long-term in our development plans.”
Much like Tylor Megill made a rapid climb from off-the-radar power arm to major league contributor in a span of less than three months, Barnes has his eye on the next wave of development success stories.
“The biggest name is [Adam] Oller probably. He’s been in Triple-A and doing fantastic things. Coming in his name wasn’t brought up to me like all the other names, but he’s made huge gains in his development.
“[Eric] Orze is another one who’s been really great for us on the pitching side. He has fantastic stuff. Cole Gordon is another guy who’s really put himself on the map. On the offensive side, Luke Ritter has really impressed me. [Jose] Peroza has really stood out.
“There are guys, especially down at the lower levels. We’ve got guys who are coming and developing, and we want to always be continuing to search for ways to get better. We need to have an organization, a coaching staff, and a player population that buys into that mentality.”