John Sickels is a must-read for anyone interested in minor league baseball. He knows his stuff, plain and simple, and relies on both the numbers and his eyes when evaluating young talent.
For the past few weeks, Sickels has been grading the Top 20 prospects of every major league team. (His Mets analysis can be found here.) Today's focus was on the Tampa Bay Rays, a farm system with an enviable amount of blue chip prospects despite having already churned out potential superstars like Evan Longoria and David Price over the last two years.
The praise heaped upon the Rays' system is well-deserved, but the kicker was the dig taken at the Mets during Sickels's analysis.
Not just the amazing aggregation of talent at the top, but the way they run the system really impresses me. The Rays can pick good college guys with developed skills. They can pick raw high school guys and turn them into players. They have an effective Latin American operation. They don't push guys too fast: they are particularly conservative with the high school arms, letting them percolate enough at each level. They are the Anti-Mets in that regard, and it really seems to work for them.
Ouch. The Mets have developed a reputation for rushing their top prospects, especially under Tony Bernazard's regime. This strategy has yet to pay any particular dividends, and we may come to find that Daniel Murphy's career was actually derailed by not giving him more time to develop in Double-A or Triple-A last season.
The Mets (and a lot of their fans) seem to think that 200 solid at-bats or 50 good innings in the minor leagues are a sign that a player is ready to jump to the next level. I do not agree. Organized professional baseball exists in the form that it does because most players benefit from playing against at progressively more challenging levels. It's a true test of whether a player can be a successful major leaguer.
I am conservative in my approach to minor leaguers - I like to see a player succeed over the course of a full season in both Double-A and Triple-A before considering him for a spot on the big league roster. That's why Josh Thole belongs in Buffalo next season, not backing up Bengie Molina. Same goes for Jon Niese, Ike Davis and Fernando Martinez. Jenrry Mejia may have an electric arm, but he has made only 10 starts above A ball in his career. It would be a mistake of near-criminal proportions to throw him into the Mets' bullpen next season.
For every Dwight Gooden, who was ready to dominate major league hitters before his 20th birthday, there are 50 players who need to learn and improve their skills across multiple levels before reaching The Show. Patience isn't always popular, but when it comes to minor league prospects, it truly is a virtue.