Snap Thoughts on the 2011 Mets System

With minor league camp about to get into full swing, now is a good time to sit back and get a high-level look of the Mets farm system. A great amount has changed in recent seasons, but as we look ahead to 2011, it can be said with confidence that the New York Mets farm system is better shape than it has been in years – and only improving. Look inside to see how it all shapes up.

When I took over covering the Mets farm system prior to the 2007 season, I looked up and down the roster sheets and found a rather thin farm system. At the time, there was a reasonably strong top 10, with the likes of Jon Niese, Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez, Daniel Murphy and others leading the way. But behind them was a system largely devoid of talent and one really struggling to find an identity or a rudder.

Entering my fifth season (already?) covering this farm system, I see a vastly different and, more importantly, improved landscape. Gone are the days of waiting for talent to arrive. The talent is here and as we move into 2011 and beyond, it is more and more ready to contribute. Admittedly, the system still lacks the depth of true blue chip prospects that push it into more a favorable position nationally, but when breaking down specific positions and where those positions can help the big league club, a clearer, more positive picture comes into focus.

The future of second base has been one of the most hotly debated topics during this year's spring training. How long Luis Castillo actually lasts is anyone's guess, but the pool of talent behind him is – for my money – the most interesting internal competition I've seen in my five years. Aside from Murphy, there are five guys at Double-A or above who all may have legitimate claims to take the job in 2012 (if not earlier). Brad Emaus, Reese Havens, Jordany Valdespin, Josh Satin, Ruben Tejada all bring something different to the table, but they all know they will have to hurdle each other to get the job.

The outfield couldn't possibly get more interesting. At the top (Triple-A), you have something of a redemption project in Fernando Martinez, a future big league asset in Kirk Nieuwenhuis and the workman-like Lucas Duda. Double-A offers a look at the improving Sean Ratliff, who in my opinion is playing his way into a big league future, but needs to back it up with another strong year in Binghamton and Buffalo.

Behind them, St. Lucie will possess possibly the Mets top prospect come this time next in Cesar Puello, the ever-interesting and powerful Cory Vaughn, and if Darrell Ceciliani joins them, the High-A outfield will be simply LOADED with talent.

Then, of course, there is the development of the organization's top two prospects in Jenrry Mejia and Wilmer Flores. Both still very young, and chock-full of untapped potential, they give the Mets a 1-2 bat/mound punch atop their prospect rankings that defines just how successful the Mets have been in the international free agent market, which is to say VERY successful.

Mejia, Flores, Puello, Martinez, Aderlin Rodriguez, Valdespin, Armando Rodriguez (another 40-man guy), and even Jefry Marte and Kai Gronauer have shown the Mets are plenty capable of allocating their resources overseas and acquiring the high-caliber talent that has come to shape much of the farm system.

Lastly, there is the army of pitchers behind Mejia, all looking to establish their own careers. From the professional debut of 2010 top pick Matt Harvey, to the raw upside of Jeurys Familia, to the polish of Dillon Gee, to the reclamation project of Brad Holt, to young arms like Juan Urbina, the Mets have an arm that can fit every role.

All of these improvements now fall under the guidance of new coaches, promoted managers and a new head man, Dick Scott, running the farm system as the new minor league field coordinator. During my travels to see the affiliates last year, it was obvious to see how the approach, temperament and discipline vastly changed for the better under Terry Collins from the frat house atmosphere that all too often defined the minor league clubhouses under the previous regime. I believe the trend set forth by Collins will continue under Scott.

There is a lot more – much more – to discuss about the 2011 season as it gets underway. Yet, as we head into another season, I can say with full confidence that this year of minor league development will be the best one yet since my coverage begin, and that has been the case for the last three years – a sign of how far this system has come.

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