QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
ALL GRADES ARE PRELIMINARY AND SUBJECT TO CHANGE. No grade is final until January 5th, 2013
THIS LIST ASSUMES THE DICKEY TRADE GOES THROUGH AS PROJECTED.
1) Travis D'Arnaud, C, Grade A-:
Borderline B+. Should be acquired from Jays in the R.A. Dickey trade. He's not perfect, but D'Arnaud is either the best catching prospect in baseball or the second-best behind Mike Zunino. Could use a bit more polish with his throwing and his plate discipline and immediate stardom is unlikely, but overall he's the complete package. Don't expect him to be Mike Piazza, but he should be a long-term solution.
2) Zack Wheeler, RHP, Grade A-:
Borderline B+. Aside from some control wobbles in Triple-A, he had a terrific year. Projects as a number two starter. Can he duplicate what Matt Harvey did? It's possible.
3) Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Grade A-:
Borderline B+. Acquired in Dickey trade. He's ahead of where Wheeler was at age 20. Strong sinking fastball, good changeup, breaking stuff coming around, solid command, good body, good makeup, strong sabermetric profile. Just needs to stay healthy. I like him more than many people do, but I really like him.
4) Wilmer Flores, 3B-2B, Grade B+:
Borderline B. I am impressed with the progress he made last year developing his power, and he's still just 21. There are still significant questions about his defense and how his bat will fit into a lineup, but progress is progress.
5) Michael Fulmer, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B-:
Strong performance in Low-A, impressive fastball/slider combination. Development of changeup, command, and durability concerns over cross-body mechanics lead to some questions about future role, but he could be a mid-rotation guy eventually. Another guy I'm laying a bet on. Maybe a bad idea when it comes to pitchers, but I'm operating on very little sleep tonight.
6) Jeurys Familia, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline B.
Another hard-thrower with command issues and question about his role. I've been in the starter camp but am now leaning towards the bullpen. Even slight command improvement could make him significant contributor in 2013.
7) Luis Mateo, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline B.
Love the arm and he blew away the NY-P, however, he is in the age cohort of a college senior at age 22 so take the raw stats (2.45 ERA, 85/9 K/BB in 73 innings) with a grain of salt. That said, he throws quite hard and if his changeup comes around he is another mid-rotation arm for the future. If he repeats this at higher levels, he'll zoom up the lists quickly in '13 and this grade could look too low.
8) Brandon Nimmo, OF, Grade B-:
Very patient, showed some pop in the New York-Penn League, but his athleticism and speed weren't as good as advertised. Will need more power if he has to move to an outfield corner.
9) Gavin Cecchini, SS, Grade B-:
Baseball rat type, 2012 first rounder, good polish on defense, but hitting in rookie ball wasn't as good as I was led to expect when he was in high school. Young enough to get a lot better, of course.
10) Rafael Montero, RHP, Grade B-:
Another product of the Mets pitching pipeline in Latin America, thrived in Low-A and High-A. Good command of low-90s fastball, and has a solid slider and improving changeup, throws strikes. Another potential mid-rotation starter.
11) Domingo Tapia, RHP, Grade B-:
Here's another one, gets up to 98 MPH, erratic but promising in Low-A, needs a better breaking ball to remain a starter, but another high-ceiling guy.
12) Cory Mazzoni, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline B-.
Inconsistent after promotion to Double-A and long-term role is uncertain, but could be another mid/back-rotation or bullpen candidate within the next two years. Low-to-mid-90s, good slider, but splitter wasn't completely effective.
13) Jake DeGrom, RHP, Grade C+:
Older prospect at age 24 due to lost Tommy John season, but has a nasty sinker, an athletic body, throws strikes, and was sharp statistically with a 2.43 ERA and 96/20 K/BB in 111 innings in A-ball. Significant sleeper prospect.
14) Kevin Plawecki, C, Grade C+:
Purdue catcher is a skilled contact hitter with a very solid glove. Didn't post eye-popping numbers in the NY-P, but I think he has growth potential. Presence of D'Arnaud means Plawecki won't have to be rushed.
15) Matt Den Dekker, OF, Grade C+:
Offers left-handed power, can steal a base, and a fine glove in the outfield, but excessive strikeout inclination will likely preclude a good batting average and OBP. Should make a solid fourth outfielder.
16) Cory Vaughn, OF, Grade C+:
Very productive in Florida State League (23 homers, 21 steals, 65 walks) but has a strikeout habit (114) and hit just .243. Turns 24 in May so he can't afford a slow start in Double-A.
17) Logan Verrett, RHP, Grade C+:
Another college-trained strike-thrower (the Mets have several) who could be a surprise in 2013 if he adds another half-tick to his fastball or adds something to his changeup. Thrived in A-ball (2.70 ERA, 93/13 K/BB in 103 innings). Sleeper who would get more play in an organization with less pitching.
18) Jack Leathersich, LHP, Grade C+:
Strikeout relief king, fanned 113 in 72 innings (read that again) in A-ball, with 3.00 ERA and gave up just 51 hits. He also walked 32 guys, so he's got work to do, but fastball/curve combination would take him a long way with even slight improvement in his command.
19) Danny Muno, INF, Grade C+:
Not toolsy, but just knows how to play. Hit .280/.387/.412 in High-A, with 19 steals, 50 walks in 352 PA. Steady defense. Would make a fine utility guy.
20) Phillip Evans, SS, Grade C+:
Higher ceiling than Muno but further away. His bat wasn't quite as good as advertised, but his glove was better than expected, and he has as chance to stick at shortstop. Will move to Low-A at age 20 in 2013.
OTHERS GRADE C+: Darrell Cecilianni, OF; Rainy Lara, RHP; Matt Reynolds, 3B; Hansel Robles, RHP; Gabriel Ynoa, RHP
OTHERS: Matt Bowman, RHP; Luis Cessa, RHP; Gonzalez Germen, RHP; Erik Goedell, RHP; Gilbert Gomez, OF; Darin Gorski, LHP; Matt Koch, RHP; Juan Lagares, Of; Vicente Lupo, OF; Jefry Marte, 3B; Steven Matz, LHP; Colin McHugh, RHP; Tyler Pill, RHP; Cesar Puello, OF; Aderlin Rodriguez, OF; Ahmed Rosario, SS; Logan Taylor, RHP; Wilfredo Tovar, SS.
This organization has made enormous strides of late, and the addition of D'Arnaud and Syndergaard is frosting on the cake.
The obvious strength is pitching, and they have a lot of it. Both Wheeler and Syndergaard are potential top-of-the-rotation starters, backing up the now-graduated Matt Harvey who was everything that could have been expected last summer and more. Hard-throwers dot the rosters. . .Familia, Fulmer, Tapia, Mateo, Montero. . .note particularly the products of the Latin American scouting operation. And there is more behind them, the Brooklyn Cyclones starting rotation was outstanding. But it isn't just the high-ceiling guys, they have polished arms, too. Guys like Verrett or DeGrom could sneak up on us the same way that McHugh did.
Of course, as Mets fans well-know from history, pitching prospects are a volatile commodity. They can explode in your face very easily, or fizzle into nothing like a drop of water on Mercury. That's why you need as much depth as possible, and they've developed that.
Hitting, on the other hand, is a weakness. The addition of D'Arnaud gives them an impact player ready to help in the majors, something they've needed. Flores made a lot of progress this year, but it is still an open question how he fits into a long-term lineup. Nimmo and Cecchini, the two most recent first round picks, both have the potential to be regulars but are years away from being ready. There are guys who look like potential role players, but adding more bats to the system needs to be a priority. Hopefully the new Latin American investments like Lupo and Rosario will show a better feel for the strike zone than the previous group.
In short, Mets fans should be very happy about the pitching depth in the system, but they also need to be realistic about the hitting. As cool as R.A. Dickey's breakthrough was, the Mets took a long-shot reclamation project that panned out and turned him into two blue chip prospects. It was the right long-term move for the system.