Mets’ farm system draws rave reviews after trade deadline fire sale

The decision-making process has been polarizing, but the execution appears sound.

There are fans who detest the auction the Mets held — notably for two aged, superstar pitchers — and there are fans who acknowledge today’s woes could be tomorrow’s wins.

There is more consensus, though, on the haul GM Billy Eppler brought back in offloading Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, David Robertson, Tommy Pham, Mark Canha and Dominic Leone by the trade deadline.

“This is probably a bottom-five-ish farm system going into the deadline,” Jeffrey Paternostro, the lead prospect writer at Baseball Prospectus, said over the phone Thursday. “I think they saw an opportunity to, quite frankly, buy a top-10 or -15 farm system in baseball.

Beginning with Saturday’s Scherzer trade and concluding by 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Mets landed a pair of top-ranked outfielders in Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford, infielder/outfielder Luisangel Acuna; infielders Marco Vargas, Jeremy Rodriguez and Jeremiah Jackson; catcher Ronald Hernandez; and righty Justin Jarvis.

Seven of the newcomers rank among their top 23 minor leaguers, according to MLB Pipeline.

“They look like they’re quality prospects,” one rival talent evaluator said. “It’s hard to say your plan didn’t go the right way and totally shift. Usually, the Mets are scouting the big leagues [and less so the minor leagues] because they’re trying to add to the 26-man roster.

Mets farm director Kevin Howard says Luisangel Acuna is "arguably one of the best hitters in the organization just stepping in the door.
Mets farm director Kevin Howard says Luisangel Acuna is “arguably one of the best hitters in the organization just stepping in the door.
Gordon Donovan

“So for the Mets to have done what they did, it’s pretty impressive. To just say, ‘OK, it didn’t work. We’ve got to change direction here.’”

The extreme pivot for the largest-spending team in MLB history did not wipe away costs.

Owner Steve Cohen will pick up potentially $100 million in salaries for shipped-out players, which helped the Mets pry better prospects.

According to several within and outside of the club, the plan was carried out well. Farm director Kevin Howard, who has been around the Mets since before the 2021 season, has not seen a system this deep.

“I think it’s pretty obviously the most talented we’ve gotten from every standpoint really,” Howard said.

In surveying what the Mets did, it is significant to note what they did not do: trade for immediate needs.

In 2017, the selling Mets turned Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Addison Reed and Neil Walker into seven relievers.

The system was short on bullpen arms, which the Mets did not develop well enough.

Drew Smith is the only one still with the organization.

Ryan Clifford has big power but questions about his plate discipline.
Ryan Clifford has big power but questions about his plate discipline.
Getty Images

Six years later, they prioritized talent rather than filling a niche.

There are players who can help as soon as next year (perhaps Acuna, Gilbert and Jarvis), and the 18-year-old Vargas is a high-upside lottery ticket.

They wound up with more hitters, though they earlier had virtually purchased righties Coleman Crow and Landon Marceaux in trading Eduardo Escobar.

“I don’t think you can be too particular about filling needs,” Paternostro said. “If you look at the [Mets’] farm system needs, it’s really up and down the system.”

By most publications’ rankings, the Mets’ system was somewhere in the middle of the pack entering this season, but its value was built upon its star power.

Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty have since graduated out of the prospect realm, and the Mets have not had enough reinforcements to help this season or project well for future years.

The talent evaluator pointed at what had been a poor development track record and trades (Jarred Kelenic and Pete Crow-Armstrong) that had set back the Mets’ system.

“I think you do have to zoom out and look at the farm system when Steve Cohen [in November 2020] and then even Billy Eppler [in November 2021] came in,” Paternostro said. “They had a big rebuild here.”

At last year’s deadline, a buying Eppler refused to part with what he determined were the club’s top 19 prospects, unwilling to mortgage any part of the future.

At this year’s deadline, as they slipped further down the standings, they landed:

Acuna (from the Rangers, current Mets No. 2 prospect): Ronald’s younger brother has been sent to Double-A Binghamton after posting an .830 OPS with 42 steals at that level with the Rangers organization.

“He can run. He makes good swing decisions,” Howard said. “I think he’s arguably one of the best hitters in the organization just stepping in the door.”

Gilbert (from the Astros, current Mets No. 4 prospect): A first-round pick in 2018, the 22-year-old can do some of everything and arrives with some power, solid speed and good bat-to-ball skills.

New Met Drew Gilbert make a catch while playing right field during the All-Star Future Game.
New Met Drew Gilbert make a catch while playing right field during the All-Star Future Game.
USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

“The No. 1 prospect in their organization,” Howard said of Houston. “Speaks for itself.”

Clifford (from the Astros, current Mets No. 6 prospect): The 6-foot-3, big lefty bat hit 18 home runs in 83 Low- and High-A games with Houston’s affiliates.

“We didn’t really have his skill set — a guy with that kind of power who’s also a good hitter,” Howard said.

Vargas (from the Marlins, current Mets No. 9 prospect): The Mets saw plenty of the teenager, whose Marlins Complex League team played against them in Florida often.

“He has some of the best contact rates and swing decisions in the low minors right now,” Paternostro said. “There just are not guys at that level that have zone-contact rates over 90 percent. I mean, there’s not that many at any level.”

Jarvis (from the Brewers, current Mets No. 15 prospect): The righty had a 3.33 ERA in 14 Double-A starts this season before struggling in three Triple-A outings.

The Mets will have to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

“That’s a pretty good get for Canha,” Paternostro said.

“As far as starters at the upper levels, you just can’t have enough,” Howard added.

Hernandez (from the Marlins, current Mets No. 22 prospect): Just 19, the switch hitter has shown a promising bat at Rookie Ball.

Alvarez might be the club’s catcher for the next decade, and 2022 first-round pick Kevin Parada, a catcher, is their No. 1 prospect.

“From a catching standpoint, we were already loaded,” Howard said. “Didn’t need help there, but we got more help.”

Jackson (from the Angels, current Mets No. 23 prospect): The infielder was a second-round pick in 2018 who has dealt with various injuries since but has shown good power.

“I think the infield is where we bolstered the most,” Howard said.

Luisangel Acuna
Luisangel Acuna comes over from the Rangers.
Gordon Donovan

Rodriguez (from the Diamondbacks, currently unranked): The shortstop, now 17, was signed in January for $1.25 million out of the Dominican Republic.

“They used Tommy Pham to get a seven-figure IFA [international free agent] signing from this year,” Paternostro underlined.

Baseball Prospectus annually ranks baseball’s top 101 prospects.

Paternostro said the Mets likely would have five or six prospects on the next list and another two or three in contention.

He has not yet pored through each organization post-deadline, but a system that was bottom five might be the 10th best, he said.

They have deepened, though they don’t yet have Alvarez’s heir.

“They do not have a top-tier, potential perennial All-Star prospect at this moment,” Paternostro said. “Marco Vargas could be that guy in two years. Jett Williams could be that guy in two years. … They don’t have a top-25 prospect right now.”

After a monumental trade deadline, Eppler and Cohen have passed the job over to Howard and the team around him.

“We’ve exerted a lot of resources into getting the best staff and constructing the best processes on our player-development side,” said Howard, who pointed at the club’s new lab, for pitchers and hitters, in Port St. Lucie as a particularly large addition. “I think not only the addition of talent … but I do think another piece of that: Do you have the right people here to develop that talent? Do you have the right processes in place?

“I think we’ve done an amazing job in the last two, three years to work in the right direction.”

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