Evaluating Minaya’s Mets farm system

Posted on November 18, 2010 by

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Recently both John Sickels and FanGraphs gave grades/rankings to the Mets farm system. These were met with dismay by Mets fans, who were disappointed that the farm system was not in better shape. The knee-jerk reaction was to blame former GM Omar Minaya, who oversaw the team for the previous six years.

However, missing from these criticisms of both the farm system and Minaya’s stewardship was context. What shape was the farm system in when Minaya took over? Did he have a mandate from ownership to rebuild the farm system over everything else? Did management place any restrictions on building the farm system? Did Minaya use prospects to acquire MLB-ready talent? How did he handle international signings? All of these questions need to be considered.

But perhaps the biggest consideration is: What makes for a successful farm system? How many draft picks should reach the majors? How many of the players that make The Show should we expect to make an impact?

Minaya oversaw six drafts while he was the general manager of the Mets. Clearly, it is too early to rate with any precision how well his drafts turned out, as neither first pick in the past two drafts has yet to throw a professional pitch. Still, we should be able to answer the question of what makes for a successful farm system.

Since Minaya oversaw six drafts, I decided to look at how MLB farm systems did in six seasons. I wanted to pick a time that was close to the era that Minaya worked in, yet far enough in the past that prospects had a chance to reach the majors. So, I focused on the period from 1998-2003, a six-year span before Minaya took office, but one under similar conditions, including one in which 30 teams participated in the draft.

Using Baseball-Reference.com I looked through yearly drafts and totaled the number of picks who signed that went on to reach the majors, without any consideration if it was for one day or 12 years. Also, I counted the players for each farm system who went on to accumulate at least 5.0 bWAR in their career, using that as a proxy for a good draft pick. I do not pretend that this is rigorous analysis, but it does offer a quick and dirty method to identify guys who were strong contributors.

Instead of going through each franchise, I used a sample of six teams to determine what the average club should expect from its draft over the time period which Minaya was in charge. My sample consisted of the four non-Mets teams in the National League East, along with the Angels and Yankees, the first and last team nicknames alphabetically in the majors.

Here are the list of players each draft contributed for the six clubs, with players who accumulated 5.0 bWAR in bold.

Braves – 36 Total, 4 Impact
98 – Matt Belisle, Ryan Langerhans, Scott Sobkowiak, John Ennis, Tim Spooneybarger, Nick Green, Brad Voyles
99 – Andrew Brown, Ben Kozlowski, Garrett Jones, John Foster
00 – Adam Wainwright, Scott Thorman, Kelly Johnson, Blaine Boyer, Zach Miner, Chris Waters, Trey Hodges, Charles Thomas, Adam LaRoche
01 – Macay McBride, Adam Stern, Kyle Davies, Willie Collazo, Anthony Lerew
02 – Jeff Francoeur, Dan Meyer, Brian McCann, Charlie Morton, Chuck James
03 – Luis Atilano, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jo-Jo Reyes, Matt Harrison, Sean White, Brandon Jones

Marlins – 20 Total, 4 Impact
98 – Chip Ambres, Kevin Olsen
99 – Josh Beckett, Josh Wilson, Nate Robertson, Kevin Hooper, Randy Messenger
00 – Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Willingham
01 – Chris Resop, Jeff Fulchino
02 – Jeremy Hermida, Robert Andino, Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, Eric Reed, Travis Chick, Ross Wolf
03 – Logan Kensing, Jai Miller

Phillies – 23 Total, 9 Impact
98 – Pat Burrell, Eric Valent, Jorge Padilla, Jason Michaels, Ryan Madson, Geoff Geary, Nick Punto
99 – Brett Myers, Marlon Byrd, Frank Brooks
00 – Chase Utley, Taylor Buchholz, Travis Champman
01 – Gavin Floyd, Ryan Howard, Chris Roberson
02 – Cole Hamels, Zack Segovia, Scott Mathieson, Bobby Korecky
03 – Michael Bourn, Kyle Kendrick, Brad Ziegler

Nationals (Expos) – 27 Total, 5 Impact
98 – Brad Wilkerson, Jimmy Serrano
99 – Brandon Phillips, Matt Cepicky, Brandon Watson, Val Pascucci, Matt Watson
00 – Justin Wayne, Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Shawn Hill, Phil Seibel, Jason Bay, Anthony Ferrari
01 – Mike Hinckley, Josh Labandeira, Chad Bentz, Chris Schroder
02 – Darrell Rasner, Mike O’Connor, Jason Bergmann
03 – Chad Cordero, Jerry Owens, Kory Casto, Josh Whitesell, Daryl Thompson, Luke Montz

Angels – 28 Total, 5 Impact
98 – Seth Etherton
99 – John Lackey, Dusty Bergman, Robb Quinlan, Alfredo Amezaga, Gary Johnson, Tom Gregorio
00 – Chris Bootcheck, Tommy Murphy, Bobby Jenks, Matt Hensley, Mike Napoli
01 – Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson, Steve Shell, Jake Woods, Matthew Brown, Ryan Budde, Nick Gorneault, Steve Andrade
02 – Joe Saunders, Kevin Jepsen, Howie Kendrick, Bobby Wilson
03 – Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, Reggie Willits

Yankees – 24 Total, 0 Impact
98 – Randy Keisler, Drew Henson, Brett Jodie, Brandon Claussen
99 – Alex Graman, Andy Phillips, Kevin Thompson
00 – Matt Smith, Mitch Jones, Jason Anderson, Sean Henn
01 – John-Ford Griffin, Bronson Sardinha, Shelley Duncan, Chase Wright, Andy Canizaro, Charlie Manning, Omir Santos
02 – Matt Carson, Brad Halsey, Phil Coke
03 – Tyler Clippard, T.J. Beam, Jeff Karstens

Our six teams signed 158 draft picks reach the majors and 27 of those had a career bWAR of 5.0 or greater by the end of the 2010 season. That averages out to 26.3 players to reach the majors and 4.5 impact players per team. It’s certainly possible that a few more players might reach the majors for a cup of coffee and quite likely that some more will surpass 5.0 bWAR before their career is over. So, we can ballpark it that an average team should send 27 draft picks to the majors in a six-year span and that 6 of those should total 5.0 bWAR before their career is done.

So, how have the Minaya-era picks worked out so far?

Minaya Mets – 13 Total, 0 Impact
05 – Mike Pelfrey, Sal Butera, Jonathon Niese, Bobby Parnell, Josh Thole
06 – Kevin Mulvey, Joe Smith, Daniel Murphy, Tobi Stoner
07 – Eddie Kunz, Lucas Duda, Dillon Gee
08 – Ike Davis
09 – None
10 – None

Pelfrey, Niese, Thole and Davis all have a shot to accumulate 5.0 bWAR before their careers are over. Obviously it is too soon to tell if any of the rest of the 2008-10 picks will be impact players, but there are reasons to be optimistic about several, ranging from top picks Steven Matz and Matt Harvey to others like Brad Holt, Darrell Ceciliani and Cory Vaughn.

The Mets seem a good bet to be close to the average of our sample in both players to reach the majors and impact players, perhaps just shy on both accounts. If nothing else, they should easily beat the draft performance of Brian Cashman in his first six drafts for the Yankees.

And that is before realizing some of the constraints under which Minaya operated. The Mets had no first-round draft pick in three of Minaya’s six seasons (’06, ’07, ’09) and had neither a second or third-round pick in 2005. Of course, this was due to Minaya signing free agents, but still it impacted his ability to land a top player. The two years he did have a first-round pick before 2010, Minaya grabbed Pelfrey and Davis, two players who have reached the majors and at this point look like above-average picks.

The Mets were also hurt during the Minaya era by ownership’s reluctance to go above the recommended slot bonus of MLB. Some high school players announce that they are going to college before they are drafted. Teams will select these players, who would go early in the draft otherwise, on later rounds and try to convince them to go pro with large signing bonuses. It is a way to make up for losing your first-round pick or to further exercise your financial advantage. While clubs like the Yankees and Tigers were aggressive doing this, the Mets instead toed the line on bonuses, further hurting the team’s chances to add talent.

And while the Mets went cheap in the draft, they did sink some money into international free agents. Jenrry Mejia and Ruben Tejada are two international guys who have already played in the majors. Top prospects Fernando Martinez, Wilmer Flores and Aderlin Rodriguez are other examples.

Minaya inherited a major league club which went 71-91 and a farm system without a ton of prospects. Here is John Sickels’ Top 20 list for the Mets prior to the 2005 season:

Yusmeiro Petit, RHP, B+
Phil Humber, RHP, B+
Lastings Milledge, OF, B
Gaby Hernandez, RHP, B
Victor Diaz, OF, B-
Alay Soler, RHP, B-
Aarom Baldiris, 2B-3B, B-
Ambiorix Concepcion, OF, C+
Matt Durkin, RHP, C+
Brian Bannister, RHP, C+
Jeff Keppinger, 2B, C+
Jamar Hill, OF, C
Jesus Flores, C, C
Shawn Bowman, 3B, C
Blake McGinley, LHP, C
Angel Pagan, OF, C
Evan MacLane, LHP, C
Brett Harper, 1B, C
Wayne Lydon, OF, C
Vincent Cordova, RHP, C

There were no “A” level prospects and only seven rated a “B” grade, including three at “B-“. Only Bannister and Pagan have gone on to any significant major league success and neither one of those had reached a bWAR of 5.0 following the 2010 season. Minaya ended up selling high on Petit, Humber and Hernandez, which helped bring in Carlos Delgado, Johan Santana and Paul Lo Duca.

Minaya’s moves helped transform a club that finished 20 games below .500 into one that averaged 91 wins per season from 2006-2008, before injuries hit the past two years. Minaya’s first focus was the major league club. But he also improved international signings. And the farm system was better than the one he inherited, too.

This year, Sickels has the Mets with no “A” prospects and seven with a “B” grade, including three that rank at “B-“. While that does not seem like an improvement, we have to remember that the farm system graduated five players last year to the majors, including three players – Davis, Mejia and Tejada – that few this time last year would have expected to lose their rookie eligibility in 2010. Mejia likely would have been an “A” while there is a decent shot that Davis would have been, too.

Additionally, there are several intriguing “C” ranked players, including Reese Havens, Jeurys Familia, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Lucas Duda, as well as currently non-graded players like Matz and Holt who all have a chance to contribute in the majors.

I wish the Mets had a better farm system. I wish they went over-slot in the draft much more often. I wish they were even more aggressive with international free agents. I wish they consistently placed players at more age-appropriate levels during the previous administration.

But it is too soon to deliver a verdict on Minaya’s stewardship of the farm system. However, I believe we can say he left it in better shape than he inherited it in.

*****

Conveniently, Steve Phillips oversaw six drafts for the Mets, just like Minaya did. Here are his year-by-year results in the format for our six-team sample above:

98 – Jason Tyner, Pat Strange, Craig Brazell, Gil Velazquez, Ty Wigginton, Jaime Cerda, Earl Snyder
99 – Neal Musser, Jeremy Griffiths, Angel Pagan, Prentice Redman, Mike Jacobs
00 – Billy Traber, Bobby Keppel, Chris Basak, Jeff Duncan
01 – Aaron Heilman, David Wright, Lenny DiNardo, Daniel Garcia, Joe Hietpas
02 – Scott Kazmir, Matt Lindstrom
03 – Lastings Milledge, Brian Bannister, Carlos Muniz

That works out to 26 players to reach the majors and two who have made an impact. Pagan will likely make that three impact players. Even so, that is half of what our sample predicts as average and one-third of what the Phillies did in the same time period.

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Posted in: Perspectives