2009 Buffalo Bisons Preview

Many will be watching Fernando's progress in AAA

After a two-year hiatus in the Pacific Coast League, the Mets Triple-A affiliate returns to the International League with its third affiliate in the state of New York. The Triple-A level has been a collection of former big leaguers and minor league free agents, but that pattern changed this season as the Bisons roster features five of the most recognized prospects in the organization.

2009 Roster: [Inside Pitch Magazine Prospect Guide rankings in parenthesis]

RHP Elmer Dessens [2008 MXL – 10-2, 4.03 ERA, 105.0 IP, 20 G, 19 GS]
RHP Nelson Figueroa [2008 TOTAL – 7-10, 4.77 ERA, 149.0 IP, 36 G]Casey Fossum [2008 TOTAL – 6-1, 3.70 ERA, 87.1 IP, 31 G]
RHP Dillon Gee (12) [2008 TOTAL – 10-6, 2.92 ERA, 154.1 IP, 25 GS]
RHP Eddie Kunz (5) [2008 TOTAL – 1-5, 3.33 ERA, 54.0 IP, 27 SV, 50 G]
RHP Carlos Muniz [2008 AAA – 2-4, 3.93 ERA, 36.2 IP, 9 SV, 33 G]
LHP Jonathon Niese (3) [2008 AA/AAA – 11-8, 3.13 ERA, 164.0 IP, 29 G]
RHP Connor Robertson [2008 AAA – 7-4, 5.02 ERA, 71.2 IP, 47 G]
RHP Kyle Snyder [2008 TOTAL – 1-4, 4.62 ERA, 50.2 IP, 21 G, 11 GS]
LHP Jon Switzer [2008 AAA – 5-1, 4.40 ERA, 75.2 IP, 52 G, 1 GS]
RHP Ken Takahashi [2008 Japan]

C Robinson Cancel [2008 TOTAL – .245, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 66 AB, 19 G]
C Rene Rivera [2008 TOTAL - .250, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 252 AB, 75 G]
C Omir Santos [2008 AAA - .269, 1 HR, 36 RBI, 297 AB, 84 G]

1B Michel Abreu [2008 AAA - .285, 15 HR, 66 RBI, 425 AB, 120 G]
SS Jose Coronado [2008 BNG - .260, 1 HR, 39 RBI, 507 AB, 139 G]
1B Nick Evans (7) [2008 BNG - .311, 14 HR, 53 RBI, 296 AB, 75 G]
2B Jonathan Malo [2008 - .261, 4 HR, 30 RBI, 276 AB, 99 G]
2B Argenis Reyes [2008 AAA - .283, 0 HR, 22 RBI, 311 AB, 81 G]

OF Jason Cooper [2008 - .247, 9 HR, 45 RBI, 304 AB, 102 G]
OF Jesus Feliciano [2008 AAA - .308, 3 HR, 55, 509 AB, 139 G]
OF Bobby Kielty [2008 TOTAL - .233, 5 HR, 32 RBI, 163 AB, 49 G]
OF Rob Mackowiak [2008 AAA - .255, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 141 AB, 49 G]
OF Fernando Martinez(1)[2008 BNG - .287, 8 HR, 43 RBI, 352 AB, 86 G]
OF Cory Sullivan [2008 AAA - .320, 7 HR, 47 RBI, 381 AB, 94 G]

Notes: It is the organization's first season back in the International League since moving out of Norfolk after the 2006 season. Manager Ken Oberkfell returns to skipper the Mets' Triple-A affiliate after spending the second half of last season with the big league club. Oberkfell managed the former affiliate New Orleans the past two seasons. Hitting coach Luis Natera and pitching coach Ricky Bones join the coaching staff after spending the last two seasons in Double-A Binghamton. The last two Triple-A Opening Day rosters featured zero Top 50 prospects, but the Bisons begin the season with five of the top 12 prospects in the system. Nelson Figueroa, Carlos Muniz, Michel Abreu, Argenis Reyes and Jesus Feliciano are the only players to return from last year's Opening Day roster.

On the Rise: Dillon Gee was drafted in the 21st round of the 2007 draft and is off to Buffalo after just 216 1/3 innings pitched professionally entering the season. Additionally, Gee—the Mets Sterling Award winner in St. Lucie last year—made only four starts in Binghamton last August, going 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA. Gee is a strike zone artist and mixes all in his pitches, two traits that have led to his stock's rapid rise. Eight months removed from High-A ball, Gee has pitched himself into becoming a leading option the organization will call on when help is needed in New York.

Pitching: The Bisons staff is spearheaded by top pitching prospect Jonathon Niese. Niese made seven starts in Triple-A last season and posted a 5-1 mark with a 3.40 ERA. The left-hander was in competition for the fifth spot in the big league rotation, yet even though he failed to make it to New York to begin the year, Niese should have more than one opportunity to pitch in New York in 2009.

2007 top pick Eddie Kunz enters his third season but it is the first time he opens the year in Triple-A after jumping straight from Double-A to New York last season. For now the big right-hander has been moved out of his closer's role and should see his fair share of one-plus inning appearances.

For the second straight season Carlos Muniz begins the season in Triple-A. Muniz filled the closer role in the first half of 2008 before shuttling back and forth between the club and New York. Free agent signings and other promotions will make it difficult for Muniz to receive a prolonged stay at the big league level, but he is a trusted organization pitcher who continues to produce in the late innings.

Position Players: The hot lights will be on top prospect Fernando Martinez who, after two straight years in Binghamton, breaks though to Triple-A. Injuries have been a concern for Martinez over the last two seasons, but health and strong production at the plate should allow the 20-year-old to get to New York at some point this season.

Nick Evans was another top prospect to jump straight from Binghamton to New York last season, but after competing for a spot on the 25-man roster in camp, heads to Buffalo where he should hold down first base given the six outfielders on the Bisons roster. Evans too brings youth to an older club, but packs 109 big league at-bats.

Jonathan Malo makes his Triple-A debut in his fifth year with the organization. Malo has always been a light-hitter but his very solid defense, flexibility around the infield and veteran approach make him an ideal fit for the Bisons.

Jesus Feliciano is back for this third season in Triple-A with the Mets organization. Feliciano has hit over .300 in each of the last two seasons with extra-base power and low strikeout totals. However, there is a lot of competition for playing time as Cooper, Kielty, Sullivan and Machiowiak are all free agents who appeared in big league camp this spring. Sullivan is the only outfielder on the 40-man roster.

Argenis Reyes, who made a splash in 49 games with New York last year, is back in Triple-A. Last season, Reyes was a steady contributor in Triple-A though his offensive production was limited.

On the Spot: Jose Coronado has held down the everyday shortstop job throughout his career and has finally reached Triple-A in his sixth year on the farm. Lack of production at the plate has always been a pressing point for Coronado, but his decreasing defensive skills has lowered his stock in recent years. Once projected to be a big league contributor off the bench, Coronado now finds himself in limbo between valued prospect and organizational piece.

Under the Radar: It is difficult to classify anyone on this team as "under the radar" given it is a roster full of minor league and big league veterans. The leading prospects on this roster would not fit in this category either given their high value and proximity to the big leagues.

Outlook: As tradition with most Triple-A rosters, the collective professional experience on the roster should level the playing field in many respects. However, with two young hurlers at the front of the rotation, the team will rely on youth to kick start its success with veteran support to battle through the challenging parts of the schedule. If the young pitchers can succeed, the Bisons should be in good shape in the International League.

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