MMLN-Players To Watch Down The Stretch Part I

Brad Holt needs a few good starts to end the year

With roughly three weeks left to the regular season now is a good time to run down a number of prospects who should be watched. Some of these prospects had good years, others rocky seasons but what ties them all together is a need to finish the season on a high note.

BUFFALO (AAA)

Lucas Duda moved up to Triple-A at the beginning of June and has been mashing the ball ever since. A .321 average, 15 home runs, 44 RBI and a 1.054 OPS. He has hit above .300 in each month during his stint in Buffalo. Continuing that trend over the final three weeks, when so far he has shown no signs of slowing down, could go a long way to determining if Duda can break camp next year on the 25-man roster. Duda, who is measurably improved against left-handed pitching this year over last, could play his way into a look when the rosters expand on September 1.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis was called up to Triple-A last week and so far is keeping his stride. He is 8-for-24 in six games with three RBI and two doubles. The move was made not only as a sign of the organization's positive thoughts of his Double-A performance, but the promotion gives Nieuwenhuis valuable Triple-A time. That time could help shorten his clock at the level should the organization decide to bring him up as a fourth outfielder or even a starter in 2011. An important finish in Triple-A would help Nieuwenhuis assert that position.

Dillon Gee has battled through an up and down season leading to an 11-7 record and 4.75 ERA, but his 132/31 K/BB ratio and consistency with his repertoire are beneficial signs. Gee could parlay a look after September 1, but instead Gee's last four or five starts may be the jumping off point as to whether or not he is heavily considered for a rotation spot in 2011 or at least protected on the 40-man roster this offseason.

BINGHAMTON (AA)

Zach Lutz returned from the disabled list and his stress fracture without missing a step in Binghamton. The seven home runs and 16 RBI he has produced since his return is a great sign of a player who continues to improve his value both internally and outside the organization. His strong finish should be enough to get him on the 40-man roster this fall to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft; whether the organization does so remains a question. Nevertheless, Lutz has given the Mets another high impact, high level bat.

Sean Ratliff is another example of a bat that has put himself on the radar and given the Mets another high impact chip. Ratliff is hitting .330 with 13 home runs, 41 RBI with a .972 OPS in 51 games since his arrival in Binghamton. On the season he is hitting .302 with 18 home runs and 71 RBI. His 120/29 K/BB ratio is still an unsightly part of his stat line, but his quick bat, strong hands and power to all fields makes him one of the biggest stock climbers this season in the organization. He is in Double-A and killing it by the end of his second full season. That's a great sign from the 2008 fourth round pick.

Robert Carson has not found the move up to Double-A to be a kind one. He is 0-4 with a 7.46 ERA in five starts with the opposition hitting .324 against him. His slider has been inconsistent at the level and he isn't missing enough bats. However, a left-hander that sits 92-95 MPH on his fastball is instant value. We are learning that his projection as a starter may be waning, but scouts like his size, durability and fastball velocity. Figuring out his inconsistency with the slider should be his top priority for the rest of the season.

Reese Havens has missed a lot valuable time this season. He hit in 32 games this season, registering a .312 average, nine home runs and 19 RBI with a .978 OPS between St. Lucie and Binghamton, but the key number there is 32. The plan was to possibly have Havens in New York by the second half of 2011, but there needs to be a step back from those projections given the amount of time he's missed. Havens may get a look at a winter league if healthy, but expectations--as far as the start of 2011 are concerned--should be dialed down.

Mark Cohoon skipped St. Lucie altogether and is having a hard time finding his footing in Double-A. That's not surprising given his very average fastball velocity, but Cohoon's pitchability is a tool he can use to stay ahead of hitters. Now, though, it may come down to raw stuff and right now that is a big question mark for the left-hander against these high level hitters. His last four or five starts in Double-A will tell if he can adapt or if the Eastern League will be his ceiling.

Eric Niesen's future was heading to the bullpen. The organization expedited that process by shifting him into the role in early July. However, he has yet to command the role. He has surrendered 13 earned runs in 8 2/3 innings and continued to struggle with his location. Niesen has the raw stuff to be a big league asset with his low to mid-90s fastball and tight slider. However, he has a done a poor job commanding both pitches. His stock cannot recover until he finds a way to regain the feel of his pitches. A strong final few weeks would help him get back on track.

ST. LUCIE (Hi-A)

Kyle Allen was having a difficult season already, struggling with his command and battling through inconsistent starts. Recently he went on the disabled list with a balky back that has bothered him for much of the summer. He may not get a shot to pitch again before the end of the season, but shutting him down now was the right decision. Allen had a tough year in the Florida State League, but at 20 years old it can be checked off as a difficult year but not a lasting blow.

Jeurys Familia has endured a very tough season due to a serious lack of command, but he is having a solid month of August (1-1, 3.86 ERA, 14/4 K/BB) which will hopefully keep him on pace to finish the year on a high note. He is pumping the fastball near the high-90s, but lacking slider command and his fringy changeup leave a good amount of work to be done. But, Familia can soften a disappointing year by keeping his current rhythm.

Brant Rustich took one positive step by getting back into the St. Lucie bullpen. The results have so far been mixed, but more importantly he is on the mound with the velocity and confidence back in his arm. Whether Rustich gets to partake in winter ball remains to be seen, but his return-albeit later than hoped last winter-and a healthy finish to the year is a step in the right direction for a prospect who can move quickly.

Nick Carr is in a similar position to Rustich. He is back from Tommy John surgery and using his stint with St. Lucie to get his arm right. Carr is pitching to a 5.40 ERA in 18 1/3 innings with St. Lucie, but like Rustich, he simply trying to regain command of his mid-90s fastball and the feel for his slider. Ideally a strong finish would give him momentum heading into 2011.

Wilmer Flores move up to St. Lucie and is on pace to equal his numbers from the first 66 games he spent with Savannah this season. Flores has cooled off as of late (.238, 1 HR, 6 RBI in his last 10 games) which could be a sign of the 19-year-old wearing down to the long season, but Flores doesn't need a very big finish to confirm a strong year. Flores just needs to stay healthy through the end of the year, though a nice spurt would be a bonus to wrap up a productive, stock-improving season.

And then there is Brad Holt. There is no way around it; Holt's 2010 season was the biggest disappointment in the system. Holt is 3-11 with a cumulative 8.11 ERA, .304 opponent's batting average and a 61/55 K/BB ratio this season. He has not recorded a quality start since his demotion and has given up two runs or less in five or more innings just three times in nine starts with St. Lucie. His fastball velocity continues to waiver, his breaking ball remains very inconsistent, and he isn't getting the explosive finish on his pitches. Until he corrects those issues, Holt is going to have a tough time rebounding. A good run of starts to end the year won't make up for the first four months of the season, but it would at least be something to build on.

Check Back Tomorrow For The Rest Of The Rundown Including Savannah, Brooklyn, Kingsport and the Gulf Coast League

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