The demand for young pitching, particularly hard-throwing arms, has never been higher. Depth, youth and cost-effectiveness have become necessities for clubs on any budget in any market. It is no different for the Mets, who in the second year under general manager Sandy Alderson and vice president of player development and scouting Paul DePodesta have put the farm system's focus on the mound.
Headlining their approach and a fresh crop of young, high-upside pitchers is a trio of powerful right-handers: Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia, who ranked Nos. 28, 38 and 90, respectively, on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list. All three come with pedigree. All three have pitched in the All-Star Futures Game. Wheeler and Harvey were first-round picks in 2009 and '10, while Familia was a highly-coveted international free-agent signing in 2007.
In 2012, the future of the Mets' rotation will knock on the door of Citi Field. Familia and Harvey both logged valuable Double-A innings in '11, with Wheeler only a few steps behind as he blazed through six starts in the Florida State League, after arriving last July in the deal that sent Carlos Beltran to the Giants.
"The fact is that all three of these guys are very talented, and we think there we have a bright future with all of them," DePodesta said. "No team nowadays can have too much pitching, and I think Harvey, Familia and Wheeler give us a great base going forward."
The formula is virtually the same for Wheeler, Harvey and Familia -- power fastball, power breaking ball, aggressiveness and strikeouts. The three recorded 425 strikeouts in 374 2/3 combined innings last season.
"They all have the stuff right now. They all have the mentality and the confidence. They have all the ability to pitch a high level and do excellent things," DePodesta said. "Each guy has something that they do better than the other two. ... Wheeler may have the best pure secondary stuff. Harvey may have the best fastball command. That said, Familia may be No. 2 in both of those."
The kicker may be their youth -- all three pitchers are only separated by 10 months in age. Harvey, the oldest, turns 23 in March. Lastly, the convergence of their talent couldn't come at a better time as the National League East beefs up on both bats and arms, and the Mets begin to look at the future.
Top 20 Prospects
The aforementioned trio sit atop the list of the Top 20 Mets prospects, but behind them resides a blend of high-upside younger talent, and established system veterans who may help the big league club as soon as 2012.
An array of outfielders are distributed throughout the Top 20, including Brandon Nimmo (No. 4) -- the organization's top pick in '11 -- Cesar Puello (No. 5), Kirk Nieuwenhuis (No. 11), Juan Lagares (No. 13), Cory Vaughn (No. 15) and Matt Den Dekker (No. 16).
Puello is a potential five-tool talent. Nieuwenhuis is the closest of them all, while Lagares has been a testament to perseverance. Signed as an international free agent at 16 in 2006 and assigned to Class A Savannah in '07, Lagares finally had his breakout year in '11 by hitting a combined .349 between Class A St. Lucie and Double-A.
Vaughn and Den Dekker, selected in the fourth and fifth rounds of the 2010 Draft, and Darrell Ceciliani (No. 18) have complementary power and athleticism, and fill out a deepening pool of outfield talent.
Infield help is on the way as shortstop Wilmer Flores (No. 6), second baseman Reese Havens (No. 7) and multifaceted shortstop/second baseman Jordany Valdespin (No. 9) round out the Top 10.
mets' top prospects
Young arms collected through the Draft and international free agency also hold their place, including hard-throwing 2011 compensatory round pick Michael Fulmer (No. 8), Rafael Montero (No. 10), 18-year-old southpaw Juan Urbina (No. 14), left-hander Darin Gorski (No. 19) -- who led the Florida State League with a 2.08 ERA -- and '11 second-round pick Cory Mazzoni (No. 20).
Under the Radar
Robert Carson, LHP: Carson had his struggles in Double-A last season, racking up a 5.05 ERA and a .299 opponent's average predominately as a starter. However, what makes the big-bodied, athletic southpaw a valuable option for the Mets is a fastball that tops out at 95 mph and an established cutter. Carson, now on the 40-man roster following a stint in the Arizona Fall League, could get his shot to break camp with the big league club as a bullpen option.
Chase Huchingson, LHP: The 22-year-old converted outfielder produced a strong year in the South Atlantic League, posting a 1.82 ERA in a swingman role that saw him compile 84 innings in 27 appearances (eight starts). At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, Huchingson's outfielder frame translates very well to the mound where he works with a low-90s fastball and a rapidly improving breaking pitch. Huchingson also kept the ball in the yard, allowing just one home run all season.
Hitter of the Year -- Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF
A strong start to Nieuwenhuis' 2011 season was cut short by a torn labrum and surgery in his left (non-throwing) shoulder in early June. A very athletic outfielder who hits for contact, power and plays strong defense, Nieuwenhuis was on his way toward New York last season. He should find his way to Citi Field in 2012 if he can mirror the .298/.403/.505 start in Triple-A he had last spring.
Pitcher of the Year -- Jeurys Familia, RHP
Wheeler and Harvey may get more attention, but Familia possesses the most high-level experience and will use it to his advantage. The growth of his changeup will not only improve his numbers, punctuated by a high strikeout rate, but could propel him to the Majors as well.