PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- At this time last year, Matt Harvey was a first-round Draft pick with plenty of potential but no professional experience. Jeurys Familia was a power pitcher coming off a poor, potentially career-stalling season in Class A ball. Zack Wheeler was a future Giant. And Brandon Nimmo was a sociable Wyomingite with little experience above Legion ball.
A year later, those four are the clear top prospects in a farm system aiming to transform its reputation. Though the Mets have developed numerous productive big leaguers in recent years, from Ike Davis to Jon Niese to Lucas Duda and others, they have not debuted a homegrown All-Star since David Wright in 2004.
Now, with the parent club shedding significant payroll as multiple star players have left via free agency and trade, the Mets need to improve from within.
"I'm enthusiastic about where we are," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "Not just in terms of the talent, but our ability as an organization to develop that talent, which is also pretty important."
where to watch
A look at where the Mets' Top 20 prospects are starting the 2012 season:
Matt Den Dekker
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
With the Minor League season getting under way, fans can keep track of the Mets' top prospects throughout the year on Prospect Watch. Scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more are available for all of the Mets' Minor League teams on their affiliates page.
The crux of Alderson's revitalization plan revolves around Wheeler, Harvey and Familia, three right-handed power pitchers who rank among the top prospects in all of baseball. Harvey and Familia both spent time in big league camp this spring and could crack the Majors by season's end. Wheeler, a year younger, is behind those two in his development but boasts perhaps the highest ceiling of the group.
Then there is Nimmo, an outfielder, whose first-round selection represented a paradigm shift in organizational thinking. Rather than continue the previous regime's custom of snapping up "safe" college arms early in the Draft, new vice president of amateur scouting and player development Paul DePodesta selected Nimmo, a high school outfielder and one of the riskiest gambles in the entire Draft.
The Mets are eager to see what Nimmo can do. In any case, this season will go a long way toward determining whether he and others will continue to transform the future of the franchise.
Now tantalizingly close to their Major League debuts, Harvey and Familia figure to spend the bulk of their summers playing under new manager Wally Backman at Triple-A Buffalo. Toss in Major League-ready outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis and infielder Jordany Valdespin, and the Bisons could finish higher than third in their International League division for the first time since 2005.
Keep an eye also on Class A Savannah, which made it all the way to the South Atlantic League championship last season. The Sand Gnats have several intriguing young pitchers making their full-season debuts and they could have Nimmo on their roster later this summer, as well.
Debuts and Draftees
The Mets are eager to see what the 19-year-old Nimmo can do over his first full professional season, after the first-rounder's drawn-out contract negotiations limited him to 10 games last summer. A plunge into full-season baseball could be interesting for Nimmo, whose Wyoming upbringing limited him to Legion games in lieu of high school ball.
Also of interest will be right-handed prep pitcher Michael Fulmer, who threw just 5 1/3 innings after the Mets selected him with their supplemental first-round pick last June. Fulmer, whom MLB.com ranked the third-best high school pitcher in last year's Draft, should move slowly through the system but could be worth the wait.
New Kids on the Block
Wheeler is preparing for his first full season in the organization, after the Mets acquired him from the Giants last July. Considered more talented than even Harvey or Familia, Wheeler is also the least likely of that group to crack the Majors this season. But his ceiling is that of a true ace.
Teams on TV
The Buffalo Bisons are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2012 MiLB.TV package will include more than 2,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
Among those who should spend significant time at Buffalo this summer are Harvey, Familia, Nieuwenhuis and Valdespin, all of whom could make their Major League debuts later in the year.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.