While no one would make the claim that the Mets have the best farm system in baseball, they are on a short list of teams mentioned in discussions of the most improved pipelines.
"It's nice to hear people saying you are doing better," said Dick Scott, entering his fourth season as the Mets' farm director. "I think it's improved more in the volume category. It's exciting for us. There are a lot of hands that touch these guys along the way. Our guys are excited because when we start carving up our rosters, they're like, 'Oh, boy, we've got some pretty good arms going to Binghamton, or to Port St. Lucie.' I think we're turning a corner on that, and I'd like to think that it's only going to get better."
The new Mets' Top 20 Prospects list is chock full of intriguing names. Half of the list is pitchers, including two of the top three in No. 1 prospect Noah Syndergaard and No. 3 Rafael Montero. Both right-handers are in the overall Top 100 Prospects as well, with the guy who will catch them, Travis d'Arnaud, sandwiched between them. Several of the pitchers on the Top 20 have the chance to impact the big league staff this season or the next.
"Definitely, our pitching is ahead of our position players, but our position players are coming," Scott said. "There are some position players coming."
Some of the Top 20 hitters with more upside are a bit farther away. Brandon Nimmo (No. 7) and Gavin Cecchini (No. 10) were back-to-back first-round picks in the Draft. Both are still in A ball. Exciting young shortstop Amed Rosario (No. 6) is a step behind them.
The built-up system has come from a combination of the Draft, efforts in Latin America and, of course, the big R.A. Dickey trade. It all means the Mets seem pointed in the right direction in terms of finding a way to return to competitiveness in the National League East.
"Every organization says the same thing: 'If we can hit on the next two Drafts, we're really going to make it strong,' Scott said. "But we have a good blend now who are making their way, then we have guys behind them."
Three questions with Brandon Nimmo
Nimmo was the Mets' first-round pick (13th overall) in the 2011 Draft.
MLBPipeline.com: What has it been like in big league camp?
Nimmo: It's been amazing. I told my dad when I got the call, "If it feels like this to get called up just to big league camp, I can't wait for what it feels like to get called up to the big leagues." I'm just enjoying this experience and learning a lot. It's great to have Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. They're so personable and open to me about anything and any questions that I have. To be able to have these kinds of guys in the locker room and just be around them, see how they work, see how they go about their business is a pleasure.
MLBPipeline.com: You were a guy who most people thought would take a while, being a high schooler from Wyoming. From your high school days until now, how far do you think you've come?
Nimmo: Light years. I've come a long way, just in my overall play. It's all been an up-and-down experience. Through a lot of failure, I've learned how not to do things, and through success, I learned how to do things right. I'm a much more well-rounded, better player going through the Minor Leagues so far. In the future, I know I have more to improve on, and I'm excited about that. Seeing how far I've come in the last few years, even just strength-wise, I've put on a good 20-25 pounds since coming into pro ball. That helps me phenomenally.
MLBPipeline.com: At what point at the end of the 2013 season did you look back and realize who much you experienced?
Nimmo: It was a crazy year. It was probably October/November before it all settled in and hit me. I thought, "Last year, a lot of things happened." A lot of good things happened, it was an up-and-down year, but overall it was a pretty solid year. I got to experience a lot of fun stuff that not a lot of people get to do. It wasn't just the Futures Game, it was also going to the All-Star Game for my league, but being able to go to Citi Field for the Futures Game was a huge deal for me. It took a little while for it to settle in and I thought, "That was a heck of a year last year, and I'd like to do it again."
Camp standout: Steven Matz
Back in 2009, Matz was the Mets' top Draft pick, a high-ceilinged high school lefty. He signed and then really wasn't heard from again for a long time. Tommy John surgery in 2010 and lingering elbow issues kept him from throwing a competitive pitch until 2012. The 2013 season was his first full one, and he responded with a solid year, one that earned the No. 12 spot on the Mets' Top 20 after not being on the list at all a year ago
Matz also received an invite to big league camp. He hasn't wasted the opportunity.
"He has really opened some eyes over there, because most of them haven't even seen him pitch," Scott said of the 22-year-old. "He's been one of those 'wow' guys."
Matz was a top Draft prospect because of his projection and arm strength. Even after all of the arm trouble, it's all come back, and he can throw his fastball in the 94-95 mph range with a ton of late life. Add in his breaking ball and changeup, and it's been clear to see why the Mets are excited to keep Matz healthy.
"He's just power fastball, left-handed," Scott said. "That's hard to find. He's big and strong, he has a great body, he has a nice delivery. Hopefully, if he stays healthy, he could move quickly. You get excited, because you don't see left handed pitching with the potential stuff that he has too often."
Breakout candidate: Gabriel Ynoa
There might be top-end pitching talent near the top of the system in guys like Montero and Syndergaard, but there's also some very exciting arms lower down in the system.
It's hard to say a pitcher is primed for a breakout after leading the organization in wins and finishing fifth in ERA during his first taste of full-season ball. But Ynoa, a 20-year-old Dominican, has the chance to jump on a fast track in 2014.
Ynoa is a strike-thrower extraordinaire, one who walked just 16 in 135 2/3 innings a year ago. He's not a soft-tosser, though, with a fastball in the 93 mph range and a very good feel for a changeup. The No. 16 prospect in the organization still has plenty of room for improvement, and the Mets feel it's coming.
"He has a great feel for pitching, he's always in the bottom of the zone, pitches to both sides of the plate," Scott said. "He's always thrown strikes, but his stuff has just gotten tighter. He'll start in the Florida State League, but we'll try to get him to Double-A."