In 2013, by wRC+, a measure of offense only, the Mets' centerfield production was last in the Major League at 68. Juan Lagares played such superlative defense, that he moved the unit's total contribution up to 2.3 fWAR, 21st in baseball. Lagares after all, hit .242/.281/.352 but was worth a million runs (note: 28 by BIS defensive runs saved over average, 21.5 by UZR and 2 by Total Runs) in center field. Most remarkably, he did that in under a full season. Also, defensive numbers in under a full season should be treated with fairly major error bars.
1. Brandon Nimmo
2. Champ Stuart
3. Matt den Dekker
4. Darrell Ceciliani
5. Patrick Biondi
1. In his age 20-season in Savannah, Nimmo, the Mets first-round pick in 2011 hit .273/.397/.359 in 110 games. He had a hand injury in the final week of April that kept him off the field in most of May, and affected his swing when he returned. He was a different player when he was healthy in April and August than in the season's middle months. Defensively, he was better than solid the whole year through in Savannah's big outfield. At the beginning of the year, other teams' scouts were wondering if he had the closing ability to play center. He tracked balls well off the bat, and showed plenty of range, with long strides and reach, into both gaps. He will fill out, but as long as he does not become significantly slower, he can play centerfield. His arm is average, but no better. On the bases, he was not a good basestealer, but improved slightly in the area as the year went on. Nimmo should start 2014 in advanced-A St. Lucie.
2. It's pretty rare these days for me to see a Mets prospect live and think something along the lines of, "whoa, I didn't realize his tools were that good." That happened for me with Stuart. When I saw him in July with Kingsport, he was faster, stronger and had a much better arm - he was more physically gifted - than I realized. The Mets' 6th round pick in 2013 out of Brevard College in North Carolina, Stuart hit .240/.388/.353 in 43 games as a 20-year-old in the Appalachian League. At the plate, Stuart saw lots of pitches; he walked a lot (18%) and struck out more (31%) and ran a .380 BABIP. His approach is very much a work in progress; I saw him fooled badly, and then chase lousy sliders. Defensively, his circuitous routes in the outfield need to improve. On the bases, he was 11-for-13 stealing bases. There's some major upside here if Stuart can make enough contact. Stuart needs the game reps and should start in 2014 in Savannah's big outfield.
3. A broken wrist suffered during Spring Training on March 24 kept den Dekker out until June 17. His production, by OPS, improved every month in AAA in 2013 from June to July to August. In AAA, he kept his strikeout rate to a manageable 22% but in the big leagues, he fanned in almost two-fifth (36%) of his 63 plate appearances.
Also, den Dekker became a one-sided hitter in 2013. In 75 PA vs. lefties in 2013, he hit .188/.240/.232 while attacking righties at a .301/.365/.465 rate. The left-handed hitter did not have much in the way of platoon splits in 2011 and 2012 in the minors.
Although he's not an elite runner, den Dekker combines good reads off the bat with enough explosion to get to full speed quickly and cover plenty of ground. The question has always been whether his bat would support an everyday role or whether he's more a 4th outfielder. If the Mets carry five outfielders den Dekker will fight with Kirk Nieuwenhuis in Spring Training to be the lefty bat off the bench to alongside right-handed Andrew Brown to complement Lagares, Chris Young, Curtis Granderson. He's already 26. This is his peak.
4. Ceciliani, who has dealt with injuries regularly in the low minors, played in a career-high 113 games for Binghamton in 2013, while hitting .268/.322/.380 in his age 23 season. He runs just well enough (MLB average, basically) to play center for now. He actually played almost as much leftfield (48 games) as he did center (58 contests). His ability to cover center should get him some big league time. In 2013, he fanned in 22% of his plate appearances and walked in 6.3%, and had extra-base hits in 6.3%, both career-low for any of his minor league stops. That's just not enough offense to profile at all in a corner.
5. The Mets drafted Biondi, all 5'9" of him, in the ninth round of the 2013 draft out of Michigan. Assigned to Brooklyn, he hit .249/.348/.301 in 50 games with the Cyclones, but the speedster stole 17 of 21 bases. By age, at 23 to start 2014, he belongs in St. Lucie, but he might end up in Savannah in April with or without Stuart.