d'Arnaud, Wheeler rank high among top prospects
Mets duo places sixth, eighth in MLB.com's Top 100; Syndergaard jumps to No. 29
NEW YORK -- In his spare moments, when he is not throwing off a mound in Georgia or continuing his quest to find the perfect fast-food burrito, Mets prospect Zack Wheeler texts Matt Harvey. The two are growing closer -- preparing, in a way, for what they hope will be a long, successful run as teammates.
Lately, their text conversations have shifted toward the topic of expectations. Those will only grow now that Travis d'Arnaud and Wheeler have established themselves as two of the best young talents in all of baseball, ranking sixth and eighth, respectively, on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list released Tuesday.
The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLB.com's Draft and prospect expert Jonathan Mayo, who compiles input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, closeness to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLB.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2013.
"People can look at it how they want," Wheeler said when reached by phone in his native Georgia. "It doesn't affect me. It doesn't put any pressure on me because I know what my job is, and that's to go out there and pitch and do well. I'm going to be my best to perform and compete."
But the expectations have never been this high. MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list may have only included three Mets, but all of them ranked inside the Top 30. d'Arnaud, the centerpiece of last month's R.A. Dickey deal, was sixth. Wheeler ranked eighth. And Noah Syndergaard, another big piece of the trade with Toronto, clocked in at 29.
Texas' Jurickson Profar topped the list, followed by Baltimore's Dylan Bundy and St. Louis' Oscar Taveras.
"Honestly, it's an honor to be ranked really high, but I try not to think about it," d'Arnaud said from his home in California. "I just go out and work hard, and try to contribute to each game I play to get a win."
High rankings are nothing new to d'Arnaud and Wheeler, who settled at 25th and 28th on last year's list, respectively. But this is a whole new level. The Mets are the only team in baseball to land two prospects in MLB.com's Top 10, and one of only two teams -- Seattle is the other -- to have three in the Top 30.
Last year the Mets put three prospects on the entire list, with Wheeler 28th, Harvey 38th and Jeurys Familia 90th.
But New York has made a committed effort to rebuild through its farm system in recent years, trading Carlos Beltran for Wheeler, then dealing Dickey in a seven-player blockbuster to snag d'Arnaud and Syndergaard. Though Harvey no longer qualifies for the Top 100 after spending his rookie eligibility last season, he remains a critical part of the rebuilding effort.
"A couple fans on Twitter posted they're excited that me and Matt and Zack are up and coming, all of us young guys are supposedly going to help change it," d'Arnaud said. "I'm real excited. I'm going to go out there and meet both of them, and hopefully we can string along quite a few wins and get to the playoffs real soon, as soon as possible."
Of the three prospects on this year's list, d'Arnaud appears closest to the Majors. Mashing 16 homers in 67 games last summer with Toronto's Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate, he might have already cracked the big leagues had he not missed the second half of the season with a knee injury.
That knee is now healed, and while d'Arnaud probably won't make the Opening Day roster -- the Mets can receive a significant benefit by starting him off at Triple-A, thereby delaying his arbitration clock a full year -- he should head to Flushing before long.
"I wouldn't say I'm really too anxious," d'Arnaud said of his first spring with the Mets. "I can't really control if I can make the big league squad or not. I'm really just going to go out there and meet as many new faces as I can, and learn everyone's name as fast as I can, and then just go out there and play as hard as I can. That's all I can really do."
Not far behind on the development curve is Wheeler, whose arsenal is probably big league ready now (as his 3.26 ERA and 8.9 K/9 rate over the top two levels of the Minors can attest). But the Mets plan to take things slow with Wheeler, just as they did a year ago with Harvey, who responded with a dominant 10-start run from late July through mid-September.
"Last year I really concentrated on being able to throw all my pitches wherever and whenever I wanted to," Wheeler said. "I think I did a good job of that, and all of a sudden my command got a lot better, of my fastball and everything else. I just want to put everything together this year and become a complete pitcher and keep working and getting better."
Jumping 66 spots on MLB.com's list from last year was Syndergaard, who figures to start off this season at Class A St. Lucie. Syndergaard went 8-5 with a 2.60 ERA in 27 appearances with Class A Lansing last summer, establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the Minors.
He now joins d'Arnaud and Wheeler at the core of the farm system, which the Mets hope will transform them into a perennial contender before long.
"Over the next few years, I think we'll be able to play together well," Wheeler said. "Just looking at how everybody's been doing in the past, everybody's a pretty good ballplayer. With the team that we have now, I think we can add to that and go from there."