The New York Mets aren’t considered one of the best drafting teams in baseball, but they still had their moments in the 2010s.
The New York Mets aren’t the best drafters in MLB. They are far from it and end up relying on their top-tier international free agents and trades to fill out the farm system.
Despite that, they have a shocking number of homegrown players. The Mets have 12 homegrown players on their roster entering 2020 and eight were drafted by the team. The most shocking part, three of those players wouldn’t have been drafted under the shortened version of the 2020 MLB Draft.
Three of the team’s biggest stars never cracked a top-100 list, and they never made the team’s top-five prospects. Nobody would have batted an eye if they had been traded before they made their MLB debut. It’s likey none of them would have been drafted under the 2020 rules.
This is a look at those three stars and how they came to be some of the most underrated draft prospects in recent MLB memory.
2010, 9th Round: Jacob deGrom, RHP, Stetson
When Jacob deGrom arrived at Stetson in 2008 he was a shortstop. His defense was impressive as he showed off great athleticism and an excellent arm, but the bat wasn’t good enough.
He couldn’t hit for average and his power was next to non-existent. He only hit one home run in his college career — it was off Florida Gulf Coast ace Chris Sale.
The irony here is that deGrom didn’t hit that home run until he moved to the mound full-time. His head coach, Pete Dunn, had urged deGrom to move off shortstop onto the mound. The future Cy Young winner was resistant at first and only made one appearance as a pitcher during his sophomore year, throwing one shutout inning.
When he came back his junior year in 2010, deGrom was going to be the team’s shortstop and closer, but things didn’t work out that way. The team was awful early in the season and deGrom only made five appearances out of the bullpen, so Dunn made a stunning move. He put his starting shortstop into his starting pitching rotation. He was even named the Friday night starter, the team’s No. 1, before ever making a start.
Dunn believed in deGrom’s future that much. He had a good fastball and quickly picked up a changeup and slider. Still, he wasn’t a great pitcher. In his 17 appearances, 12 starts, in 2010 deGrom had a 4.48 ERA, 6.12 K/9, and 1.75 BB/9.
Still, deGrom entered the 2010 MLB draft. The New York Mets selected the former shortstop in the ninth round of the draft. He was the 272nd player taken. This scouting report from Perfect Game shows exactly why the Mets took a chance on him, “New to pitching, SS only in 2009; FB 92-94 w/+ movement; began the year as SS/closer, ended as team’s ace.”
The potential was there. He went from starting shortstop to the team’s ace in just one season. He was never supposed to become a two-time Cy Young winner. Maybe the Mets thought a back-end starter or more likely a bullpen arm.
Would that be enough to get drafted in 2020’s five-round draft? Probably not. Would he have been signed as an undrafted free agent? One would hope so, but it’s impossible to know. $20,000 is the cap for signing bonuses after round five and deGrom signed for $95,000 as a ninth-round pick. Remember, that was a decade ago. The slot value for 272 in 2019 was over $157,000.
If he returns to school and tears his UCL in 2011, as he did at the end of 2010 with the Kingsport Mets, it’s possible he never would have been drafted. What would baseball be like if the best pitcher in the league never even got a shot?
2011, 34th Round: Seth Lugo, RHP, Centenary College of Lousiana
Seth Lugo wasn’t a star pitcher in high school or college. He didn’t get a Division I or even Division II offer to the play. He had to settle for Division III Centenary College of Louisiana. If that wasn’t bad enough, then his numbers there should be.
Lugo had an astonishingly bad 5.31 ERA in three years at Centenary College. In his junior season, Lugo had a 5.57 ERA, 8.67 K/9, and 4.83 BB/9. He was a mess. That didn’t matter to Mets’ associate scout Jimmy Nelson. According to Mike Vorkunov, he pushed for Tommy Jackson, the Mets’ Louisiana scout, to take a look at Lugo.
Nelson believed that despite the poor numbers, Lugo had a major league repertoire that should put him on their radar. Jackson told Vorkunov that the Mets didn’t look at Lugo until just weeks before the draft.
They had brought him in as part of a workout with a number of pitchers. Lugo, who was ready to go undrafted and become a geologist, pitched the best he ever had in that workout. Jackson walked away impressed.
That was enough for the Mets to take a chance on Lugo in the 2011 draft. They selected the junior in the 34th round with the 1,032nd selection and gave him a $20,000 signing bonus.
Lugo wouldn’t have been on the Mets radar in a five-round draft. It’s entirely possible that they never even look at him in a workout. He likely wouldn’t have signed with anyone and returned to school for a senior year.
Lugo then would have missed his senior season with a spinal injury he had already suffered. It’s certain he wouldn’t have been drafted. One of the best relievers in baseball would almost assuredly have never gotten a chance with a team under the 2020 rules.
2013, 12th Round: Jeff McNeil, 2B, Long Beach State
Jeff McNeil was a golfer in high school until his senior season. Despite that, he was so impressive in his summer league that he drew attention from college scouts. He eventually settled on Long Beach State.
He was unspectacular in his first two years with a low batting average, lower on-base percentage, and little power to speak of, but that changed in his junior season. McNeil hit .348/.398/.439 a huge improvement over his .258/.333/.304 slash line from the year before.
McNeil still had his warts. He didn’t have a home defensively, struggling at second base, shortstop, and left-field. He hadn’t hit a home-run in any of his three years at Long Beach State. Worst of all, he didn’t take walks. What is a major league scout supposed to think of a player who doesn’t walk, doesn’t hit for power, and doesn’t have a position?
Still, his breakout junior season was enough to grab the attention of some scouts. The New York Mets took a shot at McNeil with their 12th round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft — the 356th pick in the draft.
One scouting report saw McNeil as having major league potential but as a starter, “Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a great approach at the plate, lacking patience and employing more of a ‘see ball, hit ball’ method. It’s a testament to his hand-eye coordination and simple swing that he doesn’t strike out more often. Because of his positional versatility and total lack of juice in his bat, I see him as more of a utility player prospect whose best position is second base.”
In the end, this scouting report turned out to be pretty accurate. McNeil doesn’t have much patience at the plate and does swing at basically anything. Despite that, he’s figured out how to hit basically everything thrown at him. The one major thing he got wrong was his prediction of McNeil’s power.
It never came in college, but he certainly has some pop in his bat now. McNeil hit 23 home runs in 2019 nearly totaling his minor league total of 28. Something just clicked for him.
It’s also worth mentioning that McNeil did turn into a utility player whose best position was second base. What this scout didn’t count on was that McNeil would become a plus defender at three positions.
Like deGrom and Lugo, McNeil wouldn’t have been taken in the 2020 MLB draft. It’s possible he would have been added as an undrafted free agent, but the $20,000 max signing bonus isn’t a lot. McNeil signed for an unknown amount in 2013, but based on the info we do have, it was likely over or around $100,000. Would he have settled instead of returning to college?
It’s likely McNeil would have helped his draft stock with a strong 2014 and actually been drafted higher. That just means it’s that much more unlikely that McNeil would have ended up with the New York Mets.
He doesn’t have an apocalyptic scenario like deGrom or Lugo, but McNeil and the New York Mets’ futures look a lot different if the 2013 MLB draft only had five rounds.