By John Torenli
Unlike the NBA and NFL Draft, where players are selected and expected to make an immediate impact at the highest level, Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft is more about patience.
The ability to find a player, sign him, send him off to a Minor League affiliate and hope that somehow, someday he pays off as a productive Major Leaguer is about as imperfect a science as you'll find in professional sports. As is predicting exactly whom the Mets will send to Coney Island later this month. But we'll take a shot at it anyway.
“It’s hard to come to a Brooklyn Cyclones game, and even for the educated eye, to look at a ballplayer and see a major leaguer," admitted Cyclones long-time general manager Steve Cohen last month while relishing the fact that nearly one-third of the Mets' roster was stocked with ex-Baby Bums. "It helps when they’re making strides at the Major League level because fans can say they saw him on the Brooklyn Cyclones.”
In 2011, one of the Cyclones' best everyday players turned out to be an 18th-round pick out of Cal Poly Pomona. Slugger Travis Taijeron hit .299 with nine homers and 44 RBIs in 56 games, spearheading Brooklyn in its late-season push to the New York-Penn League playoffs. The Surf Avenue favorite is currently batting .284 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs after his first 53 games at Class A Savannah, and appears on the fast track toward his big-league dreams.
Sadly, the Cyclones' leading hitter last summer, shortstop Danny Muno, is serving a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. The ban takes some, if not all, of the luster off the eighth-round pick's brilliant campaign on Coney Island as he hit .355 with 78 hits in 59 games en route to earning the Sterling Award as the Mets' top player at the Class A short-season level.
But the past, for better or worse, is simply prologue as Cyclones fans gear up for what they hope will be another thrilling season.
Though the club is unable to reveal its 2012 roster until Sunday, June 17 — the day before Brooklyn's season opener against visiting archrival Staten Island at MCU Park — the Eagle would like to take a quick look at some of the players who might be Coney Island-bound following the first two days of the ongoing MLB Draft:
Gavin Cecchini — It may be wishful thinking to suggest that the Mets' first-round pick, No. 12 overall, will wind up playing in Brooklyn, but Cecchini has already had a taste of baseball in New York. The high school shortstop from Louisiana attended Johan Santana's historic no-hitter at Citi Field last Friday night, and by Monday he was donning a Mets cap and jersey. "It was unbelievable," Cecchini said of watching the Mets' first-ever no-hitter in his initial visit to Flushing. "The place was rocking. It really was an awesome thing."
Branden Kaupe — While first- and second-round picks often wind up at higher level A ball after negotiating and signing their deals, those selected further down are certainly candidates to make their professional debuts in Brooklyn. Kaupe, a high school prospect out of Hawaii, was New York's fourth-round pick Tuesday, and is one of the more fascinating potential Cyclones. He hit .511 with two homers and 21 RBIs during his senior year, but his true worth to the organization showed up in his discipline at the plate. Kaupe did not strike out the entire season, something Mets' player development guru Paul DePodesta, better known to some as the character Jonah Hill portrayed in last year's Academy Award-nominated feature film "Moneyball", has to love. "We think we have a leadoff-type guy," DePodesta told MLB.com. "With his work ethic, he really has a very high ceiling for us."
Jayce Boyd — The right-handed hitting first baseman out of Florida State hit .390 with three homers and 57 RBIs in 60 games during his junior season for the Seminoles. Boyd, like former first-round pick and current Mets first baseman Ike Davis, could benefit from taking his licks at MCU, trading in his aluminum bat for wood while challenging the high left-field wall. Davis, who is in the midst of a brutal season-opening slump with the Mets, didn't hit a single homer during his only summer on Coney Island in 2008, but found his power stroke soon after by connecting for 20 in 2009 between Class A Advanced St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton. Boyd, the Mets' sixth-round pick on Tuesday, will be competing in the College World Series Super Regionals this weekend. “[The draft] is obviously in the back of your mind while you’re playing,” Boyd told the Pensacola Business Journal this week. “In baseball, you can get easily distracted. But you have to go out there and focus on the game and do the best you can."
Richie Rodriguez — The shortstop from Eastern Kentucky University hit .377 with 14 homers in 54 games last year, making him one of the top middle infield prospects in the nation. The Mets were fortunate to grab him in the ninth round and he seems equally enthused to be a part of the organization.“My mom started screaming when they announced my name, so I didn’t even get to hear what the analysts said about me,” Rodriguez said. “But, it was a great feeling. Playing pro ball has always been a dream of mine.” Another potential leadoff type, something the Mets direly need since the defection of reigning NL batting champion Jose Reyes to Florida, Rodriguez would be a perfect fit in the middle of the Brooklyn infield. “Richie certainly deserves to play at the next level because of his character, superior work ethic and competitive attitude.” EKU head coach Jason Stein noted. “He will leave EKU as, arguably, one of the best players in program history.”
Matthew Bowman — The Mets already have one Ivy League hurler on their big league staff in Chris Young, who made a successful return from shoulder surgery Tuesday night in Washington D.C. Bowman, a fellow Princeton product, was already ripping off 95 mile-per-hour fastballs in pre-draft workouts, according to DePodesta. The Cyclones would be fortunate to have the lucky 13th-round pick on the mound this summer, even if it's only for a month or so.
Nicholas Grant — A 6-foot-2, 200-pound pitching prospect out of Milford High School in Delaware, Grant clearly has the physical tools to become a big league hurler. He was selected in the 15th round Tuesday, making him a candidate to learn his craft at the short-season level in Brooklyn. Grant is currently committed to attend Liberty University, but may be swayed into chasing his big league dreams rather than pitching in college.