INTERVIEW: Mack Ade of “Mack’s Mets” — On Scouting, Drafting, Top Mets Prospects, and Evaluating the Job Performance of Sandy Alderson

I’m very pleased to welcome Mack Ade to the palatial (though,  sadly, gypsy moth-infested) offices here at “2 Guys” central. Mack was one the early pioneers of the Mets blogging community, for nearly ten years providing fans with good, solid coverage of Mets minor leaguers and the amateur draft. If you haven’t been there, you should bookmark his site, Mack’s Mets.

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Greetings, Mack. Come on in. You can just push some of that — yeah, that’s right, just shove that crap out of the way — grab one of those milk grates, flip it over, and take a seat. You’ll get used to the gypsy moths hovering around. It’s the little tambourines that’ll drive you crazy, heh-heh. So let’s just get on with the interview!

As per the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, significant rule changes affected the 2012 Amateur Draft. Every major league team had to figure how to adapt to these new restrictions. I wonder if you could explain to us, in simple terms (we’re slow here at “2 Guys”), what those changes entailed?

I believe the area you are concerned with is the “bonus pool” section of that agreement. The pool is based on a team’s drafting position (the pool is larger for teams drafting earlier), the number of picks each team has, and the amount the team had the year before.

The range in 2012 was $4.5mil to $11.5mil. The Mets had $7,151,400 for their picks through #440. In 2013, the Mets come in at 11th with $6,487,300.

So teams are not allowed to spend more than that dollar amount?

You can go over this amount, but it will cost you dearly. 5% or less overage results in a 75% luxury tax. 5-10% result in a 100% luxury tax, plus the loss of your next first-round pick.

1st Round Pick, SS Gavin Cecchini.

1st Round Pick, SS Gavin Cecchini.

The other major change is teams can no longer offer a draft pick a major league contract right from the get-go. That’s about the simplest explanation. Each pick has a slotted amount that the teams, the players, and the agents all know before a deal is ironed out. For example, the Mets drafted SS Gavin Cecchini with their first pick last draft. The ‘suggested’ allotted signing bonus was $2.55 million. He signed for $2.3.

Okay, so it’s no longer easy -– or acceptable? — to spend over a pick’s “suggested” slot value. There are consequences. But there’s still wiggle room within the entirety of the draft.

Well, everyone is still trying to figure out how to work this to the best of their team. In 2012, the Mets chose to under-slot their first eight picks. Seven signed and one told the Mets to go suck an egg. I believe this left some noticeable talent on the board early and, as we have learned from draft after draft, there aren’t many future baseball all-stars after the 10th round.

No one does the math… 30 teams… 25 players… there are only 750 top baseball players in the world, vs. 7,500 in the system, and 3 billion people on earth…30 shortstops period, and so on.

If I follow you correctly, in your view the Mets sacrificed quality in the early rounds, so they’d have more money to spend on organizational filler later on? That doesn’t make sense. Was Alderson just trying to save money?

I have no idea what he was trying to do.  Here’s the picks:

  • Pick  Player                   Slot                  Actual            Savings
  • 012   Cecchini              $2,550,000    $2,300,000     $250,000
  • 035   Plawecki             $1,467,400    $1,400,000        $67,400
  • 071   Reynolds              $723,600        $525,000      $198,600
  • 075   Stankiewicz          $680,400
  • 107   Koch                      $445,400        $425,000         $20,400
  • 140   Kaupe                   $323,900        $225,000         $98,900
  • 170   Welch                   $242,600        $200,000         $42,600
  • 200   Boyd                     $181,700        $150,000         $31,700
  • 230   Oswalt                 $146,600        $475,000     ($328,400)
  • 260   Nido                     $136,900        $250,000     ($113,100)
  • 290   Rodriguez           $127,900          $10,000       $117,900
  • 320   Sewald                $125,000            $1,000       $124,000
  • 350   Taylor                  $100,000        $150,000       ($50,000)
  • 440   Flexen                 $100,000        $374,400     ($274,400)
  • Total:                         $7,151,400    $6,285,400        $185,600

He goes under-slot for 8 picks and then gives it all back to Corey Oswalt, who wasn’t on anyone’s Top 100 Picks. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just give some of it to Courtney Hawkins or Lucas Giolito and then make it up later?

Courtney Hawkins, a power slugger whom many fans fear slipped through the Mets fingers during the 2012 Draft.

Courtney Hawkins, a power slugger whom many fans fear slipped through the Mets fingers during the 2012 Draft.

For many years the Wilpons tried to be good soldiers, rarely going over slot, but other teams would come in aggressively, ignore the recommendations of the CBA, go overslot and walk away with the best talent. Former Mets GM Omar Minaya tried, I believe, to get the Wilpons to loosen up a bit, somewhat successfully toward the end of his time with the Mets. Are we now back to square one?

No, I think the Mets are even farther back than square one. I was not a big fan of the 2011 draft and the 2012 version has left me numb. I don’t see one quality player coming out of last year’s draft.

Wow, that’s a scary statement. 

At least, in the case of Minaya, you could count on him from not turning his back occasionally from obvious talents like Matt Harvey and Ike Davis. Minaya only now is getting the credit deserved for the home-grown talent he produced, especially out of the DSL system.

That’s the so-called “International Signings,” which are governed by different (and far looser) rules. Hasn’t Alderson also enjoyed some success in this area?

Yes, but it’s too early to tell on his picks. One player, SS Ahmed Rosario, looks like a real find.

The Mets signed 16-year-old Domincan shortstop German (Ahmed) Rosario for $1.75 million -- the largest signing bonus ever given by the Mets to a Latin American prospect not subject to the draft. (Hat tip, Adam Rubin, on that particular wording.)

The Mets signed 16-year-old Domincan shortstop German (Ahmed) Rosario for $1.75 million — the largest signing bonus ever given by the Mets to a Latin American prospect not subject to the draft. (Hat tip, Adam Rubin, on that particular wording.)

When the Mets drafted Brandon Nimmo #13 overall in 2011, it was described as a high-risk, high-reward pick. In other words, he could go bust, but he had all-star potential. But in 2012, the Mets first-round pick, Gavin Cecchini (#12 overall), seems to have come from an entirely different thought process. Cecchini’s ceiling does not appear to be that high, but he’s a solid kid, well coached, and seems like a safe bet to make a major league roster. However, the Mets passed on a couple of high-risk, high-reward guys. Are you confused by this seeming inconsistency?

Like I said earlier, I’m confused at everything Alderson and Company has done at the draft table. I’m particularly critical of the Nimmo pick, not because of the ‘potential’ of the player, but the fact that potential should not be the criteria of a pick this early. Every draft has at least 15 “A” ballplayers that have proven they are the crème of crop. When you have a pick that early, you use it to pick one of those players.

Is there are guy you can point that you believed at the time the Mets should have taken?

A handful. Georgia Tech RHP Jed Bradley, Vanderbilt RHP Sonny Gray, Connecticut’s RHP Matt Barnes — all three of these ETA in 2015 at the latest and were established college starters when Nimmo was picked.

Are you still down on Nimmo?

brandon-nimmo-300x225Nimmo and I will meet next month and he’s a follower of mine on Facebook. I’m sure. By now, he thinks I hate him, but I don’t. He simply didn’t deserve to go this high. You don’t take these kind of chances with the #13 pick overall. (This was a pick made by a man named Chad McDonald, who begged and convinced the Mets to go this way. He quit the team within 30 days after the draft and went on to head up a scouting program out west).

The Cecchini pick came after a special trip to Citi Field where, I am sure, slot money came into the discussion. As mentioned before, the Mets ignored positional need and went with ‘best player signable” rather than “best player available.”

So what happened with the high school pitcher the Mets took in the 2nd round, Theodore Stankiewicz (#75 overall), but couldn’t sign? Was that just one of those things that sometimes happens, shrug-shrug, or a major miscalculation?

Theodore Stankiewicz, the 2nd Round Pick that got away. Who knows!

Theodore Stankiewicz, the 2nd Round Pick that got away. Who knows!

No, I was close to that situation (remember, I also write for www.bigleaguefutures.net and get to know these kids when they are sophomores in high school). And this, in my opinion, was just a downright lie by the Mets to Teddy and his family. The Mets told them that they were going to draft him if he agreed to a certain amount of money. The family agreed. Then, after the pick, the Mets pissed them off by trying to re-negotiate what all parties had verbally discussed and “agreed” to. This wasn’t a ‘miscalculation’. It was handled very badly by the Mets.

If you could be in that war room, whispering in Sandy Alderson’s ear, what general strategy would you advise for the 2013 June Draft.

In general, I would stay with the ‘best man available” direction. There really isn’t that much time to pick your picks past the first day. I would, however, have a clear direction of five names for that critical first pick and all would be either outfielders or starters. You can’t have enough pitching (also for future trading) and it wouldn’t kill you to have a decent outfielder in the system.

Is it too early to assess Sandy Alderson’s success overseeing the draft for the Mets?

I expect the under-slotting to continue, highlighted with more high school players with projected raw tools. This will be year three in their master plan using this direction, and hopefully 3-5 players in the organization will break out this season (other than the Latin kids that already have).

Do you have any specific hopes for potential breakout candidates?

Strikeout specialist, Jack Leathersich, might be fast-tracked to Queens.

Strikeout specialist, Jack Leathersich, might be fast-tracked to Queens.

I think RP Jack Leathersich (5th round, 2011) could wind up in Queens this season. His K/9 is off the charts. Regarding 2012, both P Logan Taylor (11th round) and Paul Sewald (10th round) have impressed Mets coaches, but the steal of the draft might be Stanford University RP/CL Tyler Vanderheiden, who was selected in the 19th round.

Give us a little background. It feels like you’ve been blogging since before Al Gore invented the internet. When and how and why did you get into it?

I was a successful broadcast executive that had a major brain trauma in 2005. It cost me a portion of my memory, complete loss of hearing in one ear, and the inability to multi-task. I ‘retired’ early, went on disability, and followed the doctor’s advice to read and write more (to stimulate the brain). I wrote 4 bad novels (all unpublished), decided to start a Mets blog concentrating in an area no one else was doing (the Mets minor leagues), and walked into the local newspaper and got a job as a freelance beat reporter covering the Savannah Sand Gnats. The rest is history.

That’s incredible. How is your health now?

I struggle especially with Spell-check. The funny thing about a brain injury and memory loss, you don’t remember what you continue to forget. It is a great marital tool (“Garbage? What garbage?”), but you’re limited. I can’t drive to Sand Gnats games at night because driving to too challenging then. Stuff like that.

Well, we love your story here at “2 Guys.” It’s very impressive what you’ve accomplished in the face of extremely tough circumstances. I want to ask you, what is it about the amateur draft –- the essence of it –- that speaks to you. Obviously you love it. Why?

I like the guesswork. Al Gore has made it easier for us to compile stats now, though there still is a lot of work to be done with the high school coaches. I compile all the mock drafts during the off-season and, by the time the draft comes up, I have a pretty good idea of the quality of players out there. The draft was just a perfect extension to a Mets site that specialized in the minor league teams. You have to remember that, before 2005, there really wasn’t much out there about these players. Adam Rubin told me in camp, in 2007, that he “knew nothing” about the Mets minor league players. The beat world was Queens and Queens only.

Not to sound like a jerk, but what makes you an expert? (I feel like Amy Poehler saying, “Just because you’re from Haaar-vaaard doesn’t mean you’re better than me!”) Is there a guru school? Or did you teach yourself?

I’m not an expert. I just spend a lot of time on this, talking to a lot of people within baseball at different levels. 98% of what I write about is a compilation of what everybody else has told me. I was much more connected to the team when I had press credentials, but I still have people I talk to. The secret of this “job” is being informed and letting the others out there help mold what comes out of your keyboard.

So it’s essentially a matter of talking to scouts, reading reports, bringing together the data?

sand-gnats-300x206I still attend Savannah Sand Gnats home games and I sit in the scout section. Most of my fellow bloggers still think that the majority of information I received in the past was from people in the Mets organization, which is just untrue. It takes a long time for a scout to trust that you won’t use the information he shares with you against him. Once he does, it’s close to impossible to turn off the faucet. I do some scouting for www.bigleaguefutures.net and attend showcases throughout the year.

Scouts like to talk.

They love to talk but it may take a 20-minute story about something that happened 30 years ago before they get around to answering your question. You also know when they begin to take their job seriously and that’s when one of the specific players they came to watch hits the BP cage or bullpen mound. A lot of assignments for scouts at the A-level is to figure out who would make a good third-party throw in on a trade being discussed at another level. They aren’t going to tell you who they came to town to see, but you can figure it out if you know what you’re doing.

Have you zeroed in on one player you hope the Mets pick? Do you feel, given the current state of the Mets farm, that they have to go for a hitter?

The sad part about this is Sandy Alderson simply doesn’t operate this way. If he did, Courtney Hawkins would have been first pick last year. I do think he has felt a lot more pressure, especially from the ever-growing respectable blogging community to draft per position this time. There will be quality outfielders available when the Mets turn comes and one might be Stanford’s Austin Wilson, who didn’t play this past weekend due to an injury. I would take him in a heartbeat.

Austin Wilson, college standout, might be a name to remember come the June Draft.

Austin Wilson, college standout, might be a name to remember come the June Draft.

One last question, and it’s a big one: Sandy Alderson was brought in to bring the Mets house in order. That meant creating a new business model financially, and to overhaul the minor league system from soup to nuts. The “Plan,” as it is commonly understood, has been to sacrifice the past couple of seasons for the payoff that’s sure to come further down the line. How do you feel, today, about that future?

Well, first of all, you and I have a different definition why Sandy Alderson was brought in.

According to my sources, Fred Wilpon agreed to employ Sandy Alderson until the Commissioner was going to retire in two years. At that point, Alderson would move over to the Commish office and Wilpon would have to name a new GM. The Wilpon/Katz family already knew they had a financial mess on their hands and they needed someone like Alderson who had a history of working with smaller market teams that operated on limited budgets. For reasons still undefined, the Commish didn’t retire, signed on for a couple of more years, and, so far, Alderson remains with the Mets.

As for “overhauling the minor league system,” he simply hasn’t. He has traded for a couple of good Blue Jays, but the system is mostly stocked with Omar Minaya players and two years worth of Alderson draft picks that haven’t stood out yet. The future of this team is bright… because of the pitching…  but most of the pitching was bought, drafted, or signed by Omar Minaya.

omarminaya

Forgive me, Mack, but you seem a little negative about the Mets GM.

I guess I do sound a little down on ‘Sandy and Company.’ I simply love the acquisitions of Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud, and Noah Syndergaard and I credit all three of these to Alderson’s patience and expertise, but I’m a minor league weenie and I just don’t think he’s surrounded himself with the right people picking the players in the draft.

Past that, the current outfield is a complete embarrassment and the team remains a fourth place finisher.

I guess that’s sort of negative, huh? :)

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6 comments

  1. Tom M says:

    Good stuff!

  2. Alan K. says:

    Good interview, which confirmed my suspicions that Cecchini was picked because he was easier to sign than because he was the best talent available. The fact that the Mets are consistently going under slot for their top picks is disconcerting.

  3. Thanks, guys. It seems silly, but these comments mean a lot. Mack is one of the best informed, insightful bloggers out there, always worth reading. I find that I agree with him as much as anybody, except that I tend to be a touch more cynical about prospects in general. I try not to get attached.

  4. Brian Joura says:

    Let me add to the chorus that this was a good interview – with both good questions and answers.

    I disagree with Mack’s assessment on the 2011 Draft. Obviously how Nimmo turns out will go a long way towards how we view it 20 years from now but I think the first six players they drafted all have a decent shot to make the majors.

    If that doesn’t sound impressive consider this: The Mets have done that just once in their 48-year drafting history. It wasn’t the 1995 Draft. Their first six picks: Ryan Jaroncyk, Brett Herbison, Kevin Bowers, Corey Erickson, Jeff Parsons, Todd Cutchins. Not one of those guys made the majors.

    It was 1983 when they got Eddie Williams, Stan Jefferson, Calvin Schiraldi, Dave Magadan, Rick Aguilera and David West.

    I really like Fulmer and I’m not going to get down on Nimmo after he posted a .372 OBP. Time will tell…

  5. Thanks Brian Joura of Mets360, always honored when you stop by. I can’t pretend to be an expert on prospects, though I read the reports and look at the numbers, and occasionally see some Binghamton & Brooklyn games. The first six picks from the 2011 Draft that you mentioned for easy reference: Nimmo, Fulmer, Mazzoni, Verret, Pill, and Leathersich. Plus, Evans was a 15th round overslot pick, so he’s got a shot, too (though BP says he has “T-Rex arms”).

    To me, Fulmer is very exciting, and my fingers are crossed on Nimmo. Mazzoni looks fringy. When I look at a pitcher, one basic rule of thumb is I like to SEE how he gets guys out. I’m not big on “craft” and “guile.” Verret’s K:BB ratio was 7:1 last year (!), everyone seems to think Leathersich is coming fast. So Pill is the only guy I can’t really comment on. It’s hard for me, too, to look at that as a bad draft.

    Glad you stopped by.

    – JP

  6. Joe says:

    PED’s are out of the game — getting to the big leagues is a lot easier these days. Ask somone that tried to get promoted to the big leagues from 97-04. So many log jams in the minors durning that perid.

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