Following the lead of highly touted Mets pitching prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler before him, 51s right-hander Noah Syndergaard is expected to spend the first half of this season in Triple A before making his major league debut for New York.
“He’s a big leaguer just waiting to happen,” Las Vegas manager Wally Backman said.
Rated the 11th-best prospect in baseball by MLB.com, the 6-foot-6-inch, 240-pound Syndergaard is a power pitcher from Texas in the mold of Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens.
“He’s got a power arm. He’s 96 to 98 (mph) and locates to both sides of the plate,” Backman said. “He’s got a power breaking ball and a good changeup, too. He’s going to be fun to watch.”
The 21-year-old Syndergaard, who the Mets acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the December 2012 trade for R.A. Dickey, will anchor a 51s pitching staff featuring three of New York’s top 10 prospects.
Along with Syndergaard — the Mets’ No. 1 prospect who is slated to make his Triple-A debut Friday against the Fresno Grizzlies at Cashman Field — Las Vegas will feature starters Rafael Montero (No. 3) and Jacob deGrom (No. 10).
“They can pitch in the big leagues right now,” Backman said. “I believe at some point in time they’re going to be in the big leagues this year. They were seriously looked at in spring training about making the club this year.”
Montero, who is slated to start today’s season opener against Fresno — the San Francisco Giants’ top affiliate — led New York’s minor leaguers last year in strikeouts (150) and innings pitched (155). The Dominican right-hander has the best control in the organization, according to Baseball America.
“He can spot both sides of the plate and keeps the ball down,” Backman said. “He doesn’t walk anybody and throws all his pitches for strikes.”
Closer Jeff Walters — who compiled a franchise-record 38 saves and a 2.09 ERA last season for Double-A Binghamton — will anchor what Backman expects to be a much-improved bullpen.
“One piece missing last year was our depth in our bullpen, and I think we have it this year,” he said. “Pitching is always the key to your success. We have quality starting pitching, and we have a bullpen with a closer now.
“Walters is going to be our closer from day one, and we didn’t have that last year.”
The bullpen also will feature right-handers Vic Black and Ryan Reid and left-hander Josh Edgin — each of whom had success in the majors last season.
Rounding out the starting rotation are Logan Verrett and former Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
The Japanese right-hander known as Dice-K expected to open the season as New York’s No. 5 starter, but is slated to be Las Vegas’ fifth starter instead. The 33-year-old is scheduled to start Monday’s home game against Sacramento.
The 51s also will feature 40-year-old Bobby Abreu, a 17-year big league veteran who last played in 2012 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Abreu signed a minor league deal with the Mets on Monday after he was released by the Phillies.
The two-time All-Star, who has 287 career home runs, batted only .244 during spring training with Philadelphia, but Backman said New York was impressed with his .404 on-base percentage.
“One of the things our organization is big about is on-base percentage,” he said. “I don’t foresee Bobby being here very long … because of the success he has had and the way he can come off the bench and do something.”
Several key players return from last season’s squad, which went 81-63 en route to the Pacific Southern Division title and the franchise’s first playoff berth in 11 years.
Returnees Eric Campbell, Wilmer Flores, Zach Lutz, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker will anchor an offense that last year led the Pacific Coast League in homers, RBIs and runs and tied for the league lead in batting (.287).
“A lot of the offense is back. A lot of guys should hit a lot of home runs,” Backman said. “Everybody in the lineup might hit home runs. Centeno might hit one this year.”
The latter comment was a playful crack at catcher Juan Centeno, who hit .305 with no homers last season for Las Vegas. Centeno makes up for his lack of power on defense, where he threw out Cincinnati Reds speedster Billy Hamilton last year for the Mets.
On the subject of speed, the 51s have added some this season in newcomers Anthony Seratelli and Cesar Puello.
“Last year we had a bunch of power hitters, but we didn’t have a lot of speed,” Lutz said. “This year, we have a lot of speed out there, and that will help us.”
Puello, making the jump from Binghamton — along with infielder Allan Dykstra, last year’s Eastern League Most Valuable Player — is the Mets’ No. 9 prospect as rated by MLB.com.
The Dominican outfielder hit .326 last season en route to the EL batting title and also had 16 homers and 73 RBIs in 91 games.
“Puello is a young kid who really came into his own last year in Double A,” Backman said. “He’s got all the tools. He’s got power, speed and he’s got a great arm. He’s a five-tool guy.”
Since winning the 1986 World Series with the Mets as a player, Backman has won championships as a manager in independent ball, Single A and Double A. He would love to add a Triple-A title to his resume this season.
“It’d be nice,” he said. “If the major league club stays healthy this year, this is going to be a real fun team to watch.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.