We often talk about how the New York Mets are a tricky fit for the Chicago Cubs this trade season, at least on the bigger names like Willson Contreras and David Robertson, because their farm system is extremely top-heavy. They have one superstar prospect who isn’t going anywhere (Francisco Alvarez), another tip-top prospect whom they are also keeping off limits (Brett Baty), and then a tier just below of guys who are either just inside top 100 consideration for some services, or just outside of it. And then after those additional three or four names, it’s a pretty huge drop off.
To be sure, your mileage may vary on some of these guys, and there could have been developments throughout the system that don’t show up on prospect rankings yet (we’ve seen that before). But, generally speaking, I do think it’s a tricky fit for these teams, and it’s not all just the Mets doing their faux protesting thing. They probably don’t want to give up multiple guys from that second tier, but the Cubs may not want to do a deal without it.
Anyway, one of the guys in that second tier is slugging infield prospect Mark Vientos, and the specificity of this mention from Josh Frydman sure caught my attention:
Frydman, a local sports reporter, doesn’t tend to get too heavily-involved in the rumor game, but I also know him to be an extremely thoughtful guy. If he’s saying publicly that he’s heard this – something this specific – then he’s definitely heard it from a good source.
It does seem very likely that the Mets would like to use Vientos as a top trade chip, for reasons explored below. Whether this means the Cubs are into it, or whether it’s a situation where the Mets have basically told the Cubs, “Hey, no matter what, if we do a deal, Vientos has to be a good part of the return,” remains to be seen.
Which is not to say Vientos isn’t a legit prospect. A former second rounder, Vientos is only 22 and already hitting .263/.345/.519/126 wRC+ at Triple-A. He has some of the biggest raw power in the minors (70 grade), and can hit the crap out of the ball. He is striking out 30.9% of the time, though, which wouldn’t bode well in the translation to the big leagues, and he is also playing mostly at first base and DH after previously being a third baseman.
For perspective on Vientos, here’s some of the Baseball America scouting report, where Vientos ranks 4th in their system:
Vientos has massive raw power and can reach the deepest recesses of left field. His swing is geared to do damage in the air and he can take the ball out to all fields. The majority of his 2021 home runs were hit to right field. Vientos has improved his pitch recognition, especially against breaking stuff from righthanders, and after catching up to the speed of Double-A he compiled a 1.043 OPS in his final 60 games. He doesn’t flinch at velocity and could become a near-average hitter with plus power. Drafted as a shortstop, Vientos shifted to third base as a pro. He is playable there and has a plus arm. Some scouts believe his thick lower half could force him to first base, but Vientos has shown a renewed focus on conditioning this offseason. He tried his hand at left field, but rival scouts are unconvinced.
FanGraphs, which has Vientos 6th in the system, gives perhaps the most pessimistic view on Vientos, which is probably worth a read, too:
Vientos has filled out to the point where it is impacting his range and ability to flip his hips and make strong, accurate throws, so he now cleanly projects to first base only; he’s played exclusively first for the last couple of weeks at Syracuse. He is very similar to Bobby Dalbec, with plus-plus power undercut by strikeouts, and like Dalbec, Vientos will probably have some years where he hits in excess of 25 home runs but still performs close to replacement level. Vientos tends to be a late on fastballs and he struggles to get on top of ones at the top of the strike zone, but he very easily has the strength to put them out to the opposite field. He is on the Mets 40-man and with Pete Alonso entrenched ahead of him, he is a candidate to be moved in a trade, especially if the other party takes a model-driven approach. One of the younger prospects in his draft class, Vientos is still just 22 and hitting for huge power at Triple-A. If there’s a thing that cleanly separates him from Dalbec and makes that comp a little less snug, it’s that Dalbec only reached the upper levels at age 23/24. The younger Vientos should be given more grace for his strikeout issues.
So you get a bit of a sense there on a guy who has a ton of power, has a lot of upside, but whose value is undercut a bit by a lot of swing and miss. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s a profile the Cubs have had some success with improving at the margins, and maybe in the Cubs’ system, Vientos could become a very good overall bat, and you live with the 30+% strikeout rate.
The rub, for me, is the defensive limitations. If he can play only first base (or DH), then you’re talking about a need for the bat to be extremely productive in order for him to be a valuable, or even average, player overall.
I tend to think the reason the Mets might be so eager to move Vientos now in a deal is precisely because they see him as first-base-only, and he’s never going to get that time with the Mets because of Pete Alonso. So, then, capitalize on his value now.
The question for the Cubs is whether they see this as an opportunity to get more value from the Mets than they might otherwise be able, given Vientos possibly being squeezed (even if you might not otherwise choose Vientos, specifically, to add to the Cubs’ system). In that case, you just get as much value as you can, and then you figure out how you actually use/develop Vientos later. It also depends on exactly what the Mets are seeking from the Cubs, because if it’s both Contreras and Robertson, I’d think a good bit more would need to be in the deal, too.
Interestingly, Mark Vientos factors into the Mets’ whole “we don’t really have to make a trade” vibe, because they have him up publicly as their offered in-house option for a big-time righty bat:
You can choose to believe that however much you like …