The praise Mets executives heaped Thursday night on first-round Draft pick Michael Conforto -- a "pretty polished college player," according to vice president of player development and amateur scouting Paul DePodesta, and "a hitter with very few weaknesses," according to scouting director Tommy Tanous -- was significant, but not just because the organization was saying nice things about the player it just made a sizable commitment to.
New York drafting a corner outfielder and talented left-handed college hitter like Conforto represents a departure from what it had done the last three years -- select a high school position player. Since Sandy Alderson was hired as general manager, the Mets took outfielder Brandon Nimmo (2011), shortstop Gavin Cecchini ('12) and first baseman Dominic Smith ('13) with their first picks.
Those three players are still young and are all still in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues. As such, when it comes to the Mets' recent top draftees, none are all that close to helping at the Major League level. It stands to reason that Conforto could make the bigs before at least part of the trio that preceded him.
Of those three, Nimmo is having the best season in the Minors. With Class A Advanced St. Lucie, he's batting .327 with a .448 on-base percentage and a .458 slugging percentage. Ranked by MLB.com as the Mets' No. 4 prospect and the No. 99 prospect in baseball, Nimmo has shown decent power -- four homers, eight doubles and four triples -- while walking nearly as often as he's struck out (46 to 51).
Smith (No. 3 on the Mets' prospects list) and Cecchini (No. 8) are both with Class A Savannah, but they aren't fairing as well as Nimmo. Smith's slash line of .263/.332/.304 is accompanied by zero homers, though he is only 18 years old and playing his first full season of pro ball. At 6-foot, 185 pounds, he has time to fill out and turn that potential for power into actual power.
"I think he wakes up in the morning and he's ready to swing the bat," Tanous told SB Nation during Spring Training. "He's fundamentally really sound offensively."
Cecchini, 20, is a shortstop known more for his glove than his bat, and he is hitting .255/.335/.396.
The Alderson-DePodesta Era pick closest to the Majors might be catcher Kevin Plawecki. The right-handed hitter was a supplemental-round pick in the 2012 Draft, and he has been impressing with a .333/.379/.520 slash line at Double-A Binghamton this season, just his second full one as a professional.
Plawecki, like Conforto, was drafted out of college and was therefore more primed to move up the ladder quickly. He's the Mets' No. 6 prospect and was in big league camp during Spring Training for the first time this year.
Plawecki is often praised for his ability to make contact and not strike out often. Though his strikeout rate of 11.8 percent through 45 games isn't quite as sharp as it was last season (10.2 percent), he doesn't think his penchant for making contact sacrifices any power.
"I don't really think there's a trade-off. If you have a good zone and a good approach -- recognizing good pitches and swinging at them, not getting down in counts and being aggressive in the right way -- you'll have the advantage," Plawecki told MiLB.com earlier this year. "Controlling the count is really important. If you avoid swinging at bad pitches, they have to come to you. There's obviously more to it, but I'd rather hit a wimpy ground ball than walk back to the dugout -- lots of good things can happen if you put the ball in play."
Plawecki's path was complicated with the news over the weekend that the Mets demoted Travis d'Arnaud to Triple-A Las Vegas. The 25-year-old d'Arnaud opened the season as New York's starting catcher but hit .180 with a .271 OBP. His presence in Las Vegas effectively blocks a Plawecki promotion.
All things considered, Plawecki moving up to Triple-A this season is a reasonable expectation, as is him making a Major League arrival sometime next summer if he continues his upward trend.
When it comes to which top arms Plawecki might catch, the future is cloudier. Right-hander Noah Syndergaard is the organization's undisputed top prospect and could arrive sometime this season. Alderson acknowledged last month that the 6-foot-6, 240-pound 21-year-old -- acquired in the R.A. Dickey trade in December 2012 -- is essentially the team's starting-pitching depth. (Rafael Montero, since optioned to Las Vegas, is also a possibility should the Mets need a spot start.)
The Mets' No. 10 and 11 prospects, lefty Steven Matz and righty Cory Mazzoni, could also move through the system quickly. Matz, 23, has a 2.13 ERA with St. Lucie after battling injury for much of his career. Mazzoni, 24, is currently injured, but he struck out more than a batter per inning with Binghamton last season.
Tim Healey is an associate reporter for MLB.com.