By Dave Mills
YOUNG AGAIN, BUT THIS TIME WITH SPEED
The addition of Piscataway, New Jersey native Eric Young Jr. has been suggested here since early spring training and no reasonable (if not cheap) addition can be more welcome. Why? Well… The Mets have stunk it up from the leadoff spot, have no real speedster in the starting lineup and no switch-hitters (which never hurts). Young, the son of Eric Young of Dodger, Brewer, Padres and Rockies fame, has been an effective leadoff man, baserunner and spark plug in previous campaigns, most notably in 2011 and 2012. But with limited plate appearances due to his status as a 4th outfielder and utility man, he has been remarkably consistent in a number of departments and may now have a chance to show his wares on a daily basis. He has a good eye, is generally a contact hitter and can play all the OF slots and 2B. He also makes Juan Lagares and Jordany Valdespin expendable to work with Wally in Vegas, where they should be. The best guess is Valdespin will be sent down upon Justin Turner‘s return from the DL with Lagares not far behind.
OUTFIELD IN TRANSITION YET AGAIN
If it ain’t workin’ in baseball, lets try another approach. Young is here. Colin Cowgill has been DFA’d with Andrew Brown likely to play LF and Kirk Nieuwenhuis likely to spell Brown or Byrd against right-handed hurlers. If Brown rakes like he has in Vegas, he and Young Jr. may well be the secret ingredients in the Sandy Stew. Brown can even man the first sack against tough lefties if Josh Satin isn’t up to the task. With Marlon Byrd making a nice impression (and functioning as the glue) and Nieuwenhuis being the competent outfielder that he is, there is no reason to believe that this will not be the setup from now through the end of July, when it is fully expected that Alderson & Company will deal for an OF stud. If Nieuwenhuis reverts to his old strikeout habits and poor hitting in general, don’t be surprised to see Mike Baxter back in the fold. Daily at-bats and work is what Baxter, Lagares and Valdespin need far more than riding the pine.
As mentioned, the additions of Young and Brown has not only added depth to the OF, but also around the horn. But the reappearance of Omar Quintanilla at SS, putting Daniel Murphy back at the second sack and Lucas Duda at 1B is key to a potential Mets resurgence. In addition to the unexpected regression of Ruben Tejada (likely due to some complacency and being out of shape to start the year), Quintanilla commands more respect from opposing pitchers due to his ability to bunt, hit for some decent gap power and articulate the occasional blast. He is also comfortable with any position in the batting order. Ruben was a lost soul in the 8th Hole. While Omar may give up a little defense to Tejada, the Mets gain even more from his left-handed bat, versatility and experience. Duda is clearly more comfortable at 1B than he ever was in the OF. This does not mean his glove is as potent as Ike’s, but he can scoop up balls in the dirt and is a huge target for the other infielders. The depth provided by three left-handed bats also allows Terry to use Justin Turner more often and effectively. With so much depth in the system at SS, Tejada may well be used as a chip in a trade, especially to a team with an injured middle infielder. Quintanilla can hold down the fort this year and next, and offer lots of support to an up and comer.
TOOLS OF IGNORANCE
Anthony Recker has shown some skills as a backstop. His arm is decent, he has some power and can take it the opposite way. He also seems to have good rapport with the occasional pitcher he catches. But he does need more playing time, especially with the falloff of offensive production being exhibited by John Buck, who probably requires a little more rest. Recker could be a very nice compliment in a catching platoon if only Travis d’Arnaud was a left-handed bat, which he is not. Should Buck get moved and d’Arnaud not be ready or is again injured, we could see a platoon of Juan Centeno and Recker after the deadline. And that may not be quite as ugly as some may think.
THE SIX-MAN ROTATION
Also heralded here before-the-fact… The impending short-term six-man rotation may well be a good idea for the rest of the season due to the likelihood that Harvey and Wheeler will have to be shut down sometime in September. In spite of Matt’s protestations, isn’t it better to let him pitch through the final week of the season rather than to sit down he and the other stud with weeks to go? And with Gee and Hefner pitching outstanding baseball, as well as the need to showcase Shaun Marcum to as many organizations as possible before the deadline, a six-man turn until at least July 31 really does make sense from a number of perspectives, including allowing the bullpen to get more rest. No surprise that Colin McHugh was cut loose and dealt, since the Mets already had three soft-tossers in the rotation and a host of up and comers in the organization.
With starters going deeper into games and Bobby Parnell looking dominant in three of four appearances, the pen should begin to gain some consistency and more well define their specific roles. The setup guys appear to be Brandon Lyon, LaTroy Hawkins and David Aardsma, who has looked very good thus far. The lefty specialist Scott Rice is now spelled a bit by Josh Edgin. That leaves Carlos Torres as the long and swing man. This may well be the bullpen we see through the end of July. There are several arms that will make some appearances in September. The most eagerly anticipated may be Jack Leathersich. There are also several arms presumably on the mend with Scott Atchison, Frank Francisco, Pedro Feliciano and Tim Byrdak all hovering. And don’t forget Greg Burke, who was the odd man out when Torres exercised his contractual rights. Burke was pitching very effectively, indeed.
DOWN ON THE FARM
With Leathersich and Rafael Montero moving to Vegas to replace Edgin and Wheeler, the Mets have put several scenarios in motion. Both will likely be September call-ups. But the real scene to watch is what becomes of Davis, Valdespin, Tejada and Lagares, as they take center stage in the gaming mecca. Seems like Wally is damned if he does and damned if he does not, but letting him have his way with these four talented chaps is in the best interest of all concerned. Frankly, the chance of any of them returning to the big club before August is highly unlikely barring injury to others. They need remedial work and lots of reps. Wilmer Flores has been tearing it up in the PCL and now has 54 RBI. Zach Lutz has come on like gangbusters over the past month. But playing Brian Bixler and Brandon Hicks, prototypical 4A players is not a piece in the development picture. Tejada at SS, Flores at 2B, Davis at 1B, Lutz at 3B, d’Arnaud & Centeno at C with Lagares and Valdespin getting a lot of playing time in the OF is the development scenario.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?
Not much until after the all-star extravaganza. This is the team Terry Collins will have to guide through the next five or six weeks. There is certainly added interest and many reasons to watch. The starting staff is performing magnificently as of late. Wheeler may well be the real deal. Edgin looks more confident each time he takes the mound and Aardsma and Torres have looked good during their initial appearances. Duda loves to play 1B and Brown and Satin have displayed the ability to hit in the recent past. But the performer who has the stage set to make a real difference has to be Young. If he can be the leadoff hitter the Mets desperately need, there could be a turnaround of fortune at a most opportune moment. A little momentum into the all-star break could really set Citi Field abuzz for the rest of the campaign. Now, lets all knock on some wood!
Several of these guys get dealt—Tejada, Marcum, Buck, Hefner and a few prospects—before the deadline for a stud outfielder and some limited ceiling prospects. Another southpaw starter could be a real boon. Can the Chicago White Sox entertain a deal for a couple of right-handed pitchers, Wilmer Flores and one of the proven veterans for Alex Rios and Hector Santiago? Can Carlos Gonzales be pried away from the Rockies for Syndergaard or Montero and some other prospects? Can Andre Ethier be on the radar (hope not)? Alderson has the chips and is going to use them before August 1.