Thursday, January 13, 2011

State of the Team - Third Baseman

This one's easy -

David Wright.

Enough said.

But seriously, beyond Wright, they have a few players who would work as reserve third basemen, such as Daniel Murphy (came up as a 3B), Justin Turner, Nick Evans, etc.

They have some minor leaguers, too, who could provide some production at third base. Zach Lutz is likely to start the season as Buffalo's Third Baseman, after splitting .287/.380/.571 between multiple levels, mostly in Binghamton, but with 5 games in Buffalo.

However, the main prospect for the Mets at 3B is Aderlin Rodriguez. Rodriguez played in Rookie Ball and Low-A Savannah last year, and ended up with a split of .300/.350/.532. Rodriguez projects to have among the most potential power among current Mets prospects, although he may be forced to move to First Base or a Corner Outfield spot in order to stick in the Majors. Overall, though, he's the one to keep an eye on going forward.

Monday, January 3, 2011

State of the Team - Second Baseman/Shortstop

I know, it's been too long since my last post. But here goes with a more difficult and complex topic - 2nd Base for the New York Mets. I've decided to combine second base and shortstop into one post.

Jose Reyes comes first. The everyday shortstop position for the Mets is Reyes' and should stay Reyes' unless he is hurt or traded. However, there is a question about whether his production can return to pre-09 levels. Reyes only averaged 384 PA over the past two years, with .282/.328/.421 line and 41/53 total in stolen base attempts. Hopefully he can return to his 06-08 form, when he averaged .292/.355/.461 with a total of 48 HR, 47 SB, and 198 SB. Reyes of those years was a dynamic player, among the best in baseball at his position.

As it stands, there are five six names in the mix for probably two-three other middle infield roster spots on opening day (2B and one-two reserve spots). Luis Castillo is the only established player with significant MLB experience at second base. Castillo is in the final year of a 4-year/$25 million dollar contract, and is owed $6.25 million this year. That's a lot of money for a team that is relatively money-conscious, as the Mets have become under Alderson. Castillo's production has declined, and his value to the team has declined as well. It is highly unlikely that the Mets would be able to trade him, mostly due to his large contract in proportion to his value. The only upside is that the end is in sight. Castillo only hit .235 last year in 86 games, and as a guy who was a good contact hitter with good speed, he only stole 8/11 bases successfully, and only had 2 triples. In addition, his range in the field has diminished greatly, as his Range Factor/Game (a stat of arguable worth) has decreased from around 4.5 for most of his career to 4.0 last year. All of that being said, he still drew 39 walks to only 25 strikeouts, and should this team take on a "Moneyball" focus as some have suggested, Castillo could be on the opening day roster. If he is, he will be the everyday second baseman, as he has no versatility or ability to play other positions. As an aside, of note is the fact that Castillo is the active major league leader in games played at Second Base. This is going to be a difficult decision for Alderson, Collins and the rest.

Next in line for second is Daniel Murphy. Murphy is pre-arbitration still, meaning that he will earn the league minimum next year, making him definitely a low-cost option. He also still has options, meaning that he could be sent to the minors without having to pass through waivers. Murphy was injured most of last year, having hurt his knee at the end of spring training and again in early Summer. He played 11 games in the minors, and hit .294/.314/.471 in 8 games at Buffalo. More telling is his '09 season, when he was effectively the everyday first baseman and hit .266/.313/.427 in 556 plate appearances, including a Mets-leading 12 home runs. Yeah, '09 was a tough year. Murphy's big question is the defense, specifically, turning the double play, and more specifically, whether he will hit enough to offset what they assume will be subpar defense at second. He has been working on it the past year+ in both the minors and the winter league, but the real answer won't come until we can see how he plays at spring training. Either way, Murphy is likely to be on the Mets as either the primary second baseman, or as a super-sub in the mode of Mark DeRosa and Juan Uribe, a player who can fill in for extended amounts of time and multiple positions, as he can play first, second or third as well as left field, and probably right field in a pinch. Plus, he can do this.

The next name is Brad Emaus, who the Mets selected from the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 Draft this year. Per the rule 5 draft, the Mets would have to keep Emaus on the 25-man roster or offer him back to the Blue Jays. Emaus would also make the league minimum, but overall looks to be a similar player to Murphy, only right-handed, and likely more  comfortable defensively at second base. The two could conceivably platoon, but only if the Mets have a third infielder who is a more versatile defender. Emaus hit .290/.397/.496 between AA and AAA last year, a pretty impressive showing albeit in the Minors, and his numbers in AAA were actually better than those in AA. Like Murphy, it is unlikely that Emaus can play shortstop at the major league level.

Justin Turner provides a similar skill set to Emaus, and would also make the league minimum. Turner's only a career 4/35 hitter in the Majors, having played primarily second in addition to short and third. Last year, however, Turner was very productive between Buffalo and Norfolk (Baltimore's AAA), as he ended with a line of .316/.374/.487. Turner inexplicably didn't get a chance to show himself last September, but his work in Buffalo won him a chance to compete in Spring Training. Turner's advantage over Emaus may be in that he can play shortstop while Emaus cannot.

Ruben Tejada is likely to spend the overwhelming majority of the 2011 where he should've spent last year - in Buffalo. Tejada didn't turn 21 until after the season ended, and as such shouldn't have been in the Majors yet. Tejada can definitely field, he's good and likely to get better with his glove, but his question mark is the bat. A line of .213/.305/.282 is not good enough to overcome the glove, especially at second base. 22 walks to only 38 strikeouts in 255 PA bodes well for Tejada, but he needs another year or two in a more training-oriented environment to get himself to be a consistent major league option. Tejada played a similar amount in Buffalo during the year, racking up 244 PA, and putting up a line of .280/.329/.344. If he can ever do that in the majors, he'll play, but until he shows that, he wont. Even with that line, he's only a border-line everyday player, especially with a lack of stolen bases and no power to speak of.

This list just keeps going. Also available are Luis Hernandez and the recently acquired Chin-Lung Hu. Both are no-hit versatile utility players. Neither have shown the propensity for success at the major league level, while both have had enough success at the minors to keep them on the cusp. One of the two may break through and have a great spring training to find themselves on the team, but it's far from a lock. Russ Adams could also play both positions, and could be a surprise given enough of a look.

If I had to predict right now, I would say that the Mets are likely to have on the opening day roster - Reyes, Murphy, Emaus and Hu.

Two sleepers lie in the minors as the Mets top Second Base prospects. Jordany Valdespin and Reese Havens both are highly thought of by Mets brass, and both may even get a chance to prove themselves in Spring Training. Valdespin was protected by the Mets from the Rule 5 draft, and is likely to start the year in Binghamton after a .272/.300/.398 split between St. Lucie and Binghamton last year. Havens was the Mets' first round pick in '08 (22nd overall), and has hit when he's played. The key, though, is when, and he hasn't played enough as he's spent much of the past two seasons on the disabled list. The Mets got glimpses, when he split .312/.386/.598 in 140 PA between St. Lucie and Binghamton last year. Havens may make it to CitiField in 2011 if he stays healthy and productive and the Mets' second base situation turns out to be a complete mess.

One of the Mets' top overall prospects is currently a shortstop, although he will likely move his position as he moves up. The 19-year old Wilmer Flores hit .289/.333/.484 between Savannah and St. Lucie last year, and is an absolute beast, as he is usually rated in the top two (with Jenrry Mejia) of Mets prospects overall. Flores projects to build on his 6'3"/175lb. frame and become a true power threat. One of the comparisons I've heard is Miguel Cabrera, although hopefully Flores won't be as much of a fat-ass as Cabrera. Other names to remember are Rylan Sandoval, who made it as high as as a 22-year old St. Lucie last year, splitting .295/.398/.466 and Wilfredo Tovar, who split .266/307/.327 between Brooklyn, Savannah and St. Lucie as he turned 19 in August.