The Mets Spring Training Report: Volume 3March 16, 2010
Jason Bay arrived this spring as cool as he entered Boston in 2008. He immediately befriended David Wright, Alex Cora and Jeff Francoeur, and clearly was not overwhelmed by the abundance of reporters and cameras.
“He’s coming into another situation — we didn’t have a great year last year, everybody knows with the injuries and all that stuff,’’ said Cora. “He comes here and you see him walking around with his coffee, it seems like he’s been here for five, six years, and that’s great for us. That’s refreshing for us.’’
Few doubted whether Bay could adapt to New York because he did such a great job in Boston replacing Manny Ramirez. However, with the injury to Beltran, and the mysterious aura surrounding Jose Reyes, Jason Bay’s role just got larger, and a fast start from him will go a long way in erasing the dark cloud engulfing the Mets organization.
Bay is off to a mediocre start this spring – .261, 1 HR, 5 RBI – but it is adapting to the coaches and players that Jason views as most important.
“You go to a market like Boston or New York, any little unknown that you can cross off the list definitely helps,’’ he said, “and I think my time in Boston in more ways than one definitely set me up and prepared me well for this.’’
Hoping to make it easier on Bay will be David Wright, who has hit three home runs in 23 at bats so far this spring. Wright’s swing was “all wrong” last season and his career low ten home runs was an aberration according to most. Nevertheless, the injuries that David saw all of last season have reared their ugly head once again, but Wright won’t let them be a distraction.
“You can’t sit there and hang your head and feel sorry for yourself because you have a couple injuries,” Wright said. “There’s still a few weeks to go before opening day, so there is nothing but optimism and positivity in the clubhouse.”
According to HoJo, the theories about Citi Field affecting Wright can be thrown out the window.
“It comes down to two things — timing and David not trying to carry the offensive burden on his shoulders. And it all starts with Wright’s set-up. I want him to be ready earlier and I want him to hit the ball further out front.”
So far so good for employee number five.
Joining Howard Johnson with tutorials has been former Mets first baseman, and current TV announcer, Keith Hernandez who has been working with Daniel Murphy this spring. Hernandez has told Murphy that the key to playing first base is footwork and setting yourself up in the right stance and position. Murphy has stated that last season he was playing too far from the bag which prevented him from receiving and setting up throws in time. Keith also told the Irish Hammer that he was too aggressive pursuing balls headed to Luis Castillo.
At the plate, Murphy has been working on pitch selection and making more contact. Last year was a struggle for Daniel, especially after the management compared him to a young Don Mattingly. Ooof….
Replacing Jose Reyes won’t just fall on the shoulders of Bay, Wright, and Murphy. There’s a mini battle of sorts that has broken out between maybe the most overpaid utility man in baseball Alex Cora, and 20 year-old stud prospect Ruben Tejada.
Despite the experience and leadership that Cora brings to the table, Manuel has appeared to favor Tejada, saying that Ruben would receive the bulk of the playing time in Reyes’ absence. On Saturday, Tejada showed why, going two for four with a two-run triple and is now hitting .357 this spring after two more hits on Monday.
Tejada’s only twenty, and I think this is the right move by Jerry and the Mets. In 2008, Tejada hit just .229 with two home runs and 27 RBI for Single-A St. Lucie, however his numbers rose in Double-A Binghamton last year, hitting .289 with five home runs and 46 RBI, and also saw his strikeout total shrink from 77 to 59 over that span. Surely Double-A is not comparable to the majors, but the biggest jump for young players is viewed to be from single-A to double, and Tejada’s improvements are encouraging.
“Everywhere he’s gone he’s done well,” Omar Minaya stated. You’re talking about a kid that was 19 years old at Double-A last year and was one of the better prospects in the Eastern League.”
The real question is though- is the young Tejada going to be more productive than the veteran Cora?
I say yes.
With all that Cora gives you in the locker room and as a “player-coach,” he is equally brutal in the field. A middle of the infield consisting of Castillo and Cora would be laughable. Especially since the projected number two starter, Mike Pelfrey, relies heavily on strong up-the-middle defense. Tejada isn’t going to be a star, more of a bottom of the order type of guy. But the defense he will bring in Reyes’ absence will help more than any offense Cora could bring.
Also fighting to replace an injured player are Angel Pagan and Gary Matthews Jr. Viewed as Pagan’s job to lose before camp opened, Matthews is having a solid spring so far, but hasn’t really done enough to overtake Pagan. Angel was relatively quiet as well this spring, until he hit a two-run walk off homer against the Cardinals on Monday.
Going into last season, Fernando Martinez was viewed as the team’s future center fielder and top prospect, but struggled when he came up to the Big-League’s. A season-ending injury didn’t help the cause, and now Martinez has been overshadowed by Pagan and Matthews for the center-field job.
Nevertheless, F-Mart has been using his past struggles as motivation, and it began this winter when he was named MVP of the Caribbean Series. In 23 at bats, he hit .348 with two doubles and two home runs. This spring, it’s been more of the same for the 21 year-old, holding a .529 average with two homers so far.
“To see that display of power from him so far, especially with the off-speed pitches, is impressive,” Jerry Manuel said.
Despite F-Mart’s surge this spring, SNY has reported that Martinez will start the season in the minors.
As spring training progresses, more at-bats and innings will be taken up by the veterans, and most of the young future stars will be regulated to pinch-hitting and relief pitching. But with Tejada, F-Mart, Mejia, Niese and Davis- should the future be now? Throw in the injuries that are already piling up, and it may be time for the Mets to insert the kids into the everyday lineup.
“What happened last year is that those guys were, like, a year away,” Manuel said. “And now if anything were to go wrong in terms of questions of depth, we’re seeing some young players come up and play extremely well. We have the talent to keep pace.”
I know the best plan would be to probably keep the kids in the minors, let them progress, and call them up when ready. I think Fernando Martinez was the perfect example of the effects of rushing a prospect into the big leagues, and how an ego can easily bruise. Nevertheless, with the Mets a long-shot to win the division even with Reyes, without him “the Amazings” will be lucky to finish third in the NL East.
I know Jose is due back by the end of April, but let’s be honest- does anybody expect Reyes back before June?
It will be interesting to see how Manuel and Omar work this, and whether any of these young kids get a shot.
Next week, I’ll focus back on the starting pitching as well as the bullpen where K-Rod finally made his return this week from pink-eye, throwing a score-less inning against the Cards.
“I felt good out there,” Rodriguez said. “If I could do that the rest of the year, that would be nice… I feel like I’m at midseason already.”
Rodriguez will next pitch Thursday against the Marlins.
In Volume four of the Mets Spring Training Report, I will also take a look around the NL East, and the major stories within the division.
As always, thanks for reading.