Written by Jonathan Leshanski
Published: 03 May 2007
The saga of the New York Mets has taken a turn for the youth and for Mets fans it’s a glorious thing. For seasons now the Mets have followed a business model of trading away their youth for veterans with a 'we’ve got to win now' attitude. The kids never got more than a cup of coffee in hometown colors before being traded away for a variety of pieces most of whom didn’t contribute anywhere near what was expected.
This year has been different. Instead of trading away their top prospects the Mets stood pat at the trading deadline and hung on to the young players most likely to make an impact at the big league level soon. Just a month ago GM Omar Minaya and the organization were being roasted for their inaction. A month later amazing things have begun to happen.
It’s been a long time since the Mets managed to develop a star player. You’d have to go back to the early 80s and Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry before you could even make a claim to success. Most of the “can’t miss prospects” have missed, and badly. It’s been the curse of the organization that they could develop exceptional hype, but very little in the way of talent. That’s not to say that many great players have not gone through the Mets farm system, but none of them have worn a Mets uniform long enough to be noticed.
The last month has changed all that. Mets fans have been treated to what they hope will be a glimpse of the future with six homegrown, good talents on the field - and for the first time in several years fans are excited to watch the team this late in the season. The most recent of them has been catcher, converted to first baseman Mike Jacobs, 25, who was brought up to be a third string catcher and was virtually unknown before this week. Since his call up he’s gone 8 for 16 with 4 home runs, nine RBIs, and eight runs scored. While that pace is certainly unsustainable Jacobs has been a pleasant surprise and not just with the bat, as his glove work which was considered dubious by many has been outstanding especially since it wasn’t his natural position before this week (and it may be now).
On the opposite corner of the infield, sophomore David Wright has been inviting more, not fewer, comparisons to Mike Schmidt than anyone really expected at this point. The 22-year-old leads the team in average (.318), Runs (83) and RBIs (82) and has consistently been the best hitter on the team all season despite the presence of Carlos Beltran, who was expected to be the team leader. Those who projected his power based on last season and expected a 35 home run season might be a little disappointed but Wright’s still on a pace to finish with somewhere between 25-30 which is just about as good as it gets when talking about young third basemen.
But Wright is only one of the 20somethings which has the fans buzzing. A healthy season from shortstop Jose Reyes has been very promising. While his line .277-5-54 along with 78 runs and 45 steals have been highlights of the season thus far, his promise for better days lies in the future when he learns how to draw a walk instead of being such a free swinger. Considering his success it’s amazing that he has drawn only 20 walks (in 545 at bats) and has an OBP of .303 so far. Fans are looking down the road at the improvement of Jimmy Rollins to see a fraction what might happen when Reyes develops into a real leadoff hitter.
The buzz doesn’t stop there, it runs out to outfielder Victor Diaz (24 years old) who the Mets were considering converting to first base a plan which has at least for the moment been shelved while the team evaluates Mike Jacobs and others at the position. Diaz has been both hot and cold this season, with two torrid starts upon different call-ups separated by a lull in between, which resulted in him being sent back to AAA to get back on track. All together he’s hitting .267 with 9 home runs, 29 RBI’s, 23 runs, with 4 steals - but since his recent call up he’s hitting .333-4-11 in just 48 at bats.
Two pitchers, Aaron Heilman (26) and Jae Seo (28) are also breaking through after years of toil and proving that they really do have what it takes after seasons of struggling to handle big league hitters. Unfortunately the Mets are so over laden with starting pitching that Heilman has been shunted to the bullpen despite his 3.80 ERA and almost 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio. That being said he’s thrived as a reliever compiling a 2.96 ERA and a 5:1 K/BB ratio from the pen.
Seo was called up to spot start back at the beginning of August and been so good that he forced the team to keep him in the rotation for another start. His next start was just as good, as was the third, and the fourth start of the month. He’s been so outstanding that he’s forced the team to keep him in the rotation rather than sending him to the bullpen as had been planned. In truth, Seo has been a marvel winning six of seven starts and holding the opponents to a .178 batting average, while managing a 1.30 ERA. In August he turned it up a notch higher going 4-0, with a 0.89 ERA and managing a better than 4:1 K/BB ratio.
Perhaps even more inspiring is that there is more talent on the horizon toiling in Norfolk and Binghamton who have scouts and management excited. Mets fans are finding things to cheer about, rebuilding, youth, home grown talent, less reliance on free agents and even a realistic shot at the playoffs.