Spring baseball is just days away as position players are due to report to Port St. Lucie, Florida. The first full-squad workout is on Monday, February 18th. If there were a word to describe the Mets front office strategy going into the offseason, it would be “Depth.”
Brodie Van Wagenen did an excellent job allocating his resources to attack the teams needs with a full blanket, as opposed to pursuing the mega-free agents. Although Mets Twitter is still outraged by the unwillingness to pursue Harper and Machado, the 2019 Mets are a better team now than they were by the end of the 2018 season. They have raised their win-ceiling marginally, but the floor has closed considerably. Last season we saw players such as Jose Reyes, Adrian Gonzalez, and Jose Bautista. These were once star players, but now in their career couldn’t offer much. Van Wagenen, with experienced front office additions such as Allard Baird and Adam Guttridge supporting him, compiled players, with higher ceilings, backed by analytics to provide needed depth across the team.
For example, the Mets were accounting for Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Lagares to play a big part in the 2018 Outfield. Both spent the majority of the season on the disabled list, and the Mets then lacked offensively and defensively in the outfield.
To provide depth in this area the Mets have acquired players such as Keon Broxton, Rajai Davis, and Gregor Blanco to have players ready if need be. Let’s look into some position players, who aren’t guaranteed starters or even locks to make the team out of the spring, but who bring baseball resumes that have potential value in assisting the 2019 team.
J.D. Davis was acquired by the Mets in a five-player trade in early January from Houston. Davis, 25, was drafted in the third round of the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Astros. He was called up in 2017 and compiled 181 at-bats over two years, hitting .194 with 5 HR and 12 RBI. With a glance, it’s easy to write off Davis as a nonfactor, but let’s not be fooled by the small sample size.
In the minors, Davis has been a significant power threat. He averaged 23 home runs and had a slugging percentage of .583 with triple-a Fresno, 174 points higher than the MLB average (.409). Some may think Davis is a quadruple-a player, but looking at the Astros loaded infield of Bregman, Correa, Gurriel, and Altuve; it’s not hard to see why he didn’t get many at-bats. I believe the Mets see Davis as a Wilmer Flores type with more versatility. Like Flores, Davis crushed left-handed pitchers. In 76 at-bats Davis Batted .408 with 7 HR and had an astronomical slugging percentage of .737 against left-handers in triple-a in 2018. Davis is also a more versatile player than Flores. Davis can play the corner infield spots, as well as the corner outfield spots.
Interestingly, the Mets can even flirt with the idea of Davis being a hybrid player like Shohei Ohtani. Let’s not get carried away here, he’s not Ohtani, but the former college closer has pitched 2.2 IP with four strikeouts in the big leagues. His fastball can reach the low 90’s and can be a viable option to come in during a lop-sided game to save the bullpen innings. J.D. Davis isn’t a lock to make the team according to MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reply to me on twitter stating “(it) Depends a lot on what happens with Peter Alonso and Dominic Smith. There’s quite a bit of competition; I wouldn’t call any of them locks.” Although Davis has minor-league options, with his versatility, numbers against lefties, and high-ceiling, I bet we see him break the roster up north.
T.J. Rivera is a forgotten man in many Mets fan minds, which he shouldn’t be. Rivera missed most of the 2017 season and the entire 2018 season due to having a Partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow which required Tommy John surgery. Although Rivera won’t wow anyone with his glove, totaling -7 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) across four different positions (1B, 2B, 3B, and LF) his bat shouldn’t be forgotten. In 106 games Rivera is a .303 hitter with 8 HR. and 43 RBIs. What is more impressive with Rivera’s hitting outputs is his K%.
Robinson Cano (2018)
T.J. Rivera (2017)
Juan Lagares (2018)
Jed Lowrie (2018)
Wilson Ramos (2018)
Amed Rosario (2018)
Michael Conforto (2018)
Brandon Nimmo (2018)
With the potential 2019 opening day line-up, Rivera would hold the second best K% on among them (Jeff Mcneil holds the best K% on the team at 9.7%). Contact hitting is a philosophy that I believe Brodie Van Wagenen is looking for in players as I noted in a prior article, to put pressure on the defense instead of seeking the home run ball. Rivera certainly does this. Throughout his professional career beginning in 2011, Rivera has never hit under .286 and will be a valuable depth piece to the Mets infield. It’s not clear as of yet if Rivera will be ready for opening day from his Tommy John Surgery, but he is a player that will contribute as a bench piece at some point in the 2019 season.
Keon Broxton, 29, was acquired by the Mets in a 4-player deal highlighted by Bobby Wahl who the Mets received in the Jeruys Familia trade. Keon Broxton brings two valuable traits that the Mets have lacked in centerfield, elite speed, and high-level defense. Statcast has measured Broxton as the 15th fastest player in baseball with a sprint speed of 29.7 ft per second. Broxton only trails MLB’s fastest man, Byron Buxton of the Twins, by 8 inches per second. He also accelerates faster than familiar speedsters Dee Gordon, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Amed Rosario. Broxton stole 35 bases between triple-a and the majors last season with Milwaukee and was ninth in the N.L. in steals in 2017. Although Broxton only hit .179 in 89 plate appearances in a crowded Brewer outfield, he still posed a 1.8 WAR due to his outstanding defense in centerfield. In 194 innings played in the field, Broxton was worth 15 defensive runs saved (DRS) and had an Ultimate Zone Rating of 6.5 which rates 28th best in the league.
Juan Lagares is a very comparable player to the one Broxton is. Both are right-handed, both show elite defense, but Broxton has higher upside with his speed, durability, and with the bat in the power department. There is a lot of swing and miss in Broxton’s game (31.5% K rate), but he does possess some power, as he hit 20 home runs in 2017.
In an interview with MLB Network earlier in the offseason, Broxton revealed that he made some changes to his swing and established a routine with it, we will see if it translates in camp. Expect Broxton to be on the 25-man Major League roster when camp breaks as he is out of minor league options.
Dominic Smith, 23, is one of the few Mets 1st-round picks to have not been traded away by Brodie Van Wagenen, i.e., Jared Kelnic and Justin Dunn. Smith’s opportunity with the team is ambiguous at this point with offseason additions crowding the infield. All eyes will be on Peter Alonso, the Mets 2 ranked prospect according to Baseball America, as he is coming off a year where he hit the most home runs in all of the minor leagues. Smith has certainly had a rocky start to his Met career, with management questioning his work ethic with his weight and time management (as he showed up late to an 8:45 team meeting last year.) Smith since then has said all of the right things to the media and has kept himself in shape as he enters camp in 2019. So far in his short career, Smith has hit .210 with 14 HR and 37 RBI across 332 plate appearances. Although Smith has poor numbers with the major league team, he possesses a solid slash line of .290/.361/.426 in his minor league career.
The problem with Smith is the lack of pressure-free opportunity. In 2018, Smith was asked to work in the outfield due to having Adrian Gonzalez on the roster to make him more versatile. It was an adventure, to say the least, exemplified by this play. It seems like Smith is always facing some obstacle retracting him from being able to solidify himself as an everyday player. Smith has to be motivated to put himself back in the Mets and Brodie Van Wagenen’s plans for the 2019 season, if not he could be possibly be eying another year in the minors as first base depth behind Alonso and Todd Fraizer.
The Mets signed the 27-year-old Rymer Liriano as a minor league free agent with an invitation to Major League Camp. The 6-0, 230 Ibs outfielder was signed as an international free agent by the Padres in 2008 and was ranked as the 49th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America heading into the 2012 season. Since then, Liriano has only played in parts of two major league seasons (2014, 2017) compiling 150 at-bats. In those at-bats, Liriano has hit an unimpressive .220/.289/.266 with 2 HR. His numbers in the minors are much better with a slash line of .272/.346/.436 with 105 HR.
In the minors last year with the Angels and the Brewers, Liriano hit .253 with a .342 OBP 20 HR and had 11 stolen bases. I put Liriano on this list, as his development was stunted with Tommy John Surgery in 2013 on his throwing arm. He was a highly ranked prospect, played in a futures game, and was rated high by scouts due to his speed, defense, power, and plate discipline.
Entering spring training with a new team with new coaches, and being healthy, Liriano may play necessary triple-a depth with the possibility in developing to be a productive major leaguer as he has all the possible tools.
Photo Courtesy: Anthony DiComo/ MLB.com Videos Courtesy: MLB