With the way J.D. Davis has hit in the minors, there has been a feeling among some that if he were to get a chance, he would prove himself at the Major League level. With the depth in the Astros organization, it was fairly clear Davis was not going to get his chance there. When he was traded to the Mets, it wasn’t entirely clear he was going to get his chance in New York either.
Heading into Spring Training, Davis was third on the third base depth chart behind Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie. As a utility player who could play the corners, he was behind both Lowrie and Jeff McNeil. As such, his most likely role with the Mets would to be to resume Wilmer Flores‘ role as a weapon against left-handed pitching.
Since Spring Training has begun, Lowrie and Frazier have suffered injuries. Lowrie has a strained knee, and Frazier has a strained oblique. Neither player has a timetable as to when they can return to working out let alone playing games. This creates a void at the third base position thereby giving a player an opportunity.
While Davis has spent time at first, left, and even pitcher, he is a natural third baseman. While his range is limited, he has good hands and a strong arm. When he gets to a ball, no matter how tricky the hop, he is going to field it, and he is going to make a strong throw across the diamond.
Certainly, you can live with his defense at the position over the course of the season. That goes double if you organization is doing their job on the scouting and analytical fronts shifting Davis into the right spot on the field to maximize his skill-set.
Really, the question for him is going to be his bat. Lost in the .342/.406/.583 batting line he put up in Triple-A last year were some concerning peripherals. Cbief among them was his 40.6 percent ground ball rate. In the majors, that rate has been worse with him having a 60.5 percent ground ball rate in 2017 and a 50.0 percent ground ball rate in 2018.
Behind that ground ball rate is power. With his posting a very good 19.3 percent HR/FB in Triple-A last year, you see a batter who can hit the ball out of the ballpark. The challenge currently before him and hitting coach Chili Davis is getting him to lift the ball. If that should happen, many, including Baseball America, believe Davis could hit 30+ homers a year.
It should be noted Davis does have a good eye at the plate and has the ability to draw a walk. This should help him as part of the process in not just learning how to lift the ball but also identifying which pitches he can lift to knock the ball out of the park.
Much like we saw with Miguel Andujar last year, sometimes all a promising player needs is that chance. Should the injuries to Frazier and Lowrie linger, Davis is going to get his chance. It’s up to him to see if he can make good on that chance like Andujuar did last year. If he doesn’t take advantage of this opportunity, he’s likely going to watch on as McNeil, T.J. Rivera, or even David Thompson gets that chance.
Now, if Davis does do the job and plays to his full potential, he’s going to make it very difficult for the Mets to take him out of the lineup even when Frazier and Lowrie return from their injuries.
Assuming the Mets carry five bench spots, which is the norm for a National League team, the race for the last spot on the bench became much more crowded and complicated with the team’s signing of Adeiny Hechavarria. That question becomes further complicated when you question just what exactly the Mets real intentions are with Peter Alonso.
Assuming Alonso begins the season in Triple-A, the Mets already have bench spots allocated to Travis d’Arnaud and Keon Broxton. One of Juan Lagares or Jeff McNeil is going to play everyday meaning the other is going to be on the bench. That is three bench spots spoken for with two remaining. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.
Considering the Mets parted with a package headlined by Luis Santana in what has been an oft criticized trade, you could see the pressure to carry J.D. Davis. Aside from the pressure, whether it be real or imagined, Davis does have the ability to play both corner infield spots adequately, and despite his deficiencies out there, the does have outfield experience.
The real positive for Davis is the power he could provide off the bench, but in order for that to be realized, he is going to have to increase the launch angle in his swing and his corresponding high ground ball rates. There is also a real question whether Chili Davis is the hitting coach to get him to realize his full power potential.
If the Mets are looking for a versatile infielder who can play the outfield, there is forgotten man T.J. Rivera. Rivera missed last season due to Tommy John surgery, but reports this Spring have been overly positive. While we know Rivera is not a particularly good defender, the Mets also know Rivera can be trusted to start at any position over a long stretch. Between the 2017 season and the World Baseball Classic, we have also seen him able to raise his game in big games.
The issue both players have is neither plays shortstop. For that matter, neither does Jed Lowrie, which arguably led to the Mets signing Hechavarria to a minor league deal. The one thing we do know with Hechavarria is he can play shortstop and play it well. Over the last four seasons combined, he has amassed a 26 DRS. The problem with him is he can’t hit as evidenced by his career 72 wRC+.
Hitting was also an issue for Luis Guillorme. In his brief time with the Mets, he was only able to muster a 53 wRC+ in 35 games. That is partially because Guillorme received uneven playing time. It is also because he has never been considered to be a great hitter. Still, there are two factors in Guillorme’s favor. First, like Hechavarria, he is a good defender. Second, Guillorme did show himself to be an adept pinch hitter last year hitting .273/.467/.364 in 15 pinch hitting appearances.
Now, if the Mets are looking for a more offensive oriented middle infielder who could play shortstop, the team does have Gavin Cecchini. Heading into last season, Cecchini had worked on his swing, and it had paid dividends with him hitting .294/.342/.468 in 30 games for Las Vegas before fouling a ball off his leg effectively ending his season. If Cecchini shows he is able to hit the same way, he could make a case for a bench spot for himself.
Standing in Cecchini’s way is his not being on the 40 man roster and his shortstop defense having pushed him to second base. The same could also be true for Dilson Herrera. For his part, Herrera was never truly considered anything more than a second baseman and that was before his shoulder injury. That shoulder injury cost him some of his offensive output until he rediscovered his stroke last year hitting .297/.367/.465 for the Reds Triple-A affiliate.
One other overlooked name for the Opening Day bench is Dominic Smith. If Alonso were to start the year in Triple-A, the Mets would have to find playing time for Alonso, Gregor Blanco, Rajai Davis, Rymer Liriano, and Tim Tebow between first base, three infield spots, and DH. Even with how down the team may be on Smith, it is difficult to believe they would leave him in Syracuse to fight for playing time between those three spots.
Instead, the team could carry him on the Major League roster. Certainly, Smith reporting to camp with not just his keeping the weight off but also adding muscle, helps improve his chances. His being a good defensive first baseman capable of playing left field in a pinch should also help him.
Of course, Smith would have to compete with all of the aforementioned players as well as Danny Espinosa just to claim a bench spot. He would also have to count on the team not putting Alonso on the Opening Day roster, which judging from the improvements Alonso has made, is not a safe assumption.
Really, when breaking it down, the Mets have plenty of options to fill out their bench, and ultimately for this team to reach its full potential, they are going to have to find the right mix of players to complement their everyday players. Hopefully, everyone comes to play making this as difficult a decision as the Mets will have all year.
Yesterday, there were two bits of relatively important news. First, we discovered Curtis Granderson intends to play another season. Second, Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said the team was not prioritizing the outfield as he believes the team is set there partially because Jeff McNeil is going to move out there.
There are a number of ways to interpret Van Wagenen’s statement with the most likely being the team is not going to sign an everyday outfielder. This means no Bryce Harper or even A.J. Pollock. We can discuss the wisdom of that decision, and we definitely should, but at the moment, the question is whether the Mets are really set in the outfield.
Juan Lagares could be an everyday player for his glove alone, and he showed some promise at the plate. With a new approach, he hit .339/.375/.390 in very limited duty. Certainly, you could argue with this being his contract year and with Chili Davis being the new hitting coach, Lagares is primed for a big season. However, that overlooks the fact he has not played at least 95 games since 2015.
Behind him is Keon Broxton. Over the past two years, Broxton has hit .213/.296/.419. For all of the compliments of his defense, in his only full season in center, Broxton had a -7 DRS and a -2.6 UZR. Even as a part-time player, you really can’t rely on him producing.
Past Lagares and Broxton are Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco. These are two players who are over 35 years old, and they have not been productive Major League players since 2015, and it is hard to imagine 2019 will be the year they turn back the clock.
This places much onus on McNeil. There is every reason to believe McNeil can adapt to the outfield, and even with his questionable peripherals, there is a sufficient basis to believe he can hit at the Major League level. Fact is, he’s a Major League caliber player.
However, the Mets infield has a lot of age. Robinson Cano is 36. Todd Frazier will soon turn 33, and he is coming off his first injury plagued season. Behind both of them is Jed Lowrie, who has been quite good the past two years, but he will be 35 next year. When you factor in the possibility Peter Alonso may not be ready, and you are in a position where McNeil may be needed to return to the infield thereby leaving a thin outfield another outfielder short.
Granderson may be older, but he has always been durable. More importantly, Granderson has remained a productive player, and he effectively transitioned to being a part-time player. Last year, Granderson hit .242/.351/.431 with a 115 OPS+. As a pinch hitter, Granderson hit .375/.483/.500, and that doesn’t include the big pinch hit double he had in Game 5 of the NLCS.
The days of Granderson playing everyday are long gone. Still, Granderson is capable of playing for long stretches in a pinch, and he is someone who you want in your clubhouse mentoring your younger players like Alonso and McNeil. He’s a popular player, and he is someone who has shown the ability to play well in a Mets uniform.
Granderson may not be perfect, but the Mets don’t need perfect. They need a good player and someone who compliments this roster. Right now, that player is Granderson, and he should be back wearing his number three in blue and orange.
After an unplanned hiatus, it is time to start the New Year off fresh and to look at everything anew. It is time for change and resolutions to carry us through 2019. Here are the resolutions for each of the Mets players:
Robinson Cano – don’t get caught using PEDs this time
Yoenis Cespedes – find a way to DH in at least two games this year
Jacob deGrom – learn how to hit better so he can finally win some games next year.
Travis d’Arnaud – get the same surgery Wolverine got
Jeurys Familia – convince Callaway Diaz needs to be used in higher leverage situations so he can get his closer job back
Todd Frazier – find a way to sell move boxes of unsold Mets salt and pepper grinders while not falling into the same trap this year.
Drew Gagnon – keep those incriminating photos which have allowed you to survive roster cut after roster cut.
Robert Gsellman – learn how to pitch well for more than just one month out of the season
Juan Lagares – find a way to play at least half a season
Seth Lugo – when he is not given an opportunity to start and is an All Star snub, channel his inner Margot Martindale from BoJack Horseman
Steven Matz – pitch better so his grandfather will begin cheering for him again.
Jeff McNeil – find a way to hit .400 because short of that the Mets are probably not putting him in the lineup
Tomas Nido – sign up for the best travel rewards program there is because by the time 2019 is over he will be able to fly first class to Australia and back at least 10 times a month
Brandon Nimmo – life isn’t that bad, maybe he should smile every once in a while
Kevin Plawecki – hit the occasional ground ball to the left side just to shake things up.
Amed Rosario – take some mommy/baby classes so he can learn how to walk
Paul Sewald – have a print out of his game logs from Baseball Reference to remind the Mets he pitches well in shorter spurts, and that he is not superhuman and cannot handle onerous workloads. Cry when the attempts fail and he finds himself back in Triple-A
Noah Syndergaard – find an open mic somewhere to discover no one actually believes he or his Mr. Met feud is funny.
Jason Vargas – leave the Jeff Goldblum impressions in the clubhouse and stop pitching like him when he takes the mound.
Zack Wheeler – don’t even let a Mets team doctor near his arm in his free agent walk year.
Daniel Zamora – be able to spin his bad outings the way he can spin his slider