In the last decade, developing a third baseman has been an extremely low priority for the Mets, who are blessed with David Wright, one of the organization's all-time greats, at the position nearly every day. Now 31, and coming off his worst season as a major leaguer, one marred by a lingering shoulder injury, and signed through 2020, the Mets must count on a big bounceback from their Captain.
If Wright does get hurt again in 2015, the current roster offers Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores (as long as he's not playing shortstop) as two potential fill-ins. Who else is there for the longer term?
- Jhoan Urena
- Eudor Garcia
- Jeff McNeil
- Yeffry De Aza
- Dustin Lawley
First, Urena’s first name is pronounced Johan.
Urena, who the Mets originally signed for $425,000 in September 2011, is a very nice prospect. The switch-hitter hit .300 with a .356 on-base percentage and a .431 slugging percentage in 75 games in Brooklyn in his age 19 season. He was effective from both sides of the plate.
Urena has triggered his swing with a big leg kick, and the Brooklyn staff worked with him on making sure that the kick stayed consistent every pitch, so that it did not affect his bat path stayed once his hands started forward. Urena also worked on pitch recognition, which is standard for young players, but his 8.6 percent walk rate and 18.4 percent strikeout rate were strong for his age.
Urena is listed at 6’1” and 200 pounds. It’s a soft weight. He needs to get in better shape to play at third all the way up the ladder to help his feet move better. His hands and arm look fine for third. The optimistic take is that as he turns some of his weight into muscle, he will become stronger and move better. The negative take is that a 19-year-old who aspires to play in the big leagues should not be that pudgy. A good off-season training plan will help him.
Right now, Urena is more line drive hitter than power producer, although a .131 isolated slugging percentage given his age and level is quite good. I saw him for a few games in Brooklyn and then two playoff games in Savannah. Jeff Paternostro of Amazin’ Avenue also has a detailed report on Urena.
Urena has the potential to be an everyday big league third baseman and is a top 20 guy in the Mets system.
Garcia, this year’s fourth-round pick by the Mets out of a very small El Paso Community College, began his career in the Appalachian League where he hit .262 with a .327 on-base percentage and .347 slugging percentage in 55 games. He’s a few months older than Urena.
When I saw Garcia, I saw a thick-bodied kid at 6’1”, 215 (listed) whose hands worked well in batting practice. He’s strong and should be able to use his strength to drive the ball. However, his timing in games was messy: he had trouble getting his front foot down on time and his hands had to rush to catch up, which messed up his bat path.
At third, in the limited time I saw him, his work was a little rough as his feet are heavy. His arm was OK, but was hurt when his body got out in front of his feet. He needs work to become an average major league third baseman.
Like Urena, Garcia is carrying some soft weight. If he’s going to be a Major League third baseman, he will need to put in the time in the off-season to improve his conditioning, which will, ideally, help his quickness and actions at third.
The Mets have an interesting choice with Garcia and Urena as both should, on age and merit, play third base for Savannah in 2015. The bet here is that the two will share third and first and play everyday. Neither has the bat to profile at first, but the at-bats both will see in the SAL are more valuable than taking hacks and grounders hanging around extended spring training waiting for Brooklyn to open up.
McNeil is an different kind of case than Urena and Garcia. In his age-22 season, he had a very nice first half for Savannah, but slowed down in St. Lucie after a promotion at the All-Star Break. In the first half with the Gnats, he hit .332 with a .401 on-base percentage and a .461 slugging percentage with 20 doubles in in 59 games. Promoted to St. Lucie, he hit only .246 with a .329 OBP and .319 SLG with eight doubles in 58 games. Oddly, this happened while his walk and strikeout rates improved as his strikeout rated dipped from 12.8 to 10.4 percent and his walk rate ticked up from 7.5 to 9.1 percent. Instead, the major difference was his results on balls in play, as his BABIP dipped from .379 in Savannah to .275 in St. Lucie.
For a potential explanation for the decline in his BABIP, lets look at his batted ball profile.
|Line Drive %||Ground Ball %||OF Fly Ball||Bunt %|
McNeil learned to play third base this year almost from scratch. For example, the former shortstop/second baseman/outfielder, did not even own a third baseman’s glove when the Mets first suggested he start working out at the position in spring training. A terrific athlete, who was an elite golfer who played very little baseball before college, McNeil improved rapidly at the position, passing by competent on his way to pretty good. Because he’s played so little baseball, lefties and curveballs from pitchers of both sides gave McNeil trouble.
I don’t think he’s an everyday guy at third, but with the positional flexibility to play third, second and the outfield, he could be a useful bench piece. I think he could probably play shortstop in a pinch too, as he moves his feet well and has enough arm.
He’ll start in Double-A in 2015 as a 23-year-old.
4. De Aza
I don’t really know what to do with De Aza, who the Mets signed as a shortstop for $475,000 in 2013. Playing his first professional season in 2014 in the Dominican Summer League for both of the Mets’ teams in the League, he played 17 games at third, 17 at second and five at shortstop. That’s the profile not of a shortstop, but a player for whom the Mets are trying to find a position.
Meanwhile, De Aza hit .300 with a .335 on-base percentage and slugged .384 with 10 walks against 36 strikeouts in 52 games. He’s listed at 6’0”, 170 as a 17-year-old.
He should make his GCL debut in 2015.
Lawley has pop and a very aggressive approach. At one time, one of his professional strength and conditioning coaches told me that he was, pound for pound, the strongest guy on his team. He popped 20 home runs for Double-A Binghamton while hitting just .235 with a .292 on-base percentage and a .438 slugging percentage.
More damning perhaps was his 28 percent strikeout rate and 7 percent walk rate. To put it another way, he had one fewer walk (35) in 120 games in Double-A than Brandon Nimmo (36) had in just over half the playing time of 65 games.
Zach Lutz took off for Japan in June.