By Mike Steffanos
Now we have survived the halfway point of the season, we'll take a minute to assess the performance of the team so far, beginning with position players:
As someone who has followed this team for most of their existence, I have had few chances to root for home-grown position players that were even remotely special. Most of them came up in the 1980s under Frank Cashen, including Daryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson. For a time, Edgardo Alfonzo was one heck of a player. Dave Magadan and Gregg Jeffries, for completely different reasons, were good players that should have been better.
The kid playing third base for the 2006 Mets is the best player ever to come up through the system. Anything can happen on a baseball field, of course, and careers can take turns -- just ask Don Mattingly. But this kid has talent second only to Strawberry, and the head and instincts Daryl only wishes he possessed. Remind yourself as often as possible he is only 23. Enjoy him every day, because the chances of another one quite like him showing up in our lifetime is remote.
Reviled as a bust in 2005, booed on opening day this year, Beltran is now demonstrating the skills Omar Minaya shelled out big bucks for. Even after missing ten games, Beltran's numbers are up there with anyone. Not a rah-rah type, he does provide some quiet leadership and stability to the team. A little disappointing at times in the field, but his overall contributions to this year's Mets are hard to quibble with.
For someone who is one of the most genuinely nice kids in the sport, Reyes has attracted the anger and scorn of certain stathead types that seem to be on a mission to denigrate his talents. Jose has made real strides this year in improving his skills as a leadoff hitter and his consistency at the plate and in the field. He's still a work in progress, but this tireless worker continues to defy the shrill negativity of the naysayers with an electric smile and electric talent. We'll live with the growing pains, thank you very much.
A month-long slump has dropped his batting average, but not his value to the Mets. The true cleanup hitter this team has lacked since Mike Piazza stopped being Mike Piazza. Not much chance of winning a gold glove, but we know that coming in. A real team leader in every sense of the word, and his positive influence on the other Carlos is unquestionable.
Paul Lo Duca
Many fans were not real happy when Omar traded for Lo Duca this winter, but he's won most of us over. His defense is only marginally better than Piazza's, but his contribution to the pitching staff is strong. He just seems to be able to get on the same page with the pitchers more easily than Piazza did, and has done a good job at getting them to be more aggressive pitching inside. He doesn't bring much power or OBP skills to the table, but his ability to hit with 2 strikes and drive in some important runs are impressive.
The negative would be that he's 34, and already showing the signs of his usual second half collapse. He may well need to be moved down in the order and have more days off after the All-Star break. Still, as advertised, Lo Duca is a good clubhouse guy and a leader, so his grade gets a boost with some "intangible" points.
Jose came from out of nowhere to give the Mets solid production from 2B, and more than adequate defense. By platooning him with Chris Woodward, Willie is keeping Valentin fresh, and I think it is reasonable to expect comparable numbers for the second half. Extra points here for precluding the need to trade any chips for a second baseman.
Comes as advertised, as both a leader and a player. I'll think twice before making fun of one of Minaya's acquisitions again.
I've seen this kid play enough to expect very good defense, and even then, I've been pleasantly surprised. The best outfielder on the team (sorry Carlos), Chavez brings near flawless fundamentals to every aspect of the game except for hitting. After a slow start he's given the Mets enough at the plate to make him a fine fourth outfielder. He's been overexposed somewhat thanks to all the injuries, but he's been a fine addition to this team.
Although somewhat behind last year's run producing at the plate, Castro still provides good offense and excellent defense as a backup catcher. He does seem to have difficulty working with some of the pitchers occasionally, and will need to work on that. He is likely to become even more important to the Mets in the second half when Lo Duca starts to wilt.
This was supposed to be the year that the X-man was going to get 500 ABs and show baseball what he could do. Unfortunately, some minor injuries and an inflamed appendix have cost him that chance. He's had some ups and downs, and needs to learn to control the strike zone better and have stronger at bats in RBI situations. Still, he's shown us some solid power, decent "D" and the potential to improve if he can manage to stay in the lineup in the second half.
Another guy with health issues, for Cliff this is an all too familiar problem. He fought his way out of a brutal slump, only to go out for quite a while with what was originally thought to be a mild ankle strain. With only a handful of at bats more than Cliff, Nady has put up much better numbers. If Cliff can stay healthy and rediscover last year's stroke for what remains of the season he can really help this team down the stretch.
A batting slump has taken his offensive production down from last year, but Woodward is the solid bench player any NL club needs. A fine defender at several positions, and a credible hitter with a knack for getting the big hit.
I had a hard time assigning a grade to this kid. I liked a lot of what I saw, but he was mighty raw. You can see the talent and the potential there, and I'm sure we'll see him again before too much longer.
With only a handful of at bats, Marrero has made contributions to this club and seems a more than adequate player at the end of the bench. His ability to catch provides the team with some nice flexibility. Those two catches against the Phillies were eye-openers for his speed and athleticism, and he's a proven hitter.
In the field a web gem waiting to happen; at the plate he has a lot to prove at the major league level.
It was great fun when he hit that inside the park home run in his first game back. His play at second base was outstanding. His offense punched his ticket to Colorado.
Grade: Sayonara, and good luck
Manager Willie Randolph
Getting better on strategy and handling pitching, there is room for improvement in both categories. As a leader, he is already top-notch.
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