By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.
In December, the Mets lost their best catching prospect when Jesus Flores, inexplicably left off the 40-man roster was selected by Washington. Sure, he may be offered back to the Mets, but more likely the Nats will carry him as a bullpen catcher and who knows just what he may become. Whether this turns out to be a major gaffe, or a meaningless blip in the scheme of things, it was just one more chapter in the unusual history the Mets have had with the catching position.
In their 45 year history, the Mets' farm system has been able to produce just one solid major league catcher - Todd Hundley. Jody Davis, a Mets' farm system product had some good years with the Cubs, but never played an inning with the Mets. What other catchers did the Mets' farm system contribute to the big club ? Well, there was Ron Hodges, Alex Trevino, Duffy Dyer, Ed Hearn, Ronn Reynolds, Vance Wilson, Barry Lyons, Jason Phillips, Mike Fitzgerald, Johnny Stephenson. Some contributors there, but mostly as backups.
Several times the Mets made catchers their top pick in the amateur draft. Steve Chilcott, Butch Benton, and John Gibbons were all colossal disapppointments. Yet, despite this failure of the farm system, catching has been one of the Mets' most solid positions through the years, thanks to a series of excellent trades. And probably the best trade the Mets ever made involved giving up a catcher produced by their system. So, it is a rather unusual history.
Look at the trades the Mets made to acquire their regular catchers: In 1965, the Mets traded rhp Tom Parsons for Jerry Grote, who was the Mets' regular catcher for the next 11 years. When it was clear that farm system products Ron Hodges, Jay Kleven, and Luis Rosado weren't capable replacements for Grote, John Stearns came along with Del Unser and Mac Scarce from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Tug McGraw, Don Hahn and Dave Schneck on December 3, 1974. Sure, McGraw was missed, but Stearns filled the Mets' catching spot for 6 years.
While farm system product Mike Fitzgerald served as the Mets' #1 catcher in 1984, he was packaged along with Hubie Brooks and Floyd Youmans to obtain the great Gary Carter. After Ed Hearn surfaced as a backup in 1986, the Mets used him in possibly their best trade ever to get David Cone. After Carter's tenure, the likes of Barry Lyons (farm system product), Mackey Sasser and Rick Cerone held down the position until the one and only solid catcher the system would ever produce, Todd Hundley, was ready to step in. Hundley did a great job for several years before he was injured and the Mets' deal for Mike Piazza (for Preston Wilson, Geoff Goetz, and Ed Yarnall) made Hundley superfluous.
The Mets were able to trade Hundley in a 3-team deal for Armando Benitez and Roger Cedeno, two players who in retrospect were hated by most Mets' fans, although each had a couple of solid seasons while Hundley never panned out for the Dodgers. When Piazza's contract ran out, the Mets wisely dealt for Paul Lo Duca, continuing their tradition of solid deals for catchers.
As of today, there isn't a single catcher in the Mets' farm system who is regarded as having major league potential with the bat. So, who'll be the next in line?