Tuesday, March 15, 2022

A Very Early Look at Mets Position Players

When last I posted here, I took an early look at the Mets pitching*. This included the additions of Chris Bassitt and Adam Ottavino, but still pending the almost certain addition of at least one late-inning caliber lefty. Today we'll move on to the position players, whose ranks have been substantially overhauled this off-season. Eduardo Escobar will be picking up most of the 3B ABs this year, while Starling Marte and Mark Canha will be joining lone holdover Brandon Nimmo in the outfield. Barring a last-minute change of course, Michael Conforto will not be returning after seven mostly solid seasons in New York.

Starting at catcher, the Mets have James McCann and Tomás Nido returning. Both are solid defensively. Neither contributed much offensively in 2021. McCann slashed .232/.294/.349 over 412 PA, while Nido chipped in with a .222/.261/.327 line in 161 PA. That was some feeble offense, particularly disappointing from McCann, who had shown signs of an offensive breakout in 2 previous seasons with the White Sox. I wouldn't be surprised to see McCann bounce back offensively to at least some more respectable numbers. So many Mets hitters struggled in 2021. Even improvement short of the numbers McCann put up in Chicago would help greatly. Just getting back to league-average production would be helpful.

More problematic for the Mets, as it was last season, is the depth behind McCann and Nido. First up, if one of those went down, is still Patrick Mazeika, who offers less offensively than the top 2 along with much inferior defense. It's not reasonable to expect top prospect Francisco Álvarez to be prepared to contribute to the big league club this season. He's 20 and has yet to advance beyond A-ball. More likely up after Mazieka is a Quad-A type like Chance Sisco, who filled in for the Mets last season. If the Mets lose one of their top 2 catchers for more than a brief period, it's going to hurt.

Mets GM Billy Eppler has indicated that the team is unlikely to add another significant position player. While I don't discount the addition of someone if Steve Cohen is willing to push even higher past the Cohen Tax, I'm going to take him at his word for now and preview the infield and outfield with the players the Mets currently have on hand.

INFIELD


OUTFIELD
LF Brandon Nimmo (L)
CF Starling Marte (R)
RF Mark Canha (R)
OF Jeff McNeil (L)
OF Dominic Smith (L)
OF JD. Davis (R)
OF Nick Plummer (L)
OF Khalil Lee (L)

Looking at the above list, I'm a lot more comfortable with the infield than I am with the outfield as the roster stands today. Guillorme is a good defender anywhere on the infield. Cano and Davis are probably destined to see most of their AB at DH. And yes, Dom Smith is a better defender than Alonso at 1B, but making your best players happy matters. Alonso doesn't like to DH and is far from a terrible defender at 1B.

With the addition of Escobar at 3B, the Mets look like they will get more than adequate offensive production from the infield. There is positional versatility in the bunch, also. Escobar has experience at all 4 infield positions. Guillorme can play 2B, SS, and 3B really well. Assuming he sticks with the team, Robinson Cano will likely see some time at 2B. If Cano can contribute offensively, he could still be a valuable player for this team. If not, I hope they're willing to cut bait and let him go.

I'm more worried about the Mets outfield. My preference would still be for them to add a left-handed hitting OF with some pop and rotate 4 guys through the 3 spots. I hear that a guy named Michael Conforto is still available. If the Mets really don't add anyone else to the mix, however, Jeff McNeil will likely spend some time in LF, along with Dom Smith and possibly J.D. Davis. Even Plummer and/or Lee could get some time in the Mets' outfield if they are ready.

One thing I'm pretty sure about is that none of the top 3 of Nimmo, Marte, and Canha is likely to play anything close to 162 games for the Mets. Nimmo has never played in more than 140 games. That was back in 2018. In the last two full seasons, 2019 and 2021, Nimmo appeared in 161 games combined.

Starling Marte is already suffering from a strained oblique. He appeared in 120 games last season with Oakland and Miami. Marte has only appeared in more than 150 games once in his career (2015), and more than 140 one other time (2018). At age 33, the 120 from last year seems a reasonable goal for Marte.

33-year-old Mark Canha appeared in 141 games last season, and that was by far the largest number in his career. He's usually around 120 games per season on average.

Nimmo and Marte are the capable CF on the roster, although Canha has some experience there. Manager Buck Showalter would be advised to give both players their share of rest in an effort to keep them as healthy as possible. Still, as we've seen previously with Brandom Nimmo, injuries are likely to crop up.

Jeff McNeil is a capable LF. He's sure to get some reps out there with some of the other options taking over at 2B on those days. More problematic is what happens if Canha misses some time. You don't want McNeil, Davis, or Smith to play RF in anything more than an absolute emergency. Nimmo and Marte are the best backup RF on the roster.

Basically, my concerns about the OF lead me to believe that adding one more OF to the roster should still be at least looked at. Unless the Mets really believe that at least one of Khalil Lee and Nick Plummer is ready to contribute in a significant role to this club, the OF still feels a bit short to me. Plummer slashed .280/.415/.479 across Double-A and Triple-A for the Cardinals last year, and I know the Mets are high on him. Lee had an outstanding season in Triple-A in 2021, slashing an impressive .274/.451/.500 for the Syracuse Mets, but he also struck out 115 times in 388 PA. It would be quite a gamble to entrust significant playing time to either of these young men.

I really believe another OF should be added. That OF should be capable of playing RF. Perhaps the Mets believe that Nick Plummer is ready for an important backup role on this team, and that explains why they haven't made another move. Maybe they even see Khalil Lee as a candidate for the spot, although the swing-and-miss in Lee's game still seems to me a significant deterrent. I'll be very interested in seeing Plummer and Lee in some spring games.

Anyway, it's still early, so it remains to be seen where the roster shakes out on April 7. This team has offensive potential, but that will require hitters like Dom Smith and Jeff McNeil bouncing back. J.D. Davis didn't struggle as badly as those 2, but hand injuries limited his power and playing time last season. With the DH slot around all season, Davis can be a significant contributor if he stays healthy (and the Mets don't trade him).

Beyond Nick Plummer and Khalil Lee, the one position player prospect to keep an eye on this year is Mark Vientos. He made it up to Triple-A at the end of last year and is likely to start there in 2022. The Mets are giving Vientos reps in the OF along with his time at 3B. Vientos won't win a gold glove at any position, but he has legitimate power and could get some time with the Mets this season. I am looking forward to seeing all 3 young players, along with Francisco Álvarez, in games this spring.

Please be well and take care. Let's go Mets!


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

*Actually, I typoed the title as a Very Eary Look, apologies for that silly goof. Thanks to Tom from Mack's Mets for catching the error.

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