Sunday, April 16, 2023

The Mets Bet on Their Kids with Baty and Alvarez

Eduardo Escobar's struggles and the early success of the young third baseman have forced the Mets' hand
. Let's hope this is the start of something big for Brett Baty.

Depending on what's going on in my life, it usually takes me two or three days to write one of my posts for this blog. I'm not a very slow writer, but the free time I can put into this project is fairly limited right now. What keeps me going is how much I enjoy writing in general and how much I love baseball, particularly Mets baseball.

As I sit here now, it's Sunday afternoon. Later on, the Mets will play Oakland in the final game of their series after just squeaking by the A's in Saturday's contest. When I began this piece a couple of days ago, the Mets still hadn't promoted Brett Baty from Syracuse. That all changed today with the news that the young third baseman would join the team in LA tomorrow. While that was good news, indeed, it necessitated that this writer would need to make wholesale changes to a post that was 90% complete. However, never have I been happier to do a lot of extra work.

I had a funny feeling, barring a dramatic turnaround from Eduardo Escobar, Baty would be promoted before the Mets returned home on April 25. Escobar sat yesterday after going 1-5 in Friday night's shellacking of the Athletics. Although the double Eduardo hit in his last game finally lifted his 2023 OPS+ out of negative numbers, sitting at 7 at just under 50 PA is a number that the Mets clearly can't live with any longer.

The Mets haven't been setting the league on fire with their bats in the early going. They've faced some strong pitching staffs in this young season: Miami, Milwaukee, and San Diego, although the Marlins haven't lived up to expectations so far. But the Mets have had plenty of chances to score runs. They just haven't been getting the job done.

As with the times they struggled last season, it's the bottom of the batting order that's failing to deliver much offensively. The worst culprits are Tomás Nido (-24 OPS+) and Escobar, but they've had plenty of "help" from other players who have received ABs, including the now-injured Omar Narváez (78 OPS+) and Luis Guillorme (71 OPS+). Guillorme had a nice game Friday night (2-3, 3BB) but was 0-3 manning third in Escobar's absence on Saturday.

Look, other than Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor, no one in the lineup is producing what you would hope for, but Brandon Nimmo and Starling Marte seem to be coming around. A couple of days ago, I thought Jeff McNeil was a short hot streak away from producing as expected, but his 0-8 in the first two games against Oakland pitchers is forcing me to revise my thinking. He's got some work to do to get back to being the hitter we all know and love.

Of all the Mets' hitters besides Escobar, Mark Canha has me most concerned. Mark has taken some walks and had 6 extra-base hits — including a huge homer Saturday, but he's also struck out 14 times in 58 PA. There have been ABs where Canha looks completely overmatched. It's worth watching, but Canha endured rough stretches last season and was still fairly productive. If Canha's bat wakes up, that can really help the struggling bottom of the order.

More help to the bottom of the order could come from Daniel Vogelbach. He hasn't enjoyed extensive playing time due to all of the LHPs the Mets have been facing. But, when he has played, Daniel hasn't hit much. He's 4-22 with a double to start the season, with 8 BB keeping his OBP at .400. The Mets can really use some power from their platoon DH. I like Vogelbach hitting 7th in the order when he's going well, but those walks are often wasted with unproductive hitters hitting 8th and 9th.

For most of the lineup, including Canha and Vogie, the prudent move, for now, would be to just wait it out and see if they start producing. Even Nido will get a lot of rope, as he's such a good defensive catcher.

The Mets have already taken what I believe to be a good gamble in bringing up Francisco Álvarez. While Francisco has undeniably struggled in his first 11 ABs with the Mets (1-11, 6Ks), the next man up would be Michael Pérez, whose career numbers make Nido look like Johnny Bench in comparison. I'm sure Billy Eppler's front office strongly considered bringing up Pérez anyway. That they were willing to take a risk on Álvarez was quite telling. I think they understood that the combined offense of Nido and Pérez wouldn't cut it.

Francisco Álvarez is, by all accounts, a level-headed kid with a lot of confidence. He's going to need it. Francisco is going to accumulate his share of strikeouts. Fans are likely to grow impatient at times with the 21-year-old. However, if he could figure it out and start tapping into some of that power, Álvarez can definitely upgrade the Mets' offense. A positive sign is that Álvarez only struck out once in his last game. Baby steps.

Remember, Darryl Strawberry won Rookie of the Year as a 21-year-old in 1983. He batted .257/.336/.512 with 26 HR in 473 PA that season after being called up in May. But Darryl was slashing .180/.245/.317 with 51 Ks in 151 PA going into the second game of a doubleheader against the Phillies on June 26. Then Darryl went 3-4 with his 5th HR in the second game. Counting that game, Strawberry hit .295/.379/.609 for the rest of the season. If the Mets hadn't still been awful that year, it's unlikely that Strawberry would have been given such an extended opportunity. But it's a lesson that even potentially great players take some time to figure things out.

And no, I'm not declaring Francisco Álvarez the next Darryl Strawberry. I'm just saying that we need to give him a chance to figure out who he is. At this point, there is no one that the Mets could call up or trade for who has the potential upside of Álvarez. You certainly won't see Francisco get 150 PA to figure things out like Darryl got back in 1983. The stakes are too high this year. But, given the lack of viable alternatives, 50-100 PA doesn't seem unreasonable — provided Francisco shows signs of figuring out MLB pitching.

Now that Brett Baty is joining the Mets, it's important to remember that he didn't set the world on fire when he was called up last season, either. In 42 PA, Baty slashed .184/.244/.342, although he did hit a pair of HR. With Baty joining Álvarez on the MLB roster, it will take some patience from the Mets and their fanbase to give things a chance to go well. It's been a long time since the Mets have tried integrating kids into their lineup while trying to win. They haven't strung together many winning seasons. The few times they have accomplished that, it's usually been with veteran lineups. The Mets did have important contributions from Michael Conforto in 2015. It certainly can be done, but it's quite hard.

I don't know how much playing time the Mets will give Brett Baty when he joins them, but it makes sense to start him against every RHP they face. Escobar is slashing .095/.167/.286 against righties, which is why Luis Guillorme started at 3B on Saturday. I could see Escobar still starting against most lefties, but his numbers against them aren't pretty right now (.130/.167/.174). An Eduardo Escobar who can still produce against left-handed pitchers would still be a valuable bench piece for the Mets. However, if he continues to struggle, I honestly wonder if Escobar will force the Mets to cut bait with him completely. Frankly, unless he can pick it up a few notches, I can't see him being valuable as even just a bench player.

I get the argument that Escobar is important to the Mets for his presence in the clubhouse. Eduardo can provide that presence as a utility guy on this team. It might even help him produce. Last year he finally came alive after losing his job to Baty. Maybe being taken out of the starting role this season might take some of the pressure off of Escobar and help him to be more productive again. For his sake, I honestly hope so. Don't get me wrong. When push comes to shove, I want the Mets to make personnel decisions based entirely on merit. Still, as a fan, I can't help but root for some guys.

Anyway, welcome back to the bigs, Brett Baty. I have a feeling that this time, you're here for good.

Be well and take care. Let's go Mets!

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