NEW YORK — What else is Brett Baty supposed to do?
The Mets’ top prospect, stuck in Triple A purgatory, is slashing .391/.481/1.351 with three home runs in six games. On Tuesday, in his second game back at third base after being sidelined briefly with a sore thumb, Baty went 3-for-5 with a solo shot against the Yankees’ Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The 23-year-old is tearing the cover off the ball with frequent exit velocities over 100 mph that must make the Mets’ major league lineup jealous. Or confused
It was a head-scratcher for New York’s front office to opt to leave Baty off the opening day roster after he had already debuted last year and was picked up during spring training this March. at this moment. Now it’s a controversy. The Mets had more leeway to make that decision a couple of weeks ago, despite immediate fan outrage, as no one had yet hit a regular-season hit and hadn’t missed a game. There was also confidence within the organization that starting third baseman Eduardo Escobar would produce after his hot September at the plate.
With four series into this young season, however, Escobar is an automatic out. In 11 games, he’s batting .111 (4-for-36) with a .376 OPS and a home run. Any residual hope in him beyond 2022 has faded. The local crowd boos him. The results are bleak, with little reason to suggest or believe that his performance will suddenly change. Also, it knows it’s a placeholder.
“What I think, Brett Baty is going to be one of the best third basemen in baseball going forward, and Mark Vientos is also going to be one of the best in the game,” Escobar told FOX Sports last week. “We were around each other a lot during spring training and grew very close and have a great friendship. At the end of the day, for Baty and Vientos, God’s timing is perfect. Once Billy [Eppler] he sees that they are ready and that they can contribute to the team, he will make that decision. But right now, I’m going to go out there and just play my game.”
Running Escobar at third base every day is getting harder to stomach when Triple-A Syracuse is pushing the highlights of Baty’s hit on a daily basis. It almost feels like they’re ripping off their big league teammate. In sending Baty out after spring training, general manager Billy Eppler curiously contrasted Baty’s time in the minors (179 games ranked third) with Rafael Devers (318 minor league games ranked third), Nolan Arenado (415 games) and Austin Riley (435 games). That reasoning seems even more unsatisfying when you consider Eppler’s caveat about the prospects: “They’re a long shot. They don’t need anything to happen at the major league level. They have the kind of talent where they can push the sit up here.”
OK, so why Baty yet? there?
The 6-6 Mets have a payroll of $353.5 million, just the most in MLB history, but they don’t field their best possible roster. The organization knows it will need input from everyone, including some prospects, to get where it wants to go in October. This first requires surviving the next six months. However, the Mets are biding their time with Escobar, an approach that could come back to bite them in a formidable NL East division that includes the last two National League World Series representatives. It’s fair to question whether New York’s initial reluctance to call up its top prospects will be the difference in winning the division. The three-horse race is expected to be just as tight until September.
Mets players, managers and their billionaire owner agree it’s too early in the season to worry about some of the team’s unfortunate trends. When is it too early to worry about your .500 start to the season? Owner Steve Cohen didn’t give a clear answer; he left it to “the baseball people.” Maybe it’s May, he said. Maybe it’s June. A couple of years ago, under the same owner, different front office and different circumstances, the Mets fired hitting coach Chili Davis 23 games into the season. And these Mets weren’t built to win now like this 2023 club is.
The Mets seem to prioritize the team’s defense over offense, which wouldn’t be a dilemma if the lineup was producing. But it is not so. New York entered Wednesday having committed two MLB errors, with the best hitting percentage (.995) in the majors. The Mets have also converted 81% of grounders and bunts into outs, the second-highest rate in the majors.
All well and good. Now let’s take a look at the lineup.
Only two teams in the NL have scored fewer runs than the Mets, while their batting average with runners in scoring position is last in the league. They entered Wednesday having left 90 men on base, tied for fourth-most in the majors and tied for second-most in the NL. It is not a new problem. Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen New York excel at getting guys on base, but ultimately fall short when it comes to getting them in. The club ranked 28th in runners left on base last year.
When does the future of the Mets become now?
Ben Verlander and Alex Curry discuss the Mets’ offensive struggles and urge the organization to play with top prospects Francisco Álvarez, Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio.
Calling up Baty won’t immediately turn the Mets into one of the best offenses in baseball. Like other young prospects, including newly promoted catcher Francisco Alvarez, Baty is likely to struggle in his first appearance as he adjusts to major league pitching. But that’s just one more reason to acclimate him sooner rather than later. Let the children play now, before depending on them to deliver the stretch.
If the Mets are getting frustrated with the early focus on Escobar and third base, well, it’s partly of their own doing. The Mets made no secret that they were looking for an upgrade, if not a superstar, at third base this offseason when they initially agreed to terms with Carlos Correa. They were also said to be interested in six-time All-Star Manny Machado before he signed another mega-extension with the Padres. The Mets knew they had a hole at the hot corner, and Escobar was never thought to be a long-term option.
“He’s played really well defensively for us,” coach Buck Showalter said this week of the veteran. “He’s always been the same. I think that helps the clubhouse. I think everyone feels a little bit for him, he’ll tell you rightly so, a little bit of the light that might be more on him at the moment. But he accepts this challenge. Like I said before, whatever it is, he’s going to get there.”
The noise from the fan base will only increase as Escobar struggles offensively and the young core of the Mets continues to knock on the door. Shortstop Ronny Mauricio batted for the fourth time in 10 Triple A games on Tuesday, and even though Francisco Lindor is blocking him, the Mets could certainly use him as a designated hitter. New York’s .670 OPS from the DH spot ranks 20th in the big leagues.
Fans would rather see the spikes and growing pains of top prospects than utility players whose best days are undoubtedly behind them. The injury to catcher Omar Narváez forced the Mets’ hand with Alvarez, but they don’t need to be so conservative with Escobar. The veteran may be more likely to crack the bench if and when Baty is called up, but Escobar’s leadership and overall positive impact in the clubhouse can still be used when he’s not the starting third baseman.
“We’re going to be opportunistic,” Cohen said. “And if we have to do things to improve the ball club, we will.”
The opportunity to improve the ball club is right in front of them, or about 265 miles and less than five hours north of Queens. The Mets offense could use a spark. Instead, they are playing it safe. If they take too long to make changes, they may feel it.
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for 3.5 seasons as a reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Rafael Nadal never misses a match, regardless of the country and time zone he plays in. Sleep can always be sacrificed for sports. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
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