Mets Hot Corner

Big Question Marks: Shortstop and First Base

The final countdown to Opening Day is on. On March 31st at Citi Field, the New York Mets will take the field for their first regular season game of the 2014 regular season. The official offseason is coming to a close, and several upgrades and changes have been made. Among them, Curtis Granderson and Chris Young have been added to bolster the outfield situation. The signing of veteran Bartolo Colon should help somewhat (not completely) fill the huge gap left by the loss of Matt Harvey to Tommy John surgery. Other signings have the potential to help the club, should players perform up to their promise and potential.

Throughout the offseason, two positions that have seemed to be the source of the most concern and confusion are those of shortstop and first baseman. Entering the season without making any more trades or signings for these positions, let’s examine what we are looking at this year, at least initially.

On the current Mets depth chart for the position of shortstop, it shows Ruben Tejada, Wilfredo Tovar, and Omar Quintanilla. Ruben Tejada. Ruben, Ruben, Ruben. We want to believe in him. We want him to succeed. Whether he will succeed this year or not remains to be seen. 2012, the first year following the departure of shortstop extraordinaire, Jose Reyes, was a solid showing for the very young Tejada. While he lacked the flash and superstar hitting and defense that Reyes was known for, he still held his own. Mets management and fans, in general, were thinking, “Okay, we lost Reyes, but this guy is young and he seems like he’ll be a solid shortstop, he’s still learning.”

Then the 2013 season happened. Marred by injury, and poor fielding and hitting, the entire 2013 season seemed to be a dismal time for Tejada. He spent a great deal of his healthy time with the AAA Mets affiliate in Las Vegas, trying to work on his apparent issues, both at the plate and in the field. The season closed out without much noise from Ruben, and it was chalked up as a lost year for him.

During the offseason following the 2013 season, Ruben appeared to put a significant amount of effort into improving, being healthy, and appeasing the Mets’ management and fan base with his effort. He spent significant time at a fitness camp in frigid Michigan, as opposed to his usual tropical home climate in Panama. His diet was strictly monitored, and his workout regimen was under constant supervision. This was an excellent way for Ruben to show he was ready to work hard to earn the shortstop starting job back after the dismal 2013 season.

Thus far in spring training action, this effort has not exactly translated into results. At the time I am looking at his spring training statistics, his batting average is sitting at a paltry .111. He’s also made several fielding errors this spring, which perhaps can be attributed to nerves or just typical ‘getting back in the groove’ spring training flubs. Spring training games mean so little, but they can sometimes mean a lot, when you are watching for a specific player to prove himself worthy of that starting role. As it has happened with many players, though, Ruben may come into the regular season firing on all cylinders, despite a weak showing in these early exhibition games. I guess we can only watch and hope, right?

Omar Quintanilla

Omar Quintanilla

The backup shortstop this year, once again, is Omar Quintanilla. Quintanilla is a serviceable backup shortstop, but not an everyday shortstop, in my opinion. Wilfredo Tovar has already been dispatched to the minor league camp for the remainder of spring training, so he will not be starting the season with the team in Queens. So I guess at this point, Mets fans and management will be hoping that the new and improved Ruben Tejada is who we see once the regular season gets underway. The Mets are also experimenting a little with the young infielder Wilmer Flores at shortstop. How that experiment goes remains to be seen. It certainly doesn’t hurt to give Flores a look there during spring training, that’s for sure.

So, about first base…yeah. We all know what the Mets’ depth chart says. In this order, the list says: Davis, Duda, Satin, and Lutz. We have Ike Davis, or as he’s not-so-affectionately known by Mets fans as ‘Strike Davis.’ What a mystery this guy is. He brought us much hope and excitement during the second half of the 2012 season. He ended the year with 32 home runs, and most of us assumed he would burst into the 2013 season with that same swing and performance. But he didn’t, and even endured a stint at the minor league level, while he tried to ‘get his groove back.’ The groove never officially returned, although he did manage to boost his batting average and finish the season above the dismal Mendoza Line (barely).

Lucas Duda gets an ‘A’ for effort, but he appears somewhat clumsy in the field, lacking some of the natural athletic ability and instincts on defense that Davis seems to have. One thing I observed when I was sitting behind the Mets dugout at a game when Duda was playing first base was that Tim Teufel spent the entire game (while the Mets were in the field on defense) positioning Duda properly for each batter and situation throughout the game. While Duda’s bat does bring a burst of power to the lineup, his defensive skills and instinct are somewhat questionable.

Following Davis and Duda, Josh Satin and Zach Lutz are listed, although there appears to be virtually no chance of them winning a starting job there. Adding to the relative chaos of the situation at first base, both Davis and Duda have been struggling with injuries so far this spring. Davis has a strained right calf, to the extent of needing a walking boot temporarily. Duda’s been battling a strained left hamstring. Both men have seen some action in minor league play this weekend, so hopefully both are nearing full strength so they can see big league play before spring training ends.

Given the current roster situation, I think the best possible scenario now (although perhaps not the most likely scenario) is to hope for the 2012 version of Ruben Tejada to be present on March 31st at Citi Field. Similarly, while we are putting in our requests, we can hope for the Ike Davis from the second half of 2012 to be present, with what was once a beautiful swing.

Let’s all cross our fingers, spend all our birthday wishes on this, and hope for the best at shortstop and first base.

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