The Mets are planning to give veteran Jay Bruce a long look at first base over the final five weeks of the season, as Tim Healey of Newsday reports. Bruce was activated today from a long stay on the disabled list, with the club optioning former top first base prospect Dominic Smith as part of the day’s roster maneuvering.
It seems the idea is to assess what skipper Mickey Callaway called the “possibility” that Bruce could enter the 2019 campaign as a regular at first base. As the organization looks ahead to an offseason that will likely be overseen by a new general manager, no decisions have been made. Rather, Bruce will have an opportunity to show whether he looks to be a viable option at first and/or his customary corner outfield. Callaway says the veteran will appear in the infield “quite a bit moving forward.”
Of course, the Mets largely know what they have in Bruce, who was signed over the winter to a three-year, $39MM contract that includes consecutive $13MM salaries for the coming two campaigns. The 31-year-old has struggled to a .212/.292/.321 slash this year, though it’s probably reasonable to anticipate he’ll bounce back toward his typically above-average offensive levels. This is his 11th season in the majors, so there isn’t much mystery about his skillset with the bat (generally: good power and limited on-base ability).
Smith, though, is a former first-round pick who only just turned 23 years of age this summer. He carries only a .197/.251/.389 batting line in 263 MLB plate appearances over the past two seasons and also hasn’t hit much this year at Triple-A. But it wasn’t long ago that he was seen as a high-quality prospect; indeed, Smith earned his way into the majors in 2017 with a .330/.386/.519 performance in 500 plate appearances for Las Vegas last year.
Nevertheless, Smith is on his way back to Triple-A. While he’ll presumably re-join the MLB roster at some point in September, it seems he won’t receive a particularly close look in the final month of the season. Indeed, Callaway had some eye-opening comments on the youngster. “The deal here is you might not ever get a look,” he said. “That’s how it goes in the major leagues. Nothing is fair. It is what it is. But he has to keep on grinding and putting himself in a position where he can come up here and get at-bats.”
While it’s understandable that the organization may want Smith to force the issue somewhat, the decisionmaking process seems a mite curious, as David Lennon of Newsday suggested recently. True, another prospect — Peter Alonso — has likely now eclipsed Smith in the organization’s eyes. But Alonso is actually 190 days older than Smith. And as impressive as the 2016 second-rounder has been, the Mets surely would at a minimum prefer to boost Smith’s trade value if he’s going to end up making way for Bruce and/or Alonso in the near future.