David Wright’s last game was on May 27, 2016, which means that over a year has passed since the star third baseman has taken the field for the Mets. As Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News writes, Wright’s absence is heavily felt both on the field and inside the Mets clubhouse. Since Wright was recently shut down from throwing during his recovery from a shoulder impingement, it doesn’t look like Wright will return any time soon. Wright played in just 75 games in 2015-16 thanks to spinal stenosis and neck surgery, and given the seriousness of these injuries, it’s no surprise that there has been retirement speculation, though Wright himself has said that he enjoys the process and is hopeful of a return.
- It appears first baseman Lucas Duda is in his final season with the Mets, as Heyman implies that he’s primed to sign elsewhere over the winter. The 31-year-old power hitter has been among the Mets’ top players this season, having slashed .267/.406/.570 with six home runs in 106 PAs, but they do have a well-regarded youngster behind him in Dominic Smith. Baseball America sees Smith, 21, as the game’s 65th-best prospect.
If the first couple months of the major league season are any indication, two of baseball’s best hitters are emerging in New York. In the Bronx, there’s Yankees right fielder and American League Rookie of the Year front-runner Aaron Judge; in Queens, Mets outfielder Michael Conforto has rebounded from an underwhelming 2016 to fare even better than he did during his sensational rookie campaign in 2015.
Given that Judge looked lost during his first big league stint last season, his success this year has come as a bigger surprise than Conforto’s. The 6-foot-7, 275-pound behemoth did notch four home runs in only 95 plate appearances, but that came with an alarming strikeout rate (44.2 percent) and a horrid .179/.263/.345 batting line. To his credit, though, the 25-year-old Judge worked prior to the season on cutting down his strikeouts and making more contact, as FanGraphs’ Travis Sawchik detailed earlier this month, and the results have been excellent. Everything is trending right for Judge – his strikeout rate is down to a manageable 29 percent; his contact rate has shot up exactly 10 points (from 60.2 percent to 70.2 percent); his walk rate has climbed from 9.8 percent to a terrific 14.2 percent; his out-of-strike zone swing rate has fallen from 33.6 percent to 25.5 percent; and his swinging-strike rate is at 12.4 percent after sitting at 18.1 percent last year.
All of Judge’s gains have helped lead to a .316/.421/.665 line in 183 PAs – not to mention a first-place start for the Yankees – and he currently ranks third in the majors in both wRC+ (192, trailing only Mike Trout and Freddie Freeman) and isolated power (.348, again behind only Trout and Freeman), and second in home runs (15, one behind Trout and tied for second with Bryce Harper). While an unsustainable .391 batting average on balls in play has propped up Judge’s numbers, his production still looks legitimate when factoring in the degree to which he has punished baseballs. Judge’s expected weighted on-base average, which uses exit velocity and launch angle to gauge a hitter’s performance, is sitting at .427 – not far below his actual wOBA of .450 – per Baseball Savant. As great as Judge has been offensively, he has also held his own with the glove, ranking fifth among outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved (seven, behind well-known defensive wizards Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Kevin Kiermaier and Byron Buxton) and a respectable 34th among 70 qualifiers in UZR/150 (2.7).
Conforto, meanwhile, hasn’t been on Judge’s level defensively (a combined minus-one DRS and minus-5.2 UZR/150 at all three outfield positions); however, as Judge has been this season, Conforto was outstanding with the glove during his rookie year (nine DRS, 26.5 UZR/150), so there’s reason for hope going forward. Regardless, the bulk of the 24-year-old Conforto’s value will always come from his bat, and the lefty-swinger has done his best to match the right-handed Judge and keep the woebegone Mets afloat this season. Conforto, after hitting a so-so .220/.310/.414 in 348 major league PAs last season and even earning a minor league demotion, is now sitting at .322/.416/.658 with 13 homers and a 13.3 percent walk rate (against a strikeout percentage of 24.9) in 173 trips to the plate this year. He ranks fifth in the majors in ISO (.336) and sixth in wRC+ (178), and while he’s also running a BABIP (.370) that won’t last, his .391 xwOBA (down from a .440 wOBA) is indicative of a superstar-caliber hitter.
While Judge and Conforto have torn apart major league pitching this year, the fact that the two are thriving isn’t completely shocking, as each cracked various top 100 lists as prospects. Now, both sluggers are more than living up to the hype they generated before their major league tenures began. With Judge and Conforto potentially in the midst of becoming franchise cornerstones, I’ll ask you the same question Joel Sherman of the New York Post presented to major league scouts and front office executives earlier this week: Who’s the better long-term piece?
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- In yet another unfortunate break for the injury-laden Mets, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes felt soreness in his right quad Friday and won’t take live at-bats until at least Tuesday, Marc Carig of Newsday was among those to report (Twitter links). Cespedes’ setback occurred while running the bases in a Class-A rehab game, and the club scratched him Saturday as a result. There had been hope that Cespedes would return during the Mets-Brewers series between Monday and Wednesday of the upcoming week, but that no longer looks like a possibility. The Mets have been without Cespedes since late April, when he landed on the disabled list with a hamstring strain after getting off to a blistering start (.270/.373/.619 with six home runs in 75 plate appearances). Notably, a right quad injury hampered him at times last season.
- Mets ownership has given no indication that manager Terry Collins is in danger of losing his job, but the skipper does have critics within the front office, reports Marc Carig of Newsday. After back-to-back playoff seasons – including a World Series berth in 2015 – injury-plagued New York has gotten off to a 20-26 start this year and Collins’ bullpen management “has left some Mets officials fuming” along the way, writes Carig. However, Collins has the full support of owner Fred Wilpon, according to Carig, and could survive the season. The 68-year-old Collins became the longest-tenured manager in Mets history last week, having taken the reins back in 2011. He’s in the final year of his contract.
The Mets are promoting Triple-A righty Tyler Pill to join their pitching staff, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports (Twitter link). It’s not clear exactly what role Pill will have with the club, though DiComo does note that Jacob deGrom is healthy and is making his start tonight, so Pill won’t be stepping directly into the rotation. Pill, who turns 27 this weekend, has done a nice job keeping runs off the board in a tough Las Vegas environment this year, tossing 46 innings with a stellar 1.96 ERA. His secondary stats aren’t as encouraging, as he’s averaged just 4.5 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9 with a 43.4 percent ground-ball rate. Pill isn’t on the Mets’ 40-man roster, meaning New York will have to make some type of move in order to formally select his contract from Triple-A.
- The Mets have told manager Terry Collins to stop discussing injury timelines with the media, reports John Harper of the New York Daily News. Specifically, a source tells Harper that Collins was instructed not to discuss whether Yoenis Cespedes would require a minor league rehab assignment — an order that left Collins “furious.” As Harper notes, when asked yesterday about the timeline for some of his returning players, Collins informed the media: “I’m not at liberty to discuss the injury situation.” It’s been an injury-plagued season for the Mets, although as Harper points out, Collins was not the one behind the decisions to allow Noah Syndergaard to refuse an MRI or to keep Cespedes off the disabled list with his initial hamstring injury (only to land on the DL for a presumably lengthier stay upon returning to the lineup after just a few days off).
- Also leaving his game with a seemingly minor injury was Mets outfielder Jay Bruce, as Christian Red of the New York Daily News reports. Bruce is dealing with lower back tightness, though he says that “hopefully it’s just an isolated incident.” With the Mets still trying to scramble back into contention, the team will surely hope that’s the case. The resurgent Bruce has been one of the club’s most productive players, slashing .250/.331/.513 with 11 home runs over 181 plate appearances.
The Mets announced on Tuesday that they’ve optioned right-hander Hansel Robles to Triple-A Las Vegas. That’s a somewhat surprising and definitively unfortunate measure for the team to resort to, as Robles has emerged as a solid relief option for the Mets over the past two seasons. However, the 26-year-old has been shelled for 12 earned runs in his past three outings (2 2/3 innings), causing his ERA to balloon from 1.42 to 6.23. He’ll hope to sort things out in what will be his first minor league stint since early 2015. Robles’ struggles, paired with the loss of Jeurys Familia for the next several months (and possibly the rest of the season) have rapidly thinned out an already overworked Mets relief corps. The Mets’ bullpen entered play Tuesday tied for seventh in the Majors with 157 2/3 innings of work on the books, and the team has already gone outside the organization to bring in righty Neil Ramirez as a fresh arm. Addison Reed is currently closing in Queens, with Fernando Salas, Paul Sewald and Jerry Blevins among the top setup options. The Mets recalled lefty Josh Smoker in place of Robles, giving manager Terry Collins another option.
Here’s more on the Mets…
- MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo provides a few updates on the injury front. Slugger Yoenis Cespedes is still a few days away from returning, as the Mets have decided to send him on a minor league rehab assignment once his running program is wrapped up. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud, meanwhile, is catching Steven Matz’s rehab game in Las Vegas tonight and should be ready for activation in the very near future. Both Matz and right-hander Seth Lugo require another rehab start before they’ll be cleared to return to the big league roster.
- However, even with d’Arnaud’s return imminent, he’s not guaranteed to reclaim his role as the starting catcher. As Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News writes, Collins over the weekend voiced a desire to keep Rene Rivera in the lineup. “Rene Rivera has earned a spot, has earned a job catching. We’re going to play him as much as possible,” said Collins. “By no means are we going to sit Rene Rivera down and not have him play much anymore.” On the other hand, one team source suggests to Ackert that d’Arnaud won’t be losing his starting role as long as he hits well upon his return. The 33-year-old Rivera entered play today hitting .308/.337/.410 through his first 83 plate appearances. d’Arnaud was hitting .203/.288/.475 with four homers in 66 plate appearances when he landed on the DL.
The Mets may welcome back lefty Steven Matz sooner than later, David Lennon of Newsday reports on Twitter. Indeed, if he has a strong outing tomorrow at Triple-A, the club may allow him to make his next start at the major league level. That would obviously represent welcome news for the beleaguered Mets staff. Whether Matz can stay on the hill the rest of the way will no doubt go a long way toward determining whether New York can climb back into the postseason picture.