The All-Injured Mets Prospect Team

With all the injuries in big league camp this spring, it would have been really nice if some of the young kids could have stepped in and helped out. It would have been a help to the big league team, a valuable experience for the kids, a learning experience, and who knows? One of them might have won a big league job. Injuries to Captain Kirk have robbed him of any chance this year, to do anything more than start the season in Buffalo. Injuries to Reese Havens have prevented him from competing for the Mets second-base job for the last two years. An injury to Zach Lutz kept him from making his major league debut last year when DWright went on the disabled list. And if Jerry “The Stooge” Manuel hadn’t destroyed Jenrry Mejia’s arm two years ago, he might be competing for the fifth rotation spot on the Mets right now.

I started thinking about some of the oft injured minor league prospects in the Mets system, some of them very high draft picks, who have wallowed in the perpetual mire of minor league disabled lists. Of course there are always going to be injuries in baseball, sports for that matter. And everyone gets their fair share. But I couldn’t help but wonder what Mets camp would look like this year if these players hadn’t been hurt so often, or at the worst possible time. Each player on this list would either be on the verge of making it in the bigs right now, or would already be on the Mets, if not for untimely injuries wiping out huge swaths of their playing time over the last several years.

So what I did was to create a sort of all-star team. A team made up of the very best of the constantly injured players that so far, are just a bunch of unfulfilled promises. The Oft-Injured All-Stars consists of one player at each position, plus a starter, and a reliever. Of those ten players on the “team,” all but three could be on the Mets right now, fighting for jobs on the big league squad. Of the three not quite ready yet, two should be at AAA this year, and one should be at AA. Of the ten players all but one, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, face major obstacles to overcome their injuries, battle back, and go on to stay healthy and have big league careers. Let’s take a look at the 2012 New York Mets Minor League Oft-Injured All-Stars:

Catcher:  Kai Gronauer – This defensively astute catcher from Germany had a breakout year with the bat in 2010, and was supposed to assume the role of starting catcher at AA Binghamton last season. That job would have afforded him a chance to command the pitching staff for an entire year, and to take on the challenge of continuing to hit well at a higher level. But it was not to be. A serious hamstring injury suffered in May, wiped out a huge part of Kai’s season, and when he returned, he was just not right. He tried to tough his way through it but if you’ve ever torn your hamstring, you know how devastating it can be and how long it takes to fully heal. Now try and imagine being a catcher, and having to squat like that with a tight hammy. I think I might have had trouble with my timing hitting a fastball too, if I were him. If Kai had not been hurt all of last year, he would be the starting catcher at AAA this spring, and could easily have contributed to the Mets at some point in 2012. But with the organization bringing in Rob Johnson and Lucas May, that road to Citi just got much more bumpy. At 25-years-old, that lost year in 2011 came at the worst time for Gronauer, who is starting to run out of time.

1B: Zach Lutz – This talented hitter has had a career riddled with injuries so far from the first moment he appeared as a Met minor leaguer. A 5th-round draft choice in the 2007 draft, he signed and started his pro career in Brooklyn. With just two AB’s in his first game for the Cyclones, he injured his ankle fielding a ball at third, and fractured bones on the top of his foot which required surgery. That started several years of foot and ankle problems. Lutz has battled significant injuries every season in the minors so far, that has robbed him of tons of playing time, but when he is on the field he is a fearsome right-handed slugger. Zach turns 26 in June and is entering his sixth season in the minor leagues. If not for a beaning last year while at Buffalo, he would have been brought up to Citi to play some 3B when Wright was out. This year is very important for Lutz to stay healthy and productive, if he wants to get to the bigs in 2012.

2B: Reese Havens – What can a Mets fan say about Reese Havens, the 1st-round pick from 2008? How about, “Where the heck is the guy!?” He hurts his oblique, he hurts his back, they fix his rib, he hurts his back. What is he on the Zach Lutz workout regimen? Did he learn everything he knows about staying healthy from Fernando Martinez? With the gaping hole at second-base for the Mets for two years running now, I’m sure Mets fans are just dying for this guy to finally be healthy and contribute something. Don’t hold your breath. And we’re not the only ones hoping. The way GM Sandy Alderson sat on his hands all winter and worked on his tan, I think he is expecting Havens to ride in on his white horse and win the job any day now. Keep waiting Sandy.

SS: Robbie Shields – The 3rd-round draft pick from 2009 has been a huge disappointment. Back problems and other assorted injuries have caused Shields to average only around 200 AB’s per season in pro ball so far. In a perfect world, a world without back problems, he would be the starting shortstop at Buffalo this year. But the lost time has really kept him “down” on the farm. Since he is already 24-years-old, and has never played any higher than A ball, the pressure will really be on him to stay on the field this season, and perform.

3B: Jefry Marte – Some players get tough breaks, but this one was to Marte’s wrist, and at the worst possible time for the young man. It came last October in the Arizona Fall League, as he was coming off his best offensive and defensive regular season thus far. The Mets were hoping a solid showing in the AFL would help Marte make the jump to AA this season. Instead Marte is still rehabbing and has not made an appearance in big league camp. Several questions cloud Marte’s future with the organization right now. When will he return? Will he be at full strength? How will he adapt to AA? Stay tuned.

LF: Fernando Martinez – I know your first reaction is, “but he’s not with the Mets anymore!” That’s okay, no problem, it’s only natural, I’d have said the same thing. But remember what this cockamamie article is about! We have to suspend belief, and imagine what life would be like if these players had not succumbed to crippling injuries.  So imagine an FMart with healthy knees. An FMart who never injures an ankle, or an oblique, or a hammy, or a hip.  An FMart that stayed on the field for the Mets and went through the minor leagues putting up the kind of numbers we all had hoped for. That guy would be our fourth outfielder right now, and back-up center fielder.

CF: Kirk Nieuwenhuis – This is the one guy on the list that doesn’t have a real big question mark hanging over him. Just a few small ones. He seems to be recovered from labrum surgery on his shoulder. Of course now he’s dealing with an oblique, but hopefully it won’t be anything major or long-term. Once he finally does return, it’s back to business as usual for the 3rd-round pick from the 2008 draft, which for him is cutting way down on his strikeouts. When he is healthy, and gets some AAA experience to clear up those little question marks, he should be ready to contribute to the big club.

RF: Sean Ratliff – This is a man very close to my heart. I met and interviewed Sean this winter, and he is a terrific guy and an inspiring story. The 2008 4th-round draft pick for the Mets, he appears on this silly All-Star team at no fault of his own. He was totally holding up his end of the bargain coming off a career year with the bat in 2010. He was due to start 2011 at AA Binghamton as their regular right-fielder to continue where he left off the year before. But just weeks before last season was about to begin, Ratliff was struck in the eye with a foul ball while standing in the on-deck circle. He is attempting to come back this spring after being fitted with a custom contact lens. Had Ratliff not been injured he was certainly in position to have a very big year, and would most likely be playing beside Captain Kirk and Juan Lagares in the AAA Buffalo outfield this season. Instead he will start over at AA again, and try and pick up where he left off. We continue to wish Sean the best.

SP: Jenrry Mejia – I’ll never forget the utter disbelief I experienced when I found out that Jerry Manuel’s whining had finally gotten Omar Minaya to cave in and bring Mejia to the big leagues a year-and-a-half prematurely. Not only did it stunt Mejia’s development, but they damaged his elbow having him throw so often in the bullpen. Now nearly a year after surgery, we can only hope that they don’t make the same mistakes with him again. If he had been sent to the minors instead of the majors he may have gotten hurt anyway, maybe not, we’ll never know for sure. But if they had been cautious and protected his arm, chances are he’d be competing head-to-head with Dillon Gee right now for the fifth rotation spot.

RP: Brant Rustich – The Mets 2nd-round draft pick from 2007, Brant is a terrific guy with tremendous talent who has had a very tough road to travel so far. I interviewed him this winter and he described the ordeal he underwent to find out the cause of his chronic arm problems. It turned out to be TOS, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and requires surgery to repair which he had done over a year ago. According to Brant, he’s feeling better than he has in years, and we’re still waiting for reports on how he’s throwing in camp this spring. When healthy the big right-hander has a very advanced repertoire and he throws very hard. If he is able to perform this season he could move quickly through the system, and even contribute out of the pen at Citi.

Your Oft-Injured batting order:

1. Nieuwenhuis  CF

2. Shields  SS

3. Havens  2B

4. Lutz  1B

5. FMart  LF

6. Ratliff  RF

7. Marte  3B

8. Gronauer  C

9. Mejia  P

If they are all healthy, that’s not a bad line-up……

And now an Honorable Mention Who’s Who? of near total career derailment: Steve Matz LHP, Zach Dotson LHP, Matt Bouchard 2B, Manny Alvarez RHP, Nick Carr RHP, Brandon Moore RHP, Scott Moviel RHP, Eric Beaulac RHP

For more of my player interviews, and some other cool stuff, click here.