The blueprint for a great homegrown infield is generally regarded as the one that the LA Dodgers installed in 1973. It was in June of that year that the unit of Ron Cey (3B), Bill Russell (SS), Davey Lopes (2B), and Steve Garvey (1B) was installed in the lineup and allowed to gel. Interestingly enough, most of the members of that outfit had shifted positions from those at which they had come up playing in order to better match their offensive capabilities with the Dodgers’ defensive needs. Russell and Lopes had both logged most of their time in the minors as outfielders, while Garvey had been primarily a third sacker whose highly suspect defense had predicated a shift across the diamond. Once established, this group remained entrenched for close to nine seasons and became the most memorable infield combo since “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
With the various Met minor affiliates having completed their seasons, those with an eye on the future can have some legitimate expectation of a near-future infield alignment in Flushing that, while perhaps not matching the overall production of the storied Dodger quartet, could still form the basis of a cohesive unit that, barring injury or trades, could last several years.
A couple of important distinctions exist between a projected Met infield and the one crafted by the Dodger front office more that 40 years ago. For starters, the third base component of the Met group is probably already here. I refer to fan favorite Wilmer Flores who, at age 25, should just be reaching his prime years as a player when the rest of the group are ready to begin establishing themselves in the big leagues.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while not strictly considered an “infield” position, the likelihood of an outstanding catching prospect arriving close to the time the primary infield slots are possibly filled by players graduating from the Met system is high. The player in this case, of course, is Tomas Nido, aka the newly minted batting champion of the Florida State League.
With Nido’s emergence as a two-way prospect and the current nebulous state of the Mets’ catching picture, one can envision a strong showing at Binghamton in 2017 leading to a shot at the big time by midway through the 2018 season.
If so, Nido should be joining a squad that could include Dominic Smith at 1B, Ahmed Rosario at SS, and one of several possibilities at 2B. The plethora of candidates at this position is something that I have noted before and is a group that has grown somewhat with the emergence of Rosario as a clear favorite for the SS position forcing some other contenders to the other side of the keystone.
The 2B contingent, which includes PCL batting champ T.J. Rivera and dark horse candidate Jeff McNeil, has swelled to accommodate Gavin Cecchini and Phillip Evans, erstwhile shortstops whose bats have earned them consideration for the role of Rosario’s DP partner.
McNeil, it should be noted, has missed the bulk of this season due to injury and had been labeled as likely utility material by the organization due in part to a lack of power. To his credit, it was observed that he had made an effort to address that particular issue through a strengthening program in the offseason. His left handed bat is an added plus to help him stand out as at least a platoon option.
Evans, a 15th round pick in 2011 had done little to distinguish himself over the past 4 seasons but suddenly blossomed this year with a promotion to Binghamton and ended up with the Eastern League batting crown. His deployment at various infield slots again suggests a future utility role but it will be interesting to see if his development continues in more challenging environments.
For an organization whose hallmark has been a focus on the development of pitching, this coming wave of position players probably best represents the stamp of Sandy Alderson finally coming to bear.
While he has demonstrated that he is not shy about using minor league assets to swing the deals needed to nudge the big club closer to the possibility of a championship, there is no doubt that the advantages of a young, controllable, and yes, cheap lineup of Mets who come with the added cachet of home-grown appeal is not lost on the front office nor the Wilpons.
Toss in an outfielder or two and some permutation of the mighty pitching staff that might be (if Harvey, Matz, DeGrom, Wheeler, and Syndergaard can ever be healthy at the same time), and you have the ingredients for some kind of dreamed-of dynasty. Or at least a legitimately competitive squad for a reasonable amount of time. Not too much to hope for, is it?