Looking for Offense, the Mets Call Up a Top Prospect

Looking for Offense, the Mets Call Up a Top Prospect

The News

The Mets have called up Mark Vientos, a power-hitting infielder who MLB.com ranks as the team’s sixth best prospect in the minors.

Vientos, 23, was hitting .333 with 13 home runs, 37 runs batted in and a 1.104 on-base plus slugging percentage in 38 games for Class AAA Syracuse this season — he was 2 for 5 with a home run in last night’s loss.

He has experience at first base, third base and outfield, but to get his bat in the lineup the simplest path would be as a designated hitter, where he could join this season’s other rookies, catcher Francisco Álvarez and third baseman Brett Baty, as hopeful signs of the Mets’ future.

Why It Matters

Expectations were sky high for the Mets after last year’s 101-win season and an off-season spending spree in which Steven A. Cohen, the team’s billionaire owner, allowed for the payroll to surge to nearly $350 million, which will balloon even more down the road thanks to Major League Baseball’s multi-tier luxury tax system.

Thus far almost nothing has gone right. The team lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-5, on Tuesday, dropping their record to 20-23 — six and a half games behind Atlanta in the National League East. They are also a game and a half behind the Miami Marlins for the N.L.’s third wild-card spot.

While the Mets’ biggest problem has been pitching, with their starters combining for a 5.46 E.R.A., offense also has been an issue. The team is ranked 19th in O.P.S. — a measurement that reflects both the team’s ability to get on base (on-base percentage) and to hit for power (slugging percentage) — 21st in runs and is tied for 20th in home runs.

The team’s most valuable batters this season have been first baseman Pete Alonso (13 home runs) and center fielder Brandon Nimmo (.830 O.P.S.) but even they have played somewhat below expectations. Vientos could theoretically provide a spark, particularly compared to the team’s most frequently used option among its reserves, outfielder Tommy Pham, who has hit .188 in 81 plate appearances.

Going Forward

Vientos was only 17 in 2017 when the Mets made him a second-round pick out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla. He had a 16-game call-up to the majors last season, and disappointed by going 6 for 36 with one home run and 12 strikeouts. But he has absolutely crushed the ball in the high minors. In 150 games at Class AAA over parts of the last three seasons, he has hit .294 with 40 home runs and a .566 slugging percentage.

A below-average runner, he has not displayed a great deal of promise defensively, which limits his overall value, and his best position will most likely be first base, which the Mets hope will be occupied by Alonso for years to come.

Vientos, at least on a short-term basis, has the potential to carve out regular playing time at D.H. or in the outfield, which would mean the Mets are relying on three minimum-salary rookies despite having the highest payroll in M.L.B. history.

Neither Baty, who was called up in a similar fashion to Vientos last season only to sustain a season-ending injury, nor Álvarez has been particularly impressive with their bats, but both have held their own defensively at difficult positions, which has helped keep them in the lineup. Vientos will need to justify his roster spot with his bat.

Outside of Vientos, the top prospect in the Mets system, in terms of major league readiness, is Ronny Mauricio, a shortstop who is hitting .354 with seven home runs for Syracuse.

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