in July of 2011, Mike Baxter, a Whitestone Queens product, was claimed off waivers by the Mets from the Padres. Sandy Alderson, who was with San Diego when they drafted Mike in the 4th round of the 2005 draft, decided to take a flyer on the 26-year-old. It has turned out to be one of the best small moves the Mets GM has made, as Baxter not only excelled in his role in 2012, but intersected destiny to make one of the most iconic catches in Orange and Blue history.
He was called up on August 8, 2011, replacing the DL’d Daniel Murphy, and immediately endeared himself to the Flushing Fans, not only because of his local roots, but with a rally-starting double in his first at bat in the Orange and Blue. Though he only hit .235 in 34 AB’s, he did end the season’s scoring with a 2-run home run on Closing Day. Baxter’s time at the end of the 50th season set up a push for a roster spot in the Spring.
How He Handled the Bat
After making the team out of Port St. Lucie, Baxter started off slowly in his newly formed role as a lefty hitter off the bench. By the middle of May, however, it was clear he was becoming one of the best pinch-hitters in baseball. He was so hot with the bat, he began to get starts over some guy named Jason Bay in left field. Going into a June 1st contest against the Cardinals, the starting left fielder was batting .339, getting on base at a .408 clip and slugging .548. He was also 10 for 20 in pinch-hitting situations. He got injured that evening (I forget how….) When he arrived off the DL on July 30, he began right where he left off, pinch-hitting a single in the 10th inning of what was eventually an 8-7 Mets win over the Giants. Though by the end of the year his average dipped to .263, his .331 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) says wonders about his contact skills. He struck out 21.3% of the time, so when he made contact, he seemed to put ‘em where they ain’t. Plus, he finished the year get a hit 14 times in 26 pinch-hit-at-bats. Not. Too. Bad.
Almost forgot! He set a Mets’ record with 5 walks in a 9-inning game on August 4 in a win against his former SoCal team. He went 0-0 with 5 unintentional walks, which was apparently the 1st time that had happened in 9 years.
How He Handled the Glove
Oh, right!!! Now I remember how he got injured! Even before that fateful catch when he broke his collar bone and had a right shoulder contusion saving the 1st no-hitter in Mets History, it was clear Mike was there as much for his glove as he was for his pinch-hitting skills. He would routinely stay in either corner outfield positions after his at bat, or take over for, say, Lucas Duda in a double switch. He takes great routes to the ball, hence why he was able to make that unbelievable catch. It’s still so vivid in my mind…what a night.
How He Handled the Facial Hair
Eeh…I don’t really remember him experimenting with the facial hair this year… not even a memory of elongated stubble, if you will.
Projected Role for 2013
Mike Baxter should be right back where he was most comfortable: as a lefty bat and snazzy glove off the bench. His average probably went down because of over-exposure, but hopefully, a more potent outfield bat is added to the starting lineup and Baxter can continue to be one of the best pinch-hitters in the game, and a perfect late-inning defensive replacement.
Contract Status/Chances of Being Traded
Mike is not eligible for salary arbitration till 2014, so he will be making the league minimum next year. Sure, he might be packaged together at some point this offseason, but my personal opinion is that it is highly unlikely given his local roots and the connection he has made with the fans. I have said before that I believe Mike Baxter is the perfect role player, and that he will be on this team when we win our next championship.
I will say it again in a different form: I believe the catch in the No-han will NOT be the last iconic Mets moment for Whitestone’s own Mike Baxter.
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