With Opening Day just about a week away, most teams are quickly announcing their fifth starters and bench players–but the Mets middle infield is still plenty crowded with potential second base starters. In fact, just a few days ago, the total viable candidates for their vacant second base slot was at five. After the team released incumbent Luis Castillo and optioned former-Oriole Justin Turner, only three men remained: Brad Emaus, Daniel Murphy, and Luis Hernandez. With all three players having their own, glaring shortcomings, the answer at second base still remains a question mark.
Before Brad Emaus was even a twinkle in Sandy Alderson’s eye, Daniel Murphy was the unanimous leader to take the 2B job away from Luis Castillo. Coming back from a high-grade MCL tear he suffered in 2010, Murph, who is not a natural middle-infielder, was primed to make the position change and hopefully establish himself as a full-time player. While his bat was never considered up-to-par for a major league corner infielder or outfielder (.266/.313/.427 line as a first baseman in 2009), it would certainly be more passable at second base. However, playing middle infield is a whole different animal than his natural third or first base–an obstacle the 25 year-old has struggled shaking. His inability to impress defensively at 2B appears to be his Achilles heal in the race to second base. The Mets seem to like the idea of using Murphy off the bench than watching him boot balls up-the-middle.
Easily the most surprising name on this list is Luis Hernandez, a player, in my opinion, who should not even be in the minor leagues (career .255/.302/.331 line in the minors). However, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. “Known” more for his defense than stick, Hernandez impressed Mets manager Terry Collins enough for the skipper to almost publicly announce the Mendoza (ironically, his middle name)-line-extraordinaire as his starting second baseman. Since the report (and subsequent bad press), the Mets have made it clear that a starter has not been officially named. But given Castillo’s release and Turner’s demotion, Hernandez is obviously not as much an afterthought as he should be.
When Brad Emaus was picked in the Rule 5 Draft back in December 2010, fans seemed more focused on how the Nationals stole pitcher Elvin Ramirez away from the Mets than the team selecting the toiling Blue Jays infielder. As it became more apparent that the Mets were serious about potentially releasing Luis Castillo, fans all of a sudden no longer viewed Emaus as a nobody, but instead as “that guy who did pretty well in the minors.” “That guy” owns a career .276/.364/.426 line in the minors, and even posted a .397 OB, 15 HR, 75 RBI, 79 R, and 13 SB between Double-A and Triple-A last season. As promising as his bat appears to be, Emaus’ defense–otherwise known as “his actual experience at second base”–might be the little bump he needs over Murphy.
Between the three second base candidates, Brad Emaus, as of now, is the obvious front-runner. Considering his Rule 5 status, experience playing the position, and promising stick, don’t be surprised to see “Emaus” jerseys being peddled in Citi Field this season.