Mike Baxter Making the Most of his Chances

By Matt Musico

Terry Collins has been very pleased with the performance of Mike Baxter so far this season. As if his recent rise to the lead-off spot against right-handers doesn’t say enough for you, his .379 batting average in May and .431 OBP this season should tell enough of the story. Coming into Spring Training, the Queens native was aware that he was competing for the role of a situational pinch-hitter, but his recent hot streak and string of quality at-bats has led to him having a greater impact in the lineup on a nightly basis.

Collins cited that Baxter knew what he had to do to win the job out of Spring Training, and he’s applauded him for shortening up his swing, leaving very few moving parts as he prepares to make contact in the batter’s box. The monster game he enjoyed against Toronto, where he almost hit for the cycle, spurred Collins to give Baxter a shot to hit lead-off, especially with the struggles that Andres Torres has been experiencing. Baxter had never hit lead-off in the Majors prior to this year, although he had done so in the Minors and in college, so he’s aware of what his role is when his name is first on the lineup card.

When asked about what he needs to be doing in the lead-off spot, Baxter shows that he’s wise beyond his current experience:

"“Ultimately it just falls on having good quality at-bats. You want to see pitches, but you also want to get on base. So if you get on base early in the count with a good pitch to hit, get it, but it’s good if you can work a seven- or eight-pitch at-bat so everyone can kind of get a look.”"

Not that many players his age are able to identify those two specific objectives when hitting lead-off. A lot of players think that they

have to not only get on base, but work the count so the rest of the team can see what a pitcher has to offer. Whereas, Baxter sees it as important to get at least one of the two. If he throws you a fastball down Broadway on the second pitch of the at-bat, take a hack at it and get on base. If the pitcher isn’t giving you what you want to hit, work the count until you get something you like.

Baxter has been so successful at this point in the year because of his attitude towards his role with the team. He was quoted as saying that he’s not going to get too caught up as to whether he’s playing or not on any given day, or where he’s hitting in the lineup, because he’s putting himself ahead of the team. Baxter noted that this kind of selflessness is what has made the Mets successful so far this year, surprising everyone by still being over .500 as we’re about a week away from the calendar flipping to June. New York has been showing that it truly takes all 25 men on a roster to win ballgames regularly; it seems as if there is a different Mets player every night that comes up big for Terry Collins.

Also, credit must be given to Collins, who is not afraid to play the hot hand and give his struggling everyday players a seat on the bench, with Andres Torres and Ike Davis being prime examples. What has surprised you the most about the emergence of Mike Baxter in the lead-off spot?