Two days after discussing who each of us felt would be the best part of the starting rotation this season for the New York Mets, we’re on to the next installment of the Rising Apple Roundtable Discussion. Who do we think will be the most valuable player off the bench for Terry Collins this season? Here are our opinions:
Matt Musico, Senior Editor: Justin Turner
Before he was slated to get some outfield work in Port St. Lucie, I already thought he was the most valuable bench player on this squad. If he adjusts to that new spot and gives Collins enough confidence to run him out there every so often, that solidifies my belief. He’s already versatile, as he can play four infield positions (first, second, third, and shortstop), so if he’s able to get some more at-bats in the outfield and not be a defensive liability, then that’s an added bonus. He doesn’t have power off the bench, but he continued to show his ability to hit with runners in scoring position in limited at-bats (.293/.375/.341 in ’12). He did most of that damage as a pinch hitter; 55 of his 185 PAs from 2012 came in that role, hitting .250/.327/.313 off the bench. Turner showed in 2011 he could be productive when playing every day (.260/.334/.356 in 487 PA), while being one of the team’s most clutch hitters (.364 BA, 17 RBI in 44 ABs w/ 2 out and RISP). So, his propensity to hit in the clutch makes it logical to get him some chances on the field, and if he can play virtually every position, he’s my most valuable bench player.
Michael Lecolant, Senior Staff Writer: Anthony Recker
September 9, 2011; Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets second baseman Justin Turner (2) heads to third base during the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael L. Stein-USA TODAY Sports
Positional players aren’t even due to arrive yet. So we are still speculating who the role players will be. But in considering who the Mets most valued bench player will be this season, I’ve decided to stay away from selecting familiar names like Mike Baxter, Justin Turner, and Jordany Valdespin. We know who they are and what they offer. That’s why I feel true value, or the potential best bench player is someone we are still seeking, and therefore will emerge from the new faces on the club.
On Tuesday, I posted why I think catchers John Buck and potential back-up Anthony Recker can provide the Mets with much needed offensive production, namely home runs, at the bottom of the order. As a catcher, Recker won’t be pinch hitting much. He will be playing. How much playing time the other bench players will see this season is still undeterminable. But in Anthony Recker’s case, we can pretty much count on him playing roughly fifty to sixty five games as John Buck’s back-up. That gives him about 200+ at-bats to play with. If he adds eight to ten home runs on top of John Buck’s contributions, Catcher can be a source of productivity and provide protection in the order the Mets have not gotten from their back-stop in five-plus years. If Anthony Recker comes through, that would be real value to me. And yes, this in no way takes Travis d’Arnaud into account. And that’s why I see even more value in what the Mets catchers can provide, until Travis arrives that is.
Danny Abriano, Staff Writer: Collin Cowgill
As of now, it appears as if the bench will consist of Anthony Recker, Brandon Hicks, Collin Cowgill, one of Andrew Brown/Marlon Byrd and Justin Turner. Out of that group, it’s Collin Cowgill who’s the most intriguing, which is why he’s who I’m predicting will be the Mets’ most valuable bench player in 2013. The 26 year old (he’ll be 27 in May) has only gotten a small taste of the majors. Over 196 combined at bats in 2011 and 2012, Cowgill hit .255 with a .319 OBP. Looking at the overall numbers, nothing really pops out to make you think that Cowgill will make any type of impact. When you dig deeper, though, here’s what you get:
Against left handed pitchers in the majors, the right handed hitting Cowgill produced an average of .298 with an OBP of .379. Those numbers are a small sample (coming in just 84 at bats), but small samples are all we have to go by as far as Cowgill’s major league results are concerned. When you look at Cowgill’s minor league splits, you’ll see that in addition to solid numbers against lefties (.281 average/.330 OBP), he’s mashed right handers down there. During his minor league career, Cowgill has hit .327 with a .402 OBP over 538 plate appearances against righties. It’s expected that Cowgill will platoon with Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center field, but I think there’s a chance Cowgill’s role increases as the season goes on.
Aside from his ability at the plate, Cowgill is viewed as a good defender in the outfield, and should be able to handle the corners as well as center. Sandy Alderson has raved about him, noting that he’s an all out type of player – someone who gets down and dirty. When the Mets first acquired him, I compared him to Lenny Dykstra. Cowgill fits the bill size wise (he’s 5’9″), and has coincidentally been given Dykstra’s old number 4. Cowgill is still flying under the radar, but I have a feeling he’ll emerge as a solid contributor in 2013.
May 25, 2012; Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets right fielder Mike Baxter (23) doubles to center against the San Diego Padres during the third inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
Sam Maxwell, Staff Writer: Mike Baxter
I’ve got to go with the trendy Mike Baxter, partly because it’s hard to predict the full bench right now, but mostly because of what he’s showed us. Though he tailed off the more starts he got, Baxter had fantastic plate discipline, visible in the line-drive contact he made, not to mention his .365 OBP. One could argue that taking a walk is the most valuable part of a good bench player. Of course we want somebody to change the whole dynamic of a game with the threat of crushing it off the bench, but that’s just it. Most pinch-hitters aren’t up there to take a walk. Mike Baxter will do what it takes to give his team the best chance to win the game (he has a little pop as well). He is also a lot faster than you’d ever expect and faster than people give him credit for. (For reference, see April 29, 2012: the 5th run scored, not the winning run. Single in the 10th, then scored from 1st on Kirk’s double [crazy game.])
There is a possibility Baxter asserts himself and with the state of the outfield doesn’t give Terry a choice but to start him, but I think when it’s all said and done, Mike Baxter will be the Mets most valuable bench player.
Will DeBoer, Staff Writer: Mike Baxter
Assuming at least one right-hander gets a starting outfield spot on Opening Day, Mike Baxter will start the season on the bench. This is not to his discredit; Baxter proved himself worthy of a major league roster last season after putting his body on the line for the sake of Johan Santana‘s no-hitter. At age 28, the prime of his career, the Whitestone Kid will put together his best season and become his hometown team’s most valuable bench asset. He walks often (as proven by his five walks in one August game in San Diego), getting on base at an impressive .365 clip in 2012. He stole only five bases last year, but considering what kind of speed New York has, he’ll probably be called upon to pinch run frequently, which he will manage better than expected. He might end up getting extended playing time if Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Lucas Duda struggle, but our good friend Baxter over here will do most of his damage as a late-inning threat who can give his all in short spurts.
Dan Haefeli, Staff Writer: Justin Turner
While Turner may not provide the offensive upside of any of the platoonable outfielders (Kirk Niewuenhuis, Collin Cowgill, Mike Baxter, and whoever among Andrew Brown, Marlon Byrd, and Zach Lutz), he does provide utility that most teams don’t possess. Should this spring’s outfield experiment work out, the fact will be that Justin Turner has the ability to play as many as six different positions competently. Turner’s versatility, combined with his ability to hold his own at the plate (especially as a right-handed hitter on a team with five expected left-handed starters) should allow Collins additional freedom for late-game switches, pinch hit choices, and resting players. In the case of short-term injuries and fatigue, Turner is someone who can step in and fill these gaps, and allow Collins the comfort of not playing short-handed, even when playing down a man. Justin Turner’s true value won’t necessarily show up in terms of WAR, but having cost-controlled players like Turner who represent a league average hitter and can play pretty much any position is about as valuable a bench piece as a manager can have.
Rich Sparago, Staff Writer: Jordany Valdespin
I thought about Baxter, whom I really like. However, I see Baxter getting far too much playing time to be considered a “bench player”. When looking at bench players, I think the most important characteristics are versatility, and ability to provide an instant spark offensively. Valdespin can competently play CF and the corner OF positions, as well as 2B. He can fill in at SS in a pinch, though that has not worked well so far. On offense, Valdespin can go deep, as we saw last year. In addition, he can run, having swiped 10 bags in 2012, while being caught only 3 times. The opportunity for Jordany is to make contact more consistently, as last year he struck out 44 times in 206 plate appearances, more than 20% of the time. Reports are that Valdespin has shown better plate discipline, and made more contact in winter ball, especially the latter half of this winter ball season. This bodes well for him. If Jordany can put the bat on the ball with greater consistency, his natural talents can make him a valuable contributor off the Mets’ bench in 2013.
Kevin Baez, Staff Writer: Mike Baxter
Last season, Mike Baxter proved to be an asset for the Mets, compiling an OPS of .365 while only seeing limited action. Most notably known for his great defensive catch to preserve what turned out to be the first no-hitter in Mets franchise history, Baxter will definitely get an opportunity to compete for more playing time in 2013. While I do expect Baxter to be a potential starter, given the lack of depth in the Mets’ outfield, Baxter has never received 200 or more plate appearances in a given season; for that reason, I still view him as a bench player. As fellow staff writer, Sam Maxwell points out, Baxter showed a tremendous amount of plate discipline last season and it is because of his ability to be very selective and patient at the plate, I value Baxter the most out of this current Mets projected 2013 bench. However, Justin Turner’s ability to hit in key situations should not go unnoticed. And other players, such as Andrew Brown and Collin Cowgill are two under-the-rader players to keep your eyes on throughout Spring Training. While the current state of the Mets’ outfield lacks experience in every position, all these young players will have an opportunity to stand out. It’s just going to come down to who rises to the occasion when being called upon.
Who do you think will be the most valuable bench player in 2013? Let us know in the comments section below.
On Friday, we’ll all take a stab at who we think the most valuable offensive player will be this season. That should be interesting so make sure you stop in to see who we pick, and let us know yours!