Mets should move prospect Ronny Mauricio to centerfield

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 11: Ronny Mauricio #2 of the New York Mets in the dugout before a spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Clover Park at on March 11, 2020 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 11: Ronny Mauricio #2 of the New York Mets in the dugout before a spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Clover Park at on March 11, 2020 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

If and when the New York Mets do the right thing and sign Francisco Lindor to a long-term deal to keep him in a Mets uniform, that will be the time to move their number one prospect, Ronny Mauricio, to a new position, and put him in centerfield.

The Mets have moved players from the infield to the outfield with mixed results. Once upon a time, Howard Johnson, primarily the Mets third baseman and shortstop for several years, was asked to make the move to centerfield. HoJo had the power – from both sides of the plate – to be a third baseman, but had the speed, quickness, and arm strength to be a shortstop. Not in the category of a Rey Ordonez, mind you, but on par with many Major League shortstops in his era.

During a five-year period from 1987 through 1991, HoJo averaged 31 home runs, 95 runs batted in, 96 runs scored, and 32 stolen bases. In that five-year span, he was in the 30-30 club (30 HR and 30 SB) three times. He led the National League in runs scored in 1989 and led the League in the power categories (HR and RBI) in 1991.

The Mets made the decision to move their most productive offensive force to centerfield for the 1992 season at the age of 31. It ruined him. He was never the same. He was so caught up in trying to be a competent centerfielder, that it tarnished the very qualities that made him such a valuable Met. Over the next two seasons, his production dropped to an average of 7 HR, 34 RBI, 40 runs scored, and 14 SB while playing a total of 172 games over that span. He was then off to the Colorado Rockies for a season and then the Chicago Cubs for another season before calling it quits.

The New York Mets have made recent attempts to turn some athletic players from infielders into outfielders

The Mets have had other athletic players with speed who you would think would make at least decent outfielders. But that didn’t pan out. Jose Reyes, probably the most athletic and dynamic Met in team history, made an attempt at it, but his failure to be flexible led to his ultimate expendability. He couldn’t handle it. A more recent attempt was made to convert Amed Rosario from shortstop to centerfield. Obviously, if it would have been successful, he would still be in Queens rather than in Cleveland where the Indians are attempting the very same experiment.

The Mets even brought in All-Star second baseman, Juan Samuel, from the Philadelphia Phillies with the idea that he would easily convert to a centerfielder in 1989. That turned out to be a huge debacle. It was embarrassing. He was brutal in the field, and his offense became just as brutal. He was gone immediately after the season, and experiment, came to an end.

And I always wonder why in the world IS it so difficult to play the outfield? There was one game, in particular, in Mets history, a game that forever lives in Mets lore, where not one, but two, pitchers played the outfield and didn’t hurt the Mets and the team won. It was July 22, 1986, the game of the bench-clearing brawl as a result of the Cincinnati Reds Eric Davis sliding hard into third base and elbowing Ray Knight. Players were ejected and the Mets were already short on the bench. Gary Carter had to move from behind the plate to play third base, which he did flawlessly. And Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell flip-flopped between the mound and the outfield, with not a single miscue, making each play without missing a beat.

Pitchers have done it. So it only stands to reason that position players, with Major League abilities, could certainly play the outfield without mucking it up, right? Apparently, it isn’t so simple. And certainly not in today’s world of sabermetrics and hyper-analyzation.

The Mets have had some success with the move of a top shortstop prospect who made not only a smooth transition to centerfield, but actually captured a Gold Glove in 2014, in his first full season with the club – Juan Lagares. Lagares was signed as a young shortstop and was enjoying success while moving up through the Minor Leagues. At some point, when the Mets saw his speed and raw power, and need for outfielders, they converted him. And he did not disappoint. He, at times, looked like the second coming of Andruw Jones. He was smooth, he made it look easy, and he was an absolute joy to watch patrolling centerfield. It was enough for the Mets to hand him an extension and sign him long-term.

Then it all fell apart. Yoenis Cespedes came on board, carried the Mets on his back to a World Series appearance, and Lagares became relegated to the role of fourth outfielder. Even after Cespedes had trouble staying on the field due to injuries, Lagares had trouble staying in the lineup because he couldn’t hit enough to justify penciling his name in the spot when the Mets were craving offense. And after suffering some injuries, he was no longer the human highlight film the Mets and the fans came to expect from Lagares.

Which brings us to Mauricio. Like Lagares, Mauricio is a young, bold, top prospect with a lot of tools that have made scouts drool. He has climbed to the top of the Mets prospects list at a very early age and has shown how dynamic he can be. He is a switch hitter, with speed, arm strength (think Howard Johnson) and could be a true offensive threat. But in looking at his stats thus far, he has not yet harnessed the tools that readies him for the Major Leagues. And then you have to wonder, what would a move from his natural shortstop position to the outfield do to him?

The Mets are not the only ones who have moved players from the infield to the outfield. There are two middle infielders who moved to centerfield and still made it to the Hall of Fame – Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Robin Yount and Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio. In fact, Biggio was so versatile that he was actually a star catcher at Seton Hall University before he began his professional career with the Astros behind the plate. Another catcher who made a pretty good centerfielder was the Atlanta Braves Dale Murphy who just happened to win back-to-back National League MVP awards while out there.

It’s been done before successfully. And it’s also been a disaster.

The Mets had no choice when the opportunity presented itself to get Lindor. He is one of the most dynamic players in the game today. The key is whether the Mets can sign him to an extension or resign him the way they did Mike Piazza some years ago. Lindor is the type of player who can have the same impact on the organization and the fans…he is that special. If Lindor becomes this generation’s Piazza, the question then becomes is Mauricio that special and that talented that he can move – successfully – from shortstop to centerfield, where the Mets could surely use another dynamic player?

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It’s time to move him and find out now how Mauricio’s talents translate into prowess in the outfield. The Mets need outfielders. They are clamoring for a talented centerfielder. They just may have one, needlessly fielding grounders at shortstop.