In the early season, all of two games old, the Mets have had more than a few pleasant surprises. On Opening Day, there was Collin Cowgill and his home run hustle, there was Jonathon Niese acting like an ace, there was Scott Rice arriving – finally! – on a big league stage. In game two, Matt Harvey emphatically announced his arrival, Ike Davis found a slump-buster – psst…It’s Clayton Richard – and Lucas Duda discovered his power stroke. These are most of the ingredients for a tasty opening to the season.
Not to be overlooked is the contribution John Buck has made to the effort. Buck arrived in Queens as one of the many components of the trade of R.A. Dickey, basically a place-holder at catcher until Travis d’Arnaud is ready for his Citi premier. The Mets sent their two MLB catchers – if you want to call them that – along with Dickey, mainly because both Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas had experience handling his pesky knuckler. As Casey Stengel so aptly told us in the days of ’62, “Ya gotta have a catcher or you’ll end up over here with a lotta passed balls.” Buck fit the bill as well as anybody, a perfectly acceptable seat-warmer for d’Arnaud. It was only when he arrived in Port St. Lucie two months ago that anybody realized he’d be so much more than that.
First of all, he’s a veteran of ten big league seasons, logging time in Kansas City, Toronto and Miami, so he’s got “the book:” detailed knowledge of most of the veteran hitters in both Leagues. With a pitching staff as young as the Mets’ – Johan Santana has ridden off into the sunset, so Niese is now the senior man among the starters, with all of three seasons of at least 150 IP under his belt – this is invaluable. In fact, Niese acknowledged that he never had to shake Buck off even once during the opener, resulting in a load of missed bats. Number two on the list has been his offense. While never a robust hitter – his career high OPS+ is a slightly-better-than-average 114, achieved with the Blue Jays in 2010, when he was an All-Star – his past two seasons in Florida were nothing short of dreadful, especially in the power department where he posted back-to-back SLUGs of .367 and .347 respectively. In his first two games as a Met, however, he’s looking to give lie to that reputation, going 4-for-9 with a line-shot homer to his credit. He only needs eleven more to match his 2012 total. If he can continue his offensive renaissance, the Mets will be set at catcher like they haven’t been since the heyday of Paul LoDuca.
And there is where Buck’s true value lies: the longer John Buck thrives, the less the urgency to elevate Travis d’Arnaud to the major leagues. Super Two status for d’Arnaud may become a non-issue. He can get all his reps in at Vegas, he can get his balky knee strengthened, he can hone his defense, while Buck holds the fort in Flushing. For an organization that’s all about the future, that future will get a big boost if Buck can continue apace.
Like everything else about the 2013 Mets, here’s hoping.
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