Eric Young, Jr. has been auditioning for a starting outfielder position since the 2014 season began. He was given this opportunity for two reasons; Terry Collins likes to have speed at the top of the order, and Chris Young was hurt. Young just started a rehab assignment in Las Vegas, where he promptly hit two home runs and drove in five on his way to a 5-5 night on Sunday, then added another two hits and two walks to support Noah Syndergaard’s second win last night. A lot of Mets’ front office hopes are riding on Young being able to repeat the success he had in Arizona, where he was a speed and power threat despite a low average.
Meanwhile, Young, Jr. has not been making the most of his opportunity to claim that vacant spot in left. He has shown improvement on balls hit over his head, and his base path speed was on full display down in Atlanta recently. However, Young, Jr. misplayed two balls in Saturday’s game, and his throwing arm lacks strength and accuracy, so there are still reasons to wince at a full-time Young, Jr. in the outfield. And apart from some positive highlights, Young, Jr. has been struggling mightily at the plate.
Small sample sizes aside, Young, Jr.’s issue has always been if he could get on base enough to warrant playing every day. While his walk rate on this young season is a healthy 10.7% compared to his career-average of 8.4%, there isn’t much belief that will continue over the course of 400+ ABs. On the flip side his 32.1% strikeout rate is simply unacceptable, and has been adding to the general woes of Mets hitters. Will he continue to strike out that much? Maybe not, but how long can the team wait to see. The team has collectively struck out 132 times now in 13 games for a rate of 10.15 Ks per game. The Mets have to start figuring out a way to eliminate Ks, and if that means Eric Young, Jr. has to sit down, then so be it.
Granted, Young will most likely not be any easier on the team’s strikeout totals, however he at least has the potential to hit 15-20 homers, while still injecting some speed into the offense and playing solid defense. Once he is fully healthy and ready to play every day, he should, thus relegating Young, Jr. back into a utility role. According to Mike Puma’s recent New York Post article, it doesn’t look like Collins wants to go with that approach.
Collins was quoted as saying “When Chris gets back I’m going to have the meeting with the four or five guys and explain how I’m going to run it. It’s going to be a juggling match that hopefully we’ll have success doing, that each guy will be refreshed.” A Mets fan’s blood just boils at those words. There are enough question marks on this team as it is, and now Collins wants to voluntarily shove a new one into the already struggling team dynamic. Positions by committee can sometimes work. Not an entire outfield.
Young hasn’t had a chance to win his role, so his playing part-time, especially when raking at the plate, is wasteful. Curtis Granderson (let’s assume the wrist injury is minor) is going to play every day because of his contract. And Juan Lagares has been the outright best player on the team. Unfortunately, it looks like Lagares’ hamstring injury could require a DL stint. If it does, then Young, Jr.’s audition gets extended. If Lagares can play, he absolutely should.
There really is no reason for this juggling, and it should be quelled after a week or two, if not immediately. It’s understandable that Collins wants to use situational playing time to get the most out of his players. It’s been done for years. However, this team is in a state of flux, where everyone apart from David Wright, Daniel Murphy and (regrettably) Ruben Tejada are now in danger of not playing every day. How can a team succeed if 4/5 of your players aren’t sure they are suiting up on a given day?
It’s time the Mets face the facts that while Young, Jr. is a very nice complimentary player, he is not making it on a daily basis. There are plenty of reasons and ways to make sure he plays and impact the team’s overall success. His being forced into the everyday line-up, however, is not helping anything. Hopefully, Collins will see this sooner rather than later.