Now that the July 31 trade deadline has passed, the Mets need to figure out their infield deployment, both for the remainder of 2017 and next season. Right now the only thing seemingly written is stone is the status of Amed Rosario, who was just called up and has yet to play a single inning in the majors. Rosario will be the starting shortstop. Who plays elsewhere the rest of the year and in 2018 is a complete unknown.
Neil Walker seems to be the logical choice to play second base. Typically, managers like to break in a rookie shortstop with an experienced second baseman and Walker is that guy on the Mets. What’s keeping this from being a slam dunk is that Walker’s best chance for being a part of the 2018 Mets is as a third baseman. And just to further cloud the waters, Sandy Alderson indicated that Walker would play some first base, too.
My guess is that Walker is the double play partner for Rosario in the beginning but soon moves to a corner spot. But who knows who’ll replace him? Given how well Jose Reyes has played recently, he figures to play somewhere. Reyes’ defense at third base this year has been less than appealing. But if the Mets decide they want to see Asdrubal Cabrera or T.J. Rivera – assuming his PRP injection is successful – at second, they may have to live with Reyes at the hot corner.
The Mets can also go several different directions at first base. Rivera and Walker are candidates here, as is Jay Bruce. Wilmer Flores has seen action here, too, and will get heavy consideration whenever a LHP starts. And everyone expects Dominic Smith to get the call from the minors to take over at some point. Smith has been on a tear lately, even if he did take the collar Monday in his first game after news broke that Rosario was getting a promotion and he wasn’t.
The jury is still out if Smith is ready. The first two-and-a-half month, Smith did his best James Loney impersonation, getting a hit or walk in nearly every game but not showing the power he needed. After 65 games, Smith had a shiny .314 AVG but with just a .462 SLG. To put it bluntly, first basemen with aspirations of starting in the majors need to show more than a .148 ISO when playing in a hitter’s park in a hitter’s league, like Las Vegas in the PCL. Rivera had a .163 ISO at Las Vegas last year and no one is clamoring for him to be the future starter at first.
But in his last 182 PA, Smith has a .380/.440/.650 line. That .270 ISO came about thanks to 26 XBH, including nine homers. This is the type of hitting a top prospect should do in Vegas. But is 182 PA enough of a sample to declare victory? Usually, it’s not. But if the Mets want Smith to be their Opening Day starter at first base in 2018, they would be best served by getting him as many PA in the majors that they can this year. Let him go through the inevitable struggles now when the games mean little, rather than next year when we expect more to be on the line.
My preference is in mid-August to see an infield of Smith, Rivera, Walker and Rosario. In nine days, the Mets begin a road trip in Philadelphia. Speculation is that the Mets prefer to have their guys make their debut away from Citi Field. Could it be that we see Rosario open tonight in Colorado to be followed by Smith on the very next road trip?
Smith showed improvement this year versus southpaws, notching a .748 OPS against LHP. But it would be a big surprise if he wasn’t platooned when he first made the majors. That’s okay, Flores deserves a shot to continue playing against lefties. And Reyes can be used to back up the other three infield positions. If Rivera is not ready to play, Cabrera can take his place until he is. And if Rivera does indeed return, Cabrera can cheer from the top step of the dugout.