J.D. & Rajai Davis and the competition for the last three hitting spots

There’s safety in doing things the way every other team does things. Sometimes this is smart percentage baseball at work and other times it’s done for no other reason than to avoid second guessing. How many times did we hear, “Terry Collins made all of the right moves; his players just didn’t execute?” Pay no attention that the alleged right move was brining Robert Carson or someone similar into the game.

Back in the early 70s, most teams carried either nine or 10 pitchers at a time. These days the number is 12 or 13. Are those the ideal numbers? For some teams, sure. It’s highly unlikely that’s the optimum number for all 30 teams, though. Be that as it may, the default assumption is that a team is going to carry 13 hitters and 12 pitchers, with the hitters nearly always breaking down into the following groups: two hitters, six infielders and five outfielders.

Right now the Mets seem to have a glut of infielders while still having nobody you’d really want to see at shortstop if Amed Rosario came up with a sprained ankle and needed four or five days off to recover. A reasonable question to ask right now is if Brodie Van Wagenen will construct his roster in the typical way or will he be willing to rock the boat and do something out of the norm.

Here are the 10 definites:

C – Wilson Ramos, Travis d’Arnaud
INF – Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie, Todd Frazier, Rosario
OF – Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Keon Broxton, Juan Lagares

And here are the contenders for the final three spots:

Peter Alonso, Gavin Cecchini, J.D. Davis, Rajai Davis, Luis Guillorme, Jeff McNeil, Tomas Nido, T.J. Rivera, Dominic Smith

Because of the time that they missed last season, it seems unlikely that Cecchini and Rivera are serious options to make the Opening Day roster, given the options available. The prudent thing would be to let them get at-bats in Triple-A and let them work back into game-ready condition for the majors. So, let’s look at the rest of them individually.

Alonso would not be in the discussion for an Opening Day assignment with any other team. Instead, they would hold him in the minors for two or three weeks to get the extra year of control. But at the very least, the Mets have talked about not doing that with Alonso. But it’s one thing to give lip service to the idea and another to actually do it.

J.D. Davis seems like a reasonable backup corner infield option. Plus he carries the reputation of being a guy to hit LHP, which is not really a strength of the current team. Unfortunately there’s the issue where he’s hit very well in the Pacific Coast League but not so well in the majors. Could be that’s nothing more than a sample size issue. Or it could be that he’s merely a Quad-A hitter.

Rajai Davis seemed like he had a good chance to make the team when he signed a minor league deal back in December. But his chances took a major hit when the club traded for Broxton. Still, he’s capable of playing all three outfield slots and lifetime his OPS is 100 points higher against LHP, two things that still work in his favor.

Guillorme had the misfortune of being cast as a defensive star and then having to play a lot in the majors at third base, a position he had all of 17 innings of experience. It didn’t go well. But if the club decides to carry a competent backup shortstop, Guillorme is clearly the guy right now. Last year, Mickey Callaway opted to give Rosario multiple days off in a row. Will he do that again in 2019? Guillorme’s case likely depends on that being answered yes.

McNeill is the guy on the contender’s list most likely to make the roster. Still, it’s hard to see where exactly he fits. Do they carry him as the traditional backup middle infielder? Is he part of a platoon at one of the infield corners with Frazier? Is he considered an outfielder now? Or does the club decide it wants him to get regular playing time in the minors? He does have options remaining.

Meanwhile, Nido has the least chance of any of the contenders to make the roster out of Spring Training. His hope, however slight, is that Noah Syndergaard and Ramos don’t click in Spring Training. Nido had great results last year working with Syndergaard. It would be a bold move to break camp with three catchers. We know Sandy Alderson wouldn’t have done it. Is it possibly the bold move that Van Wagenen would consider?

Which brings us to Smith. It seems the last thing the club needs is a lefty-hitting first baseman with unknown power. Or a defensively challenged corner outfielder. On the flip side, is there any advantage of having Smith spend a third summer in Triple-A? He feels like the guy who can win a spot on the roster with a strong Grapefruit League season. If Frazier is the first baseman, do you really need J.D. Davis on the roster?

Assuming no further moves – perhaps not the most-likely scenario – my expectation is that the Mets would come north with both Davises and McNeil. The lineup becomes a question mark, with the only knowns in the infield is that Cano, Lowrie and Rosario play somewhere every day. Maybe it’s those three with some kind of Frazier/McNeil time share. Or maybe J.D. Davis gets in the lineup against southpaws. In the outfield, it’s Conforto and Nimmo in the corners with Broxton and Lagares fighting it out for center field.

If it were up to me, my decision would be to use Spring Training to give McNeil a crash course in the outfield to see if he could be the starting left fielder. His bat seems real to me, one that they should strive to get in the lineup as often as possible. And with the Lowrie signing, that position is clearly in the outfield.

It’s a gamble on multiple fronts. But the upside is what makes the gamble worthwhile to me. And if by mid-May McNeil’s turned back into a pumpkin or proven completely inept in the outfield, it’s easy enough to make a change with all of the depth that Van Wagenen has assembled.

Gambling on McNeil in this role makes it more difficult to gamble on Alonso as a starter in April or to gamble on carrying three catchers. It also makes defensive stability elsewhere more important. So, my other two backups would be Guillorme and Smith, as Smith has the most experience at first base and at least arrived with a good defensive reputation.

One lineup could be:

CF – Nimmo
3B – Lowrie
RF – Conforto
C – Ramos
2B – Cano
1B – Frazier
LF – McNeil
SS – Rosario

Ideally, Ramos isn’t your cleanup hitter. It would be nice if Yoenis Cespedes could come back at some point this year to fill that role. Or maybe Alonso comes in at first base at some point and proves capable of delivering the long ball on a regular basis and can slot there. Plus McNeil seems like a guy you’d like to hit earlier in the lineup, if his 2018 production in both the minors and majors is real. And if Rosario’s hitting the last two months of the season is what he’s ready to deliver, he probably shouldn’t bat eighth. Additionally, should Frazier be hitting that high in the order? His willingness to take a walk might make him the ideal eighth hitter.

The one clear takeaway is that there are a lot of options available to the club right now. Those options include who makes the 25-man roster, who starts where and what the lineup configuration is. Competition is good. Now it’s up to Callaway and Van Wagenen to make decisions based on what will allow the team to win the most games, not feed conventional baseball wisdom or the egos of guys who may not be the player they were three years ago.

25 comments for “J.D. & Rajai Davis and the competition for the last three hitting spots

  1. January 13, 2019 at 6:26 am

    your analysis is a joke. cano 5th? lowrie is ss backup period.

    • Bob P
      January 13, 2019 at 5:17 pm

      It’s far from a joke. Lowrie is no longer a SS except in an emergency.

  2. NYM6986
    January 13, 2019 at 8:33 am

    One benefit of having some older vets on the team is that they are hungry for a title. In the end that’s what they all should be playing for as it happens so rarely for most teams and as we can attest only twice in a lifetime. Everyone needs to check their ego at the door of SP. Still one of the strongest teams we have fielded in years but without one scary bat in the lineup we miss the playoffs again. Can’t wait for Ces. Hope there is a big signing in our future.

  3. Mike Walczak
    January 13, 2019 at 9:16 am

    Good analysis, but I dont think that Van Wags is done yet. The Padres need a third baseman. The Brewers need a second baseman. We could use another relief pitcher and a starter.

    We could see some creative deals.

    • January 13, 2019 at 10:11 am

      Brewers could play Shaw at second again so they could be a landing spot for Frazier.

  4. January 13, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Callaway already said Cano will hit third. Rajai Davis put up a wRC+ in the 50’s in a couple hundred at bats last year if he makes the team we are screwed.

  5. Pete from NJ
    January 13, 2019 at 10:14 am

    The GM filled the glass to overflow with players. So every scenario you listed is a valid possibility. Guys with options remaining are in a clear disadvantage.

    I think the most on my mind is Peter Alonso not having a dynamite spring and spending the first two months in AAA which shows roster strength and not a flaw about Alonso or the organization.

  6. January 13, 2019 at 10:22 am

    That Lineup is ok, but switch Cano and Conforto. Cano will be 3rd, Conforto 5th, and please….no Frazier,
    Alonso at 1B batting 6th. Mets trying McNeil in LF to get his bat in there is a good idea, but that happens after maybe the 1st week when Lagares coughs and gets a back injury….lol….then Nimmo goes to CF and McNeil to LF until after All Star Break when Cespedes comes in and helps Mets take the division. Done, set, match.

    “Down goes Frazier !! ”

    Editor’s Note – Edwin, you’ve commented here many, many times. I’m grateful for that but honestly I’m tired of telling you not to capitalize words in your post. This is the last time I’m doing it for you and not deleting your post.

  7. TexasGusCC
    January 13, 2019 at 10:47 am

    My two cents, for whatever two cents are worth nowadays, Rosario should hit second or leadoff, and there is no reason to be afraid of putting two lefties in a row. McNeil is the perfect 6 hitter and Frazier is a #8 hitter at best on this team until he proves otherwise.

    I get the OBP thing with Rosario, but he is getting better and he’s a big talent. That needs to be cultivated.

    https://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/3/17/795946/optimizing-your-lineup-by

    • January 13, 2019 at 11:16 am

      Nimmo is a terrific leadoff hitter and I can’t see an argument for putting anyone else there. The second spot has multiple people who could fit there and perhaps in the future that’s where Rosario winds up. I’m still a bit in the “prove it” camp with Rosario, wanting to see that it truly has come together for him and not just a six-week hot streak.

      • TexasGusCC
        January 13, 2019 at 2:10 pm

        To expand on my cultivating of our great 23 year old talent and thus investing in our future success, these were his splits by half:
        .246/.289/.379/.668
        .268/.302/.383/.686

        Ok, not the biggest improvement.

        However, some numbers struck me as odd:
        Home: .204/.252/.327/.579. 279 pa
        Away: .303/.334/.429/.763. 313 pa

        Knowing that just about e v e r y full timer last year was a great deal worse at home, I must question: how much of Rosario’s ineffectiveness was due to his home park and is it fair to say that most players may have struggled in his position anyway? It’s one thing to just look at numbers, but it’s more important to understand what affects them.

        And my last piece of info for this first year player, leading off the game:
        .250/.316/.462/.777, 107 sOPS+

        Not terrible for the kid, huh? Obviously he can realize his responsibility and try to rise up to it. With his boyhood idol, compatriot and a great performer like Cano on the team, Rosario may flourish even quicker, and I wouldn’t suppress that to the bottom of the order too hastily. He is easily the biggest chance at being a superstar of all the young players we have, and we all know that how successful we are also depends on how successful our circumstances can allow us to be. Give the kid time. He shouldn’t be the reason for success or failure anyway.

        • Brendan Vachris
          January 13, 2019 at 7:05 pm

          Very good point about how Rosario has still a lot of potential. For a team favoring competing over development it makes more sense to give Nimmo more AB’s, and perhaps Rosario’s plate discipline will continue to improve if in the 8 hole not seeing a ton a strikes. I remember last year being happy to see Rosario up top later on in the season, and hopefully he earns it this year and we see him up there.

      • John Fox
        January 13, 2019 at 7:53 pm

        I think an argument could be made to bat Jeff McNeil leadoff. As was pointed out in Saturday’s article by Dalton, McNeil had a .354 BA while leading off an inning, and batting first in the order would assure him of at least one AB leading off an inning each game and probably more.

        • January 13, 2019 at 8:34 pm

          Not a large enough sample to be taken seriously.

    • January 13, 2019 at 11:54 am

      Nimmo has a 400 on base while Rosario has a 290 on base how can you argue having an obp sinkhole batting leadoff?

      • TexasGusCC
        January 13, 2019 at 12:47 pm

        Before, I was going to respond to Brian but now I’ll put his comment aside for now.

        Sinkhole, huh? Was Reyes a sinkhole? How would you cultivate a talent if you had one? Throw him at the bottom and let him sink or swim? David, I will stop here and invite you to look at Reyes’ first two years and to understand that:
        1. A player improves the most from his first full year until his second full year.
        2. He’s only 23 and you need to evaluate improvement in smaller periods, including his production against the Japanese all-stars, who are very good players.

        • January 13, 2019 at 1:11 pm

          I’m not giving up on him, but he should hit at the bottom of the lineup until he improves his on base numbers, and Reyes shouldn’t have led off in 04 and 05.

        • Chris F
          January 13, 2019 at 1:14 pm

          Unfortunately Gus, it makes no sense to compare Rosario to Reyes, as if his progress arc will be be the same (side note: in my world it is 100% pointless to compare two player to predict the future as they are wholly unrelated). Reyes doubled the BB his next season, which is unlikely for Rosario.

          One major concern for Rosario at the top is that he is a hacker with no plate discipline. That is a huge concern to me. The BB/K ratio is not leadoff like, and so far there is no evidence of it. For the same number of BB as Reyes early on (high 20s for a whole season 🙁 ) Rosario has almost 40 more K.

          Right now, there is no evidence he is a top of the order batter or even heading that way IMO.

  8. Chris F
    January 13, 2019 at 11:26 am

    I think one thing we dont pay enough attention to is the clear evidence that players will be rotating and resting more than ever. While I expect Cano to start at 2B consistnently, I dont expect 9 innings regularly. Realistically, there will be plenty of daily and within-game shuffling, a lot like what Maddon does in Chicago. So its my opinion you will see substantial offense and defense line up maneuvering every day at many positions.

    I cant see a future in NY for Smith who is not a major league ball player. Guillorme is not either. Add Checchini too. Nido hurts no one in AAA, but should not, and will not, make the team. I dont know anything about JD Davis, but to deal for him is a plus for his odds in Queens. Ive always had a soft spot for Rajai Davis, but he will never play for the Mets. McNeil is a slam dunk of course. My interest is in TJ Rivera, ya know, the Jeff McNeil before there was Jeff McNeil. If he recovers and can get back to pre surgery days, he would seem be to a lock…or never to be a Met again.

    • January 13, 2019 at 11:50 am

      In 181 PA over his age 24 and 25 seasons in the majors, Davis has a .581 OPS and a 60 OPS+
      In 332 PA over his age 22 and 23 seasons in the majors, Smith has a .665 OPS and a 79 OPS+

      Maybe Smith isn’t an MLB quality player. But there’s even less evidence that Davis is one.

      • Chris F
        January 14, 2019 at 10:03 am

        I can believe that. Just not sure what BVW sees in him. That they made a move certainly gives him a head start on Smith, an Alderson draftee. As we can see, BVW has very little care about what Alderson’ plans were. As for Smith, Ive seen enough to know he’s not serious about baseball. Of we think of guys like McNeil given a chance and playing with his hair on fire (regardless of actual numbers), Smith is the polar opposite. With his signing bonus of 2.6M$, he’s set for life already. Add the 2 years of partial pro salary and he’s a multimillionaire at age 24. He plays like a retired guy. He got run over and does not seem to care. I cant get behind people like that.

        Definitely not in the mold of a BVW type player.

  9. January 13, 2019 at 11:06 pm

    I have reservations about 2 guys cutting their teeth at the same time—Rosario and Alonzo. They need to be highly focused on “protecting” Rosario….it has to work with him, or they have bigger problems—especially with the evident emphasis on competing day 1.

    With the prevalence of Shifts, I believe a Hitting Suspect/Middle infielder is a bad bench piece. McNeill is probably capable of covering a rest day for Rosario at SS…it’s a differerent question if ever a multiple game replacement is needed—that’s what AAA is for.

    I’m concerned about the Catching situtation— It’s a question that almost begs for a punchline……but is d’Arnaud able to throw yet???? Catching must be a 25% share for the 2nd Catcher…tell me again how Nido is a Great Defensive Catcher….????

  10. MattyMets
    January 14, 2019 at 8:16 am

    Remaining off-season moves and spring training health and performance will dictate a lot. I think especially with the cusp guys like Smith, JD Davis and Rivera, ST evaluation will be telling. Maybe Smith surprises us. He could play first til Alonso arrives, then ease him in with a split platoon and maybe a little time in the corner OF. Alonso should not break ST with the team under any circumstances. Lot of options to fill in til his promotion – Smith, Frazier, Cano, Davis, even TJ.

  11. oldbackstop
    January 14, 2019 at 2:15 pm

    I think when they signed Cano they said three spot, that’s it.

    My spidey-sense is tickling about Rorario’s 0.4 dWAR last year. It would take not much more deteioration there to make Lowrie or McNeil worth a shot.

    Davis, I don’t want to over or under,emphasis, has a wicked slider and can definitely do mop duty if not more

  12. oldbackstop
    January 15, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    McNeil is the Golden Child for now. JD plays IF and OF, he’ll have to play himself off the team in spring training. The front office should be shot if they burn a service year on Alonso. Smith is the only true first baseman…did the benefit of first base defense retire with Keith?

    So, McNeil, JD, Smith.

    CF – Nimmo
    3B – Lowrie
    2B – Cano
    C – Ramos
    RF – Conforto
    LF – McNeil
    1B – Frazier
    SS – Rosario

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