Filling the third base position has always been a challenge for the Mets as demonstrated by the fact that they have trotted out 182 different players to try and handle the hot corner since their 1962 inaugural season. Of those 182 players, only 25 have played more than 100 games. 112 players appeared at 3B for 20 games or less and 21 players got the chance for only one game. The names on the list range from players that you probably never heard of (Andy Green, Bob Heise and David Lamb), to those who normally played and excelled at another position (Gary Carter, Carlos Baerga, Jerry Grote and Dave Kingman).
Of course the list is led by 2001 first round pick David Wright who made his debut on July 21, 2004 and over 14 seasons played 1,586 games at third. A fan favorite, Wright had 1,777 hits and hit 242 HRs along with 970 RBI. He won Gold Glove awards in 2007 and 2008 and Silver Slugger awards those same two years.
It will come as no surprise that switch hitter Howard Johnson holds the #2 spot with 835 games at third. Obtained in 1985 in a trade with Detroit for pitcher Walt Terrell, over 14 seasons in the big leagues Johnson had 1,229 hits to go along with 228 Hrs. He won Silver Slugger awards in 1989 and 1991. He also platooned at 3B on the 1986 championship team with Ray Knight, who comes in at #12 with 232 games at third.
For those old enough to remember the ’69 team, coming in at #3 is Wayne Garrett who logged 711 games at third during seven seasons. Garrett was not much of a hitter or fielder but is remembered for sharing third base with Ed Charles during the miracle season of 1969. Charles is #7 on the list with 247 games at the hot corner.
Four, five and six on the list are popular Mets of yesteryear – Hubie Brooks (516 games), Edgardo Alfonzo (515 games) and Robin Ventura (436 games). Number eight on the list is fan favorite Todd Frazier with 243 games.
Had Wright been able to stay healthy for 3-4 more seasons, he might have neared the elusive 2,000 games played at 3B plateau, something that is considered the gold standard, considering the company he would have joined. While Wright is certainly headed to the Mets’ Hall of Fame, his lack of years will keep this fan favorite out of Cooperstown.
So who ranks highest on the list of MLB games played at third base?
The most games played at third rests with Adrian Beltre at 2,759. He played several years with several different teams including the Dodgers, Rangers and Mariners, which probably explains why his name did not initially even come to mind while creating this list. Not eligible for Hall of Fame (HOF) consideration until 2024, he played 20 years, had 3,166 hit, 477 home runs, 1,707 RBI, and a career batting average of .286. He may not get in on the first ballot despite his credentials but should earn his plaque at some point sooner than later.
Graig Nettles comes in second with 2,412 games at third. He played 22 years with several teams, but gained his fame playing the hot corner at Yankee stadium for much of the 1970’s and into the early 1980’s. He never got more than 9% in the HOF vote and while he accumulated some decent hitting stats (390 HRs, 1,314 RBI) and at one point in time had the most home runs for a third basemen, his claim to fame was his glove work.
Gary Gaetti played 19 seasons with several teams racking up 2,282 games at third base. His stats were comparable to Nettles as he had 2,280 hits, cracked 360 home runs and had 1,341 RBI. No chance at the HOF for him due to mostly playing for small market teams like the Twins, Angels and Royals, it’s easy to see why his name would not immediately come to mind to most of us.
Wade Boggs played 18 seasons, mostly between the Red Sox and Yankees, and logged 2,215 games at third. He had 3,010 hits, 1,014 RBI, finished with a career average of .328 and was a doubles machine. He won two Gold Glove awards and eight Silver Slugger awards. He won a series ring with the Yankees in 1996, failed to win one against the 1986 Mets, and holds the record for batting average at Fenway Park at .369. Bet you thought Ted Williams would have held that record. Boggs was inducted into the HOF in 2005.
Mike Schmidt comes in next at 2,212 games played at third. He played his entire 18 year career with the Phillies and cracked 548 HRs along with 1,595 RBI. He was a three-time MVP, a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner and a six-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He was the MVP of the Phillies 1980 world champion team and an outstanding defender at the hot corner. He was elected to the HOF in 1995.
In only his first season with the team, Eduardo Escobar already sits at #20 with 128 games played at third. He was one of eight Mets to play third base in 2022 and the only one to exceed 20 games at that position. By virtue of a late season hitting surge, he racked up 20 HRs to go along with 69 RBI. It was his late season hitting surge that we look to and hope we get in 2023, but for those who are doubtful, remember that in 2021, while playing with the Diamondbacks and the Brewers, he cracked 28 HRs and knocked in 90 runs.
He is considered a below average fielder although you generally did not get that impression watching him play. Playing alongside Francisco Lindor certainly was helpful. There was a frantic month over the winter where it looked like we would finally come to terms with Carlos Correa, but in the end he took his questionable right fibula and stayed in Minnesota. It then became very easy to pencil Escobar in as the Mets 2023 starter at the hot corner.
If Escobar can duplicate the number of games played at third in 2023, he will quickly jump to 7th all-time on the Mets’ list. In order for him to do so, he will have to stay healthy, and also hit closer to how he did down the stretch. If he doesn’t hit then there are alternatives to consider.
Spring training is the time for veterans and prospects to strut their stuff and vie for not only a roster spot, but for playing time. It would appear likely, based on the strength of his fielding, that Luis Guillorme will serve as the primary backup to Escobar at third. His glove is unquestioned, but more consistency at the plate, other than very prolonged at bats, would make us all feel better.
Next in line is Brett Baty who will certainly be doing his best to show that he belongs at Citifield from the start of this season. However, given that he only played a handful of games at Syracuse, and he certainly did not wow anyone in his brief time up with the varsity, it stands to reason that he needs more experience at the AAA level. If all goes as planned he will likely join the team later in the year.
There was an interesting article a month ago in The Athletic about Baty spending time down in Texas working with former big leaguer Troy Tulowitzki, the standout shortstop who played 13 seasons primarily with the Rockies. Tulowitzki believes that Baty has the hitting tools but must improve his fielding ability by working hard to the point where he instinctively reacts to balls hit his way and stops over thinking what to do with it when it gets to him. According to the article Baty is taking hundreds of grounders every day and is making good progress.
Here’s to health and productivity for Escobar in 2023!