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Mets: Early Grades for New York Mets' September Call-Ups

Jared StecklerContributor IISeptember 13, 2013

Mets: Early Grades for New York Mets' September Call-Ups

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    As we close in on two weeks since Major League Baseball’s annual roster expansion date, the New York Mets’ September call-ups—both young and old—continue to settle in. In accordance with the interminable digital media world of today, it’s never too soon to analyze and provide some early grades on their respective performances thus far.

    Injuries, trades and minor league playoff baseball left the Mets with plenty of juggling to do—even before September 1. Subsequent roster shuffling has, not surprisingly, been erratic.

    Few familiar faces have been recalled in the past few weeks. Others—likely recognizable only by name—have managed to reach baseball’s highest level for the first time in their professional careers. Either way, the traditional notion of “September call-ups” has been rendered something of an abstract concept in Queens this year.

    The call-up process at this point of the season varies from team to team as circumstances dictate—a fact that actually has some baseball circles clamoring for an amendment to the current rules governing such roster discrepancies in September.  

    David Wright announced that he expects to return from his hamstring injury before the conclusion of the season. If he does rejoin the team, at this point one has to wonder if he will even recognize his own locker room. As of September 13, Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy are the Mets’ only Opening Day starting position players still on the active roster.

    By the time rosters increased from 25 to 40 active players, the Mets already featured a team comprised of early call-ups. Prior to the first wave of legitimate September call-ups, management’s hand had already been forced. Circumstances compelled the Mets to begin raiding their minor league rosters in August, rather than waiting for September as is typical. Believe it or not, Wilmer Flores—for example—has already been with the team for over a month, and with mixed results.   

    With that in mind—and, perhaps, providing a more worthwhile basis for player evaluation—the definition of a September call-up for our purposes is as follows:

    Any current Met added to the team’s roster since August 17—the date John Buck was placed on paternity leave and replaced by Travis d’Arnaud—is eligible for inclusion.  Grades will be based on production since their most recent call-up.  Respective career standards and expectation levels will be considered in grading. "C+” indicates average performance on the grading scale, where production was virtually indistinguishable from the anticipated results.

    In many ways, the aforementioned date turned out to mark the Mets’ effectively conceding  2013 and the beginning of player auditions for 2014. Shortly thereafter, a myriad of factors prompted a series of organization-wide transactions.

    Certain players—like Duda and rookie Matt den Dekker—were added to the active roster prior to September 1, yet they have as much to prove as any ballplayer this final month. Such a liberal eligibility standard permits their inclusion. After all, what would an evaluation of September call-ups be without the call-ups most likely to be actively graded by the Mets’ brass themselves this September?

    Lacking the good fortune of creative liberty—that’s what.

    Continue reading for the early grades of the Mets’ September call-ups. The last page is reserved for call-ups receiving "incomplete" grades due to insufficient at-bats or innings pitched.

     

    All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and current as of Thursday, September 12.

     

Matt den Dekker, CF

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    Matt den Dekker made his major league debut on August 29 in center field. His performance the remainder of the season is sure to be closely monitored within the organization.

    The 26-year-old outfielder is best known for his superb glove. His bat, however, is still a work in progress. To warrant a future as an everyday outfielder in the major leagues, the former University of Florida standout needs to develop a better eye at the plate.

    Den Dekker is a bit of a mystery to evaluate. He is speedy, can cover as much ground as anybody in the outfield and has undeniable pop at the plate. Scouts plainly love Den Dekker’s tools. The problem is, none of that is enough to make up for his low contact and high strikeout rates if he doesn't begin to draw more walks.

    After 12 games with the Mets, Den Dekker is hitting .242/.286/.333 in 35 plate appearances.

     

    Grade: C+

    For whatever reason, Den Dekker has experienced a slow start at nearly every new level of professional baseball—before eventually putting it all together in a big way, both offensively and defensively.

    He departed from Las Vegas with an .852 OPS in 53 games. His major league OPS is substantially lower at .619, but hardly cause for concern.

    Den Dekker has had just 35 plate appearances. His production is hardly cause for concern, yet, and given his historical nature of starting slow, he has encouragingly began to look more comfortable in the batter’s box already.

    In typical fashion, Den Dekker has been everything the Mets could have anticipated. He has done some great things—like hammering his first career home run to the upper-deck in Nationals’ Park—and characteristically struck out 13 times compared to two walks drawn.

     

Tim Byrdak, RP

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    The oldest of the Mets’ call-ups is Tim Byrdak. In a year’s time, the 39-year-old returned from major shoulder surgery and is back with the franchise for the third consecutive season.

    It took Byrdak 26 minor league games, but the left-handed reliever completed a rehab process that was very much in doubt at the time of the injury. With a 1.27 ERA during his rehab stint, he made the decision to promote him on September 1 a simple one.

    Byrdak threw 1.1 scoreless innings in his season debut, but he has struggled since. In his last three appearances, Byrdak has surrendered two home runs and given up three earned runs.

     

    Grade: C-

    His 8.10 September ERA is the victim of an awfully small sample size, but it hasn’t been a pretty so far. Considering his level of minor league dominance, his performance has been disappointing—but it also shows that there is clearly something left in Byrdak’s tank.

     

Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP

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    The Mets signed Daisuke Matsuzaka following a barrage of injuries to their pitching staff.

    Matsuzaka was immediately slotted into the rotation. In his time in New York, he has done very little to suggest the ability to regain his 2010, 25-win form.

    Since his season debut on August 23, the former highly sought-after Japanese pitcher has lasted beyond the fifth inning just once—a 5.2 inning, one run affair in his most recent start.

    Matsuzaka owns an even 8.00 ERA after four starts. He has given up 22 hits, three home runs, 10 walks and 16 runs in 18 innings of work since joining the Mets.

     

    Grade: D

    Matsuzaka is running out of chances to demonstrate any major league value heading into the offseason. His unbearably slow work rate on the mound is unlikely to help his cause either.

    He narrowly avoided a failing grade with a respectable outing on September 8. It could spell the end of a short-lived—if not disappointing—MLB career should Matsuzaka fail to build off of the performance.  

     

Lucas Duda, 1B

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    Lucas Duda is one of the most curious and polarizing assets the franchise has. This—despite strongly fitting the mold of the Mets’ organizational hitting philosophy. He draws walks. He has demonstrated raw power potential. He won’t be eligible for free agency until after 2017, which should keep him affordably priced. Even if he has yet to put it all together, there is little doubt that the 27-year-old has the potential to do some damage with the bat.  

    But above all else, Lucas Duda is a man without a position.

    A season-ending injury that couldn’t have come at a worse time for Ike Davis has presented Duda with a new lifeline of sorts. The injury allows Duda to slide back into his “natural” position at first base. After a dreadful 233-game failed experiment in the outfield that—quite frankly—lasted about 233 games too long, this is quite a relief for everybody involved. At the very least, Mets fans won’t be forced to cringe every time a ball is hit in his direction anymore.

    The soft-spoken, hulking Duda recently addressed his return to first base with Kristie Ackert of the NY Daily News.

    “I’m much more comfortable at first,” Duda said. “That takes the pressure off of me.”

     

    Lucas Duda's Career Splits by Position

    SplitGBAOBPSLGOPStOPS+
    as 1B63.296.380.453.834117
    as LF110.228.318.427.74592
    as RF120.253.344.417.76197

    Duda’s ability to create runs as an outfielder pales in comparison to the runs he costs his team defensively. Will his hitting prowess be enough to produce a net gain as a first baseman? Expectations are even greater at the more offensively demanding first base position.  

    Nobody expects him to be Keith Hernandez with the glove. But even with league-average defense at the position, Duda must provide more offense if he is to be the team’s everyday first baseman moving forward.

    Whether or not the promise he has flashed with the bat throughout his career is enough stick in the big leagues—especially on a National League team—remains to be seen.  

    On one hand, critics point to a .239 batting average in 2013 and see a AAAA player without a position. His inability to drive in runs has been even more damning. In 80 games, Duda has just 27 runs batted in. His batting average sits at .156 with runners in scoring position.

    The Mets, however, believe that Duda has the tools to be a productive major league hitter—and advanced metrics tend to agree with the sentiment. Duda’s 117 OPS+* in 2013 is considerably above average—he trails only Wright and the recently departed Marlon Byrd for the Mets’ team lead.

    Interestingly enough, there may even be something to be said for Duda’s claim that playing first base has allowed him to relax. He batted .381 with a 1.099 OPS in his first eight games since returning from Las Vegas.  

    Duda has as much to prove as anybody on the active roster this September. The position change could be paying instant dividends in the batter’s box if his career numbers when starting at first base are any indication. If at all sustainable, Duda’s career .834 OPS at first base would be good enough for seventh among all major league first basemen in 2013. There is always a decent chance the number is merely a small sample-size mirage that will eventually normalize, however.

     

    Grade: C

    Lucas Duda is currently mired in a slump after powering through the first week of September at a torrid pace.

    He put up an OPS of 1.099, with a homer and two doubles in the eight-game stretch immediately following his call-up. In the subsequent seven games—from September 6 to September 12—the first baseman had zero extra base hits and was the owner of an unsightly .347 OPS.

    It is probably just a rough patch, but now is a bad time for it to be in a prolonged slump.

    His numbers are down to .244/346/.356 since being recalled on August 25. It will take just one bounce-back week to paint a totally different picture, but a slash line like that will inspire very little confidence in Mets’ decision-makers this offseason.

    *OPS+ is adjusted for park factors.  An OPS+ of 100 indicates league average production.  Check out the Baseball-Reference Batting Stats Glossary for a greater understanding.

Aaron Harang, SP

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    The Mets, in need of a sixth starter, signed Aaron Harang on September 2.  

    He was activated for a September 12 start against the Washington Nationals. The Mets failed to avoid being swept, but the newest member of the pitching staff pitched well. Harang, 35, struck out 10 Nationals in six innings of three-run baseball.  

    He allowed just four total hits in the game—three of them were the solo shots responsible for each run he gave up.

     

    Grade: B

    Harang’s 10 strikeouts in six innings of work were impressive.

    For a pitcher released by the Seattle Mariners just two-and-a-half weeks prior, he certainly made a solid first impression—pitching about as well as the Mets could have hoped for in his only start.

     

Travis d'Arnaud, C

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    Travis d’Arnaud was—at the time—the big prize acquired in the R.A. Dickey trade this past offseason. At 24 years old, D'Arnaud became the top position-player in the Mets farm system upon arrival—and arguably the best catching prospect in all of baseball too.

    When Buck was placed on paternity leave, D’Arnaud officially made his long-awaited big league debut against the San Diego Padres. He has taken over the starting catching duties full-time since.  

    Enthusiasm, however, has been tempered by his first 66 at-bats.  

    The talented young catcher has been unable to find any consistency in his first bout with the major league pitching. After hitting .194 with a .652 OPS in the month of August, D’Arnaud is down to .100 and .200, respectively, through 30 at-bats this September.

     

    Grade: C-

    Take your finger off the panic button and remind yourself that D’Arnaud has yet to experience even one full month in the major leagues.

    D’Arnaud’s .152/.230/.227 line is a little disheartening, but a player’s first 66 MLB at-bats are an exceedingly weak indicator of future success. His full minor league career would give you a much better idea of the type of hitter he can be—even at the MLB level.

    He is struggling mightily against the best pitchers the world has to offer, but there are a couple of silver linings.

    In August, D’Arnaud drew seven walks in his first 44 plate appearances—good for an OBP of .318 despite hitting only .194 that month. A .402 OBP is 86 career AAA games proves his patience is no fluke. What’s more, his OBP was an obscene .457 in 19 AAA games before the call-up.

    D’Arnaud is not all bat, either. The catcher has received high praise for his ability to “frame” pitches—a skill better understood, and considered more valuable now than ever before.

    Mets bench coach and former MLB catcher, Bob Geren, spoke with Newsday’s Mark Carig recently, describing the rookie catcher as “one of the best young receivers I have ever seen.”

    Travis d’Arnaud has undoubtedly been quite underwhelming offensively, but I could not bring myself to go any lower than a “C-” grade.  The value of a patience at the plate and defensive prowess behind it are too high.

     

Vic Black, RP

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    The Mets recently acquired Vic Black in exchange for Marlon Byrd and John Buck.

    Black is a flamethrower capable of reaching 99 miles per hour on his fastball and stands at a robust 6’4”, 215 pounds.  He joined the Mets active roster on September 1, just days after the trade sent him to the National League East.  

    In five innings since his promotion, Black has a 5.40 ERA. The number is inflated by his latest outing in which he gave up two runs on three hits. Black has shown promise, however. Opponents were held hitless in four separate scoreless appearances.  

     

    Grade: B

    The 25-year-old relief pitcher departed for New York with just four innings of major league experience to his name. Before he ever had the chance to catch his breath, Black was heading to Citi Field.

    So first new discovery... take the express 7 train rather than the local. Hitting every stop is slightly annoying #newguy

    — Victor Black (@Vic_Black_2) September 9, 2013

     

    It’s hard to say what effect—if any— an unfamiliar team devoid of much veteran presence has on the acclimation of a rookie walking into a major league locker room for one of his first times.

    All things considered, Black has pitched about as well as the Mets could have reasonably hoped for.  

    The strikeouts numbers are currently low, but there are enough encouraging signs to forgive two subpar appearances in six outings. Despite only three strikeouts, he has surrendered a single walk and a home run. Limiting walks and home runs is a great way to find himself a home in Sandy Alderson’s 2014 bullpen.

     

Anthony Recker, C

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    Anthony Recker spent most of 2013 in a backup catcher role behind John Buck in Queens. Of 69 career major league games, 42 came in a Mets uniform this year. The 30-year-old held held his own through the biggest opportunity of his professional career.  

    Recker’s performance might even warrant discussion of a possible return in a similar backup capacity next season.

    He doesn’t get on base much, but Recker’s .408 slugging percentage is a testament to his power ability. Six home runs and six doubles in 135 plate appearances is more than acceptable production for a backup catcher.  

    The former Oakland Athletics’ product was briefly sent down to Las Vegas in August while the Mets shopped Buck who had been succeeded by catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud.  

    Recker rejoined the Mets in time for a start on his birthday. He picked up right where he left off, with a home run as part of a three-run and two RBI effort.

    He owns a triple slash line of .364/.533/.636 in four starts since being recalled on August 27.

     

    Grade: A-

    The only thing separating Recker from a full “A” is his limited playing time.

    With that said, he couldn’t have performed any better since his recent promotion. Recker’s cartoonish 1.170 OPS in 16 plate appearances leads all Mets hitters in that time span.

Ruben Tejada, SS

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    Having started just two games since being recalled on September 10, Ruben Tejada must receive an “incomplete” grade. He is far too intriguing a commodity, however, to unilaterally note him as such. A lot of eyes will be on Tejada in the last month—his own slide was required to explain why.

    Tejada was once considered the long-term solution to the hole created at shortstop by Jose Reyes’ departure—a reminder of how quickly things can change in professional sports. Now, Tejada’s antics have been drawing the ire of club officials for over a year.

    Tejada has hardly been much of an offensive force before, but when his typically reliable defensive prowess began to falter, whispers of a possible demotion began circulating.

    The Mets’ 2013 Opening Day shortstop hit the disabled list with a quadriceps strain in May, after struggling for the better part of 50 games. Despite his eventual good health, Tejada was relegated to the minor leagues. He was finally recalled this week.

    Tejada’s work ethic has been perpetually called into question dating back to his tardy—at least by Terry Collins’ standards—Spring Training arrival in 2012. Before the homegrown infielder ever arrived at the team’s facility that spring, manager Terry Collins voiced his displeasure. He pulled no punches.

    Via Andrew Keh of The New York Times:

    “I am a little surprised,” Collins said of Tejada’s absence. “A lot of it is just selfishness on my part. I take great pride in the game itself and respect the game itself, and I wish everybody had the same respect for it and wanted to get started as early as possible.”

    Tejada should receive the majority of the starts at shortstop for the remainder of 2013. Collins has admitted that the 2014 starting job is still his to be won, but it should be an uphill battle. The Mets have question marks all over the diamond heading into the offseason. The last thing the they want is another hole to address from outside of the organization.  A strong September for Tejada would be tremendous for all parties.

    General manager Sandy Alderson has shown very little desire to refrain from taking his own shots at the 23-year-old throughout the season. Speaking with WFAN’s Mike Francessa recently, Alderson likened the process of urging Tejada to work hard to “pulling teeth.”  

    Disappointment seems to be the recurring theme, but according to Andy Martino of the NY Daily News, at least one unnamed team official still believes Tejada will factor into the future plans of the franchise.

    Tejada was at his best in 2012—a sure-handed, defense-first shortstop. He demonstrated gap-to-gap power (26 doubles) at the dish and he had an ability to draw the occasional walk (.333 OBP). Of course, the latter category could use some improvement if he hopes to hit near the top of the lineup.

    That’s what the Mets expect out of him. The best thing Tejada could do this September would be to get back to the basics. In the past, Tejada had strong focus on defense, and was usually looking to spray the ball to all fields at the dish. It’s an approach that afforded him a major league debut at 20 years old.

    Tejada has yet to collect a hit in six plate appearances since returning from Las Vegas.

     

Incomplete Grades

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    The following players meet September call-up standards, but receive a grade of “incomplete” due to insufficient sample-size. Since call-up:

    • Each position-player below has registered under 10 at-bats
    • Each pitcher below has registered under three innings pitched

     

    Zach Lutz

    Zach Lutz was selected by the Mets in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. He has limited major league experience and is already 27 years old. Lutz, however, has proven more than capable of handling minor league pitching. In four AAA seasons, his career OPS is .879.

    The Mets recalled Lutz on September 1. In seven at-bats, Lutz has collected just two hits and one walk.

     

    Greg Burke

    Greg Burke has thrown just one inning since being recalled on September 8.

    The New Jersey native has a 5.64 ERA in 2013, struggling to find his touch all year.  In his one inning of work this September, he allowed three runs on two hits, two walks and a home run.

     

    Mike Baxter

    A heroic, no-hitter preserving, 2012 catch earned Mike Baxter permanent residence in Mets-lore, but he was demoted after struggling early in 2013. Baxter was relegated to the Mets AAA affiliate in Las Vegas after hitting for a woeful .586 OPS in 104 major league at-bats this season—his third in a Mets uniform.  

    In 2012—Baxter hit to the tune of a .778 OPS, performing the role of fourth outfielder admirably.

    After totaling 53 minor league games at the age of 28, Baxter was recalled on September 9. The New York-native has one hit in seven plate appearances since being promoted.

     

    Sean Henn

    Sean Henn received his call-up following a solid AAA season.  

    Henn, 32, has surrendered two walks and no runs in 1.1 innings of work this September.

     

    Juan Centeno

    Juan Centeno was one of three players called up on September 9—it marked his first time in the big-leagues.

    The Mets grabbed Centeno in the 32nd round of the 2007 draft out of Puerto Rico.

    The 23-year-old catcher is no slugger, but his arm strength is undeniable. In 67 games at Las Vegas this year, he threw out 56% of attempted base-stealers. Centeno spent seven years in the minor leagues. He is still waiting for his first major league at-bat.

     

    Frank Francisco

    Frank Francisco dealt with elbow issues for the vast majority of 2013. He finally made his Citi Field arrival September 8. In 2 innings, the 34-year-old relief pitcher has allowed three runs and three hits.

    If the recent drama is any indication, this is likely Francisco’s last stint in a Mets uniform.

     

     

      
     

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