Is the Mets' Ryan Church For Real?

Pro Football NYCSenior Writer IMay 9, 2008

When the New York Mets announced that they had traded prize prospect Lastings Milledge away to Washington this past winter for two players, everyone shrugged.  Mets fans, the media, bloggers and TV talking heads all wondered why the Mets would trade Milledge away for two part-time players.

Then, the analysis began. Brian Schneider, the principal player the Mets traded for, was considered by many to be one of the games' best catchers. Not much of a hitter, but the right choice to replace Paul LoDuca, who had played his way out of Flushing.

The other player received, 29-year-old OF Ryan Church, was a bit of a mystery. His statistics were average at best, except for the amount of doubles he accumulated. Last season, Church finally got more than 400 at-bats. He smacked 43 doubles and and 15 homers, knocking in 70 runs.

Those seem like docile numbers to the naked eye, but Church was hitting in the cavernous RFK Stadium last season, where home runs get transformed into doubles and fly-outs.

Mets' GM Omar Minaya, who was the GM of the Washington/Montreal franchise before joining the Mets, knew that Church had a lively bat. His defense needed some work, but he could hit.

Teamed with Schneider, Minaya felt he was getting more than fair value for Milledge, who had fallen out of manager Willie Randolph's good graces.

This season, Randolph has placed Church in several slots in the lineup, depending on whether a right- or left-handed pitcher is going for the opponent.

Against righties, Church is usually slotted in the two-hole between Jose Reyes and David Wright. He has flourished in this role.

Against lefties, Church is moved down to the sixth slot, behind either Moises Alou or Carlos Delgado.  It won't be long before he moves ahead of Delgado and/or Alou, since they have been either injured or inconsistent.

One of the reasons for Church's early New York success is due to a change in his batting stance.

Mets hitting coach, Howard Johnson attributes it to hitting from a more upright position instead of crouching more like he did in Washington.

"He's able to stay on top of the ball," Johnson said. "He's been much more consistent with his mechanics."

The results have been positive for Church and the Mets thus far. He leads the team in batting (.328) and is tied with David Wright for the team lead in homers with 6.

At this rate, Church will get over 500 at bats this season - a season that may jettison him as one of the cornerstones of the Mets for years to come.

published from Mr.Flushing