New York Mets: Home Is Where the Heart Is for Their Homegrown Stars

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New York Mets: Home Is Where the Heart Is for Their Homegrown Stars
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Fresh off the heels of rookie Jon Niese’s near-perfect one-hit complete game shutout, the Mets head to Baltimore tonight to resume interleague play.

After all the troubles the Mets have had on the road, the schedule softens up for the next week as they face the Orioles and Indians, two of the worst teams in baseball. If there was ever a time to remedy the putrid 8-18 road record the Mets are currently sporting, these six games are the time to do it.

Especially since after Camden Yards and the Jake in Cleveland, they’re headed to the Bronx to face a Yankees team that will likely have revenge on the mind, not to mention the home field advantage.

The Mets finished a 5-1 homestand by taking two of three from the Padres, a surprising team that had the best record in the National League coming into the series. The Mets are now 24-10 at home, the best record in the majors.

The most refreshing thing about the Mets lately is the contributions they’ve gotten from their homegrown prospects. For the first time in my lifetime, the farm system has produced quality and quantity on the big league team unlike anything I can ever remember.

When Jon Niese and Mike Pelfrey are on the mound, they join David Wright, Jose Reyes, Ruben Tejada, Ike Davis and Angel Pagan in the Mets starting lineup, giving them six homegrown guys in their starting nine.

Think about that for a second. This is not the Tampa Bay Rays or the Minnesota Twins here. The New York Mets, a big market National League team known for their uneven free agent signings, actually has an entire homegrown infield at the moment, with Luis Castillo on the shelf.

David Wright and Jose Reyes are still only 27 years old, and it feels like they’ve been here forever. Both are multiple time All-Stars who are just now hitting their prime. Now they’re joined by wunderkind Ike Davis, he of the sweet lefty glovework and the timely moonshot homers. Davis, for the record, is second among all rookies in SLG only behind the superhuman Jason Heyward.

The youngster Ruben Tejada, a 20-year-old middle infielder from Panama, has taken over the everyday second base duties in the past few days filling in for the injured Luis Castillo, and he’s brought a defensive presence that Castillo has lacked since his Florida Marlins days.

Tejada, a defensive wizard who only played 37 minor league games at 2B, impressed the Mets brass with his surprising offense after hitting .289 as a 19-year-old in AA last year and .294 in AAA this year. If he hits .250 with the big league squad and continues to play fabulous defense, the Mets seem likely to hand him the job for the foreseeable future.

Amazingly enough, another 2B down in the minors, 2008 first rounder Reese Havens, is tearing up his first go-around in AA , and gives the Mets even more potential homegrown depth at the position, should Tejada start to fade.

Angel Pagan, yes, is technically another homegrown guy. Drafted by the Mets in the fourth round of the 1999 draft, Pagan was an original Brooklyn Cyclone in 2001 and toiled in the minors for six years before the Cubs acquired him and gave him his first taste of big league ball.

Before the 2008 season, Pagan was reacquired by the Mets and he has become invaluable in center field, both with the glove and the bat, a classic late bloomer who has become a under-the-radar star in New York.

According to FanGraphs, Pagan leads all National League center fielders with a 6.9 UZR this year, second in the majors behind Alex Rios, who himself is having a monster season as well. Looking at his value, it’s amazing how good he’s been without the accolades or hype of more highly touted players.

Pagan was worth 29.2 Runs Above Replacement in 2009, and another 19.9 RAR so far this year. Not bad for a guy who had to beat out Gary Matthews Jr for the starting center field job going into the season. As you can see in his WAR rating, he has been worth almost five full wins above replacement in the last two years replacing Carlos Beltran.

Then there’s Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese, two gems drafted by the Mets back in 2005, a draft class that’s shaping up to be one of the best in Mets history. Pelfrey was the ninth overall pick in round one, Niese was picked in round seven.

They also picked up flamethrowing reliever Bobby Parnell in round nine, and top catching prospect Josh Thole in round 13 that year. Kudos to the scouting department on that one. Parnell and Thole are being groomed down in Buffalo right now and likely will be a huge part of the future of the team as well.

Niese was born on the day of the Mets last World Series victory, the day of game seven of the 1986 World Series. I guess he was just destined to be a Met. Niese is 2–0 with a 0.56 ERA in his two starts since returning from the disabled list, and he’s struck out 12 batters and walked one in those 16 innings.

Not too shabby for a 23-year-old who tore his hamstring off the bone following a horrific injury last August that epitomized the 2009 Mets in a nutshell.

And what can you say about Mike Pelfrey right now? If it weren’t for the unconscious Ubaldo Jimenez out in Denver, Pelfrey would be a Cy Young contender. He is not a flash in the pan who’s gotten lucky. What we’re seeing with Big Pelf is a 26-year-old who’s finally learned how to pitch and get hitters out.

A far cry from the pitcher who used to throw fastballs three out of every four pitches in his early days, Pelfrey has mixed in a devastating splitter to become a true ace in the making, a man who throws with a purpose on every single pitch to every batter he faces.

Always a heavy ground ball pitcher, (career GB% of 50.2% ) Pelfrey’s strikeouts have shot up dramatically this season, a career high 6.47 K/9 that, paired with his minuscule BB/9 and HR/9 have translated into high marks in the more traditional stats as well. Pelfrey is 8-1 with a 2.23 ERA in 12 starts, including a 4-0 record and a 1.19 ERA in his last five starts.

Jenrry Mejia, still being held hostage by Jerry Manuel , is another 20-year-old with tremendous upside, that is, whenever the Mets smarten up and send him down to the minors to stretch him out so he can join the rotation.

Needless to say, with the home-cooking the Mets have gotten from their young stars, as well as the hospitality of their home ballpark, it’s looking like home is where the heart is for the Mets.

And that is a big credit to Omar Minaya and his scouting department. He deserves a ton of credit for turning around the farm system, and although it takes years to pay off at times, clearly it’s paid huge dividends to this 2010 team, and it might end up saving his job.

Hey. Winning cures all ailments, doesn’t it? Now, if they can play close to .500 baseball on the road, this will be a team that could be playing in October. Clearly the pressures of the big leagues haven’t deterred the young stars yet, and as long as they keep flying under the radar, this rollercoaster season could have a happy ending for Mets fans.

(This article was originally posted on my personal blog, MetsJetsNetsBlog and can be found here .)

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