New York Mets manager Terry Collins recently said that offense is the No. 1 factor when determining the Mets' second baseman for 2011.
“Second base, to me, has become an enormous offensive position,” Collins said. “Why? I’m not really sure, except some of the guys that have been playing there recently [Chase Utley, Dan Uggla] have put up huge numbers at second," Collins said. "But it’s become an offensive position, so to me that’s a big piece to the puzzle, especially when you’ve got that guy [Ike Davis] playing first base that can eat up so much ground over there. It helps out."
If Collins prefers an offensively-minded second baseman, with defense being secondary, does that mean Luis Castillo may actually have a chance to make this team?
Collins has already made it clear that Castillo's only role with this team will be as a starter, the Mets will not use a bench spot on him. The Mets have as many as six different players competing for the second base job.
The Mets' Rule-5 pick, Brad Emaus, and the ever-moving, Daniel Murphy, appear the early favorites to win the job, with the loser earning a spot on the bench. Justin Turner, Chin-Lung Hu and Jordany Valdespin are also possibilities for the Mets in 2011, but Turner and Valdespin are long shots at best because they have minor league options, and Hu fits more as a utility infielder.
Castillo's $6 million salary is what's keeping him in the conversation right now, but it's his offense that might actually earn him a starting role.
Castillo played in only 86 games for the Mets last season, batting .235 with 17 RBI and a .337 OBP. Don't put much stock in his defensive stats (.993 fielding percentage, 2.8 UZR), as Castillo started just 64 games at second base.
In extremely limited work, Castillo's defense can appear solid. But the Mets don't need a second baseman for half a season. They need dependability and consistency.
In his only full season as a Met, 2009, Castillo was actually a good offensive player, one of the few that season. In 142 games, Castillo batted .302 with 40 RBI, 20 stolen bases and a .387 OBP.
That season is much more of an outlier than an example of Castillo's capabilities at this point in his career. If 100 percent healthy, can he be a solid player for the Mets? Maybe. But why would the Mets gamble on Castillo's ability to stay healthy when they have younger options available?
If Collins wants offense over defense, he'll also want some power, which Castillo has none of. In four and a half seasons with the Mets, Castillo has five home runs. Granted, the home run has never been a part of Castillo's game (his career-high is six in 2003), but the Mets have better power options.
Emaus hit 15 home runs between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Las Vegas last year in the Blue Jays farm system, combining for a .398 OBP. He walks a lot (2.63 BB/K ratio last season) and he has good power to the gaps (32 doubles in 445 at bats).
Emaus has yet to start at the major league level and his defense is questionable, but now we know that's not so important to Collins.
The Mets are still in love with Murphy, who says he's determined to make this team in any capacity. Murphy held his own in two stints in the major leagues in 2008 and 2009, combining for 14 home runs, 80 RBI and a .289 BA.
It's easy to forget that Murphy's defense at first base was more than decent because his ugly performance in left field is so hard to forget. But again, if Murphy can establish himself as even a serviceable second baseman, Collins should feel comfortable giving him a spot on this team. A bench spot is also likely, should Murphy fail to win the second base job outright.
Collins wouldn't say that offense is the only factor for a second baseman, you still have to be able to turn the double play, Collins added. But Emaus is a natural second baseman and Murphy has been working out at second base for almost a year now.
So while it's still very early in Spring Training, Collins is giving us an idea of what he's looking for in the second base competition: offense.
That could leave Castillo on the outside looking in once all is said and done.