When the New York Mets broke camp from Port St. Lucie this season there were plenty of question marks throughout their lineup. Who was going to leadoff? What was going to be the starting outfield? Was John Buck going to be able to be a starting catcher in the MLB anymore? Through the first 20 games of the season, many of these questions have been answered with a resounding answer.
We’ll start with the leadoff spot in the lineup. There has not been a clear cut favorite to hold this spot. To begin the year we saw Colin Cowgill given this spot. Cowgill, a promising outfielder that was playing in the Oakland A’s system for the past few years, had a fantastic spring and many fans were hoping that he would be the leadoff man for the team this season.
Unfortunately, his great spring didn’t translate into a great start to the season. Coming into Thursday’s game Cowgill was batting .190 with two HRs and eight RBI. But the worst part of his stat line so far is his inability to draw walks. As a leadoff hitter, you need someone who is able to get on base and be the catalyst in the lineup to get things going for the middle of the lineup. His on base percentage and batting average are exactly the same at .190. With his in ability to flourish at this spot in the lineup, they turned to Ruben Tejada.
Tejada should be the leadoff hitter for the remainder of the season. He is a prototypical leadoff man, a player that sees pitches, has nine strike outs on the year in 66 at bats and can get on base. His .212 batting average is something to be desired, but he is able to draw walks with his OBP being .292. Tejada is still a young player learning to play at the Major League level. He plays a strong defensive short stop and is a player that can set things up for the big hitters in the lineup.
The next question was the outfield. Many people wondered if the Mets had even one Major League caliber outfielder on the roster. This season they have done a formidable job in the field as well as at the plate. It’s been mostly made up Marlon Byrd, Lucas Duda and Cowgill, with Jordany Valdespin and Mike Baxter platooning. Duda and Byrd have gotten off to very good starts this season, with the two combing to hit six HRs and 18 RBI. But it’s the play of Valdespin of late that is really giving the Mets a boost in the outfield. He is swinging the bat very well to start the season and with his rare combination of speed and power, he is becoming a threat, as we saw Thursday night with his walk off grand slam against the Los Angeles Dodgers. If these three are able to keep it up throughout the season the Mets could be sitting pretty come September.
Has there been a better story in baseball this year than Buck? When the Mets shipped R.A. Dickey up to the Toronto Blue Jays, Buck was considered to be a throw in for the deal, since they traded Josh Thole as well. But through the first 20 games of the season, he leads the NL in RBI and is tied for second in the league with seven HRs. One of the most interesting stats that I have heard about Buck’s start to the season is that there has never been a catcher in his first 20 games to start a season with seven or more HRs while driving in 20 or more runs. That’s right. Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza or any of the other great hitting catchers in MLB history have never had a start to a season like this. Not bad for a guy that was on the fringe of becoming a minor leaguer for the remainder of his career.
It’s early on in the season, but the Mets are answering the questions that needed to be answered. Even though they are only at .500, they are playing exciting baseball and playing the way Terry Collins wants them to play, a hard nosed in your face style with a team first mentality that will never quit playing no matter the score.
Jerry Elsing is a New York Mets writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ j_els22, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google