It’s great that the New York Mets have gotten off to a 15-13 start, and if they still have a winning record in September, it would be a major boost for the organization — a sign that progress is finally being made. But ultimately, this season is about giving the organization’s young talent major league experience in order to groom them for 2015 and beyond. That means living with the inevitable growing pains as they refine their skills. Just as a constant wind strengthens the root system of a tree or the stressing of muscles in the gym makes them stronger, growth is often the result of adversity.
So, should the Mets give up on Travis d’Arnaud because he’s hitting .213/.298/.333 through his first 85 plate appearances? Of course not, especially since he’s shown signs of growth. After starting the season 0-for-15, he’s put up a respectable .267/.343/.417 slash with two home runs. He’s also shown improvement behind the plate. He’s been more comfortable and confident handling pitchers, and he doesn’t box the ball like he did at times when he had his cup of coffee last year. He’s also looked better blocking pitches.
If Juan Lagares‘s bat cools down, and he goes into a two-week slump, is it time to bench him? If Jenrry Mejia and Zack Wheeler have a few bad outings, should they be sent down?
All of these players clearly have skills — d’Arnaud’s ability to frame pitches and drive the ball to all fields, Lagares’s range and arm in center field combined with extra-base power, Mejia and Wheeler’s velocity and movement — but those skills need to be refined in order to bring about consistency. For advanced prospects in their mid-20s, major league experience is the best way to do it.
Would sending them to Triple-A make them improve faster? Probably not. They’ve learned all they can at the minor league level; now they have to learn the major league game. The only way to do that is in the major leagues.
Throughout history, several highly-touted prospects have gotten off to rough starts, only to improve, sometimes to a level worthy of the Hall of Fame. Tom Glavine went 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA in his first full year in the major leagues. John Smoltz went 2-for-7 with a 5.48 ERA in his rookie season. Yadier Molina was always a great defensive catcher, but he really didn’t start hitting until the fourth year of his career. Now he’s one of the best hitting catchers in all of baseball. These are just a few examples.
The Mets are going to rely on young players in order to get back into contention in the National League. Some, like pitchers Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero, are on the verge of making it to the big club, while some have already arrived. Some may make an immediate impact like Matt Harvey. The rest will have their growing pains, and the Mets will have to be patient with them if they want them to succeed.