If you watch the video I post here a bit later today, you will hear me note several times that I’m not a scout, that my eyes are not professionally trained, and that I have no idea what I’m looking for. Sometimes I think I do and even convince myself of it, then I speak to someone who knows more than I do and I’m shown all the countless things I am missing.
I watched the Mets take infield today. I watched the Mets do a lot of things today, but it was the infield session that most impressed me. What could only be described as the Mets’ first group was on the field. Ike Davis at first; Luis Castillo, Daniel Murphy and Brad Emaus at second; Jose Reyes and Chin-Lung Hu at short; David Wright at third.
It’s the same thing every Little League team in the country does at every practice: Coaches hit grounders, players scoop ‘em up and throw them to bases. Only the Mets are, you know, better than Little Leaguers. Much, much better.
This is breaking news: Major League Baseball players are awesome at baseball. Just watching Reyes throw is worth the airfare to Florida. Next to him Wright charges short grounders, with the tongue out and the underhanded zip to first, the whole thing. It’s not full-on real-life now-it-counts baseball action, but it’s more concentrated than anything you get in games. During the season you might have to watch the Mets for a week to see Reyes make ten throws from the hole. Here it happens in 10 minutes.
A couple people I spoke to pointed out how Murphy looked awkward at second. And compared to the other second basemen, perhaps he did. But he still cleanly fielded almost all the balls hit his way, caught all the relay throws from Wright and Reyes and fired a string of bullets to Davis. There was no way, from the drill, to measure his range against Emaus’, or those of every other second baseman in the Majors.
The one clear distinction among the three men vying for the Mets’ second-base job taking grounders on Field 7 on Thursday is that many of the particulars of the position appear to come easier to Castillo than they do his teammates. When turning double plays, Murphy and Emaus catch, then throw. For Castillo it’s one fluid motion, like some sort of martial art. The ball enters his glove then comes out his hand, redirected in flight.
Yes, that Luis Castillo: The limping guy with diminished range and no power and the dropped pop-up and everything else. He’s probably not going to make the team and he seems to have little to offer any big-league club at this point, but either his innate ability or the countless repetitions over his 15-year career (or some combination thereof) has provided him an apparent comfort at the position that neither Emaus, with 266 Minor League games at second or Murphy, with 19, can boast.
The good news is it’s not entirely clear that it matters, beyond the aesthetics. Terry Collins has made it clear he believes second base is an offensive position, and since Castillo is hardly covering a ton of ground at this point, the few runs the Mets might save from a handful of extra double plays Castillo would turn that his competitors could not probably do not make up the difference between their bats.
Collins said Justin Turner is still in the second-base mix. And he praised Ruben Tejada’s hitting in the batting cage and said it was “very possible” that the 20-year-old could play his way into a starting job with the Mets, even if he’s ticketed to play shortstop everyday in Buffalo.
Still, Emaus must gain some advantage by being a Rule 5 pick, and Murphy some by being the hard-working home-grown business-meaning fan favorite with 707 not-terrible plate appearances on the back of his baseball card, all of which came before he was the age either Emaus or Turner is now. Collins keeps saying he’ll settle the roster battles in Grapefruit League games.
If I had to bet right now, I’d put money on some combination of Emaus and Murphy — no surprise, I suppose — opening the season at second base for the Mets. It might not make for the most graceful platoon, but the object is only to score more runs than you allow, however you get there.