Major League Baseball
Time for middling Mets to promote top prospect Brett Baty, utilize best roster
Major League Baseball

Time for middling Mets to promote top prospect Brett Baty, utilize best roster

Updated Apr. 12, 2023 3:26 p.m. ET

NEW YORK — What else does Brett Baty have to do?

The Mets’ top prospect, stuck in Triple-A purgatory, is slashing .391/.481/1.351 with three home runs in six games. On Tuesday, in his second game back at third base after being briefly sidelined with thumb soreness, Baty went 3-for-5 with a solo shot against the Yankees’ Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The 23-year-old is ripping the cover off the ball with frequent 100-plus mph exit velocities that must make the Mets’ major-league lineup jealous. Or confused.

New York’s front office opting to leave Baty off the Opening Day roster, after he'd already debuted last year and raked during spring training this March, was a head-scratcher in the moment. Now it's a controversy. The Mets had more leeway to make such a decision a couple of weeks ago, despite the immediate fan outrage, since no one had taken a regular-season at-bat yet and no games had been lost. There was also confidence within the organization that incumbent third baseman Eduardo Escobar would produce following his hot September at the plate. 

Four series into this young season, however, Escobar is an automatic out. Through 11 games, he's batting .111 (4-for-36) with a .376 OPS and one home run. Any residual hope in him from 2022 has fizzled. He gets booed by the home crowd. The results are bleak, with little reason to suggest or believe his performance will suddenly change. Plus, he knows he's a placeholder.

"What I believe, Brett Baty is going to be one of the best third basemen in baseball in the future, and Mark Vientos is also going to be one of the best in the game," Escobar told FOX Sports last week. "We were around each other a lot during spring training and we grew really close and we have a great friendship. At the end of the day, for Baty and Vientos, God's timing is perfect. Once Billy [Eppler] sees that they're ready, and that they're able to contribute to the team, he'll make that decision. But as of right now, I'm going out there and just playing my game." 

Running Escobar out at third base every day is getting harder to stomach when Triple-A Syracuse is pushing out daily highlights on Baty’s success. It almost feels like they're trolling their big-league companion. Upon sending Baty down after spring training, general manager Billy Eppler curiously contrasted Baty's time in the minors (179 games at third) with that of Rafael Devers (318 minor-league games at third), Nolan Arenado (415 games) and Austin Riley (435 games). That reasoning feels even more unsatisfactory when considering the caveat Eppler provided regarding prospects: "They’re a phone call away. They don’t need something to happen at the major-league level. They have the type of talent where they can push their way up here." 

OK, so why is Baty still down there

The 6-6 Mets have a $353.5 million payroll — only the highest in MLB history — but aren't fielding their best possible roster. The organization knows it will need contributions from everyone, including some prospects, to get where it wants to go come October. That first requires surviving the next six months. Yet, the Mets are biding their time with Escobar — an approach that could come back to bite them in a formidable NL East division that includes the National League's past two World Series representatives. It’s fair to question whether New York's early reluctance to call up its top prospects will be the difference in winning the division. The three-horse race is expected to be that tight through September.

Mets players, coaches and their billionaire owner all agree that it’s too early in the season to be concerned about some of the team’s unfortunate trends. When does it stop being too early to worry about its .500 start to the season? Owner Steve Cohen didn’t give a clear answer; he left it up to "the baseball people." Maybe it’s May, he said. Maybe it’s June. A couple years ago, under the same owner, a different front office and different circumstances, the Mets fired hitting coach Chili Davis 23 games into the season. And those Mets weren’t built to win now the way that this 2023 club is. 

The Mets seem to be prioritizing team defense over offense, which wouldn’t be such a dilemma if the lineup were producing. But that’s hardly the case. New York entered Wednesday having committed an MLB-low two errors, with the best fielding percentage (.995) in the majors. The Mets have also converted 81% of grounders and bunts into outs, the second-highest rate in the majors. 

All good and well. Now let’s take a peek at the lineup.

Only two NL teams have scored fewer runs than the Mets, while their batting average with runners in scoring position is last in the league. They entered Wednesday having left 90 men on base — tied for the fourth-most in the majors and tied for the second-most in the NL. It’s not a new problem. For the past few seasons, we’ve seen New York excel at getting guys on base but ultimately fall short when it comes to driving them in. The club ranked 28th in runners left on base last year. 

When does the Mets' future become now?

Ben Verlander and Alex Curry discuss the Mets' offensive struggles and urge the organization to play top prospects Francisco Álvarez, Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio.

Calling up Baty won't immediately make the Mets one of the best offenses in baseball. Like other young prospects, including recently promoted catcher Francisco Álvarez, Baty is likely to struggle when he first comes up as he gets adjusted to major-league pitching. But that’s just another reason to acclimate him sooner rather than later. Let the kids play now, before depending on them to deliver down the stretch.

If the Mets are getting frustrated with the early attention on Escobar and third base, well, it partly emanates from their own actions. The Mets made it no secret they were seeking an upgrade, if not a superstar, at third base this offseason when they initially agreed to terms with Carlos Correa. They were also said to be interested in six-time All-Star Manny Machado before he signed another mega-extension with the Padres. The Mets knew they had a hole at the hot corner, and Escobar was never thought to be a long-term option.

"He’s played really good defensively for us," manager Buck Showalter said this week of the veteran. "He’s always been the same guy. I think that helps the clubhouse. I think everybody feels for him a little bit — he’ll tell you, rightfully so — some of the light that might be more on him at this time. But he welcomes that challenge. Like I said before, whatever he’s going to be, he’ll get there."

The noise from the fan base will only get louder every time Escobar struggles offensively and the Mets’ young core continues to knock on the door. Shortstop Ronny Mauricio homered Tuesday for the fourth time in 10 Triple-A games, and though he’s blocked by Francisco Lindor, the Mets could certainly use him at designated hitter. New York’s .670 OPS from the DH spot ranks 20th in the big leagues.

Fans would much rather see strikeouts and growing pains from top prospects than utility players whose best days are undoubtedly behind them. The injury to catcher Omar Narváez forced the Mets’ hand with Alvarez, but they don’t have to be so conservative with Escobar. The veteran may be more prone to bench splinters if and when Baty is called up, but Escobar’s leadership and overall positive impact on the clubhouse can still be utilized when he’s not the starting third baseman.

"We're going to be opportunistic," Cohen said. "And if we have to do things to improve the ballclub, we will."  

The opportunity to improve the ballclub is right in front of them, or about 265 miles and fewer than five hours north of Queens. The Mets offense could use a spark. Instead, they’re playing it safe. If they take too long to make changes, they might be sorry. 

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for 3.5 seasons as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. She never misses a Rafael Nadal match, no matter what country and time zone he’s playing in. Sleep can always be sacrificed for sports. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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