Alonso and McNeil

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Metsellaneous: Joey Wahler On The Mets -- Alonso, McNeil Look To Join Select Mets Group

April 10, 2019 - 2:22 pm
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By Joey Wahler

Starting promising Mets careers, Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil are trying to reach rarified air in franchise history.

Historically, few highly touted Mets hitting prospects have started well and maintained consistently successful major league careers. So far, looking to buck that trend are rookie first baseman Alonso, .385 average, 5 HR’s, 14 RBI’s, and sophomore third baseman McNeil, .346 average after .329 as a rookie in 63 games. Ah, but there are two key words there.

So far.

En route to 335 career homers, the lone Met position player named National League Rookie of the Year was Darryl Strawberry in 1983, .257 average, 26 HR’s, 74 RBI’s after his May call-up.  Not since Jose Reyes in 2003 and David Wright in ‘04 have the Mets promoted players back-to-back that hit as rookies and continued that for several years. The previous two such Met teammates were Hubie Brooks and Wally Backman, both debuting in 1980.

Michael Conforto’s rollercoaster career has featured a good rookie season, poor sophomore year, strong third campaign and an injury tainted, down then up 2018. Amed Rosario’s strong rookie finish last season came after a rough start. Brandon Nimmo’s breakout 2018 was preceded by two years of part-time mediocrity. Dom Smith has rebounded early this season after his disappointing, late 2017 call-up and 2018 lost year.

In the first round of the 2012 draft, the Mets chose Kevin Plawecki 35th overall. When Plawecki debuted in Flushing three years later, manager Terry Collins confidently said the catcher had hit at every minor league level. Except with the Mets, with Plawecki batting only .218 over four seasons.

Ike Davis’ productive 2010 rookie year, .264, 19 HR’s, 71 RBI’s, was followed by injury, inconsistency and a free fall to oblivion. The Mets trumpeted Fernando Martinez’ five-tool skills, but starting in 2009 the outfielder hit just .183 in parts of three injury-riddled seasons. Lastings Milledge high-fived Shea Stadium fans after his first homer in 2006, just an infamous footnote to the outfielder’s two poor Met years. Mike Jacobs’ four homers his first three games in 2005 were a Met mirage.

Drafted 17th overall in 1990, Jeromy Burnitz was traded after two disappointing Met seasons, became a top Brewers slugger for several years, then returned to the Mets where incredulously, he again struggled in 2002 and ‘03. To boot, in ’03 the outfielder was dealt for reputed Dodgers prospect Victor Diaz. After hitting .294, 3 HR’s, 8 RBI’s in 15 games as an ‘04 Met rookie, the outfielder fizzled, traded two years later.

Acquired by the Mets from the Orioles for Bobby Bonilla in 1995, Alex Ochoa was another supposed five-tool player turned bust. After batting .294 in 80 games as a ’96 rookie, the next season the outfielder dropped to .244, 3 HR’s, 22 RBI’s, dealt away that winter.

A four-time Doubleday Award winner as their top minor leaguer, Butch Huskey eventually posted three solid Met seasons from 1996 through ’98, capped in ’97 by .287, 24 HR’s, 81 RBI’s. His first two abbreviated Met years, Huskey batted only .146 and .189.

Few Met hitting prospects were more ballyhooed than Gregg Jeffries, drafted 20th overall in 1985. Playing 29 games as a 1998 rookie, the infielder batted .321, 6 HR’s, 17 RBI’s. Three mediocre Met seasons followed before Jeffries blossomed with the Cardinals.

Playing only 74 games at Triple-A Tidewater in 1981, Gary Rajsich hit .277, 24 HR’s, 56 RBI’s. Fans further scrutinized the outfielder’s progress because of that year’s major league strike. In 80 games as a Met rookie the next season, Rajsich had only 2 HR’s, 12 RBI’s, sold to the Cardinals two years later.

An August 1975 call up, Mike Vail’s 23-game hitting streak that season was a Met record, then tying the major league rookie mark. The outfielder was injured playing pickup basketball that winter, hitting just .217 the next season, waived in 1978.

Cleon Jones hit .340 for the 1969 world champions during a productive, 12-year Mets career. The outfielder struggled mightily during his first few big league tastes, batting .149 in 30 games in 1965. He first played regularly in 1966, three years after debuting.

Upon his 1979 retirement, for years Ed Kranepool’s record 17 Met seasons put him atop the team’s career leader list in several major offensive categories. Even Krane admits he was rushed to the Mets at age 17 out of James Monroe High School in the Bronx. Evidence is the first baseman-outfielder’s .209, 2 HR’s, 14 RBI’s in 86 games as a 1963 rookie.

Time will tell if Alonso and McNeil continue to rake. If so, in this 58th Met season they’ll be in very select company.