With the trade of right fielder and cleanup hitter Marlon Byrd, the Mets have lost an emerging fan favorite and one of their on-field and off-field leaders. They’ve also lost an everyday component in what was emerging as one of the National League’s best defensive outfields. And with the trade of John Buck, they lost their everyday starting catcher, another mentor to the younger players and the manager of a pitching staff full of promising young talent. But in the wake of these losses, the Mets have gotten a chance to audition the players they hope will be future centerpieces.
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Juan Lagares, despite performing erratically at the plate, continues to demonstrate his prowess in center field. Aided by excellent reads and a fluid stride, he covers an astounding amount of ground for an outfielder who plays as shallow as he does. He also leads the major leagues in outfield assists, despite not playing every day until well into the season. Eric Young, still only 28, continues to show speed and hustle on the bases, as well as a penchant for the exciting in the outfield. And this week saw the major-league debut of heralded outfielder Matt Den Dekker, who played center while Lagares took a day off.
A pleasant surprise in the corner of the outfield has been Andrew Brown, who’s transitioned well from a pinch-hitting role to provide both right-handed power and situational hitting ability. In 100 at-bats, Brown is batting .280 with five home runs, five doubles and 18 RBIs. On the infield, Wilmer Flores has shown signs of a productive future, with a good eye for the strike zone and solid line-drive power despite dealing with a nasty ankle sprain shortly after joining the team. Travis d’Arnaud has struggled at the plate somewhat, but he recently hit his first home run and has shown signs of acclimating well. With Buck gone, he’ll get a chance to play every day and find his sea legs.
In return for Buck and Byrd, the Mets acquired another strong infield prospect, a second baseman named Dilson Herrera. Just 19 years old, Herrera is athletic and speedy, with surprising power for a man of his middling stature. They also acquired a young pitcher named Vic Black, a hard-throwing righty who might prove a valuable asset. Whether they end up as roster mainstays or trade pieces for an essential upgrade, these are two more talented youngsters to add to an already impressive pipeline of young talent.
With so much youth in the everyday lineup, and missing the veteran leadership of Byrd, Buck and injured captain David Wright, one might expect the Mets to struggle. And they do occasionally show signs of their youth. But overall, they’ve performed admirably since the influx of future prospects began, showing flashes of brilliance and an ability to bounce back from adversity within games. They’re learning how to play together, they’re learning how to manage their big league existence, and they’re learning what it takes to win in September, which will bode well for them in the days when their September games are more relevant to their playoff fate. The final month of the 2013 season is an opportunity for them to continue to lay groundwork for 2014, and give the fans — and themselves — a clearer view of what’s to come.