PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — We were just wrapping up yet another Grapefruit League game here at Tradition Field. Nothing out of the norm. The Mets were playing the Cardinals, and this Thursday contest was a bit interesting only because Jose Reyes was held out for precautionary reasons (which developed into a seemingly more-serious thyroid problem the following day), and David Wright and Jason Bay made their Mets debuts.
Wright had just finished playing his share, and the prospects were now in to wrap up what turned out to be — as usual this time of year — an ugly one that ended at 17-11 with the Mets on top. As the media gathered around Wright in the middle of a calm clubhouse, a thunderous roar shook the place and caused the face of the franchise to quickly turn his head towards the small TV near the dugout doors and yell, Whoa!
Wright wasn’t alone in this reaction. And what he and the rest of his astonished teammates had seen, on a very windy day in the Mets’ Spring Training complex, was a towering blast off the bat of the club’s first baseman of the future, Ike Davis. He had taken a helpless Francisco Samuel pitch and blasted it way over the right-field fence (338 feet down the line) and past the picnic tables far beyond it for a two-out, eighth-inning grand slam.
Those are the types of impressions Davis (pictured up top, courtesy of baseball-fever.com) has been leaving on the Mets for a while now. The only difference is now he’s within arm’s reach of The Show, so people are starting to take notice.
“Boy, he hit that ball a long way, didn’t he?” Mets manager Jerry Manuel said after that game. “I think that’s the farthest ball I’ve seen hit here.”
Davis, a 22-year-old lefty hitter, isn’t expected to be up in the big leagues at the start of this season, but boy is he close. Baseball America named him the best power hitter in the Mets’ farm system and ranked him the club’s No. 4 prospect (behind right-hander Jennry Mejia, shortstop Wilmer Flores and outfielder Fernando Martinez, respectively).
The Arizona State product hit .333 with three homers in eight games during the World Cup in Italy this past September while helping Team USA win gold. According to Baseball America, Davis “has quick hands and lift in his swing, giving him plus power,” has good bat speed, and is “an above-average defender with good hands and a strong arm at first base.” The one criticism they have is his long swing, which makes him pull-conscious. But the Mets have a couple of power hitters (Wright and Carlos Beltran) who already do a great job of using the whole field.
Still, though, Davis — who batted .309 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 55 Double-A games in 2009 — is projected to start the season in Triple-A, and Daniel Murphy will be the club’s starter at first base in 2010.
After that game, Manuel was asked whether it was within the realm of possibility that Davis could impress enough that he’s actually the club’s starting first baseman come April. Manuel shot it down, but it had nothing to do with Davis’ ability.
“I would say anything is in the realm of possibility,” Manuel said, choosing his words carefully. “I think some things will have to go his way for us to do that. There’d have to be some significant injuries, there’d have to be a trade, something like that. But, as we sit here today, Murph, [Mike] Jacobs, those guys are the guys. But when you see that kind of power, you have to think about it. You have to visit it at some point. Because that’s game-changing-type stuff, when you see a guy hit a ball that far.”
I haven’t watched Davis that extensively, but I am of the belief that today, he is already better — offensively and defensively — than Murphy. But, as Manuel said, if Davis surprised everyone and made the team, “We’d have to find something to do with all them first basemen!”
To be fair, Manuel sounds like he likes Murphy a lot, and Murphy could very well have a great year. But even if Davis did show in Spring Training that he’s better, he has no shot, because that would mean the Mets are going backwards as a franchise. Since they’ve put so much trust in Murphy, it’d be crushing to see him backtrack and start the season in the Minor Leagues when he’s had his fair share of big league experience already. It’d also be very difficult to even get value out of him in the trade market if that were the case. Basically, Murphy will really have to screw the pooch to be denied an everyday job at the start of the year.
So, for now, the guy is Murphy. But looks like there’s a Carlos Delgado-esque first baseman in waiting. So, 2011 could very well be the year of Ike.
Here’s where I’ll be next week …
* Friday: Red Sox-Cardinals (Jupiter)
* Saturday: Blue Jays-Braves (Lake Buena Vista)
* Sunday: Rays-Tigers (Lakeland)