When Terry Collins was hired in 2011 to be the Mets manager, it was because he had an extensive background in player development. The Mets were a mostly young team in rebuilding mode then, looking to nurture some promising prospects. Now the Mets are in the thick of the playoff hunt, but Collins’ aptitude with youngsters has been needed more than ever.
Almost every Met that started on Opening Day has dealt with the injury bug at some point this year. David Wright, Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares have missed the majority of the season, and now Neil Walker has been ruled out for the year due to a back injury. Veterans like Kelly Johnson and James Loney have stepped up in their stead, but the Mets have also gotten contributions from Michael Conforto.
Conforto has struggled for the bulk of his rookie season, but he’s shown glimmers of hope while filling in at center field. On Sunday night, Conforto laid out to make a spectacular catch while playing center in a crucial 5-1 win over Washington.
“I had to go in there and take the risk,” he explained to reporters after the game. That sentiment won the approval of his manager.
“For a guy that hasn’t played in center field, [diving for that ball] is taking a huge chance,” Collins said of Conforto. “It’s credit to his makeup and the fact that he’s not afraid to make a play.”
Then there’s the mess that is the Mets’ current rotation. Matt Harvey has been on the shelf since July, and now Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom are expected to miss multiple starts in September. That’s forced Triple-A starters Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman to come up earlier than expected to try and fill in. So far they have performed admirably.
Lugo is 3-1 in four starts with a 2.23 ERA. Sunday’s win, in which he allowed only one run on six hits in seven innings, was his best effort to date.
With an eye on the postseason, Lugo told reporters after the game, “It’s a little easier when there’s something on the line. It keeps you focused.”
Gsellman is 2-1 with a 2.87 ERA in his three appearances (two starts, 15.2 IP), and is happy to be a part of the big league club. “Definitely fun baseball to be a part of this,” Gsellman said. “Hopefully we can pull it out.”
Collins explained to reporters recently why he’s confident his young players will continue to produce.
“I credit the kind of people we have here,” Collins said. “Our pitching coaches, minor league staff do a great job. We made so many trades last year that we lost quality pitching, but we still had some coming. We asked them to step up and they stepped up.”
When you talk to your minor league staff in spring training…we go over who the prospects are and how far they are away. Now, all of a sudden I can put a face to the name. During the season, you have a good feel because you go on what you’ve heard in the past.”