Mets Spring Training: First base is Ike Davis's job to lose

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It's unlikely anything is going to happen in spring training that would cause the Mets to give up on Ike Davis.

Like him or hate him, Ike Davis is probably going to be the Mets' first baseman. After being recalled from the minor leagues last season—following another ineffectual offensive start—he had an on-base percentage near the top of the league and only an oblique injury caused him to cede second-half playing time to other Mets. The last look we had of Davis was a good one, and since he hasn't been traded and spring training stats mean very little, first base is his job to lose.

The power of the incumbent is strong and optimism runs high in spring training. As long as Ike Davis is healthy at the end of spring training he'll be the everyday first baseman come Opening Day. Of all the various options the Mets have to play the position, Davis has the best combination of upside and experience. He can hit thirty home runs and protect David Wright in the lineup. He can play excellent defense and help scoop up any errant throws from around the infield.

Before his demotion last year, Davis had collected 207 plate appearances. After being recalled, he compiled 170 plate appearances. The difference in his performance was stark; it may as well have been two entirely different hitters. From Opening Day through June 9, Davis hit .161/.242/.258, at which point he was shipped to Triple-A Las Vegas. And when he returned?

Below is a table of league leaders sorted by on-base percentage for games played between July 5 and August 31, the time Ike Davis spent on the big league roster after his recall.

Name SLG OBP PA BB K RBI 2B HR
Mike Trout 0.635 0.500 204 39 41 27 9 10
Jayson Werth 0.640 0.462 201 28 27 37 5 13
Victor Martinez 0.537 0.452 221 19 16 31 16 4
Adrian Beltre 0.595 0.444 216 23 17 38 7 12
Paul Goldschmidt 0.542 0.440 225 46 42 35 9 11
Miguel Cabrera 0.709 0.439 182 26 22 45 5 17
Andrew McCutchen 0.556 0.433 219 30 38 30 9 8
Joey Votto 0.474 0.433 224 47 44 24 11 6
Ike Davis 0.442 0.429 170 38 35 17 11 4
Joe Mauer 0.488 0.420 150 18 20 18 10 3
Robinson Cano 0.480 0.419 205 24 24 32 11 5

It's hard to look at these numbers and think Davis is done as a productive major leaguer, and the sample size was nearly as large as the sample size that led to his demotion in the first place. He walked more than he struck out, and while he only had four home runs he did have fifteen extra-base hits. Perhaps the oblique injury he mentioned this spring was bothering him more than he let on; oblique injuries do tend to sap power. Or perhaps he just happened to hit balls that found gaps or that hit the wall rather than going over it. Either way, fifteen extra-base hits and a .429 on-base percentage are remarkably good and they're part of what will grant Davis the first base job to start 2014.

That's not to say that there is nothing to the reported first base competition this March. While Ike Davis will likely start the season at first, we've seen plenty of evidence that he can go months without a meaningful at-bat. What guys like Lucas Duda, Josh Satin, and perhaps Zach Lutz and Wilmer Flores are competing for is to prove they deserve playing time and to be in position to steal time from Davis should he falter. Duda has an advantage since he has proven to be an above-average hitter already, but the other players all have the platoon advantage against left-handed pitchers.

The leash for Ike Davis will be much shorter this season than it has in the past. Regardless of the Mets' level of competitiveness, carrying a first baseman who isn't hitting is not something they can afford to do for long. With so many other possible replacements, Davis will not get a month as an offensive black hole like he was to begin the previous two years, but he will still get the chance to start the season off on the right foot.

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