Spring training is here again, which means it's time to begin looking ahead to our much anticipated annual King of Spring Training (KOST) race! Since 2011, we've given the King of Spring Training to the hitter who turns the most heads in Mets camp. That's right, the KOST must be a position player. Sorry pitchers, those are the rules! Here are the previous winners of this moderately prestigious award:
2011: Scott Hairston
2012: Lucas Duda (we even gave him a crown!)
2013: Collin Cowgill
2014: Zach Lutz
2015: John Mayberry Jr.
2016: Travis Taijeron
So what type of player makes a great King of Spring Training? As you can see, the KOST often goes to somebody who’s not a starting position player and definitely not a star player. Sorry, we love Yoenis Cespedes but this isn’t the award for him to win. The best King of Spring Training contenders are bench players, minor leaguers, gritty/scrappy journeyman types, and AAAA players.
These types of players often chew up lots of spring at bats and some surprise you with how well they play when the games don’t matter. Unfortunately (fortunately?), the Mets have gone through a bit of a purge in this category since last spring. Eric Campbell? Off to Japan. Johnny Monell? Korea. Alejandro De Aza, Danny Muno, Roger Bernadina? All in other camps. But that’s okay. We still have an interesting field of players who could have plenty of exhibition baseball success.
So without further ado, here is the field beginning with the reigning champ from 2017:
Not even on the radar at this time a year ago, Travis Taijeron went on to have an excellent spring training for the Mets and captured the KOST with a .366/.426/.634 line across 41 at bats. Unfortunately for him, that success did not translate into a big league role as the 28-year old spent the entire season in Las Vegas and has yet to make his MLB debut. As you could probably know or could guess, the major swing and miss issues that plague Taijeron’s game are what has kept him out of the majors to this point. In spring training, though? DOESN’T MATTER! That’s what makes March great.
The 26-year old shortstop finally made his big league debut in 2016 but he’s been on the spring training radar going back to a few cameo appearances early in his professional career. He even hit a walk-off home run in a spring training game two years ago. Reynolds saw a large chunk of playing time this past spring but only slashed .256/.340/.308. With another year under his belt, could Reynolds rise up to exhibition dominance?
Ty Kelly is gritty which means he should be the perfect spring training player and yet the numbers show the opposite. Despite the cognitive dissonance, I will not give up on Ty Kelly as a KOST candidate. Maybe his useful .207/.375/.379 line in Mets camp last spring will serve as a turning point. Kelly also had some big league experience this past year and while he got bumped from the 40-man roster a few weeks ago, Terry Collins will probably give him a ton of at bats this spring because he needs a crutch with Eric Campbell out of the picture.
Everybody’s favorite 28-year old undrafted rookie second baseman from the Bronx! T.J. Rivera is the Wally Backman of hitting: “everywhere Wally goes, Wally wins” (not exactly true), and “everywhere T.J. goes, T.J. hits” (so far, actually true). We’re probably going to see a LOT of T.J. this spring given that he’s certainly in the running for a bench gig. Frankly, Rivera might be something of a frontrunner for the KOST award as he hit a very strong .289/.308/.500 in his 38 at bats last March.
The rules state that there always has to be at least one shitty hitting backup catcher on the KOST list and this year, the honors go to Rene this time. Despite no catcher ever winning a KOST, we’ve seen some strong spring training performances from the likes of Monell and Anthony Recker, both prolific spring training performers over their careers. Rene Rivera is truly an awful hitter but in spring training? Anything is possible.
Dominic Smith, Gavin Cecchini, Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores, Phil Evans