While there were other players in camp with the Mets, the team’s five-man bench was pretty easy to predict back when spring training started. And once Jose Martinez suffered a knee injury that will cost him a few months, the odds were pretty high that the group would end up being Luis Guillorme, Jonathan Villar, Kevin Pillar, Albert Almora Jr., and Tomás Nido.
All of those players are included in our write-ups of the various parts of the team’s roster—the infield, outfield, and catcher—so let’s focus on what they have to offer when they’re coming off the bench. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that a couple of these guys get starting playing time at some point this season, but for now, everyone is operating under the assumption that the Mets’ everyday lineup will include Dominic Smith in left field and J.D. Davis at third base.
At the plate
The Mets’ regular lineup has four left-handed hitters in it, but the bench has just one strictly left-handed hitter: Guillorme. Villar is a switch-hitter, and Pillar, Almora, and Nido are all right-handed hitters. Major League Baseball is still using the three-batter minimum rule for relief pitchers, which should make it fairly easy for Luis Rojas to plan his use of these five as hitters.
Of the five, only Villar has no significant splits, as he sports a 97 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers and a 95 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers over the course of his career. Against opposite-handed pitchers, the other four members of the bench have been roughly league average hitters in their careers. Against same-handed pitchers, though, Almora’s 81 wRC+ is the highest mark of the bunch.
Since the beginning of the 2019 season, Guillorme has been the best hitter of the group with a .288/.375/.398 line and a 115 wRC+, albeit in a pretty small sample of 138 plate appearances. Villar has hit .265/.330/.417 with 26 home runs, 56 stolen bases, and a 99 wRC+ in 921 plate appearances. Whether the Mets need a pinch hitter or a pinch runner, Villar should get into plenty of games—and figures to be a candidate to crack the starting lineup if he’s producing offensively and someone else is struggling.
Pillar has hit .266/.300/.400 with 27 home runs, 19 stolen bases, and an 89 wRC+. If there’s a left-handed pitcher on the mound late in a game, Pillar should be the Mets’ go-to pinch hitter, as he slugged .519 against lefties in 2019 and .579 against them in 2020. And Almora has hit just .230/.270/.366 with 12 home runs and two stolen bases in 397 plate appearances over that same span, having seen his production at the plate decline in each of the past few seasons.
As for Nido, he hit very well in a very, very small sample in 2020 and still needs to prove exactly what kind of major league hitter he is. Since the Mets are carrying two catchers, he doesn’t figure to make many appearances off the bench when James McCann starts, but he will a share of the team’s starts over the course of the 162-game season.
In the field
Neither Pillar nor Almora has maintained their level of defensive play in the outfield in recent seasons, but both are capable of playing center field. Brandon Nimmo will be starting the vast majority of games in center if everyone is healthy, but at best, he’ll be passable at the position and sliding over to left field late in games when one of Pillar or Almora comes into games to play center.
Villar has a little bit of major league experience in the outfield, too, having played a total of 74.2 innings in total, spending most of that time in center and the rest in left. The bulk of his experience in the big leagues has come in the middle infield, with shortstop leading the way and second base not far behind. He’s also spent some time at third base in the big leagues, but his most recent appearance there came in 2016, which could be a bit of a downside in terms of potentially playing third base on a regular basis.
The defensive wizard of the group, though, is Guillorme. If the Mets need someone other than Francisco Lindor to play short for any significant period of time this year, Guillorme would be the guy. And he’s played second and third base, too, at the major league level. While he’s more comfortable in the middle infield, his hands and his arm play well at any of those three positions. Whenever he’s playing second and Lindor is at short at the same time, the Mets’ middle infield defense will be elite.
And obviously Nido plays catcher, the position he’s played for his entire professional career aside from nine innings he played at first base back in 2014 in Brooklyn.
Barring injuries, Villar, Pillar, and Guillorme seem like pretty good locks to remain on the major league roster for the duration of the season. Nido seems like a pretty good bet to spend the season there, too, in large part because of the Mets’ lack of catching depth, though there’s a chance he backs up his performance in seven games last year with respectable production at the plate this year.
If Almora struggles at the plate, he seems like the most logical bench piece who could be jettisoned, and he has an option remaining. Given that reality and his redundancy with Pillar when it comes to being able to play center, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Mets gave another one of their position players a shot in that roster spot.
The majority of the Mets’ bench can field multiple positions and put up respectable production at the plate, the combination of which is a good thing for a major league team to have. There isn’t exactly an intimidating pinch hitter in the group, but there’s some pop there and the potential for the vast majority of those plate appearances to be competitive.