With temperatures in the 60s expected in New York this week, it’s finally starting to feel like spring, which means it’s the perfect time for our first King of Spring Training update for 2021!
It’s been a long, hard winter and a long, hard year. Last season’s KoST contest was cut short after just one update, as roughly one year ago, spring training was shut down due to the growing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Very few people, if anyone, knew at the time that one year later, we still wouldn’t be out of the woods yet. MLB will have to continue to operate under strict precautions, even as it attempts a full 162-game season. The start to the minor league season has already been delayed.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is a vaccine and millions of doses have been administered. And there is spring training baseball. The Mets head into 2021 with a new owner and a stacked roster. But KoST is the time to celebrate the players on the fringes - prospects, NRIs, and journeymen - vying for big league at-bats. Let’s take a look at the early KoST candidates for 2021.
Mark Vientos - .750/.875/1.250 in 4 ABs
Vientos was ranked the sixth-best prospect in the Mets system by our minors team heading into this season. In an exercise in small sample sizes, four at-bats seems like an extra small sample size, but Vientos has actually had eight plate appearances; he has draw four walks, which leads the team. In fact, Vientos has reached base in all but one of his plate appearances so far this spring, collecting three hits - two of them for extra bases - and scoring two runs. He leads the Mets with a 2.125 OPS in the first week of spring training.
KoST points: 5
Jake Hager - .250/.250/1.000 in 8 ABs
Jake Hager gets a KoST shoutout simply by virtue of the fact that he is the only player in camp so far with two long balls in the first week of spring. Hager is a former first-round pick that the Mets signed to a minor league contract. The 27-year-old was part of the Mets’ 60-man player pool in 2020, but did not see any action with the big league club. He had one standout minor league season in 2018, but is otherwise not known for his bat, although he did launch 12 home runs in Triple-A in 2019 as part of the Brewers organization. Thanks to those two long balls in the first week of spring, Hager is tied for the team lead in RBIs with five.
KoST points: 4
Ronny Mauricio - .400/.400/.400 in 10 ABs
Mauricio goes into the 2021 season as the top-ranked prospect in the Mets’ system by Amazin’ Avenue and the Mets have made a point to take good looks at all of their top prospects in big league camp. Although the switch hitting shortstop has yet to show much power this spring, he has collected four hits, which is just one off the team lead. He has also scored a run and driven in a run.
KoST points: 2
Drew Ferguson - .600/.667/.800 in 5 ABs
The Mets acquired Ferguson in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft this season and he will serve to bolster the Mets’ otherwise weak outfield depth in the high minors. Although not a highly touted prospect, the 28-year-old performed well in the Astros system, but was blocked by a cadre of talented outfielders in Houston. Although he has made one defensive miscue so far this spring, he is generally well regarded defensively. His 1.467 OPS ranks third on the team so far this spring.
KoST points: 2
Trevor Hildenberger - 0.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 6 Ks in 2 IP
I know the community has mixed feelings about pitchers being included for consideration in KoST. I, for one, am in favor of very select pitchers getting mentions for standout performances, but the bar to accrue KoST points for pitchers is much higher and they are therefore at a disadvantage. But in the early going so far this spring, the team leader in strikeouts is not Jacob deGrom or Marcus Stroman or Edwin Diaz. No. The team leader in strikeouts is Trevor Hildenberger, whose outs so far have all come via the strikeout, meaning he has racked up six Ks in just two innings of work. That deserves a KoST point, in my view. Given the state of the rest of the Mets bullpen, if he keeps this up, he may even make the roster.
KoST points: 1
I’ll be back weekly with KoST updates (hopefully we make it through all of them this time around), culminating with the community poll for the winner after spring training ends. Good luck to all of our KoST candidates!