It’s been quite a while since I wrote anything for Amazin’ Avenue, and I felt both eager and nervous as I opened the shared file of players who were still up for grabs for season previews. My sense of anticipation quickly turned over to bemusement when I realized that all the attention-grabbing players, the ones ranging from marquee to cromulent, had already been claimed by my esteemed (and nimble) colleagues.
There was nothing for it but to pick through the leftovers. I was on the brink of losing hope when suddenly one of the names seemed to almost leap from the page at me; it captured my imagination with an organic immediacy I could never manufacture and, in this case, wouldn’t ever choose. It was ridiculous to be inspired as such, for I am supremely unqualified to write about this particular player. But I also understood it to be my not-so-solemn duty to follow the muse and give it a go. Besides, I sensed the exercise of writing this preview would offer me a balm, a respite of sorts in the wake of the contentious lockout and hard-fought CBA, to say nothing of the various domestic and world events that cast their pall over daily life.
Without further ado, then, is your 2022 season preview of one Mark Vientos.
I’ve been watching baseball all my life, but I possess no special insight where prospects are concerned. Up-and-comers like Mark Vientos, a 22-year-old Florida Man who put up some ostensibly promising offensive numbers last year across Double-A Binghamton and, briefly, Triple-A Syracuse, strike me as complete crapshoots at best with respect to their viability as future major leaguers. Most are, right? If one thing has borne out over time, it’s that you don’t really know how a prospect is going to turn out until he gets to the majors—or doesn’t—and plays there for a while. All you can do, it seems, is assess what a player does well, what physical gifts he seems to possess, how he adjusts and improves over time, and whether those various elements bode well for his chances of major league success.
While I am neither practiced nor good at making such determinations, we at Amazin’ Avenue are fortunate to enjoy the work of some smart and talented people who are. And, happily for us all, they have arrived at a general consensus on Vientos that will go a long way toward informing the remainder of this article.
The Mets’ second-round pick (59th overall) in the June 2017 amateur draft, Vientos has been on a decent enough trajectory as a professional ballplayer that he is now one of the Mets’ most highly ranked prospects—which is, unfortunately, more an indictment of the Mets’ system than a reflection of his attributes.
That said, Vientos took a significant step forward last year where his in-game power is concerned, which has inspired some to wonder, quite reasonably, if he might not have something of a future in the big leagues after all. On the other hand, others have indicated that the overall quality of pitching in the minor leagues last year was diminished as a layover effect from the canceled 2020 minor league season. Either way, the fact remains that a cursory glance beyond Vientos’ tidy .281/.352/.581 triple slash last year, including both Double- and Triple-A, reveals a worrying 29.3% strikeout rate and an ongoing struggle with offspeed pitches. One wonders how he will fare against better pitching this year and beyond.
Vientos is also rather limited defensively: apparently marginal at third base, and probably unplayable, due to a lack of foot speed, in either outfield corner. Given that first base is occupied by Pete Alonso, Vientos—as a Met, anyway—seems to profile best as a designated hitter type of player, which is decidedly not what you want from a prospect unless he truly portends the next coming of Edgar Martinez or David Ortiz. Still, it isn’t as if the Mets have third base locked down for the long haul, per se, so there is, in theory, an opportunity for him to establish himself there—though it doesn’t do Vientos any favors that fellow Mets prospect Brett Baty, who is far more well regarded by our own prospect writers and across the industry writ large, is a third baseman as well.
Given all those circumstances, I am tempted here to conclude that I am skeptical about Mark Vientos’ future as a major leaguer, and that the odds are stacked against him. In fact, I have good reason to be, and in fact, they are! But so, too, are they for just about everyone. Baseball is incredibly difficult, and exponentially so as one proceeds up the ladder to the big leagues. Highly touted or not, high on the rankings lists or not, all bets are off when a prospect finally gets to the majors and has to play the game at the highest level of competition on the planet. Lots of guys flame out; lots of guys only barely hang on; lots of guys never make it at all.
But Major League Baseball teams and their affiliates are also the province of chaos: a strange, unpredictable realm in which opportunities present themselves periodically to unproven, unheralded youngsters. Sometimes, occasionally, every now and then, one of those youngsters, when presented with their opportunity, seems to find some hidden trove of extra skill buried within themselves, and to draw forth that boon like Excalibur from its stone and make everyone who ever doubted them feel foolish for having done so, and glad to be wrong besides.
It seems a near certainty that Mark Vientos will get his chance pretty soon. I’ll be rooting hard for him, hoping that he gets to New York and defies those long odds stacked against him, and that he makes me feel like a cynical old fool for having ever doubted him. One of the reasons baseball is the best sport on earth is that it allows for such things to happen from time to time—those magical, unexpected triumphs of perseverance and hope that hearken to everything within us all that is most alive, most good, and best worth holding on to.