Before the season, Amazin’ Avenue ranked Mark Vientos 8th on our 2023 Mets prospect list. The writeup on Vientos, after a 2022 where he crushed Triple-A but struggled in a brief MLB stint, was pretty much the same it had been for a few years now. He hits the ball pretty hard when he squares it up, but despite having some 1B/3B flexibility, he’s probably a DH, and his ground ball rate, swing-and-miss, and lack of in-zone contact make for a questionable offensive profile against major league quality pitching.
Vientos started the year in Triple-A, and hit like gangbusters while he was there. On May 17, with the Mets reeling and needing a jolt of some sort, they called Vientos up to the big leagues. He played third base that night and hit a 2-run homer that helped fuel a comeback against the Rays, but the Mets didn’t exactly have a clear path to playing time for the 23-year-old after that. With first base covered and the team mostly committed to Brett Baty at third, that left only DH at bats available for Vientos for a while, and the team was not willing to sit Daniel Vogelbach against RHP.
That meant Vientos’s playing time was fairly inconsistent and sporadic. He started only five games in his his 10 days in the majors. The playing time mildly increased from there, but still wasn’t anywhere near consistent. Vientos had logged only 49 plate appearances through June 14th, when he was sent back down after struggling to a .178/.224/.244 line.
He would go back to Triple-A to get more consistent at bats and beat up on some minor league pitching some more, and would return to the big leagues on July 21st. With the team’s deadline sell-off and Baty struggling in his own right, there were more at bats for Vientos to accumulate this time around, even if he wasn’t a lineup fixture every day.
In 184 PAs from that point to the end of the year, Vientos still didn’t excel. He hit just .220/.261/.399 with a 79 wRC+ the rest of the way. His season numbers weren’t pretty: a measly 68 wRC+ and -0.9 fWAR. He struck out over 30% of the time and walked only 4.3% of the time, and hit the ball on the ground at a 51% clip.
The most promise he showed was during a 70 PA stretch from August 29 to September 21, during which he slashed .303/.343/.606. He hit seven of his eight homers for the year in that time, flashing some of his power, hitting some balls really hard, and showing signs of coming around. But a look under the hood didn’t actually show any underlying improvements; he was actually making less contact during that stretch than he was before, walking even less, and hitting the ball on the ground over 60% of the time in those 70 PAs, believe it or not.
Vientos cooled off again after that stretch and went just 4-for-his-last-34 to finish off the season.
A big issue for him, as it has always been, was contact. He ran a 75.1% Z-Contact, which was 8th-worst among all hitters with at least 200 PAs in baseball. There aren’t a lot of great hitters that live in that range, but those who do have success in that range usually overcome their contact issues by either drawing lots of walks, hitting the ball in the air a lot to maximize their power, or playing a premium defensive position. Vientos will almost certainly not climb back up the defensive spectrum at this point, and while he has the ability to improve his plate discipline, he’s unlikely to ever become Joey Votto, either. So he’s going to have to improve his launch angle and/or his contact ability to make an impact at the MLB level. A hitter like Vientos is just not going to have value if over 80% of his PAs end in a strikeout or a ground ball.
One can argue that part of the problem is that he hasn’t gotten consistent enough playing time or utilized effectively under Buck Showalter, and while there is absolutely some truth to that, the issues here go much deeper than him just needing more time to work out the kinks. These are fundamental flaws in his offensive profile that have been present and discussed at length for years. Legitimate work needs to be done here to get him to where he needs to be.
None of this is a death knell to his career, of course, but Vientos’s future in the organization is up in the air as of now. It’s still very possible he could emerge as a strong platoon bat against left-handed pitching at the very least, and he still deserves a chance with an organization that can do a better job of maximizing his power. With new leadership and (presumably) new hitting coaches, the Mets could still be that organization, but we also don’t yet know how that new leadership views this polarizing young hitter.