Of the five seasons remaining, two are by the same player, one is by a guy who never lived up to his massive hype in New York, one is by a guy hated by most Mets fans, and one is a guy most Mets fans under the age of 40 have never heard of. Good times. Here’s the rest of the list.
#5: Gregg Jefferies, 1990
A lot was written about Gregg Jefferies in the late 80’s and early 90’s. With the way the Mets farm system had pumped out homegrown star players like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, Jefferies was supposed to be the next star player in the system. A second baseman with 20 homer potential, if the New York hype machine was any indication, Jefferies was to dominate this very list you are reading for years and years to come.
Alas, it never happened. Jefferies was good, but not great. His power potential peaked at 16, and he didn’t stick at second either, moving from second to third to first and finally to the outfield. Of course, he did most of that moving on other teams, as Jefferies was the centerpiece of a trade with the Kansas City Royals that brought Bret Saberhagen to New York. Jefferies had a fine career, and when he looks back at what happened, he has nothing to be ashamed about, but there is still a sense that he never lived up to what he should have become. His is a cautionary tale, of what can happen when the New York hype machine pushes into overdrive on a prospect. I’m not saying give up on Fernando Martinez or anything like that, but be wary of New York writers overhyping Mets prospects.
That said, this was a pretty decent year by young Mr. Jefferies. Look at that doubles number – 40 doubles by a young hitter in 1990 is pretty good. Throw in 3 triples and 15 homers, and from a power perspective, there was a lot to like about him, particularly if he could draw more walks and get that OBP into the .350-.370 range. Alas, while he did develop more patience in 1991, his power totals dropped and with it his value. His high water mark came as a St. Louis Cardinal in 1993 as a first baseman. Jefferies is a great “what if” question, because the Mets never won anything with Saberhagen. Would he have devloped into a good first baseman here? Would he have had that breakout season? Who knows.
#4: Jeff Kent, 1994
I have to admit – I’m not thrilled that Jeff Kent made the list twice. The biggest reason for that is because the Mets traded a guy who is going to the Hall of Fame, probably first ballot, for a guy who was essentially finished as an everyday player at the age of 27, only the Mets were forced to trot him out every day for the next 2 and a half years regardless. Part of it is that he seems like kind of a jerk. While I try not to rush to judgment on players, the fact is Kent has feuded publicly with teammates in every city in which he has played. I can infer from this that if he is willing to publicly air his grievances with his teammates instead of handling them like men in the locker room, that he is probably a jerk.
That said, he was a jerk who could play. At the time of the strike in 1994, Kent was on pace for another 20 homer season, with improved plate discipline and a high number of doubles to boot. In a season and a half following the David Cone trade, Kent was starting to round into a pretty good hitter. His defense was never going to be great, and I suspect that is what worried Mets management when they traded for Baerga, not anticipating that Baerga would gain weight, losing his range in the process. But there were signs that Kent was going to be a good, maybe not great but good, hitter, and the Mets gave up on him just a little too soon.
#3: Ron Hunt, 1964
The first player from the 60’s makes one of these lists! If you look at Ron Hunt’s numbers, they don’t necessarily scream “great hitter,” but remember that the 1960’s were a different era. This was fresh in the middle of the “dead ball” era, where power numbers had taken a giant dive downward. So yes, a player with only 31 extra base hits is #3 on the list, because power numbers across the board were depressed. Hunt is also the first player on this list to hit .300 over a full season, which also helps give him that OBP over .350, also a first on this list. Hunt’s numbers were even good enough to get him some MVP votes – he finished 25th in 1964, the first Met to ever receive an MVP vote.
Alas, this was Ron Hunt’s high water mark with the Mets – he missed time in 1965 with injury, and his meager power numbers declined even further in 1966. He was traded after the ‘66 season for Tommy Davis and Derrell Griffith, who spent a combined one season on the Mets roster and the only claim to fame between the two of them was that Griffith was later traded for current Mets coach Sandy Alomar, Sr. Ron Hunt now runs his own instructional baseball camps and clinics, which you can read about at http://www.ronhuntbaseball.com.
#2: Edgardo Alfonzo, 1999
Edgardo Alfonzo is pretty objectively the best Mets hitting second baseman in history. Even though he spent most of his Mets career (and indeed, his baseball career) at third base, it was two of his seasons at second base that truly stand out as great seasons. This was the first of those seasons; Alfonzo set high water marks for doubles, home runs, and RBIs this year. This was the first year in what would be his prime as a Met, and he couldn’t have picked two better years to do it; two years in which the Mets made the playoffs.
#1: Edgardo Alfonzo, 2000
And here is the second year. Alfonzo played in 8 fewer games in 2000 than he had in 1999, or else it seems reasonable he would have surpassed both the doubles and homer totals, with more walks and hits on the balance. What a great year by Alfonzo; this was the year he really put everything together. That OBP ranks third in Mets history, behind only John Olerud’s awesome seasons in 1998 and 1999. The 25 homers rank second in Mets history for a second baseman, behind only his 1999 totals. Same with those 40 doubles. From a hitting perspective, it is hard to argue that Alfonzo is the best second baseman the Mets ever had.
That’s why it was nice when Alfonzo got such a nice hand at the last game at Shea Stadium – it was nice that they recognized his achievements. While I think Alfonzo was popular enough (I owned an Alfonzo jersey-t in 1999), I really don’t think he fully gets his due for what he gave to those two great Mets teams. He was overshadowed by Piazza and the starting pitching, but Alfonzo gave the Mets something that they had lacked during most of their existance; elite production at a weaker offensive position. They also got this sort of production at catcher, which helped cover for the fact that the Mets started an offensive black hole at shortstop, and other less productive players in the outfield.
That’s all for this installment. Go read Joeadig’s reasons to be thankful for being a Mets fan, and we’ll pick this up with the start of the third basemen list on Monday.