2003 Preview: The Shortstop Situation

Rey Sanchez will be the one at shortstop on Monday inside Shea Stadium when gametime arrives, but Jose Reyes, barring a major setback, will see time on the Mets roster before the season is over.

2002 Review
What Went Right:
On the Major League level, not much. However, on the farm, top prospect Jose Reyes tore up single A St. Lucie and then continued his torrid play at AA Binghamton, hitting a combined .288 with 8 homeruns, 62 RBI, 58 stolen bases and 104 runs. His play earned him USA Today's Minor League Player of the Year.

What Went Wrong:
Rey Ordoñez had his usual lackluster year at the plate, with a .254 average, his annual homerun and 41 RBIs. Not only that, but the former Gold Glove winner had a terrible year in the field, committing 19 errors.

Besides for his lack of production, Ordoñez had problems with frustrated Mets fans last year, as well. He failed to show up to a mandatory meet and greet session with the fans before a game, and at the end of the year he called Mets fans "stupid".

2003 Outlook:
There's no question about it: Jose Reyes is the shortstop of the future. The 19-year old phenom can steal bases, covers an incredible amount of ground in the hole and has gap power than is developing into homerun potential. It's a pre-drawn conclusion that Reyes will be up in the Majors at some point in the season, the question is merely when he will get the call. Until then, he'll be working his on his game at AAA Norfolk.

Until the time comes, the shortstop job belongs to newly signed veteran Rey Sanchez, who played second base for the Red Sox last season. Sanchez, a defensive specialist will replace another departed all glove no hit Rey, the discontented and much maligned Rey Ordoñez.

Two Questions:
1. Can Rey Sanchez hold down the shortstop job until Reyes comes up? Probably. The Mets aren't used to shortstop production anyway, and Sanchez will give them at least what Ordoñez would have given them, possibly better. Sanchez hits for a much higher average than Ordoñez, but doesn't get on base at a very high clip.

2. Will Reyes live up to expectations?
It depends on the expectations. While Reyes will be a great player in the future, at 19-years old he needs to work on a few elements of his game, including plate discipline and driving the off-speed pitch. He hasn't even seen Triple A yet, and could use some time there.

That being said, he will probably give the Mets what Rey Sanchez will do, but with more speed. He won't be an All-Star, but with the way the Mets' lineup is constructed, they won't need him to be.

Lineup Spot
Whether Reyes or Sanchez is manning the shortstop position, they will bat 8th in the order behind either Ty Wigginton or Jeromy Burnitz. Neither has very good speed, nor gets on base at a high clip for that matter, so Reyes/Sanchez wont get many opportunities to drive in runs from the 8th spot.

If Reyes comes up and plays well, Art Howe may plug him in at the top of the lineup if Roger Cedeño struggles in the leadoff spot.

What must be changed
It would be nice to see the Mets get some more production out of their shortstop, but it may not happen this year. If Burnitz falls on his face again and Wigginton does not play well, the Mets will again have a weak bottom four in the order, including the pitcher. Either Reyes or Sanchez will have to get on base as much as possible so that the Mets can clear the pitcher, who too often led the inning off for the Mets.

Steadier defense will also be needed from the shortstop position, especially with the addition of ace pitcher Tom Glavine, who generates tons of groundballs.

What is expected
A positive attitude would be a breath of fresh air for the Mets, who grew tired of Rey Ordoñez's me-first attitude and quarrels with teammates. All the Mets want is better defense and adequate hitting along with a rosy smile to go along with it.

In Perspective:
Jose Reyes is the most hyped position prospect to come out of the Mets system since Darryl Strawberry in 1983. Coming off a huge season in which he won the aforementioned USA Today Player of the Year award, Reyes is expected to do great things at Shea over the next 15 years.

However, Mets fans have to be patient with Reyes. The Generation K debacle is a painful reminder that anything can happen when it comes to prospects. Reyes looks like the real deal, but Met fans cannot boo him out of Shea if he does not produce at first. At only 19-years old, he still has a lot of growing up to do. Look what happened to Strawberry.

Cerrone's Certain Facts
-- Over the last three seasons Rey Sanchez has a .311 batting average over 646 at bats hitting from the second slot in the batting order; in 673 at bats hitting from the eighth and ninth slots, Sanchez's average drops to .256

-- Sanchez has only two home runs in his last 1,413 at bats.

-- Although Sanchez's career batting average before the All Star break contrasts minimally in comparison to his average after the break, .277 to .272, his power numbers vary immensely as 75% of his career home run total, 75% of his career triples totals have all occurred before the All Star break.

Matthew M. Cerrone is a MLB research coordinator for NYFansOnly.com

This column was the last part of a continuing series that previewed the 2003 Mets season.

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