Wright, Peterson are in the Mets' Future

Inside the cozy clubhouse at NYSEG Stadium this past Sunday, David Wright sat playing cards with his Binghamton teammates about two hours before game time. He may have been nearly 200 miles away from Shea Stadium in Flushing, but it has become clear that there is not much standing between Wright and playing for the team he rooted for as a child.

"They (the Mets) were my favorite team growing up," said Wright, New York's first-round pick in the 2001 draft. "To be able to do a full-circle – to idolize a team and to grow up watching a team and then maybe one day put on that uniform and play for my favorite team – would be a dream come true, and I'm looking forward to that day."

That day might very well happen this season as the Mets continue their restructuring process with a heavy emphasis on youth and defense. Entering Sunday night's game, the 21-year-old third baseman was hitting .341 with team-highs in hits (61), doubles (21), walks (31) and slugging percentage (.592). He is just as outstanding defensively. In a recent scouting report, Baseball America said that Wright makes all the regular plays at the hot corner, with a particular expertise at charging bunts and choppers.

Besides the media, Wright has also convinced his critics within the organization. "David's going to play in the big leagues this year," said Binghamton hitting coach Howard Johnson, arguably one of the best third basemen ever to play in New York. "I'm pretty confident of that."

Johnson, known affectionately as "HoJo," made quite a name for himself with the Mets in the late 1980's and early 1990's. He currently ranks second in franchise history in home runs (192), R.B.I. (620), runs (627) and stolen bases (202). Now 43, the two-time National League all-star thinks Wright is developing at a steady pace. "He's right on track and he's working very hard," Johnson said. "So far, he's doing everything we're asking him to do. That (a promotion to the majors) will be up to the front office when it's time."

Wright, who has drawn parallels to the Cardinals' Scott Rolen and former Met Robin Ventura, does not mind what some might call premature comparisons. "Nobody puts as much pressure on me as I do myself," he said. "I've heard the comparisons to Rolen and Ventura, but I like to think I'm my own player. They're great major-league players, but I haven't spent a day in the big leagues yet, so hopefully I'll be able to live up to the expectations. If I can go out there every day and work hard and give 100 percent, then I'll be happy with that."

Indeed, all the impressive statistics aside, Wright is best known for having a strong work ethic and being an effective force in the locker room. "He's just a great kid in the clubhouse," said teammate Matt Peterson. "When he's positive, he brings life to the team and plays great defense, swings a great bat. That's all you can ask for."

Despite Ty Wigginton's highly publicized troubles this season, Mets General Manager Jim Duquette seems to be sticking with his current third baseman, at least for the short-term. His team's most obvious problem has actually been the starting rotation, which lacks dependable starters to follow Tom Glavine, Al Leiter and Steve Trachsel.

When Leiter was sent to the disabled list with tendonitis in his left shoulder, rumors spread through the New York media that the Mets might promote Peterson, another player who has been turning heads in Binghamton, to face the Marlins this past Saturday in Florida. The call-up never happened, but it certainly made fans aware of how valuable the 22-year-old right-hander is to the organization.

Known for a 12-to-6-o'clock curveball that usually serves as his out pitch, Peterson can also throw a fastball at around 92 miles an hour. He flaunts an impressive changeup and is now developing a slider. In recent starts he has struggled with his control, working with pitching coach Jerry Reuss, a 220-game winner over 22 major-league seasons, to reduce his suddenly ballooning walk total. Reuss said Peterson had been relying too much on his front leg during pitch deliveries. Even with those struggles, he has maintained a 3.40 earned run average to go along with his 3-1 record. He also has 48 strikeouts in only 53 innings.

Peterson, the Mets' second-round selection in 2000, claimed he never heard of the possible spot-start versus the Marlins. "I don't know where y'all got that from," Peterson said, his Louisiana accent clearly evident. "I hadn't heard anything like that. You got some great pitchers up there."

Still, he couldn't deny how exciting a promotion would be. "It would be awesome to be included in one of the starting five pitchers in the rotation," Peterson said. "Anytime you get mentioned in something like that, it's just a great honor."

Wright was quick to assert his faith in Peterson. "Every time he goes out on the hill we go out there and expect to win," he said. "It's great being able to play defense behind a guy like Matt because he works fast, he throws strikes and he gives everything he has. You just want to play defense and you want to make those great plays for guys like that [who] go out there and leave their heart on the field."

Unlike Wright, Johnson noted that Peterson will need more time to grow in the minors. "I think he's still a ways away," Johnson said, "but he's definitely got a big-league arm and big-league stuff. When he puts it together consistently, then it'll be his time. I don't think that I want to rush him."

Binghamton has been a stepping stone for many future Major Leaguers, such as Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen, Brook Fordyce, Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordonez, Benny Agbayani and Jose Reyes. This year's roster also includes outfielder Prentice Redman, the team leader with 10 home runs and 38 R.B.I., and right-handed reliever Kole Strayhorn, who is tied for the team lead with seven saves.

As of now, however, it seems that Wright and Peterson show the most promise for a ticket to Shea in the near-future. They both have a lot to prove, but it seems like they will soon get the chance to do just that.

"I just want to get up there and play," Peterson said. "Basically I'm just ready to get up there and show 'em that's where I belong. I'm just ready to go up there and help the team win."

The interviews contained in this article were conducted by Nick Hirshon.

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