Tejada, Turner strong up middle
When Bisons manager Tim Teufel inks his inaugural lineup on Thursday for the Bisons season opener, the setting will be extremely familiar no matter whom he selects to play the infield.
Shortly after taking the reins in New York, manager Terry Collins said Ruben Tejada needed to spend quality time in Triple-A and playing shortstop to provide insurance – specifically for Jose Reyes – up the middle for the big club. When spring training began, the Mets briefly included the 21-year old in the second base competition, but was optioned out of camp early in preparation for his Buffalo assignment. While the bulk of time this season will be spent at short, expect a couple games per week at second to ensure he keeps rhythm on the other side of the sack. Last year’s stay in Buffalo was pretty brief around his three stints with the Mets, with the young Panamanian hitting .280-1-16 while working up the middle over 65 games.
While Tejada’s plans were laid out well in advance, Justin Turner battled for the Mets second base job down to the wire. In Mets camp until the final days, the opportunity to exercise the 26-year olds option played a significant roll shuttling him to the Bisons to begin the year. Saved from the Orioles organization, the Californian arrived in late May last year and was an immediate impact to the Bisons lineup while playing second, third and shortstop. Over 78 games last year, he raked in Buffalo (.333 avg.) and combined with his slow start at Norfok (21-84), still rebounded to a .316 clip to finish with the 5th best batting average in the International League. The crescendo capped off the Bisons season when Turner hit for the cycle in Rochester while going 6-6 at the dish on September 6, he became the first Buffalo player with 6-hits in a game since 1936.
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Nick Evans also received tough news before the Mets left to open the regular season in south Florida. After being designated for assignment and clearing waivers, the Bisons are sure to benefit from Evans’ strong spring performance in which he hit .333 while playing in 25 of the 34 Grapefruit League games. Combing his time with Double-A, Triple-A and New York over the course of last season, the Phoenix native slammed 24 homers and did the most damage with the Herd in 37 games. Evans hit. 314 had .557 slugging and .385 on-base percentage before an eventual September 4 promotion to New York.
Russ Adams logged the most playing time of anyone on the Bisons projected infield last year, digging in for 108 games. A former first-rounder of Toronto, he led Bisons in doubles (28) and extra base hits (46) and tied for first in RBI (58) and runs (58) while spend the entire season on the club. The North Carolina native surged in the second half of the season hitting .309 and stinging 14 of his 16 homers after the All-Star break.
In just five games, third basemen Zach Lutz proved he was ready for the jump to face International League pitching at the tail end of last year. In 20 at-bats, the 24-year old smacked a homer, rapped four doubles and drove in nine runs. The success in Buffalo came after popping 17 long balls over a 61 game span for the B-Mets and fighting through a left foot fracture that took him out of the lineup for an additional 62 games.
Admittedly, some players served in the outfield from time to time. Adams, Evans and Pascucci all played in the corners sporadically last year and have all logged Big League time in the same capacity.
Valentino Pascucci could conceivably play first, right field or DH for the Bisons again this year but in all honesty, who cares where the man stands defensively. The slugger can change any game with one swing of the bat. Now 32-years old, he homered in his Bisons debut on May 17, became just the third Bisons hitter to launch three homers in a game at Coca-Cola Field (Jeff Manto/Dusty Wathan) while eventually finishing second on last year’s squad with 17 bombs. But, the California native also led the team in walks (44) and on-base percentage (.398) among hitters with over 100 at-bats.
The Mets also mixed in a solid crop of young talent during Grapefruit League action from on backfields. Solomon Manriquez can play first and serve as a backstop. Prospects, catcher Kai Gronauer, slick fielding Josh Satin and Reese Havens all could appear with the Herd eventually.