Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Mets' Brad Emaus on track for second
By Adam Rubin
JUPITER, Fla. -- The New York Mets dumped Luis Castillo on Friday. Then, on Wednesday morning, they dispatched Justin Turner to minor league camp. And although manager Terry Collins is not prepared to name his second baseman, Turner summed it up best before leaving the clubhouse.
"I bet Brad is feeling pretty good about himself right now," Turner said without malice.
He was referring to Brad Emaus, a Rule 5 pick from the Toronto Blue Jays, who appears destined within a week to be named Opening Day starter at second base.
The other notable competitor, Daniel Murphy, has been informed by Collins that Emaus will get the bulk of the starts the next several days in Grapefruit League play at the position, with Murphy seeing action at multiple spots.
Collins said there is "absolutely" room for Emaus and Murphy on the 25-man roster that breaks camp. Murphy is expected to serve as a left-handed bat off the bench and back up multiple infield positions.
"Until they tell me I got the job, I'm still going out trying to win it," said Emaus, who turns 25 Monday.
Turner batted .231 this spring with two doubles and five RBIs, while Emaus is hitting .235 with a .366 on-base percentage.
The Mets actually appear poised to keep both of their Rule 5 picks. They also selected right-hander Pedro Beato from the Baltimore Orioles to use in the bullpen.
Emaus and Beato must remain on the major league roster for the entire season to become Mets property. Otherwise, they must be placed on waivers, then be offered back to their former clubs, assuming they clear waivers.
The last Rule 5 pick to make the Mets' Opening Day roster was sidearm reliever Darren O'Day in 2009, but he was claimed off waivers on April 22 of that year when the Mets needed to create roster room for spot starter Nelson Figueroa. The last Met to make it a full season as a Rule 5 pick and become Mets property was catcher Kelly Stinnett in 1994.
Mets special assistant J.P. Ricciardi drafted Emaus out of Tulane while general manager of the Blue Jays and was influential in the Mets selecting him in the Rule 5 draft. Ricciardi sees parallels to a former Rule 5 pick at second base, Dan Uggla, although Emaus suggests that may be more about storyline and stocky builds than raw power. Emaus is particularly valued by the Mets' new front office because of its emphasis on-base percentage, with fielding capabilities secondary.
"The guy's got a ton of power," Emaus said about Uggla. "So I don't know if I'm going to be a 30-home-run kind of guy. I guess we kind of get compared because we're both Rule 5 guys, kind of have a similar body type. Other than that, he's more of a power guy and I'm more of an on-base guy."
While splitting time last season between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Las Vegas, Emaus had more walks (81) than strikeouts (69), while producing a .397 on-base percentage and 15 homers in 445 at-bats. Ten of those long balls came in the homer-friendly Pacific Coast League with high-altitude ballparks, but Collins said that does not raise red flags.
"You're talking to a guy who spent 13 years in the Coast league -- Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Tucson," Collins said about his own career as a minor league player and manager. "If he hit 40 homers, I would say, yeah, probably 15 had something to do with the fact that they played where it was a mile high all the time, or the air was light. But it's some other intangibles. It's how he handles the bat, how he works the count. He makes the pitcher work and can do some damage on a mistake. ... As we've said, we think second base is somewhat of an offensive position today. This guy's background says he's an offensive kind of player."
Said Emaus: "I'll be the first one to tell you I'm not a 'toolsy' guy at all. But I feel throughout the entire course of a year I'll put up good numbers for you and I'll play sound defense and just be a baseball player out there. That's all you can do. When you don't have a ton of speed or a ton of power, you've just got to every day grind it out."
The decision on Turner primarily boiled down to the fact he had two minor league options remaining, Collins said. If Emaus struggles, the Mets can always summon Turner from Triple-A Buffalo. But if they went with Turner from the outset, Emaus likely would be back with the Blue Jays and unavailable as a fallback.
By the end of the year, the second baseman actually could be a player never in big league camp. Reese Havens, a 2008 first-round pick from the University of South Carolina, has been slowed by persistent oblique issues and underwent surgery during the offseason to remove an inch of a rib, but projects as an offensive force at the position.
Emaus believed there was a 50-50 chance he may be taken in the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings, his hesitance because position players are far more seldom taken than pitchers. He was twice in major league camp with Toronto during spring training but was blocked by Aaron Hill.
Emaus received word the Mets had picked him while playing with Toros del Oeste. He had been playing third base for the Dominican winter league team, his other familiar position. The following day he began consistently playing second base.
"It's not like I went in here saying because J.P. is here I've got a job, because it's been stated and stated it's an actual competition," Emaus said. "I still feel it is. It may help to have a guy in your corner. I didn't hear J.P. was the assistant GM here until after the Rule 5 [draft]."
Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com.