'Premature' to call Mets' 2nd base race

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- And the winner of the New York Mets' second-base job is ... to be determined.

In the wake of a published report indicating manager Terry Collins wanted Luis Hernandez as his second baseman, Collins called it "a little premature" but certainly sounded like he was prioritizing Hernandez's primary asset -- defense -- during a pregame chat with reporters. That appeared to be a departure from previous conversations, in which Collins said second base had become an offensive position.

"I still think we've got to catch the baseball," Collins said. "We've got to be a pretty good defensive club. And that's a defensive position. The guy who is there I think is going to be able to play there."

Still, several members of the Mets' organization were highly skeptical Hernandez actually would be tabbed the Opening Day second baseman. And they uniformly predicted there was much more baseball to be played before it was firmly ironed out.

The problem with Hernandez, who is among the friendliest players in the clubhouse, is that most scouts view him as a backup middle infielder who generally would shuttle in an organization between Triple-A and the majors, depending on injuries.

For a front office that now prioritizes on-base percentage, Hernandez would be a considerably worse choice than Luis Castillo, who is making $6 million and will be released if he is not the starter.

Hernandez's career OBP in the majors is .286. His OBP in the minors is a marginally better .302.

The widespread belief inside and outside the organization is that Daniel Murphy will be on the major league roster, and the primary second baseman will be either Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus or Castillo. And sources tell ESPNNewYork.com that Collins prefers it not be Castillo, if only to minimize the drama during the upcoming season.

Still, Collins disputed that and went out of his way to praise Castillo on Tuesday afternoon.

"Louie, obviously, one of the things he brings is the experience," Collins said about Castillo. "I've known in the past, a lot of times, a lot of [other managers] like to go with those veteran guys early and let the younger guys go play, and if you have to make a change, at least they're playing every day."

On the other candidates, including Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner, Collins added: "We know [Murphy] is going to hit and has got a chance to hit for power. Brad Emaus is still showing us what he can do. Obviously he's got great credentials as the kind of player that fits in with what we're trying to do here -- a guy who can work the count, selective at the plate, good on-base percentage. And Justin Turner, I've seen him hit.

"And, all of a sudden, Luis Hernandez is a guy we talked about the other day in a meeting because he had been out with a bad foot. And I said the other day in a meeting, 'You know, we're forgetting a guy here, because this guy was the starting second baseman when he got hurt last year and playing good -- real good.'

"We're going to try to do the best we can. I don't think there's any need right now for me to play Luis [Hernandez] at second base because we all know he can play there. I want to watch the other guys."

Collins said he hopes to have second base resolved soon.

"We've got to do something pretty soon so that we start playing together as a unit a little bit and they start getting used to each other," he said.