Small sample sizes kill — player development, that is.
Brad Emaus was supposed to be the man at second base for the New York Mets this year. At least that’s what any reasonable person could have anticipated after a Spring Training in which the team cut ties with Luis Castillo, sent Justin Turner to the minor leagues, and slapped the utility tag on Daniel Murphy. Emaus profiled well, as Joe Pawlikowski noted, comparing nicely to fellow former Rule 5 pick Dan Uggla. For every reason imaginable, it was easy to see why Emaus was the popular in-house candidate: a 25-year-old, cost-controlled player with potential seemed exactly what the Mets needed to get back on track.
But Emaus was removed as the everyday starter after only six games. And he’s started half of the last eight. It’s pretty easy to see why — he’s posted an anemic 162/.262/.162 in 42 PA — but is it the right decision, based on such a limited number of plate appearances?
Last week, I listed five specific keys that the Mets should follow if it wanted to rebuild properly and escape the realm of perpetual mediocrity. Perhaps my list should have included a sixth note: Don’t pull the plug on worthwhile experiments without giving the players legitimate opportunities to succeed.
Face it, the Mets aren’t going anywhere this season. Daniel Murphy isn’t the answer, even as a stop-gap option. If the Mets did the unthinkable and attempted to demote Emaus, the team would have to offer him back to the Blue Jays and have him clear waivers. There’s no way the Mets hold onto him under those circumstances.
The Mets committed to giving Emaus a legitimate chance to remain a starter when the team decided to keep him in the major leagues, manager Terry Collins said earlier (per David Lennon of Newsday). Collins also said that putting Emaus in and out of the lineup was not the appropriate way to determine his value. Duh. Hopefully, Collins’ statements are truly indicative of his plans. Otherwise, Emaus is being wasted.
The Mets seem to have fallen prey to a common problem: Teams decide to test out prospects, but then shift toward safer short-term options when the initial results disappoint. The Mets saw something in the spring to think that Emaus was worthy of a starting position, so 42 plate appearances shouldn’t change that plan. Given the team’s current state, what’s the risk of giving Emaus the playing time he needs to help him develop into a major leaguer? In the simplest terms, the Mets need players exactly like Emaus — low-cost, high-reward guys who can help the team avoid crippling contracts.
Due to the nature of the Rule 5 draft – players have to make the opening day roster or else be offered back to their original team — selections who stick in the big leagues are generally given more leeway. But not all Rule V selections who make the opening-day roster are slated to start. Teams that do grant starting roles to Rule 5 selections need to be ready to punt that position in case the player doesn’t produce.
In Emaus’ case, making that determination requires consistent playing time. Whether the tool of choice is statistical evidence or scouting anecdotes, nobody can be sure of anything regarding Emaus’ talent level yet. The same could be said if he were tearing the cover off of the ball.
If Emaus ends his 300th PA with a .232/.311/.338 slash line or something similarly putrid, then the Mets should begin to reassess the situation by comparing the numbers to scouting reports. But not after six games. Not after twelve games. And not after a month. It’s too easy to sacrifice potential long-term success for a win or two in the interim. The Mets need to resist that urge and bite the bullet.
Giving up on Emaus after two weeks is what the Minaya-led Mets would have done. It’s time for the organization to prove that it has moved past that point.