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What’s On Second For The Mets?

While the New York Mets have produced plenty of slap stick comedy in recent years — Bernazard The Brawler’s WWE alter-ego, Mystery Diagnosis: Carlos Beltran, and Oliver Perez, aspiring (and flailing) $12 million LOOGY — it only feels like the club from Queens has been presided over by Abbott and Costello.

Sandy Alderson has replaced Omar Minaya as GM, and Terry Collins moves from minor league field coordinator to manager, ending Jerry Manuel‘s tenure. But a question that so vexed Abbott looms large for the Mets: What’s on second? Luis Castillo got the boot, and 21-year-old Ruben Tejada has been sent AAA after an ultra-aggressive promotion to the majors last year. That still leaves a gaggle of middle infielders vying to be Jose Reyes‘ DP partner. Here’s a quick look at the contenders, listed by fantasy relevance, along with their respective ZiPS projections for 2011.

Daniel Murphy (.278/.329/.435)

Murphy didn’t take a single trip to the plate for the Mets last year, losing the first base job to Ike Davis while rehabbing from a right knee sprain and then tearing his MCL on a takeout slide in the minors while learning to turn two. The 26-year-old lefty batter has the most offensive upside of the Mets’ keystone options, putting up a roughly league average line (.275/.331/.437) in a little more than 700 career MLB plate appearances.

The question is, can he cut it as a middle infielder? Murphy wasn’t considered especially agile prior to his knee injury, and he might end up as a super sub instead of getting steady PT at second. Of New York’s projected starting pitchers, Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey are ground ball-centric, while fragile free agent pickups Chris Young and Chris Capuano have their pitches hit skyward more often. Perhaps Murphy gets penciled in at second on days when Young and Capuano are on the bump. Fantasy folks have to hope New York is willing to stomach his D more frequently.

Brad Emaus (.240/.315/.357)

A Rule V pick from the Jays, Emaus is coming off a 2010 season in which he clubbed pitchers for a combined .290/.397/.476 line in 534 plate appearances between the AA Eastern League and the AAA Pacific Coast League. Turning 25 later this month, Emaus controlled the strike zone very well, walking (81 BB) more than he whiffed (69 K). So why the lousy projection?

Emaus had a mundane AA campaign the year prior (.253/.336/.376 in ’09), and the power he showed in the PCL in 2010 loses some of its sparkle when you consider Bryan Smith showed that, with a collective .277/.348/.432 triple-slash, “the PCL was the best hitting environment of any professional league.” Personally, I’d bet on a higher batting average and slightly more thump than ZiPS gives Emaus credit for. But it’s hard to envision him becoming more than an NL-only option in 2011 if he gets regular ABs.

Justin Turner (.267/.320/.377)

Originally a Reds prospect, Turner was swapped to the Orioles before the ’09 season as part of a trade for Ramon Hernandez and was claimed off waivers by the Mets last May. The career .308/.368/.438 AAA hitter has a better bat than the two guys listed below him here, but Turner has two things working against his being in the majors on Opening Day: he has minor league options remaining, and he’s not seen as someone you’d want filling in at shortstop in a pinch. Odds are, Turner begins the season at AAA.

Chin-lung Hu (.255/.288/.341)

Hu won’t be on first (sorry), but he might man second and short as the Mets’ backup middle infielder. The former Dodgers prospect, picked up during the offseason for lefty Mike Antonini, has a .303/.333/.421 line in 1,100+ PA at the AAA level, and he’s lauded for his range. But batting average aside, Hu’s secondary skills are non-existent, and the PCL caveats mentioned about Emaus apply here as well. The 27-year-old is out of minor league options, meaning he’d have to clear waivers before the Mets could send him down to AAA. You can safely ignore him, though — Hu’s a non-factor for fantasy purposes.

Luis Hernandez (.248/.282/.328)

Allegedly a Terry Collins favorite, the prospect of Hernandez opening the season as the second base starter has fantasy players and Mets fans alike fleeing in terror. The former Brave, Oriole and Royal’s ZiPS projection would actually be an improvement upon his limited big league line (.245/.286/.298 in 290 PA). He has such little pop that he might get out-ISO’d by Luis Castillo, and he doesn’t possess anywhere near the erstwhile Met’s plate patience. Also out of options, Hernandez is considered a gifted fielder, and he could beat out Hu for a bench spot. But he’s not a fantasy option, even in Sunda Trench-deep leagues.

None of the Mets’ second base contenders is draft-worthy in mixed leagues, but Murphy could be of some use if he works his way into regular ABs. Emaus may well be better than that wretched ZiPS projection, but it’s important to put his 2010 minor league numbers in proper context before getting too giddy. As for Turner, Hu and Hernandez? Even Abbott and Costello would know those guys should be kept far, far away from fantasy rosters.