Wright man for the job
Rookie third baseman becomes cornerstone of Mets' future
Posted: Friday October 1, 2004 6:22PM; Updated: Friday October 1, 2004 6:22PM
Everything around the "other" New York baseball team is going to hell. The manager, Art Howe, gets axed in the last month, but is lurking around awkwardly until the end of the season. Now, general manager Jim Duquette is demoted a year into his gig, and the heads of scouts and coaches are also surely to roll.
Looking for scapegoats, Mets fans are understandably livid with club owner, Fred Wilpon, and his son/baseball executive-in-training, Jeff. No one has ever sunk $100-plus million into a raunchier, more flawed product. The Metsies barely escaped the NL East cellar, thanks to the Montreal Expos, baseball's version of the Washington Generals who'll put down roots next season in the nation's capital.
Amid this stinky mess, believe it or not, is a bit of hope for New York's non-Yankees fans.
It comes in the form of kids, if they're not traded off. Young prospects such as Jose Reyes and Victor Diaz, as well as others a year or two away in Yusmeiro Petit, Alay Solar, Phil Humber and Lastings Milledge. But make no mistake, the franchise is preparing to be raised on the shoulders of 21-year-old David Wright, a Scott Rolen's-type third baseman who has turned in one of major's best late-season auditions.
Heading into the final weekend, Wright is hitting .290 in 66 big-league games, with 13 home runs and 37 RBI. His numbers counting early season stops at Double-A and Triple-A read like the stuff of a Can't Miss Kid: .319, 31 HR, 94 RBI, 28 stolen bases.
Wright was on the radar as a top prospect a year ago this time, but his star began to take off with his dominant play in the Arizona Fall League. Coming off a season of A-ball and playing against older, more experienced players, he hit .341 in 26 games with 15 RBI.
"That really helped me as far as my confidence,'' he says. "I went out and held my own against guys playing Double-A and Triple-A at the time. That really catapulted me into this year. It gave me the confidence to know I could hang with those guys.''
The kid already acts and sounds like a veteran who's been around the league a few times. He's smart enough to duck and let the turmoil fly over his head, while singling out coaches like Matt Galante and Bobby Floyd for extra work they've put in with him. Yet he isn't afraid to say he's tired of the losing and speak confidently of that changing -- real soon.
And if the Mets and the tabloids want to lay the pressure on him, Mr. Wright politely says it won't be an undue burden.
"I put a lot more pressure on myself than anybody else can put on me, so I have high expectations of myself first and foremost,'' Wright says. "Sometimes I am a little hard on myself, but it is good to have that inner fire and desire to succeed. That competitiveness is good.
"No matter, I know I can't try to do too much. I'm 1/25th of this team and 1/9th of the lineup every day, but I'm going to carry my weight and do whatever I can to help the team win. I'm not going to do less than that.''
That's the approach you might assume of a straight-laced kid raised in Chesapeake, Va., by Rhon, a Norfolk police captain, and Elisa, a local high school teacher. The oldest of four boys, Wright graduated high school with a 4.27 grade-point average and was packing for Georgia Tech until the Mets grabbed him with the 38th pick in the 2001 amateur draft [a selection awarded as compensation for having lost lefty Mike Hampton to free agency].
After driving past the Tech campus while in Atlanta this week for a series with the Braves, Wright is asked if he ever wonders about what might have been. He describes himself as a "huge Yellow Jackets fan,'' but no way he could have gotten to the big leagues this fast via the college route. The Mets ultimately won him over with a $960,000 signing bonus. And had he stuck with his Tech commitment, Wright wouldn't have been eligible again for the draft until this June -- or about the time he was nearing his ascend to New York.
At the time, head coach Danny Hall was recruiting Wright as a replacement for Mark Teixiera, the latest in a line of quality pro players Tech has produced. Hall suspected it might be tough holding onto Wright after he dazzled scouts at wooden-bat tournaments before his senior year.
"Yeah, he had bat speed and he had power,'' said Hall, recalling his plan to team Wright on the left side of his infield with shortstop Tyler Greene, who projects as a high first-round pick in next June's draft. "And he hits some home runs and just got a lot of hits with the wood. Sometimes those high school guys get in against some of the best pitching prospects throwing 90 miles-per-hour and it's hard to hit with wood.
"He's just a good, good baseball players. A little bit of a throwback guy. A lot of it has to do with his makeup as a person. He wants to get better. He appreciates the game and the opportunities he has been given. And he'll treat it with a lot of respect.''
So maybe there is hope for Mets fans. If Wright is the real deal. If Reyes can stay healthy and Kazuo Matsui comfortably shuffles to second base. If Humber and Solar bring power arms. If they can live with one more season of Mike Piazza's eroding skills and bloated contract. If new GM Omar Minaya can dial up the right manager.
And, yeah, if the owner and his kid leave the baseball decisions to the baseball people.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.