In theory, this is the perfect time for the Mets to call up one of their top prospects, Ronny Mauricio.
The team surrendered in 2023, trading away a substantial part of its core after a disappointing four months of the season to allow owner Steve Cohen to cut his losses and begin to look ahead to 2024 and beyond.
With it has come a hodgepodge of lineups that Mets fans probably thought they’d never see again — the type that harkens back toward the summer of 2021 or 2017, or even the pre-trade-deadline in 2015.
Remember when John Mayberry Jr. batted cleanup and the Mets made the World Series a few months later?
Even with Cohen’s influx of funds and promises of World Series glory in three to five years — something he’s repeatedly regretted in saying — the Mets’ No. 4-9 hitters in Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles were as follows: DJ Stewart, Omar Narvaez, Mark Vientos, Brett Baty, Danny Mendick, and Rafael Ortega. Granted, this is the short-term pain that general manager Billy Eppler alluded to after the trade deadline that comes with reloading the farm system.
But for a team that is basically playing for pride at this point of the season, now appears to be the perfect opportunity to call up Mauricio, who is the Mets’ No. 3-ranked prospect, the No. 54-ranked prospect in all of baseball, and the highest-rated youngster currently in Triple-A.
The 22-year-old’s numbers during the first half of the season certainly appeared to warrant MLB consideration, too. Across 71 games in Syracuse, he slashed .311/.357/.517 (.874 OPS) with 11 home runs and 43 RBI while the big-league club’s offense sputtered.
All the while, his close friends in Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty, and Mark Vientos have gotten the call to the majors — the latter finally getting more playing time after two separate promotions.
The Mets continued to preach that Mauricio’s defense is not ready. A natural shortstop, he began the season working at second base and then picked up left-field reps this summer in an attempt to open up more opportunities in the majors.
His glove still is believed to be unsuitable to get major-league reps at either of those positions, meaning the Mets would have to take away shortstop reps from Francisco Lindor to cycle Mauricio in. Considering the extensive work that comes in the field at the position, perhaps it would not be the worst idea to explore such an option to preserve Lindor — who has eight years on his contract remaining after this season — amidst a lost year.
But that doesn’t solve the perceived problem of his defense, though the Mets don’t have much of a leg to stand on about preaching the importance of glovework when Rafael Ortega whiffed on a line drive to center field and Vientos bobbled a hot shot to third that led to the Orioles’ first and game-winning run on Sunday.
Eppler is framing the team’s decision to keep Mauricio down in Triple-A as a way of protecting him — taking the avenue of overcooking a prospect rather than sending a raw product to the big leagues and dealing with the repercussions afterward.
“I think that’s a dangerous equation,” Eppler said on July 31. “If you’re pushing guys up here, there’s a lot of attention and there’s some there’s gravity to the games. It’s just a different environment and different elements and so you want them to feel very good about where they are.
“I have seen in my time… players go backward from that. You don’t want that. So I’d rather be a little late than too early.”
However, there could be harm lurking in such an equation. According to Mike Puma of the New York Post, there have been rumblings of Mauricio becoming “stale,” and “disinterested,” in Triple-A. Over his last 26 games, he’s batting .230 with a .667 OPS that led to a benching on Thursday night.
This coming during a season in which he’s amassed nearly 1,200 at-bats between the Dominican Winter League, Double-A Binghamton, and Triple-A Syracuse without getting any legitimate time off.
It may be that some time off could do the youngster some good. But it also may be feasible that a call up to the majors could re-spark the up-and-comer to rediscover his game while honing his areas of weakness with big-league guidance.