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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Still Young, Not Yet Stars

The Mets who needed to hit hit Thursday night in Milwaukee. Every position player hit, actually, which is what the Mets needed most. The starting pitcher, Steven Matz, didn’t hit, but wasn’t hit. Steven went six innings, allowed no runs and handed the proceedings over to Paul Sewald and Jacob Rhame for the rest. Mickey Callaway had previously said the Mets can’t expect to win games 1-0 all the time. Maybe they couldn’t expect to win a 5-0 flogging of the Central-leading Brewers, but that’s what we got and gladly accepted.

You should be able to expect a victory when you get five-hit pitching, and if you can’t win after pounding out thirteen hits, maybe try another sport.

The clear choice for first star Thursday night was the first hitter of the game and lead man in the Mets offensive scheme both when it works and when it doesn’t, Brandon Nimmo. Nimmo has led off eleven of the last twelve games, times when the Mets have exploded for runs, times when their batting order has adhered to Gandhi’s tenets of passive resistance. When the salt is shaking and the pepper is grinding, there’s Nimmo getting it going. When nothing is coming out, there is Nimmo, too. With no Cespedes in sight and Lagares good as gone for 2018, Nimmo isn’t coming out, either.

On the nights Brandon Nimmo is the reincarnation of Tommie Agee, the Mets are a walking miracle. A hitting, running, scoring and emoting miracle, too. All of that is Brandon’s game, no more so than on Thursday as Brandonmania erupted for two doubles, a triple, a single, a base on balls and a hit-eating grin worthy of a four-for-four, two-run tour de force. Nimmo prepared the cocktail, stirred the drink, added the seasoning and of course served it with a smile. Through my grogginess, I even heard him thank Steve Gelbs for inviting him to take part in SNY’s on-field postgame interview — a small touch, but so very characteristic and so very delightful.

Thing is, as exciting as Brandon was, I was a little more caught up in two more mundane performances: the Met who went 1-for-4 with a walk and a run scored; the Met who went 2-for-4 with a run scored. If you don’t have your stats handy, those were the lines put up by Michael Conforto and Amed Rosario, the closest examples we have to entries in the young star genre.

You hear a lot about young stars of a position-playing nature these days. Teams we can’t stand seem to feature them. Conversely, the team we love and obsess on doesn’t get mentioned much in this context. Perhaps it’s because our most prominent young star, Conforto, isn’t quite so new anymore, and our youngest potential star, Rosario, hasn’t really starred. Honestly, Conforto has done so mostly in flashes. It was enough to get him an All-Star berth in 2017, though I’m pretty sure Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope and were meant to announce “deGrom’ as the Mets’ representative.

Young is half the definition of young star. Rosario is 22. He’s Youth of America material, to be sure. Conforto is 25. Young enough, I believe, especially when you consider none of his previous three major league seasons have been complete. He was promoted ahead schedule in July 2015 out of necessity (the mother of pennant-winning invention) After a scalding start in 2016, he slumped and was sent down to Vegas to regain his confidence, his stroke, whatever it was that kept Terry Collins from just letting him play. Last season, his second injury of the year halted his catching further fire. He’s in his fourth year, but it seems like he’s still got plenty of runway, which is great. You want to sense you haven’t seen a talent like his truly take off. You want “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” in heavy rotation every time Conforto does something swell.

We don’t have much experience with legitimate young everyday stars, especially in twos. The previous pair the Mets produced — basically the only pair in their first half-century — consisted of David Wright and Jose Reyes. They were young stars together for so long that it was surprising to turn around and realize the “young” descriptor at some point started to wear off. I remember reading an article about the best young shortstops around 2010 and was aghast that Jose was left off the list…until I counted backwards and concluded that a 27-year-old in his eighth big league season probably didn’t belong in that category.

The star part will take some doing to be more than a technicality on Conforto’s résumé. When he’s been good, he’s been thrilling. When he’s been less, you wonder what’s wrong. Michael has had a handful of starry games in 2018, but not much more. Much as he arrived from Binghamton early, he returned from his separated shoulder rehabilitation before he was expected. It was great to greet him as soon as we could, yet as with several of the Mets who spent a significant chunk of 2017 on the DL, we should probably remind ourselves that a player doesn’t necessarily get all the way back up to speed just because he’s on the active roster.

Speed is not a problem for Rosario. If they’d let him, he’d give the Freeze a pretty good race in Atlanta. But he won’t be in the same conversation as the fast risers the Braves are featuring to much acclaim until he can show some consistency. Twenty-two is twenty-two, and a first full season is still something akin to freshman year, even for a heretofore top prospect. I’m not particularly impatient when it comes to Amed. Rare is the top Met non-pitching prospect who sprints from the box to stardom. Wright, who came up in 2004, came closest. Reyes, class of ’03, once his legs found their footing, wasn’t far behind. Each was legitimately the cream of the National League crop at his respective position by the middle of 2006. Darryl Strawberry wasn’t polished when he won the Rookie of the Year award in 1983, but there was no doubting his power or budding star power. Nearly every other homegrown Met position player of note has developed out of view of the boiling pot.

Amed is several strides from joining the conversation that within the senior circuit has revolved around Brave wunderkinder Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña this year and Dodger junior achievers Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager last year. Michael hasn’t quite gotten in on that kind of chatter, either. All that our brightest kids can do is work at getting better and hopefully help the otherwise distressingly creaky Mets win. I tell ya what, though — when they have gotten better together, the Mets have won.

They just haven’t gotten better enough in tandem.

Consider that the Mets have played 46 games. In exactly one of those, both Rosario and Conforto have recorded at least two hits apiece, May 7 at Cincinnati. The Mets won that night. In four other games in 2018, we’ve seen each half of the occasionally dynamic duo get at least one hit apiece while one of them in the same game has managed at least a second hit. One of those games was Thursday night in Milwaukee, one was last Friday night versus Arizona and two were in April at Miami. All four were Met wins. So when I say the Mets who needed to hit hit last night,that’s what I’m talkin’ about. We need Conforto to hit. We need Rosario to hit. We need them to do it in the same batting order over and over.

Small sample size, I grant you; dubious cause-and-effect, perhaps; but a glimpse of what we all yearn for: two avatars of athleticism leading us to victory. Conforto who can rocket the ball to all fields. Rosario who can send them into the gap and take extra bases. Their defense has been solid, but their offense has been spotty. Get both youngsters to coalesce their skill sets and now you’re talking about the Mets’ young stars. At 25 and 22, respectively, they’re quite capable of igniting an elevated level of buzz.

In the meantime, we’re happy to keep mentioning how well Nimmo’s game is speaking for itself. He’s only 25, a first-round draft choice in this very decade and barely established as a no-doubt big leaguer. When the Mets had a roster squeeze last month, they sent him down almost out of habit. Fortunately they recalled him almost immediately, and fortunately he’s covered more than his share of otherwise unoccupied outfield ground. We don’t know how his playing time will shake out if/when Yoenis is declared fully mobile, but a plethora of nights like Thursday will make the question somewhat academic. Brandon’s the one young Met who’s truly playing like a star on a going basis.

The New York Mets and their three potential young everyday stars? We’re not there yet, but the more we have reason to hear of that kind of grouping, the merrier we shall be.

12 comments to Still Young, Not Yet Stars

  • LeClerc

    Nimmo is playing with a lot of heart and determination – and that’s translating into significant positive results. He’s playing winning baseball. This is also true of Cabrera.

    The other position players, young or old, are not pulling their weight. With Lagares and Cespedes not available, sending Conforto to Vegas to get his groove back is not an option. But it may be that his shoulder surgery as transformed him into just an OK player.

    Jay Bruce, on the other hand, is very not OK at 13 million per year. Time for him to produce.

    But I’ll take a 5-0 win anytime. Thanks you young Matz, Nimmo, Sewald, and Rhame.

  • mikeski

    “hit eating grin”.

    +1. I love this blog.

  • Greensleeves

    I missed last night’s game, still grief stricken from the day before. This is, as always, much better than a basic happy recap.

    “hit eating grin” is all the more impressive for its being tucked inside your dense prose.

    If and when Rosario can learn plate discipline he might emerge.

    Conforto is about to breakout.

    The world needs more Nimmos. (I just don’t know what pointing to the sky has to do with working a walk, a hit or anything else.)

    • Matt in DE

      Nimmo – pointing to the sky = Thanking G-d
      Robles – pointing to the sky = look I gave up another home run that I think is a pop-up.

  • Gil

    Excellent piece per usual. Have to agree on Nimmo’s post-game and overall candor. Lots of what can’t be transcribed into computable data make baseball clubs succeed, and having a guy like Nimmo around flashing his boyish smile and staying up despite some bumps in the road is what the team and the fanbase both need.

    Matz finally beat-up on opponents batters instead of his own dugout. He looked good. Seawald and Rhame equally good. Hope the Viking has 7 in him tonight and hope Bruce can come alive. Let’s go get another one from the beer makers.

    Happy Memorial Day F&F writers and readers. Fire up the BBQ’s and fly the Stars and Stripes!

  • Kevin from Flushing

    Thank you for having patience w Rosario. He’s gonna be fine.

  • Dave

    Before Nimmo got here, I envisioned this fish out of water…guy is from Wyoming and was ready to go play at the University of Arkansas until the Mets offered him enough to, I don’t know, keep the cattle all fed through the next generation or something. But he seems to have no problem fitting in and just going out there doing what he loves. We should all be such fish out of water.

    He’s the type of player that I always think of the Cardinals finding…not stars, but really good at helping their team win games. If there are some more of him down at the ranch, I’ll take ’em.

  • Greg Mitchell

    Disagree Conforto is ready to bust out. He is behind almost every pitch. It’s nice to go to left–when you’re trying to on occasion, and with pop. With foul pops off third base is not the same, nor the 3 or 4 fouls also back of third, not to mention swinging through fastballs. Let’s see a few hard singles and doubles to right–like Nimmo last night–before we can even begin to believe…

  • eric1973

    At least Robles warns g-d that another one is on its way!

  • Luis Venitucci

    Seaver and Koosman should qualify as a pair of stars, no?