Friday, August 5, 2011

Meet the Met: Mike Baxter

This will be a weekly segment where I delve into the Mets farm system for a new face. It could be a player that has recently been acquired by the organization, or a player who many people may not know about, but has outperformed his expectations this season.

To begin, let me introduce: Mike Baxter.

Baxter, 26, was a fourth round pick of the San Diego Padres in the 2005 draft. He is a corner outfielder by trade, but played centerfield this past Saturday for the first time since 2009. Mike had been on the 60 day DL with the Padres for most of the season, after having surgery on March 28 to repair a torn ligament in his thumb. However, after Orlando Hudson was injured making a sliding catch, he was placed on waivers, where the Mets picked him up on July 22.

Over the course of his minor league career, which now spans seven seasons, Baxter has consistently improved. Take a look at these numbers:

2005 – A.219.267.311
2006 – A.256.304.363
2007 – A+, AAA.271.339.401
2008 – A+, AA.264.345.406
2009 – AA, AAA.317.394.469
2010 – AAA.301.382.517
2011 – A+, AAA.321.404.440

At 26, his best years are still in front of him. Looking at his history, he has the ability to make adjustments and improve his craft no matter what level he is at, so he has some major league potential.

He is a hitter with good plate discipline, and has never struck out more than 100 times in a season. It may look like his power has tailed off this season, but he only has 84 at bats because of his injury. After hitting .313 with a .531 SLG and a 903 OPS over his last nine games, it looks as if his stroke has returned.

For me, this addition looks eerily similar to that of Justin Turner a year ago. The Mets claimed JT off waivers from the Orioles in May 2010. All he has done is deliver a 1.1 WAR for the Mets this season.

Turner was a player, like Baxter, who always hit in the minors, but never received an opportunity to play for a major league team. The only reason he even got a chance this year was because Luis Castillo was terrible, Brad Emaus was even worse, and Ike Davis and David Wright went down with injuries.

Baxter hit .301 with 18 home runs and 72 RBIs last season with 89 runs in 136 games for AAA last season. When looking at the Mets lack of outfield depth in the upper levels of their system, acquiring a player with Baxter’s ability and youth, for free mind you, is just another reason to like this move.

The Mets AAA team had been starting Jesus Feliciano, Jason Botts, and Bubba Bell. These guys are 32, 31, and 28 respectively, with very little, if any major league potential. Baxter is now the most productive, healthy minor league outfielder the Mets have, and should factor into their roster decision for 2012, especially with a good Spring Training.

No matter what happens with Mike Baxter, this is the type of acquisition good teams make. The Mets got him for free! The worst thing that happens is that Baxter becomes the AAA-quad A player that hits in AAA, but cannot figure out major league pitching, (think Nick Evans). There is still value for that in an organization, but that is this moves floor.

On the other hand, the upside for this move is Justin Turner. Forget his fielding gaff the other night for the time being, Turner has been a revelation for the Mets this season. He has turned into a player the Mets can rely on. I am not sure he can start every day in the future, but he has shown the capability to do so, filling in when a player goes down. He should be a factor on their bench, with the ability to play multiple positions, for years to come and the cost of acquiring him was nothing.

If Baxter can have success anywhere near that of JT, or develop into a bench player for the Mets, great. If not, who cares? The upside is a major leaguer, and the low end is that the Mets added a player who can hit AAA and can be under team control for the next couple of seasons.

It’s a win-win.

Zach is also the author of Follow him on Twitter @zpetersel

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