Veteran John Buck will catch young Mets staff
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As John Buck began collecting his belongings, signaling the end to another day at work, he stopped to scan the clubhouse. It was early on a Friday afternoon, a few days before pitchers and catchers were required to report, yet the room bustled with activity.
For the new Mets catcher, it offered some reassurance.
The biggest piece the Mets received was top prospect Travis d'Arnaud, who is considered the team's catcher of the future. But because d'Arnaud missed most of last season with a knee injury, he almost certainly will begin the year at Triple-A Las Vegas to make up for his lost development time.
That leaves Buck, 32, with the catching duties to begin the season. It could be a critical role for the nine-year veteran.
The Mets might spend the season rolling out their new crop of talented young pitchers. Righthander Matt Harvey likely will begin the season in the starting rotation and fellow phenom Zack Wheeler is expected to arrive before the year is out. Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia also might find themselves on the roster at some point.
Whatever the combination, it will be Buck's responsibility to help ease the transition.
"You do have such a profound effect on the whole career of those young guys and building that foundation that you need to have to be successful, not only this year but hopefully for their whole career," Buck said. "I'm kind of in a unique position to help mold that or at least set them in the right direction."
In one sense, regardless of how long he remains the Mets' starter, Buck provides an instant power upgrade at the plate. Josh Thole led a quartet of Mets catchers last season who totaled only five homers compared with the 12 Buck hit for the Marlins.
Buck has fallen short of equaling his production in 2010, when he earned All-Star honors with the Royals while hitting .281 with 20 homers. But anything close to that would be a bonus. Buck knows where his primary responsibilities lie.
"I want to be productive,'' he said. "But the main objective of my position and what I do for a living is help pitchers put zeros on the board and get the most out of them."
Buck said working with young pitchers means paying attention to differences in maturity level and approach, sometimes on the fly. It means making them believe that they are in control regardless of experience.
"When they're on the mound, I don't care if they have a minute in the big leagues or two years in the big leagues," Buck said. "They can still get a guy out."