On the eve of the minor-league seasons, the first baseball at those levels in a year and a half, the Mets sacrificed parts of their farm system leadership for the sake of the major-league staff — undoing a significant portion of their offseason overhaul of the department.
Kevin Howard, the director of player development, became the major-league assistant hitting coach. Hugh Quattlebaum, the director of hitting development, became the lead hitting coach.
The Mets robbed Peter to pay Paul. A month later, how is Peter doing?
"I don’t know if I can ever tell you I’m fully comfortable this year," said Jeremy Barnes, the new farm system boss, referencing the pandemic and major-league injuries that have had a ripple effect on the rest of the organization. "We’re getting a hold of the reins a little bit more . . . I’m happy with where things are right now. We’re not a finished product, but we have good indications [of progress]."
Running the Mets’ entire minor leagues is not the job Barnes, 34, signed up for. But it is the one he wanted.
A standout at Notre Dame, Barnes played professionally from 2009-15, touching Triple-A with the Phillies in 2012 and playing in Australia for three seasons. He had been with the Astros for four years, including two as the hitting coordinator, when the Mets called and asked to interview him for their director of player development opening.
They ended up picking Howard but were impressed enough with Barnes that they hired him as director of player development initiatives — a job that previously did not exist. Barnes said he and Howard were co-leaders of the department.
Now, Barnes has taken the Zack Scott path to the gig: Interview for one role, join the organization in another, get promoted after a change with the initial hire. Scott was the runner-up to Jared Porter for the general manager spot but became acting GM after Porter was fired.
"It’s been an interesting year, that’s for sure," Barnes said.
Thus, Barnes’ initial duties no longer are the only priority, especially with all the day-to-day tasks that inevitably need handling — roster moves to make sure each affiliate has enough players, conversations with managers and coaches, pandemic-related considerations.
"When you have multiple teams spread out across the United States and you have a D.R. academy and it’s amidst of COVID, there’s plenty of things that pop up in the day," Barnes said.
Barnes gets by with a little help from his new work friends, including some who know a lot about the Mets. Ronny Reyes, the director of minor-league operations, has been with the organization for 17 years. Dick Scott, the coordinator of coaching development and instruction, is a longtime player-development executive, including leading the Mets’ system from 2013-15. And Kevin Walsh, manager of player development initiatives, is a holdover from Brodie Van Wagenen’s front office.
"They’ve been huge," Barnes said. "Having those guys offer me counsel in certain situations has been helpful. We’re trying to keep this collaborative, so it’s just good to have these voices and have these different perspectives. I think it allows us to make better decisions as opposed to me just trying to look at things through my echo chamber."
Collaboration is a big buzzword for the Mets generally and player development specifically. They want to build a culture where anyone, not just those in charge, can speak up, Barnes said.
"We want good ideas. They can come from anywhere," he said. "Once they come out, it’s a Mets idea and a Mets philosophy. The good things will stick and the bad thigs will get weeded away."
Delegating when possible leaves Barnes time to work on what he was hired to do: the "initiatives," which Barnes said is "vital to what we’re doing and where we want to be going." A big component of that is standardizing the way the Mets use data and technology with regard to players’ pitching, hitting and health.
In noting that the Mets "lean on objective data," Barnes emphasized more than once that he wants to "make sure the subjective side is heard." That isn’t always true in the sport’s modern landscape where the wisdom of baseball lifers sometimes gets ignored.
"We can’t just look at computers and make our decision based on computers," he said. "I’m not a big believer in old school or new school. There’s just good decisions."
"We want to be using data, we want to integrate it," he continued. "But we also want to make sure we have processes in place that do allow for some subjectivity in the art of coaching and leaning on these guys that have a lot of expertise in a certain area. It’s just taking into account all of those things and creating a system, a system or a process, whichever word you’d like to choose, and how we go about doing what we do to get Player A to the big leagues."
One area in which the subjective piece plays a role: Promoting prospects. There are no statistics for work ethic or attitude, but the "coaches on the ground," as Barnes put it, are experts.
In a couple of instances, the Mets have been aggressive with promotions. They bumped up catcher Francisco Alvarez, probably their best overall prospect, to High-A Brooklyn after a dominant 15 games with Low-A St. Lucie. Righthander Tylor Megill went to Triple-A Syracuse after five starts with Double-A Binghamton (and about 125 innings as a professional).
Barnes likes what he called the "little brother mindset." The younger sibling always is striving to hang around with the older kids, sometimes struggling to keep up — and that is OK.
"We do want our players to get stretched, we do want them to have to work through things," Barnes said. "If the first time they ever have to face adversity is in the big leagues, we’ve failed them as a development program."
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