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Mark Vientos named Mets' Sterling minor league hitter of the year

Mark Vientos is plenty familiar with being the youngest guy on the field. From his precocious start in baseball — he was impressing scouts as young as 14 — to his steady climb up the ranks in the South Atlantic League, the Mets 19-year-old prospect doesn’t seem particularly intimidated by age or experience.

All that has certainly come in handy, considering he was fresh out of high school when the Mets drafted him. And considering he was facing bigger and older competition, while his 6-4 frame continued to fill out. And of his 451 plate appearances with Class A Columbia this season, only seven came against pitchers younger than he was.

“From a very young age, I’ve been playing with a lot of older competition,” Vientos said Monday with a bit of a shrug. “I’m very used to it. It’s not anything different from high school to me. Obviously, the competition is better, but it’s just playing baseball, having fun, working hard, that’s it.”

And winning awards. Don’t forget that one.

On Monday, the Mets named Vientos the Sterling minor-league hitter of the year, a year and a half since he was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft. He was joined by lefty Kevin Smith, the 22-year-old who climbed the prospect ranks throughout the season to become the organization’s minor-league pitcher of the year.

Other awards went to shortstop Andres Gimenez (defender of the year), Sam Haggerty (baserunner of the year), Freddy Valdez (Dominican Summer League hitter of the year), and Ronny Rincones (DSL pitcher of the year). David Davalillo was named manager of the year for leading the Gulf Coast League to a first-place finish before the rest of the season was cancelled because of Hurricane Dorian.

“It gives me all the confidence in the world,” said Smith, who led all Mets minor leaguers with 130 strikeouts this season. “I’m trying to do the same thing [next season] and who knows what next year holds, but it’ll be a fun year.”

Vientos, a third baseman with a power bat, managed to make the best of Segra Park, the Columbia, SC ballpark where balls go to die. Vientos compiled a slash line of 255/.300/.411 with 12 homers and 62 RBIs in 111 games. The numbers may seem modest, but it was Vientos’ first full pro season, his first time playing that many games, and he immediately showed promising results.

“It was a graveyard,” Vientos said of his home ballpar, before looking on the bright side. “I mean, it just helps me out as a player to be a more all-around player, not just for power, [but] hitting gap to gap, get my base hits. That helped me out a lot.”

Next up for Vientos is working on his defense, which has been a little more of a question. Scouting reports say he doesn’t have the quick reaction time that makes for outstanding third basemen, but that he’s more than capable. Time will tell if that will translate to his frame – 6-4 could make it hard to play the position seamlessly, or if he has a future at first base or beyond.

“I’m very focused on my agility and footwork at third base this offseason, but basically everything,” Vientos said. “I’m working hard on everything — all aspects of the game.”

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