CHICAGO - Paul DePodesta surveyed the projected roster at Triple-A Las Vegas and couldn't help but feel optimistic. This was well before the start of the season, when the Mets couldn't have known that they would depend so much on reinforcements from their own farm system.
In the past, the Mets' highest-level minor-league team had been a collection of six-year free agents, castoffs from other organizations looking for a fresh chance. But at the start of the season, the Mets' vice president for player development noticed a difference.
The Mets would field a team mostly of homegrown talent, which DePodesta called "a significant step forward for us."
Now, with the season entering the heart of the summer, the Mets have benefited from that accumulation of talent. As injuries have created holes in the roster, the Mets have filled their needs with complementary players who they have signed and developed themselves.
When the Mets took the field for a series opener against the Cubs Tuesday night, the starting lineup included a pair of reinforcements from Las Vegas, outfielder Matt den Dekker and shortstop Wilmer Flores.
Later in the road trip, utilityman Eric Campbell will likely make a start for third baseman David Wright. In Thursday night's series finale, righthander Jacob deGrom will make the fifth start of what has been a brief but impressive first foray into the big leagues.
"It saves you to have quality Triple-A players ready to play at the major-league level," manager Terry Collins said. "That's where you try to get to."
Though the 26-year-old den Dekker has struggled in limited at-bats since his promotion (1-for-9), he flashed his defensive ability Monday night, when he made a brilliant leaping grab to rob Phillies slugger Ryan Howard of a home run.
With starting centerfielder Juan Lagares out with an intercostal strain, the Mets can count on den Dekker to provide a comparable replacement defensively at a key position.
In Flores, 22, the Mets have gotten what they had hoped for, an offensive player to push a struggling incumbent. In limited action since he was promoted nearly a month ago, Flores is hitting .261 with one homer, a grand slam Monday night.
With Flores on the roster, Ruben Tejada seems to have responded to the competition, hitting .417 in his last seven games. Collins intends to keep splitting time at shortstop between Flores and Tejada.
A Mets eighth-round draft choice in 2008, Campbell is hitting .294 with a homer and six RBIs. He has thrived off the bench. In the ninth round of the 2010 draft, the Mets snagged deGrom. While Noah Syndergaard remains the best pitching prospect in the system, the 25-year-old deGrom has emerged to give the Mets a boost when Dillon Gee landed on the disabled list.
As Collins noted, den Dekker, Flores, Campbell and deGrom are all homegrown, products of a system that has become appreciably deeper.
"The whole goal all along has been to restructure to the minor leagues so that you push some of your better minor league guys to get them to where they can help," Collins said. "Certainly, they're doing that."
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