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Mets position analysis: Wilson Ramos can hit but has issues on defense

Wilson Ramos #40 of the New York Mets

Wilson Ramos #40 of the New York Mets looks on during the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field on Wednesday, Sep. 11, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

During this pandemic-induced baseball hiatus, we examine the Mets position by position. We already covered first base, second base, shortstop and third base. Now, catcher.

The starter: Wilson Ramos is the Mets’ top catcher, and a decade into his major-league career, he is what he is: an above-average hitter and poor defender.

The latter  frequently was an issue for the Mets last year, with some pitchers — notably Noah Syndergaard, for whom it was an issue at least into September — preferring to throw to other catchers. 

During the offseason and in spring training, Ramos, 32, worked on a different catching stance in which he puts one knee on the ground, which he believes will help him receive pitches low in and just below the strike zone. That is where Syndergaard (who won’t pitch this year because of Tommy John surgery) and Marcus Stroman, for example, like to live when they pitch.

An under-the-radar aspect of Ramos’ 2019: His offense took a step backward.

He still was a perfectly fine hitter, to be clear, especially at a position with a dearth of such production. His penchant for coming through with runners in scoring position got a lot of attention, and his 26-game hitting streak tied for the second longest in Mets history.

But Ramos batted .288 with a .351 OBP and .416 slugging percentage, an underwhelming number in last year’s inflated offensive environment. That was worse than his 2018 slash line of .306/.358/.487 and worse than the three-year period before he joined the Mets.

The other options: Backup Tomas Nido is basically the anti-Ramos: a solid defender with a positive reputation for calling games and handling pitchers, but with minimal offense. He had a .191/.231/.316 slash line in 50 games last year. His skill set  nonetheless is a valuable one for a backup, especially if pitchers like him.

The other in-house option is Rene Rivera, who  probably is known best to Mets fans as Syndergaard’s favorite catcher in recent years. He has spent parts of three seasons with the team, including getting into nine games last year, and was in camp on a minor-league deal before MLB hit pause on the season. Under any expanded-roster scenario — which is likely if there is a season — Rivera has a good chance of making the team.

The future: The Mets have a $10 million option (and $1.5 million buyout) on Ramos for the 2021 season, so if they wish, they can avoid having to deal with the catcher position next winter.

But there is great reason to want to have to deal with it at that point: J.T. Realmuto, probably the best catcher in baseball, is scheduled to be a free agent. Brodie Van Wagenen badly wanted to acquire Realmuto from the Marlins in December 2018 — his first offseason as Mets general manager — but Realmuto ended up with the Phillies. Now the Mets will have a shot at him for nothing but money.

Of course, the Mets almost never spend big on outside free agents, and that seems unlikely to change unless the for-sale Mets get the right kind of deep-pocketed new owner in time for the offseason.

Aside from Realmuto, a name to dream on: Francisco Alvarez, 18, who is widely considered a top-100 prospect. He is a long way away from the majors, but he is good enough that the Mets had him start his pro career stateside last year, when he spent most of the season with rookie-level Kingsport.

The Mets also have been impressed with Alvarez’s ability to learn English, which is important for any foreign-born catcher.

“He’s special,”  executive director of player development Jared Banner said during spring training. “His ability to drive the ball the other way, his ability to compete at such a young age at a very important and grueling defensive position, his willingness to work on his body and work on his English — everything he needs to do to get better. He’s really locked in and we’re happy to see that.”

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