With their wild-card hopes down to a sliver of a percentage point before Labor Day, the Yankees and Mets played the only hand left to them by summoning their top prospects Friday, a move born more of desperation than development.
And by doing so, the city’s two failing baseball franchises managed to achieve something worthwhile during the final month of this lost season: The Yankees and Mets have succeeded at becoming watchable again.
Had this year gone as intended, Jasson Dominguez’s two-homer barrage during the Yankees’ three-game sweep at Minute Maid Park never would have happened. The same logic applies to Ronny Mauricio stacking up five hits in his first eight at-bats in Flushing. He’d still be playing second base for Triple-A Syracuse if the Mets hadn’t already raised the white flag.
The front-office preference for both of these highly touted prospects was to continue their big-league prep down below through most of September, if not the end of the season. Dominguez, aka “The Martian,” is just 20 and had only nine games with Triple-A Scranton before getting the call. As for Mauricio, the Mets were concerned about his plate discipline and glovework — at multiple positions — yet opted to jump his education to the next level anyway.
But when a summer goes this far sideways — in “embarrassing” fashion, as general manager Brian Cashman described his Yankees last month — it’s time to reach for the kids to reel in the fan base.
At worst, the prospects are a useful distraction, a conversation-changer from the drumbeat calling for everyone’s jobs. What we witnessed over the weekend, however, was the best-case scenario, as the top-rated youngsters not only shined individually but triggered two zombified teams into playing winning baseball (the Mets took two of three from the scorching-hot Mariners).
“With all these guys, we’re going to see bumps and growing pains along the way,” manager Aaron Boone said after the Yankees’ sweep-clinching 6-1 victory over the Astros on Sunday night. “But to come in here against a really good team in a great environment and have them handle themselves the way they have is really encouraging.”
And frankly, a further indictment of the Yankees’ regular roster, which was a misfiring mess before Boone went with five-rookie lineups against the Astros.
Dominguez homered off future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander in his first major-league at-bat Friday night and followed that up by taking Cristian Javier deep in Sunday’s finale.
Despite all we heard about Austin Wells’ defensive shortcomings, he seemed perfectly fine in starting all three games behind the plate. He even threw out Mauricio Dubon trying to steal second Sunday night. Wells had a pair of hits and recorded two of the rookie Yankees’ nine RBIs for the weekend, helping the Yankees sweep the hated Astros in Houston for the first time in a decade.
Obviously, this was nowhere close to the October revenge the Yankees were seeking from the defending world cheaters, um, champs. The Astros have been their repeated roadblock in what soon will be a 14-year World Series drought, bouncing the Yankees from the ALCS in three of the past six seasons. But seeing the likes of Dominguez and Wells rise to the occasion at a hostile Minute Maid Park — the home office of Yankees playoff misery — did allow the Yankees to leave this time with some pride intact.
Over at Citi Field, the Mets continued a youth movement that’s really been underway since the Aug. 1 trade deadline, when owner Steve Cohen bankrolled a fire sale designed to import more prospect talent in short order. While catcher Francisco Alvarez — a Rookie of the Year candidate — already had established himself as one of the few highlights in this depressing season, Mauricio’s long-awaited promotion and the return of the prodigal third baseman Brett Baty sparked a renewed interest in the otherwise wheel-spinning Mets.
Something else for Cohen to be encouraged by — the Mets used a lineup with six homegrown players in the two wins over the Mariners. That should be upped to seven in the days ahead, as there is zero rationale to start Daniel Vogelbach at DH for the remainder of this season. Regardless of who’s on the mound, those at-bats must be divvied up for the team’s future, whether Baty and Mark Vientos mix in some time at DH or the Mets need a longer look at DJ Stewart.
The Mets have seen more than enough of Vogelbach. And with the young nucleus now in Flushing, this next month will be crucial to the club’s evaluation process for 2024 and beyond, especially in light of Cohen’s farm-driven vision for the future — one that figures to be enhanced by free agents rather than relying on them as an aging framework. Mauricio quickly flourishing under the bright lights may be a microscopic sample size, but it’s also a promising one.
“The one thing that has impressed me the most is how composed he is,” Francisco Lindor said. “How slow his [heart] beat is . . . His IQ and his baseball awareness is at a high level.”
Consider Dominguez and Wells, Mauricio and Baty, the parting gifts for a baseball summer everyone would rather just forget. The more the Yankees and Mets can force-feed us the future in these coming weeks, the somewhat easier it will be to rinse our memory of the ugly past few months.