SYRACUSE — As the Mets weigh acquisitions ahead of the trade deadline, they could use a right-handed bat. They finished play Wednesday as the 19th-best team in the majors against left-handed pitchers, with a .702 OPS.
Their most obvious holes (outside of catcher, which would be tricky to upgrade midseason) are designated hitter and third base.
What if they don’t need to make a trade to acquire the slugger they seek, but instead can find him within the organization?
The fan base has been at its loudest championing righty-hitting catcher Francisco Alvarez, who is crushing Double-A pitching. Alvarez, however, is still learning behind the plate, is just 20 years old and is not on the 40-man roster.
On the other hand, Mark Vientos, the Mets’ No. 5 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is already on the 40-man roster and might be better positioned to help right away.
“Whenever I get the opportunity, I know I’m ready,” Vientos said Thursday at NBT Bank Stadium, the home of the Triple-A Syracuse Mets before a game against Lehigh Valley in which he batted third and played first base. “If they give me an opportunity now, later, next year, the year after — doesn’t matter,” he said. “When that opportunity comes, I’ll be ready.”
The 22-year-old Vientos, a second-round pick out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla., in 2017, broke out last season, when he swatted 25 home runs in 83 games split between Double-A and Triple-A — nearly a 50-homer pace for a full major league season — and showed advanced power to all fields.
This season, as one of the youngest players in the International League (he has had one at-bat against a pitcher younger than him) Vientos struggled in April, when he hit .164 with one homer.
Since May 2, Vientos has been covered in flames, even as pitchers have adjusted and given him fewer pitches to hit and fewer fastballs. Entering Thursday, he had 11 home runs in his past 33 games, with a slash line of .291/.388/.575 during that span.
His manager, Kevin Boles, pointed at improved plate discipline for the turnaround. Though his 31.2 percent strikeout rate was slightly up this season, he has cut down from his April whiffs.
“Once it started to heat up a little bit, you could see the approach started getting better,” said Boles, who also worked with Vientos as a minor league instructor last season. “He can leave [the park] to all parts of the field. That’s why he’s so special. … He hit a ball to right field [Wednesday] night that a lot of left-handed hitters have a hard time getting to.”
Perhaps most intriguing to the Mets, he does the bulk of his damage against southpaws. The Mets have played J.D. Davis most often at DH against lefties. But while Davis has begun to see his hard hits start to fall, the righty hitter has actually hit righty pitchers better and has just a .655 OPS against lefties.
Vientos has been a bona fide lefty-killer in the minors. This season, he was hitting .291 with seven home runs in 63 plate appearances against southpaws entering play against Lehigh Valley, the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate.
“The power is legitimate,” a scout said of the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Vientos.
His glove is more a work in progress.
Vientos has spent most of his time this season at third base, and the Mets could see if he is playable there. The Mets’ primary third baseman, Eduardo Escobar, has struggled severely against lefties, which might have opened the door for Luis Guillorme to get more looks at the position. But Vientos, who also has played some first, made 11 errors (nine of them at third) in his first 53 games this season.
“He’s gotten better,” Boles said. “His third-base footwork needs to improve. We’re seeing signs of that. The glove work will lead to that, when the footwork improves. The arm strength plays average to above average. But yeah, there needs to be more consistency at third base, and he’s working hard on it.”
Vientos said each season, there has been a strong emphasis on one part of his game, and defense is the tool to hone this year.
“I know what I’m capable of at third base,” Vientos said. “I know I can be an everyday third baseman in the big leagues.”
If the prodigious power and suspect glove are reminiscent (generously) of Pete Alonso, the two have more in common than their profiles while going through the Mets system.
They first crossed paths at Instructional League play in 2017, when they talked hitting. Alonso took a look at Vientos’ 33-ounce, 30-inch bat.
“He was like, ‘Dude, if you want to hit more home runs, you got to go up an ounce heavier on this bat,’ ” Vientos said. “And ever since I took his advice on that, I think I’ve been hitting a lot more home runs.”
Maybe the Mets will trade for someone such as Nelson Cruz, a proven righty bat to plug in at DH. Maybe they will stick with Davis, who consistently has made strong contact, or maybe they will take the surprise route and call up Alvarez all the way from Double-A.
But if Vientos is the pick, he can thank Alonso in person.