It happens every spring. A scrappy young player walks into big league camp as a relative unknown to the general masses. While the veterans greet each other with big smiles, the newcomer has to introduce himself to pretty much everyone. Initially, the sportswriters ignore him and concentrate on the more established players made available by the team’s PR department. But when the preseason games begin, and when the new kid steps into the batter’s box, the attention is his. And he capitalizes.
The next day, he finds his name in the sports sections of numerous newspapers. Do this a few more times and the fan base begins to get excited. He continues to succeed throughout the month of March to the point where he improbably cracks the big league roster. By now, the fans know who he is. He’s the new guy who batted over .400 or had an ERA below 2 throughout the exhibition games. And the first time he comes out of that home dugout for his first appearance of the regular season, he gets an ovation from the crowd that’s usually reserved for the star players.
For the 2008 New York Mets, that guy is Angel Pagan, the 26-year old outfielder who the Mets drafted back in 1999 but had to reacquire in a trade with the Chicago Cubs during the offseason. While not completely anonymous on the big stage thanks to the 318 ABs he’s had as a Cub in ’06 and ’07, the average fan probably knew very little about him except that he has perhaps the most oxymoronic name in Major League history.
But in the last three weeks, Pagan has accumulated 45 ABs during which he’s gotten on-base at a .426 clip and slugged .578 with a .400 batting average and a couple stolen bags to boot. This has prompted the beat writers to collectively call for his inclusion on the big league roster. His stock became so high that some people actually bought the fake rumor that the Red Sox were going to trade Coco Crisp to the Mets in exchange for Pagan. Really? Isn’t that taking things a bit too far?
Due to the not-so-shocking injury to Moises Alou, the starting left-field spot on Opening Day is yet to be determined. Just two or three weeks ago it would have been considered foolish to even suggest that Pagan deserved the gig. And I don’t completely understand why we should be thinking any differently now.
It appears on the surface that most people get it. It’s spring training. Hitters are facing AA pitchers and vice versa. Established pitchers are trying out that new cut fastball that they can’t quite command just yet and the veteran hitters are trying to get their timing back. There’s no evidence that spring training success bodes well for the regular season. None. Zilch. Nada. I think the majority of the baseball world is in agreement on this one.
Then why doesn’t this logic hold true for Pagan? Why should we be impressed by a .426 OBP and a .578 SLG when it’s blatantly obvious that both stats are being held up by an impossibly high .400 AVG? Why should we ignore the fact that so far in his career the man’s line is an unimpressive .255/.306/.415? Because he’s young and has room to grow? Because he wasn’t wearing a NY Mets uniform prior to this year? Not buying it.
Far more indicative of his skill set than the 45 ABs he’s gotten this spring is the 2483 ABs he’s accumulated in the minor leagues. Pagan didn’t fare amazingly well during this time either, going .280/.338./.373 – numbers that would be fine… if he was a speedy shortstop who excelled defensively. Pagan does run well, but he appears to be cut from the same cloth as Endy Chavez, another backup outfielder for the Mets. They are useful as fifth outfielders who can be called upon as a defensive replacement or pinch runner, but why would you want two of them on your team?
Regardless of what I think, it appears that Pagan will be heading north with the team in a couple of weeks. But unless the Mets continue to be decimated by injuries, I just don’t see how they could justify keeping Pagan in the bigs for much longer. I hope I’m wrong on this one as I’d like nothing more than to see him succeed far beyond what I perceived were his capabilities as long as he does it in a Mets uniform. But history tells me that’s just a pipe dream.