Although not enshrined in Cooperstown, Keith Hernandez will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Mets fans. For some, it may be a result of hearing him every night on SNY. For others, it may simply be because of his iconic mustache.
No matter your primary reason for going gaga over Mex, most Mets fans and baseball fans can agree on one thing: Keith Hernandez was revolutionary at first base, and without his pure leadership and all-around skillset, the 1986 World Championship may never have come to Queens.
It is essential that any team ready to win have a first baseman who can truly do it all: slug the ball, play stellar defense, and take total control of the game to lead his team to success. This was true back in the day with leaders like Don Mattingly pushing the Yankees close to a title and Keith Hernandez providing the Mets with their first World Series in 17 years, and we are seeing a continuation in today’s era with superstar players such as Albert Pujols, Anthony Rizzo, and Eric Hosmer, all leading their respective teams to championships.
Without the presence of these star first basemen, their teams undoubtedly would have experienced a more difficult path to victory, if even succeeding at all. That is why it is so important for the Mets to find a serious leader at first base, rather than a simple stopgap.
In 2017, the Mets will have ample options at the bag, with Lucas Duda most likely being penciled in as the team’s everyday starter. Mets fans should be very content with Duda at first, for in his two most recent healthy years, he posted respective slash lines of .253/.349/.481 and .244/.352/.486, and fielding percentages of .994 and .997.
However, given Duda’s significant lower back injury that sidelined him for most of the 2016 season, the Mets are proceeding with caution and allowing other internal players like Wilmer Flores, Michael Conforto, and even possibly Jay Bruce to practice at the position and become potential alternates. Of these four possibilities, only Lucas Duda possesses the experience with the position necessary to make him a commanding force on first.
That being said, Duda is eligible to become a free agent after 2017, meaning that a call to the big leagues for 21-year-old 1B prospect Dominic Smith may be in the Mets plans. Smith has been trending upwards and slowly adding more power to his arsenal, posting a .302/.367/.457 slash line in AA Binghamton in 2016. As he continues to improve in the minors, Smith is quickly gaining attention, most recently ranked number 29 on Keith Law’s list of top baseball prospects.
While Dom Smith looks to be a promising young player, can he be the type of leader that Keith Hernandez was for the ’86 Mets? Will he even be able to fill the impending hole at first if Lucas Duda and the Mets part ways after 2017?
No one can know for certain, but the Mets organization is investing significant energy and resources into Smith to transform him into the star-caliber player who can once again lead the Mets to the promised land.