No position in the Mets organization has received a greater overhaul than catcher. At the Major League level, John Buck and Anthony Recker have replaced last year's tandem of Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas. The farm system, meanwhile, features top prospect Travis d'Arnaud, who arrived in the offseason from Toronto in the R.A. Dickey deal but has been sidelined at Triple-A Las Vegas since April 17 with a left foot fracture.
Truth be told, the rebuilding of the organization's catching depth began in earnest in June of last year during the Draft when the Mets selected Purdue's Kevin Plawecki with the 35th overall pick. Considered to be an offensive receiver with solid footwork and leadership potential, Plawecki signed for $1.4 million and reported to Short-Season Brooklyn before opening his first full professional slate this year at Class A Savannah.
Some observers were surprised, given Plawecki's advanced abilities and experience at the Division I level, that he opened 2013 in the South Atlantic League rather than at a higher classification. His performance to date has backed those comments. The native of Carmel, Ind., leads the circuit in batting average (.400), hits (44), doubles (17), extra-base hits (22), slugging percentage (.691) and total bases (76) and ranks second in on-base percentage (.457) and RBIs (28).
"I've felt great since reporting to Spring Training after working out all offseason at Purdue," Plawecki said. "I think the consistency has helped me as much as anything, just doing things over and over. I've been focusing on hitting balls in the zone and being consistent at the plate with my approach while making sure my hands and my feet are all working together."
Plawecki gained a reputation in college for his ability to make consistent contact. He struck out only 29 times in three seasons with the Boilermakers and continued to show a good eye at the plate at Brooklyn by walking 25 times and striking out on 24 occasions in 216 at-bats. He also displayed his above-average power with a team-high seven home runs.
This season his consistency has been on full display again with the Sand Gnats. He hit safely in 25 of his first 29 games and had two or more hits in 12 of those outings. He also put together a 13-game hitting streak from April 19 to May 4, during which he batted 24-for-50 (.480) with three home runs and 16 RBIs.
"Sometimes my hands can get a little too quick and I end up using my shoulders more than I should," Plawecki said. "I've worked hard to make sure everything is working in synch. I've definitely been hitting the ball a lot better than I did last year, and it all gets back to being consistent."
Plawecki also has attracted praise for his defense and his work with the pitchers. He has quick feet for his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame and possesses solid arm strength, despite nabbing only six of the first 22 runners attempting to steal this season. His strength comes in handling the staff. Plawecki worked with many of the Savannah hurlers last year at Brooklyn, including most of the Latin American pitchers, and has learned to communicate with them despite the language barrier by picking up some Spanish.
"He is a natural leader, and the pitchers really listen when he talks to them," said Savannah manager Luis Rojas. "He's a mature guy who is a good hitter with a lot of leadership abilities. Right now he's showing that on a daily basis."
Two grand in big flies: Jorge Alfaro hit a solo homer in the bottom of the second inning in the first game of Hickory's doubleheader sweep over Savannah on May 6. Alfaro's blast represents the 2,000th home run in franchise history, which dates to the beginning of the 1993 campaign.
Intimidators steal a win: Kannapolis leadoff hitter Micah Johnson stole a career-high four bases and scored two runs in the second game of a May 6 doubleheader against Greensboro to snap the Intimidators' eight-game losing streak, the team's longest since August 2006. Johnson leads the SAL with 25 steals, eight more than second-place Terrance Gore of Lexington.
Quinn persevering: Lakewood shortstop Roman Quinn has struggled during the first month of the season at the plate while continuing to make the adjustments to switch-hitting. The natural right-handed hitter is 5-for-43 in his last 11 games, resulting in a .196 batting average for the season. Lakewood manager Mickey Morandini told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "There are no worries. … Right now he's swinging at some pitches up in the zone, causing him to hit the ball up in the air a little too much. He's still learning the strike zone."