It's fair to say that fans of the New York Mets were not enamored with Mike Hampton when he left the team via free agency after winning National League Championship Series MVP honors in 2000. But they owe him a thank you.
When Hampton signed with the Colorado Rockies, the Mets received two picks in the 2001 Draft as compensation. Right-handed pitcher Aaron Heilman was selected with the first, while third baseman David Wright was chosen with the other.
Named Virginia High School Player of the Year after hitting .538 as a senior, Wright was selected 38th overall by the Mets. He bypassed a scholarship to attend Georgia Tech and signed with New York, which assigned him to Rookie-level Kingsport.
Wright proceeded to hit .300 with four homers, 17 RBIs and nine stolen bases in only 36 Appalachian League games. Promoted to Class A Capital City to start the 2002 season, he continued to tantalize fans with his blend of power and speed. He earned a spot in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game and batted .266 with 11 homers, 93 RBIs and 21 steals in 135 games for the Bombers.
Wright also showed a trait not often seen in teenagers playing at Class A -- patience. He finished fourth in the league with 76 walks and also ranked among the league leaders with 85 runs scored.
"I thought he was going to be real good. I thought he would be an All-Star, an impact player at the MLB level. And that's what he became," said Ken Oberkfell, who first worked with Wright in 2003 as manager of Class A Advanced St. Lucie. "He just stood out, he was a very good player."
Under the watchful eyes of Oberkfell and hitting instructor Howard Johnson, Wright continued to flourish in the Florida State League.
"I remember we had to shut him down from working out, he was working so much," Oberkfell said. "He was always wanting to work and to learn, and he worked on and got better in all phases of his game. He had problems on and off defensively, but he worked on it. He worked to get better, and he still works to stay that way."
That work paid off for Wright, who led the league with 72 walks, 56 extra-base hits and 39 doubles and earned All-Star honors for the second year in a row. Wright gave much of the credit to Johnson, a former All-Star third baseman for the Mets.
"He's taught me a lot," Wright told MLB.com. "We talk a lot about the mental side of hitting. I love just sitting down [and] talking to him about hitting, defense, game situations."
Those talks obviously paid off as Wright finished ninth in the elite Arizona Fall League with a .341 batting average. That served as a precursor to a 2004 season in which he flew through the upper levels of the Minor Leagues.
After opening eyes by going 3-for-3 with a two-run homer in a Spring Training intrasquad game, Wright was assigned to Double-A Binghamton, where he again toiled under Oberkfell and Johnson. He showed flashes of the Major Leaguer he was poised to become, hitting .363 with 10 homers, 40 RBIs and a 1.086 OPS in 60 games.
Wright was bumped up to Triple-A Norfolk on June 14 and hit .298 with eight homers and 17 RBIs in 31 games before being called up by the Mets on July 21.
Wright showed he belonged in the Majors by batting .293 with 14 homers, 40 RBIs and six steals in 69 games. He also received a hero's welcome when he returned home to Virginia in the offseason.
Since then, he's been to four All-Star games, won two Gold Glove Awards and two Silver Sluggers. More importantly, he's become the face of the Mets under the microscope that is New York.
"He wasn't an outspoken person, he led by the way he played the game," Oberkfell recalled. "He was very well-liked by his teammates. He was a leader, but he was a leader on the field. Now he's more experienced and is more outspoken. He's just a great guy."
Minor League career breakdown
2001: After signing with the Mets on July 12, Wright hit .300 with four homers, 17 RBIs and nine stolen bases for Rookie-level Kingsport. |
2002: Wright spent the year with Class Capital City, where he was named a South Atlantic League All-Star after batting .266 with 11 homers and 21 steals. He finished third in the league with 93 RBIs and fourth with 76 walks.|
2003: Wright again earned All-Star honors, this time in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. He led the circuit with 56 extra-base hits, 39 doubles and 72 walks while hitting .270 with 15 homers, 75 RBIs and 19 steals. |
2004: Wright proved too good for the Eastern League, hitting .363 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs in only 60 games before earning a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk. The Virginia native played only 31 games in his home state, batting .298 with eight homers 17 RBIs, before getting shot at The Show. Despite being the seventh-youngest player in the Majors, he hit .293 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs in 69 games.|