By David Weiss
Until recently I have always thought that baseball was a meritocracy. After a player is drafted or signed, he is assigned to a minor league team. When he performs well, he gets promoted to the next level. The end goal is of course to make it to the majors.
The following story has made me think twice. Have a look at the two players below:
Based on these two offensive stats, I can come to the following conclusion. Player’s A and B are comparable. Both had good 2018 seasons. Player B is overall a better player, but he did play a AA, which could have skewed the stats. Player A seems to have more speed, but it is not a game changer. Based on these stats, both deserve a shot at the majors.
Before jumping to any conclusions, look at the basic defensive stats:
Both players seem adequate. Being that one player is and outfielder and the other a first baseman, the numbers are not comparable. Nine outfield assists for player A is very good. Neither make a huge number of errors but range could be an issue for both.
So, who are these two players? As many of you may have guessed, Player B is Peter Alonso. He is the Mets most highly touted minor league prospect at the upper level. He thoroughly dominated in 2018. The Mets will likely call him up in early 2019. The reason they are waiting is to gain another year of team control since Alonso is seen as a long-term investment. The other player is Zach Borenstein.
Most Mets fans have never heard of Zach Borenstein. He has never played a big-league game and does not show up on any list of top Mets prospects. Never the less, he was the only player from the Las Vegas 51s to be named to the AAA all-star game. Based on his numbers, he earned the honor. By seasons end he ranked at the upper end of many major offensive categories when compared to anyone who played in at least 100 AAA games. The list includes: Walks (1st), Runs scored (2nd), Homers, (3rd), Doubles (7th) and Total bases (9th). When Borenstein is only compared to his Vegas teammates, he led the team in almost everything.
Let’s look at some of the AAA numbers of players who the Mets called up this year. Did the other players put up numbers that could compare to Borenstein?
When looking at the players on this list, only one strikes me as better. Jeff McNeil was fantastic in AAA and has not been a letdown in the majors. Never the less, the Mets gave opportunities to other guys with little success. Matt den Dekker didn’t get a hit in his eight games with the Mets. Ty Kelly was given another shot, but didn’t come through. Jack Reinheimer hasn’t had any true success on either the major or minor league levels. To be frank, the Mets call-ups this year were mainly duds.
To make matters worse, Borenstein had great minor league numbers before. In 2013, he won the California League (High A) MVP, with an OPS of 1.034 for the year. In 2017, he had 24 blasts and drove in 91 runs. The slash line of .279/.351/.573 was even better than this year. He played for Team Israel in the 2017 WBC and was one of the key pieces that helped the Israelis shock the world and end the tournament in sixth place. Simply put, the guy is a masher.
So, this leads to the key question. How has Borenstein not gotten a shot? In the launch angle era, one would think that at least one major league team (Mets included) would give him his crack at stardom. Sadly, this may never happen. While various reasons can be given, it seems that the analysts don’t think he is major league worthy for one reason. Zach Borenstein is too old.
2018 was Borenstein’s age 27 season and he since turned 28. By today’s standards, this makes him a relic. According usatoday.com, the average age of a player on the opening day roster was 28.91 in 2018. No one wants a rookie who is already that mark. Teams are thinking long term and the analysts simply write him off. However, this is a flawed way of thinking, since not every player will be for long term. There is nothing wrong with a 3-4 year career so long at it is earned. In recent history the Mets have had no shortage of older rookies who made a big-league impact. Jeff McNeil is 26, as was Jacob deGrom when he won rookie of the year. Melvin Mora and TJ Rivera were both 27-year-old rookies that helped the Mets get to the postseason. To simple write off a player because of age is unjust.
Others will say that Borenstein isn’t being denied because of age. Rather it is his fielding. While I cannot claim to be an expert on this, I can say this. Borenstein has a strong outfield arm. He does not make many errors. McNeil was also said to be a poor infielder, and that is yet to be the case in the majors. Dom Smith was allegedly a great defensive first baseman until he got to Queens. Judging minor league defense is hard, since defensive metrics aren’t as good as offensive ones.
Once again, Borenstein will not be on a major league roster. It is a travesty. Baseball should be a meritocracy. Unfortunately, it often isn’t. While no one will claim that Borenstein is Cooperstown bound, it is hard to argue he doesn’t deserve an opportunity to prove himself. In today’s home run oriented game, he very much fits the mold. Sadly, the numbers are not always enough. In Zach Borenstein’s case, he bloomed too late. I hope for his sake that some team in baseball picks up on this. As a Mets fan, I hope this doesn’t come back to haunt us.
(David Weiss is a lifelong Mets fan. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and runs the Facebook page Jewish Mets Fans.)