It's been a while since the Mets had a second baseman their fans could get excited about. Jose Valentin brought a steady veteran's calm to the job in 2006 and part of 2007, and Robbie Alomar raised hopes and did little else in his expensive stay at the top of the diamond in 2002 and 2003. Let's not even mention Luis Castillo or Miguel Cairo. A fan has to reach back to 2000, and Edgardo Alfonzo, to find a likeable, productive player at the second bag. Mets fans, meet Justin Turner.
For diehard fans, it might be more accurate to ask them to reconsider Turner. The 26-year-old right-hander started four games for the Mets in the last half of the season, three at second base and one at third base, batting a dismal .125. But in 16 games this season, the Southern California native has earned a .318 average, and while the rap on Turner has been that would bat for average but fail to slug the ball, his slugging percentage thus far is a muscular .455.
Turner may have failed to impress last season during his short stint with the major league team, but during his time in the minor league at the Mets' Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons, he made a friend in Ken Oberkfell, who managed Turner in Buffalo and now serves as bench coach for the Mets. He played the game the right way, Oberkfell told ESPN's Adam Rubin. He did the little things. He handled himself very professionally.
Turner did the big things well, too. In Buffalo, Turner batted .318 with a .487 slugging percentage, leading the team in hits, runs, and doubles. A strong bat in the minors does not always translate to success in the majors, but Turner's outing on May 16 in Houston has the hearts of Mets fans beating a bit faster. Turner hit a two-run double and a three-run homer off the Astros' Aneury Rodriguez in back-to-back innings. Collins couldn't fail to notice that this success was against a right-handed pitcher. That fact may be key in Turner getting a regular spot in the lineup. But for the moment, he's facing another obstacle--Mets management called up Ruben Tejada, a 21-year-old infielder with experience at both second base and shortstop, from Buffalo yesterday.
Turner may be getting familiar with professional baseball's ups and downs. Less than two months ago, a starting spot with the Mets probably seemed far away. Turner was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo after a solid Spring Training with the parent team. Mets brass have made a point of saying that the decision was mostly dictated by the status of Brad Emaeus, the 25-year-old former Blue Jay who was obtained by the Mets in the offseason as a Rule 5 player, which means the Mets couldn't demote him to the minor leagues. It was use Emaeus or lose him, so the Mets put Emaeus on a trial run, and Turner was sent down. But the right hander didn't produce, batting .162 in 14 games, and the Mets let Emaeus go, on April 19. Turner was placed back on the active roster, but Collins envisioned Turner and Daniel Murphy sharing the second baseman job, with Murphy getting starts against right-handed pitchers, and Turner facing left-handers. But when Ike Turner went on the disabled list on May 12 with an ankle injury, Murphy was moved over to first base, and Turner had second base all to himself. He's made the most of it. But unless Tejada falters, Turner may have to wait a little bit longer.