Homegrown starting 9 a positive development

Homegrown starting 9 a positive development

Homegrown starting 9 a positive development
NEW YORK -- Mike Arbuckle heard the news as soon as he stepped off the airplane: The Mets' starting lineup for Thursday's game against the Marlins at Citi Field consisted of nine players who had been signed and developed by the organization.

"Wow, that's incredible," the Royals' senior advisor, scouting and player development, said. "It's what you dream of doing. The absolute ultimate would be to win a World Series with a completely homegrown team. Obviously, the odds of that are miniscule. But just to field a team, you have to tip your cap to a farm system that's capable of doing that.

"It doesn't happen very often, so it pumps up the scouting staff and it pumps up the development staff because that's what they work for. That's their reward. It's just a huge boost to everybody."

Rookie center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis added the fairy tale ending with a bases-loaded, walk-off single that gave the Mets the 3-2 win and a sweep of the series.

Manager Terry Collins, who has a development background, couldn't have been more pleased. "We just had a little [meeting] in the office. We had a couple things we had to go over real quick. [Owner] Jeff Wilpon was there, and I told him he should be very proud to see nine homegrown players out there. And when the game started, there were 10 because [former Mets shortstop] Jose Reyes was in the batter's box. That is a tribute to the scouts and the player development here," he said.

Executives from other teams took notice as well.

"I think that's what we all strive for," said Phillies assistant general manager, amateur scouting Marti Wolever. "That's the highest compliment we can be paid. I think that's just tremendous."

Adding to the drama was the fact that the Mets beat a team that loaded up on expensive free agents -- Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell -- over the winter.

"[Miami] is basically the opposite. Any time you sweep those guys, it's big," Nieuwenhuis said. "I played with quite a few of these guys in the Minor Leagues, and it's a lot of fun playing with them here. Any time you have that many players from one farm system, that's pretty cool."

Added Lucas Duda: "It's nice. And it's fun. We're a younger team and we're going to go out there and play hard for nine innings and see what happens."

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time since 1971 -- and only the third time in franchise history -- the Mets have started a lineup consisting entirely of players signed and developed by the organization.

Back then, on Sept. 19 in a 5-2 win over the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium, manager Gil Hodges handed in a lineup card that had Ted Martinez leading off and playing second followed by shortstop Bud Harrelson, left fielder John Milner, Ed Kranepool batting cleanup and playing first base, center fielder Mike Jorgensen, right fielder Ken Singleton, catcher Duffy Dyer, third baseman Tim Foli and pitcher Jerry Koosman.

On an overcast Thursday afternoon at Citi Field it was Nieuwenhuis, shortstop Ruben Tejada, second baseman Daniel Murphy, third baseman David Wright, rightfielder Duda, first baseman Ike Davis, catcher Josh Thole, leftfielder Jordany Valdespin and pitcher Jonathan Niese.

Earlier this season, the Mets started a lineup that was entirely homegrown except for knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, so Thursday's alignment didn't come entirely out of left field. Still, some pieces had to fall in place.

It might not have happened, for example, if outfielders Jason Bay (nondisplaced left rib fracture) and Andres Torres (strained left calf) weren't on the disabled list. Torres being out gave rookie Nieuwenhuis a chance, and he's taken advantage; he's hitting .333.

Since Bay was DLed on Tuesday, Collins has been mixing and matching in left. Mike Baxter started the first game of the Marlins series. Scott Hairston got the nod Wednesday. And it was Valdepsin on Thursday, even though he's an infielder who had never played professionally in the outfield before this season.

That the Mets have undertaken a youth movement is also a factor. They didn't sign any big-name free agents during the offseason. In fact, they let Reyes walk while trading Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez during the season. Overall, they reduced their payroll by nearly $50 million.

In Thursday's lineup, Wright's salary was tops at $15 million. The other eight players, all with less than three years of big league service time, have combined salaries of less than $4.24 million.

Winning with younger players who have been groomed from within also has to be a tonic for the fan base.

"It's unusual in baseball today, but I think it's a tribute to what was done over the last four or five years by (former general manager) Omar Minaya and (former scouting director) Rudy Terrasas and some of the other people who have been here," said GM Sandy Alderson.

"You've got to have players coming through your farm system to be successful. And you've got to give them an opportunity to play at some point, whether that's out of necessity or just creating opportunities. They've got to have a chance to play."

Now, this may not be as unusual as many might imagine. According to Elias, the Twins started nine or more homegrown players (including the designated hitter) several times last season and had all 10 players products of their system as recently as Sept. 24-26. And the Rockies did it once last season, on Aug. 8 against the Nationals.

But rare or not, it's still pretty special.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.