Feb 25, 2015

Short Time Late Sixties Mets Pitcher: Al Schmelz (1967)

Alan George Schmelz was born on November 12th 1943 in Whittier California. The six foot four right hander attended Arizona State University. There he was a team mate of futue Major leaguers Sal Bando, Rick Monday & future Mets catcher Duffy Dyer. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the New York Mets in 1966.

In his first season at pro ball he went 12-0 in the New York Penn League but never matched that success again. After going 8-12 with a 2.60 ERA at A ball Williamsport he was brought up as a September call up.

Smeltz debuted on September 7th 1967 at Shea Stadium pitching in relief of Jerry Hinsley. He served up a solo HR to Julian Javier & finished off a 9-2 loss to the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. He earned no decision. On September 24th he made his final MLB appearance pitching in relief of Don Cardwell in a 4-2 loss to the Houston Astros.

He would pitch in the minor leagues through the 1969 season where finshed up at A ball Pompano Beach & then AA Memphis in the Mets organization. He also spent time with the Pittsburgh Pirates AA York team that season as well.

Feb 14, 2015

Short Time Early Nineties Mets Infielder: Jeff Gardner (1991)

Jeffrey Scott Gardner was born February 4th,1964 in Newport Beach, California. The five foot eleven left hand hitting infielder, threw right handed & was signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1984.

 Gardner spent seven years in the minor leagues before ever reaching the majors. Gardner was the AAA Tidewater Tides second baseman from 1989 through 1991, under managers Mike Cubbage & Steve Swisher. He was scouted as having a good eye to draw walks & rarely striking out.After batting a minor league best .292 since his first year in pro ball, he was brought up to the Mets squad for a September 1991 call up.

On September 10th, 1991 he got the start at short stop as Kevin Elster got a day of rest. In that game the Mets Pete Shourek, beat the Montreal Expos 9-0. Gardner got his first career hit, a base hit off Mark Gardner, while drawing two walks. He hit safely in five straight games, then had just one other hit in his last eight games. Gardner saw action in 13 games as a New York Met going 6-37 (.162) with no extra base hits & one RBI.

That winter he was traded to the San Diego Padres for Steve Rosenberg who never played a game for the Mets at the big league level. Gardner only played in 15 games that year but in 1993 became the Padres main second baseman playing in 133 games (4th most in the NL) posting a .983 fielding %. He hit .262 with seven triples, 21 doubles. one HR & 24 RBIs.

At the end of the year he was released & got signed by the Montreal Expos where he played 18 games in 1994. He played in the minor leagues through 1995 before leaving baseball. In his career he played 186 games batting .246 with one HR 21 doubles 8 triples 53 walks & a .319 on base %.

Retirement: After his pitching days he became manager in the San Diego Padre system, then became an advanced scout in the early 2000's.

Feb 12, 2015

New York Mets Hitting Coach: Dave Hudgens (2011-2014)

David Mark Hudgens was born on December 5, 1956 in Oroville, California. Hudgens was a star athlete in high school, first getting picked as the New York Mets number one pick in 1975 & then the Milwaukee Brewers 18th round pick in 1977, but did not sign either time.

The left hand hitting outfielder chose to attend the great baseball school of Arizona State University, where he appeared in two College World Series with the Sun Devils. In four years at ASU he hit .313 with 16 HRs & 135 RBIs. Eventually he signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1979 as an amateur free agent. He hit .291 with 26 HRs & 86 RBIs in 127 games at A ball Modesto in his first season. He was promoted to AA Chattanooga in 1980 but was back in A ball in 1981.

By 1983 he reached AAA Tacoma hitting 21 HRs with 72 RBIs, getting a big league September call up. He debuted on September 4th, 1983 going 0-1 as a pinch hitter. He played six games, getting his only hit on September 25th in a 8-6 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. It was his only season as a player in the major leagues.

After spending 1984 in the minors, he got an offer to run Oakland Class A affiliate; Pocatello in the Pioneer League. He took the job, ending his playing days. He then led A ball Medford, to the Finals in 1988, in the Northwest League. He even spent a year outside of baseball selling real estate.

He rejoined Oakland in 1996 as the Alderson on base percentage regime was about to begin & the so called MoneyBall era by the Bay. He served as the Assistant Director of Player Development for Oakland from 1996-1998 and from 2000-2002. In 1999 he was the second place A's hitting coach, under Art Howe, bringing the team to a .355 on base % (fourth best in the league) while batting just .259 (13th in the league).

He was back as A's hitting instructor in 2003 under Ken Macha, as the A's won the West but lost the ALDS to the Boston Red Sox. The A's finished second the next two years but despite winning 88 games or more, did not make the playoffs. Both years they improved to fifth in the league in on base %.

From there he went to the Cleveland Indians organization & managed in the Venezuelan Winter Leagues through 2011. Hudgens has been a steady disciple of Sandy Alderson & his on base percentage theories. When Alderson was named the New York Mets G.M. Hudgens was hired & got the job as Mets hitting instructor under Manager Terry Collins.

His philosophy is simple, "Hunt your pitch. We want to do damage in the middle of the plate. If he doesn't give you your pitch? We're walking to first base.". Runners on base leads to runs being scored & that's how games are won offensively.

In his first year the Mets went from 14th in the league in on base % to second. The team had a good first half of 2012 but fell apart in all categories in the second half & the hitting stats dropped off drastically. The Mets finished with a .249 average (10th in the NL) with a .316 on base % (11th in the NL).

In 2013 the club finished fourth, falling to 14th in batting (.237) & 12th in on base % (.306%). Players like Marlon Byrd who had an outstanding comeback year, credited Hudgens for his success.

In 2014 after Hudgens was fired into the second month of the season. His patient style of hitting had long been criticized by many including Keith Hernandez in the broadcast booth. Hudgens blamed Hernandez & Team ownership for his dismissal afterwards. Hudgens claimed he had a good relationship with the players & G.M. Sandy Alderson. The two go back to their years in Oakland together.

Hudgens was hired as the Houston Astros hitting coach for 2015 under new team manager A.J. Hinch. 

Trivia: Hudgens has a DVD instructional hitting series set called Hitting for Excellence, hitting.com.

Feb 6, 2015

Former Mets Outfielder: Alex Escobar (2001)

Alexander Jose Escobar was born on September 6th, 1978 in Carabobo, Venezuela. The six foot one right hand hitting outfielder was signed out of high school by the New York Mets in 1995.

 In 1996 he hit .360 in the Rookie League and then stole 49 bases batting .310 with 27 HRs at A ball Capital City two years later. As the Mets won the National League pennant in 2000 Escobar was showing promise as an outfielder of the future at AA ball, getting named to the Baseball America All Star team.

By 2001 he was at AAA Norfolk, hitting 12 HRs 52 RBIs & batting .267 and got a call up in the early part of the season. Escobar debuted on May 8th playing centerfield & batting seventh at Coors Field in Colorado. In the 6th inning he singled scoring Todd Pratt with his first hit & RBI. Escobar stayed on the roster until the end of June batting .216. He returned in September playing the first game after the September 11th attacks, in Pittsburgh appearing as a pinch runner.

On October 5th he had his biggest day as a Met, he hit a pair of HRs at Shea Stadium in a game against the Montreal Expos. He homered in the 7th inning off Mike Thurman & then hit a three run shot off Guillermo Mota in the next inning. The Mets came up short in the game 8-6 with Escobar driving in five of the runs. In 18 games in New York he batted .200 with 3 HRs & 8 RBIs.

At the end of the season he was involved in the Roberto Alomar deal going to Cleveland with Matt Lawton & Jerrod Riggan. He missed all of 2002 with a torn ACL & returned as reserve player in Cleveland the next two years.

In 2005 he was injured again missing another full season. In 2006 Escobar played in 33 games for the Washington Nationals batting .356 (31-87) with a .394 on base %, 4 HRs & 18 RBIs. In his four year career he batted .258 with 13 HRs 14 doubles a .328 on base % & 52 RBIs in 125 games. Escobar played eleven seasons in the minors batting .277 with 96 HRs & 387 RBIs finishing up in 2008.