BINGHAMTON, NY - The second half of the Eastern League season is underway and there is still much…
The Future? Havens Wants The Present
Given the organization's constant attempts to move him, it stands to reason that, as Castillo's contract expires at the end of the 2011 season, the second base position in Flushing will be open and a hotly contested job.
For quite some time, Reese Havens has been projected to be the second baseman of the future for the New York Mets.
But there's a catch. Before becoming the everyday second baseman for the Mets, Havens must first become an everyday player at the minor league level—quite the challenge for a highly touted prospect who's endured myriad nagging injuries since beginning his pro career in 2008.
Keep in mind that in three seasons playing for the University of South Carolina, Havens was a regular as the mail. He became a starter from the beginning of his freshman year and never missed a game in three seasons.
Once coveted by the Boston Red Sox coming out of high school, Havens was chosen in the first round of the 2008 draft (22nd overall) by the Mets. But since then, the guy who was known for being a mainstay in the lineup has been anything but.
It started during his 2008 rookie season in Brooklyn when an elbow injury limited Havens to designated hitter duty for all but two of his appearances at that level. Then, a groin issue sent him to the disabled list. In 2009 with St. Lucie, Havens missed roughly six weeks with a quadriceps injury. In 2010, Havens pulled an oblique muscle during the first week of spring training. Recovery from that ailment forced him to miss all of April prior to an early May return.
Then, in mid-May that pesky injury bug cropped up again. This time, a back issue left him day-to-day.
"I've had a lot of different issues," Havens acknowledged during a telephone interview conducted earlier this season. "It's been a struggle for sure. I try to do the best I can with putting it in the past and keep moving on and doing the things I've done in the past to get here."
"Injuries are part of the game and all you can do is put it in the past and keep going."
After his first full season of pro in 2009, Havens said the biggest lesson he learned was how to prepare to play every day—even if his health didn't allow him to do so.
"Just my daily routine and how I prepare for a game day-in and day-out has totally changed," he said. "I try to do things in moderation. Just feeling comfortable to go in the game instead of overworking myself, treating my body like it's going to play 140 games a year."
For a night game, he typically arrives at the park about an hour before the team has to assemble for stretch.
"I'll get in the hot tub, get my body warmed up, get going, get a light stretch in on my own and be ready for first stretch so I'm kind of warmed up before I go out there and feel comfortable with what I'm doing."
Second base is still new to the lifelong shortstop—Havens cannot remember playing a single game at second, at any level of baseball—but he appears pretty comfortable in his limited time. Havens first made the switch during the 2009 Arizona Fall League and went into spring training with the mindset of playing second on a full-time basis. The injury gave him the opportunity to get plenty of work at the new position as he stuck around extended spring training for a few weeks.
"I worked with Sandy Alomar and Martin Lopez to get comfortable over there," Havens said. "So far, it's going good.
Situational scenarios proved to be the biggest challenge.
"It was a little adjustment knowing where to play certain bunt defenses," he explained. "Just little things like that people that come to the game don't notice, but those are small things that make differences in close ballgames."
Havens certainly got off to a strong start at his new position. He committed just one error in his 91 chances at second base in 2010. That's a stark improvement over his defensive performance in 2009 at shortstop when he committed 21 miscues in 441 chances, or one error for every 21 chances.
"It wasn't a tough adjustment," Havens said. "You always hear people say if you play shortstop you can play anywhere on the field. All it takes is guys that you're learning from that have experience there, and trying to get better every day and learn the position. Not only footwork around the bag, but game experience and learning the position one day at a time as you go."
If Havens can maintain such steady play, it will be quite the complement to an already potent bat. How potent? In 2008, Havens tallied three home runs and 11 RBI in 97 at-bats for Brooklyn. The following seasons, Havens essentially equaled that production in his first 78 at-bats with St. Lucie en route to making the midseason Florida State League all-star team. His batting average was identical in both seasons—a rather pedestrian .247—but his plate discipline improved. Known for his patience at thep late, Havens coaxed 55 walks in 2009 while striking out 73 times.
That patience was one of the things that attracted the Red Sox to Havens as the Sullivan Island, S.C. native concluded his high school career. The Red Sox pushed—hard—for Havens to enter the draft but he decided to honor his commitment to play for the University of South Carolina.
After what essentially amounted to a rehab stint with St. Lucie in May, Havens was promoted to Double-A Binghamton where he acknowledged the Eastern League's strong pitching but opportunistic hitters.
Havens' ascent to Double-A proved to be quite rapid. Expected to start the 2010 there before the oblique injury, Havens hit a solid .278 with three home runs, seven RBI and an .822 OPS in 17 games with St. Lucie before receiving the call to go to Bingahmton.
Terry Collins, the Mets minor league field coordinator, spoke highly of Havens who hit .338 with six home runs, 12 RBI and a 1.062 OPS in 18 games with the B-Mets before the oblique injury ended his 2010 season.
"When you've got a shortstop who's got the contract our guy (Jose Reyes) has, and you've got a bat like Reese's, you find a place to get him in the lineup," Collins said. "His bat is going to play. Because he plays in the middle of the infield, he becomes a special guy."
He just needs to become a healthy guy; a guy who can be counted on to play on an everyday basis.
"My philosophy is just to come to the park knowing that you're ready to go each day and just trying to get better," Havens said. "I've got a lot of work to do over at second base. I feel comfortable but there are a lot of things I can improve on. Baseball's a game where you come to the park every day and you're going to learn something new. It's a matter of soaking it in and just improving every day. That's all you can ask for."
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