This one stung my young Mets fan heart when I was a sprightly and youthful 14 years old. I liked Vance Wilson. As far as backups go, he was a decent option to spell starting catcher Mike Piazza. But, unfortunately, the cold business of baseball doesn’t take the feelings of kids into consideration.
Wilson was taken by New York in the 44th round of the 1993 amateur draft and was one of three men from that round to make the majors leagues, with the others being utility man Bry Nelson and pitcher Ed Yarnall.
Moving up a level per year, his ascension through the minor league system was steady. By 1998, he was in Triple-A. By 1999, he was in the majors for a single game; he didn’t get an at-bat. It was about the same in 2000, as well—four games, four at-bats with the big club.
Two-thousand-and-one was his chance to prove his worth. And boy did he. Though he hit just .246 in 65 Triple-A games, he batted .298 in 57 at-bats over 32 appearances behind Piazza after a mid-season promotion. Through his first 32 at-bats of the season, he carried a .406 average. Now you can see why I came to like him so much. To my young mind, this guy was good!
His arrival was especially refreshing, since his predecessor, Todd Pratt, hit just .163 before being traded to Philadelphia in late July for catcher Gary Bennett. After a few solid years in New York, Pratt had flopped. Bennett was a short-timer.
But Wilson was there to stay.
And for a few seasons, he was a reliable, if not headline-grabbing, backup. In 2002, he hit .245 in 163 at-bats, clobbering five home runs, including the first of his career, a shot off Expos pitcher Javier Vazquez on April 13. An adept fielder, he caught 49 percent of potential base stealers to lead the league.
With Piazza hurt much of the 2003 season, he was New York’s primary catcher, hitting .243 with 8 home runs in 268 at-bats. Okay, maybe starting wasn’t for him—his 75 OPS+ was the worst of his career—so the Mets put him back into a reserve role for 2004 and he responded by hitting .274 with 4 home runs and 21 RBI in 157 at-bats. Quite an impressive rebound.
The Mets thought so, too. In fact, with his stock elevated, they shipped him to Detroit for 22-year-old middle infield prospect Anderson Hernandez in January 2005.
If Hernandez panned out, the trade would have been a steal for New York. A backup catcher for a defensive wizard, as Hernandez was? It could have been a huge win for the Mets. But things rarely work out that way in Metsdom.
It didn’t look like he would ever play shortstop for the club, as Jose Reyes was the heir apparent for the position. But he could also play second base.
New York had a revolving door of second basemen in the early and mid-2000s, after Edgardo Alfonzo shifted to third base and, eventually, departed. Roberto Alomar, Kaz Matsui, Miguel Cairo and Jose Valentin all came and went.
Rated alongside Lastings Milledge, Mike Pelfrey and Carlos Gomez as a Mets top prospect, New York was counting on Hernandez to develop into something. But his bat never caught up to major league pitching. He had three cups of coffee with New York from 2005 to 2007, hitting .138 in 87 games.
In August 2008, he was sent to Washington as the player-to-be-named later in a deal for reliever Luis Ayala. Not surprisingly, Hernandez hit .333 with a .407 on-base percentage upon escaping New York.
A couple weeks shy of a year later, feeling sellers remorse, the Mets sent minor league infielder Greg Veloz to Washington to recoup Hernandez to help shore up that injury-ravaged 2009 squad.
With starting shortstop Jose Reyes hurt and his replacement, Alex Cora, tearing ligaments in both his thumbs and needing surgery, New York called on Hernandez to start the rest of the year. He underwhelmed to the tune of a .251 batting average. He fielded just .955 at short.
The Mets left him unprotected and Cleveland claimed him off waivers in March 2010. He spent one more year in the majors, hitting .220 in 54 games between the Indians and Astros, before being sent away for good.
Though Hernandez’s big league career was done, his professional career was not. After a couple seasons in Triple-A, he became a voyager, playing in Mexico, Japan and the Dominican Republic. As recently as 2019-20, he was still going in the Dominican Winter League.
As for Wilson, he collapsed to a .197 average in 152 at-bats for Detroit in 2006 but rebounded to a .283 mark with 5 dingers and 18 RBI in the same number of ABs the next year. Meanwhile, the Mets’ backup that season, Ramon Castro, hit .238 with an 83 OPS+.*
*Granted, Castro himself was an effective backup and I was not enthused when they traded him to the White Sox partway through 2009 for pitcher Lance Broadway, of all people. Broadway had a 6.75 ERA in 8 relief appearances for New York.
’06 proved to be Wilson’s final big league campaign. Injuries limited him to three games at Triple-A in 2007 and he missed all of 2008. He played in the Royals system in 2009—at Double-A—but was released in April 2010, before the season began. He chose to retire.
Wilson was an effective reserve who gave the Mets four solid years of service. In return, they received promise and potential that didn’t work out.
Promise and potential. That defines the Mets of the past, oh, 35 years. But when it comes to production … it rarely manifests itself into anything meaningful.
Not unlike Anderson Hernandez.