Since getting drafted by the New York Mets in the sixth round in 2013 out of Division II Brevard College in North Carolina, center fielder Champ Stuart's primary asset has been his speed. He has produced 47 steals and been caught only seven times in 136 professional games.
“Anytime I get on base, my intention is to take the next bag,” he said. “So I’m always looking to get the edge, steal the next base, regardless of if I’m on second or I’m on first.”
Stuart is hitting .286 with one homer, four RBIs, an organization-leading seven steals and a .415 on-base percentage through 54 plate appearances with Class A St. Lucie this season.
“Champ is an 80 runner on the scouting scale, so that’s the tool that jumps out at everyone,” VP Paul DePodesta said. “However, he is also a patient hitter who understands the strike zone. And, unlike most 80 runners, he has the strength to drive the ball.”
Stuart’s path to college baseball and then the professional ranks is untraditional.
Stuart, 22, was born in the Bahamas. His actual first name is Jervis, although his parents simply have called him Champ since birth, and so has everyone else.
“My dad just told my mom that I’m his champ,” Stuart said.
Only six players born in the Bahamas have ever reached the majors: Andre Rodgers (1957-67), Tony Curry (1960-66), Wenty Ford (1973), Ed Armbrister (1973-77), Wil Culmer (1983) and Antoan Richardson (2011-14).
Stuart said he admired MLB players such as Barry Bonds, Jim Edmonds and Derek Jeter while growing up.
“We didn’t play as much as Americans do, because we don’t play year-round like them,” Stuart said. “But we have Little League. That’s where I started playing.”
Stuart enrolled in a North Carolina all-boys boarding school in the 10th grade. Although he hoped one day for a pro baseball career, Stuart graduated from high school and moved on to Brevard initially figuring he would use the college baseball opportunity to pursue an exercise science degree.
As he thrived, pro baseball became more realistic.
“Sophomore year I had a really good year and started getting looks,” he said. “It felt closer and closer to reality. And then my junior year it just happened.”
Stuart does need to make more contact. He has struck out 172 times in 477 pro at-bats.
Asked what he is working on this season, Stuart said: “Speed is my main asset, so I try to keep myself healthy, work on my base stealing -- and some jumps and reads in the outfield. Of course, you can’t do enough hitting. They have me working on a lot of stuff like hitting the ball on the ground, so I can use my speed.”
Average: T.J. Rivera, Binghamton, .441; Maikis De La Cruz, St. Lucie, .405; Dilson Herrera, Vegas, .392; Michael Conforto, St. Lucie, .354; Alex Castellanos, Vegas, .340; Travis Taijeron, Vegas, .333; Matt Reynolds, Vegas, .327; Josh Rodriguez, Binghamton, .324; John Mora, Savannah, .308; Jayce Boyd, Binghamton, .300.
Homers: Alex Castellanos, Vegas, 4; Michael Conforto, St. Lucie, 4; Travis Taijeron, Vegas, 4.
RBIs: Matt Reynolds, Vegas, 15; Michael Conforto, St. Lucie, 14; Alex Castellanos, Vegas, 13.
Steals: Champ Stuart, St. Lucie, 7; Kyle Johnson, Vegas, 4; Matt Reynolds, Vegas, 4.
ERA: Luis Cessa, Binghamton, 0.00; Miller Diaz, St. Lucie, 0.00; Seth Lugo, Binghamton, 1.54; Rob Whalen, St. Lucie, 1.64; Gabriel Ynoa, Binghamton, 2.25; Rainy Lara, Binghamton, 2.31; Robert Gsellman, St. Lucie, 2.40; Casey Meisner, Savannah, 2.45; Steven Matz, Vegas, 2.93; Marcos Molina, St. Lucie, 3.27.
Wins: Darin Gorski, Vegas, 2; Robert Gsellman, St. Lucie, 2; Jake Kuebler, Binghamton, 2; Rainy Lara, Binghamton, 2.
Saves: Jon Velasquez, Binghamton, 4; Akeel Morris, St. Lucie, 2; Cody Satterwhite, Vegas, 2.
Strikeouts: Steven Matz, Vegas, 14; Matt Bowman, Vegas, 14; Seth Lugo, Binghamton, 13.
2014 first-round pick Michael Conforto is manhandling Florida State League pitching. The league’s reigning Player of the Week, Conforto is hitting .354 with four homers and 14 RBIs and has a .439 on-base percentage through 13 games. The Mets were conservative in assigning the Oregon State product to St. Lucie rather than Double-A Binghamton. There has not yet been internal talk of a quick promotion. “Michael is doing exactly what we hoped he would do in the Florida State League,” DePodesta said. “He's controlling the zone and doing damage. We've had a plan in mind for him for this season, and at this point he's certainly meeting that plan.”
Dilson Herrera is demonstrating he is a realistic heir apparent to Daniel Murphy at second base for the Mets. Herrera, 21, has produced seven straight multihit games with Triple-A Las Vegas. After going hitless in eight at-bats in his first two games of the season, Herrera is hitting .465 with one homer and seven RBIs in his past 10 games. Vegas middle-infield partner Matt Reynolds has heated up, too. Reynolds has multiple hits in six of his past seven games. Since going hitless in 11 at-bats in his first three games of the season, Reynolds is hitting .409 with one homer and 14 RBIs in 10 games.
Rafael Montero allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits and a walk in 2 2/3 innings in a start for Las Vegas on Sunday. He threw 44 pitches as he ramps up to a starter’s pitch count after opening the season in the major league bullpen. Manager Terry Collins described Montero’s Vegas appearance as “similar to what we saw” in the majors, which presumably means too much of a reliance on fastballs. The Mets plan to get Montero’s pitch count up to the mid-70s on Thursday with Vegas in anticipation of him returning to the majors for a start next Tuesday in Miami.
Noah Syndergaard walked five batters and threw 82 pitches in 3 2/3 innings for Vegas on Saturday, but a Mets official said the forearm tightness the top prospect experienced in spring training is a nonissue.
Less heralded than other outfield prospects, Travis Taijeron is off to a quick start with Vegas. An 18th-round pick in 2011 out of Cal Poly Pomona, the 26-year-old corner outfielder has produced a .333 average and four homers through 33 at-bats.
Domingo Tapia, who has converted to relief with Double-A Binghamton this season, has landed on the DL with elbow discomfort. No MRI is currently planned, according to a Mets official. Infielder T.J. Rivera, who had gotten off to a 15-for-34 (.441) start with the B-Mets, also landed on the DL. Rivera’s right hamstring strain is not considered serious, though.
Bronx native Jon Velasquez unofficially has assumed the closing duties for the B-Mets. He is 4-for-4 in save conversions. On Monday, he notched a four-out save. Velasquez, 29, had one save last season with Binghamton. The former indy ball pitcher had 10 saves with Santurce in Puerto Rico this past winter.
Since beginning the season hitless in 14 at-bats, B-Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo is 12-for-35 with two doubles and two homers.
Savannah first baseman/DH Jon Leroux, a former 32nd-round pick out of Northeastern, ranks fifth in the South Atlantic League with nine RBIs.