Two years apart, the July 4 weekend has been dangerous for young Mets’ prospect Wuilmer Becerra.
Becerra, acquired by the Mets from the Blue Jays in the R.A. Dickey/Travis d’Arnaud/Noah Syndergaard trade, is playing for the Kingsport Mets in the rookie-level Appalachian League. On the Friday of July 4, 2014, the 19-year-old Becerra and his Kingsport teammate Vincente Lupo were arrested for drag-racing in Kingsport. Becerra was clocked at 107 miles an hour.
The Mets declined comment on Becerra’s arrest and whether any more discipline from the team would be forthcoming.
Becerra’s first unfortunate Fourth of July happening came with the Blue Jays. In 2012, he recalls that he had moved closer to home plate to give himself better strike zone coverage with two strikes and barely saw the 94-95 mph sinker that fractured his jaw in three places and ended his season after just 11 games.
After breaking his jaw, Becerra could not play baseball, nor could he open his jaw to chew solid food, so for a month he subsisted on soup. His mother came from Venezuela to Florida to take care of the then 17-year old. His basic meal: a rice and beef soup run through the blender.
The Jays signed Becerra for $1.3 million in the 2011, their second-largest bonus in that year’s international class. Becerra comes out of a baseball family. His father, Wlimer, played professionally in Venezuela (and for the Twins, his son claims) and currently works as a scout for the Tigres de Aragua and has scouted for the Cardinals and Rangers in the past. The younger Becerra’s has played for the Parallela, the Venezuelan minor league for the Tigres, and worked out with his childhood idol, Miguel Cabrera.
Why idolize Cabrera?
“He hits,” Becerra said. (Our interview with Becerra was conducted both in English and Spanish as translated by Kingsport teammate Eudor Garcia).
It’s easy to see why the Jays and then the Mets were intrigued by Becerra. He’s a lean 6’4″, with strong limbs and room to add strength as he ages. He’s an above average runner with an above average arm for right. With 63 games in the Gulf Coast League over two seasons, and 15 games in Kingsport, he is still much more about projection than baseball player.
As Mets Farm Director Dick Scott put it: “He’s just one of those guys who’s hard to gauge – what kind of player he is. [We] just need to watch to him play.”
He’s adopted a wide stance, with his feet wider than his shoulder width, to start his swing. He initiates with a large leg kick that puts all of his weight on his back leg. Kingsport Mets hitting coach Yunir Garcia has Becerra focusing on pitch selection, using the opposite field and staying closed in his his swing rather than flying open too early.
“When he stays closed, and stays up the middle, this kid has some pop,” Garcia said.
Both Garcia and Scott thought Becerra had progressed since 2013. Becerra agrees.
“I feel much better than last year. More confident,” he said.
Becerra’s increased confidence comes from a place of familiarity.
“I feel more comfortable because there are more Latin players and more Latin coaches and it makes me feel more like home,” he told MMiLB.
Scott has noticed, too.
“He was pretty quiet last year, worked hard, but I think he was feeling his way. This year, he’s starting to come out of his shell a little bit,” Scott said.
Becerra has started the 2014 season by hitting .220/.298/.320 with two doubles, a home run, four walks and 17 strikeouts in 15 games in Kingsport. He will not see full-season baseball until 2015, and is at least four years from the big leagues.
Along the way, he will have to learn to handle velocity on the field, and resist the temptation to chase the speed on the roads.