If you look at the Mets single-season leader boards, the names Jose Reyes and David Wright are featured prominently throughout.  Last year, Reyes became just the second player in team history to top 200 hits, while Wright set the team record for total bases (334) and tied the franchise mark for RBIs (124).

And next year Daniel Murphy could add to the Reyes-Wright core and make it three homegrown players that the team can build around.

Murphy’s rise in 2008 was meteor-like.  Coming into the year, he was not even ranked by Baseball America as one of the club’s top 10 prospects.  And John Sickels gave him a “C” grade, although to be fair he did call Murphy a sleeper.  Prior to the 2008 season here was Sickels’ analysis of Murphy: “A line drive hitter, he’s not a walk machine, but he controls the zone well and doesn’t strike out much.”

Coming off a 2007 season at Hi-A St. Lucie (a pitcher’s park in a pitcher’s league) where he posted a .285/.338/.430 line, Murphy started 2008 at Double-A Binghamton, where he hit .308/.374/.496 in 357 at-bats.  Most of his slugging came at hitter-friendly Binghamton, but he hit over .300 both home and away and his on-base percentage was 17 points higher in neutral road parks.

After a one-game stop at Triple-A, Murphy was promoted to the majors on August 2nd and did nothing but hit upon arriving.  In 131 at-bats with the Mets, Murphy posted a .313/.397/.473 slash line and displayed an excellent approach at the plate for a 23-year old.  He even drew 18 bases on balls for an impressive 12.1 percent walk percentage.

Sickels called him a line drive hitter and Murphy has certainly been that in his first exposure to the majors.  He posted a head-turning 33.3 percent line drive rate, which clearly is an unsustainable mark.  Among qualified players, Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier led the majors with 26.6 percent of his balls being line drives.

And while Murphy won’t be able to do that in a full season, it certainly is an indication of the hitting skills he brings to the table.

Jerry Manuel tried his best to ease the rookie into the majors by mostly playing Murphy when he’s had the platoon advantage.  The left-handed swinging Murphy had just 13 plate appearances versus southpaws.  Even then he excelled, as he posted four hits in 10 at-bats with a homer in limited action against portsiders.

Manuel had the luxury to be careful with Murphy because another rookie, Nick Evans, had an .894 OPS versus southpaws. That gave Manuel an excellent chance to put Murphy and Evans in a position to succeed and the two created a top-notch left field platoon for the Mets.

But here’s the kicker – this was Murphy’s first experience as an outfielder.  He was a third baseman in the minors but that position is already spoken for on the Mets.  In order to get him into the lineup he was switched to the outfield.

Murphy’s inexperience showed in the outfield but he gave it everything he had out there, which is all anyone can ask for at this point in time.  He’s got the bat to play every day but with his primary position unavailable, where will he end up?

The Mets hoped to get him experience in the outfield this off-season in Puerto Rico.  But Murphy suffered an injury in the Arizona Fall League, where he was playing second base, and did not get any additional experience in left field.

The bold move would have been to have Murphy play the infield in Puerto Rico, too.

It’s easier to find a big bat to play left field than it is to play second base.  But barring a trade of Luis Castillo and the three years remaining on his contract, it seems unlikely the Mets will keep Murphy in the infield.  It seems his destiny to return to the outfield in 2009, perhaps even in a platoon role again.

I would prefer to make him the team’s full-time second baseman.  As a former third baseman, it would have been easier to make the switch than if Murphy was a true left fielder.  Reports out of Arizona had Murhpy handling his own at second base, before a hamstring injury ended his season.

If the Mets put Murphy at second base, they could have looked to pick up a slugging outfielder to man left and turned their offense into the best unit in the National League.  Now, they have to hope Luis Castillo can rebound from his disappointing 2008 season and escape Manuel’s dog house.  With Murphy at second, the Mets would have had the most potent offensive infield in the majors.

There are also two reasons I was hoping the Mets would not move Murphy to the outfield in 2009.  First, it makes it easier for Manuel to continue to platoon Murphy, while he should be in the lineup every day.  Second, everyone hopes that Fernando Martinez will be manning an outfield corner, at least by 2010.  So where does that leave Murphy?  Moving again to replace Carlos Delgado at first base?

The Mets have a hitter with a great eye who can spray line drives all over the field.  Murphy is not going to be a 30-HR type guy but he is someone who can produce an .850 OPS over an entire season.  He followed up his .870 OPS in the majors by hitting .397/.487/.619 in the AFL.

If Murphy posted an .850 OPS, that’s above average, even for left field.  At second base it would be one of the top marks in the game.  Either way, it’s not something the team should look to turn into a platoon player, even with the extra plate appearances from being a lefty batter.

The best thing for the Mets is for Murphy to get 600 at-bats next season batting in the two-hole between Reyes and Wright.  I firmly believe he’s going to hit if given the chance.  And if that’s true, when people speak of the team’s core, they will say Reyes, Wright and Murphy give the Mets a huge advantage.