We have talked a lot about the bullpen, various free agents and potential upgrades.  But the Mets are counting on Ryan Church to hit like he did in April and May last year.  For an important person to the team, the Mets have been quiet about how they plan to handle Church this season.

Most outsiders view the Mets outfield as a big question mark heading into the 2009 season.  While Carlos Beltran is a big plus in center field, people are worried about the LF platoon of Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis and RF Ryan Church.  While Murphy lacks experience and Tatis has to prove last year’s bounce-back season was not a fluke, the questions surrounding Church are mainly health related.

Church’s problems last year began in Spring Training, when he suffered a concussion on March 1st.  While the initial blow kept him out of some Grapefruit League games, Church got off to a tremendous start in 2008.  Through games of May 18th, Chruch had a .307/.379/.542 line and was also playing terrific defense.

But on May 20th, Church suffered his second concussion when he collided at second base with Yunel Escobar.  While he experienced pain and discomfort, neither Church nor the Mets wanted a disabled list stint.  He played sporadically until the beginning of June, when he finally went on the DL.

After missing three weeks, Church came back for 10 days before hitting the DL once more.  This time he was out for nearly seven weeks.  Church was able to finish out the season, but he was no longer the dangerous player he was earlier in the year.  After his second stint on the DL, Church hit .219/.305/.307 in 128 plate appearances.

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Church was a three-sport star in high school, where he played basketball and football in addition to baseball.  He went to the University of Nevada, Reno and was a roommate of former major league pitcher Darrell Rasner.  Church was primarily a pitcher in college and did not become a full-time outfielder until his final collegiate season.

The Indians selected Church on the 14th round of the 2000 draft.  After winning MVP of the New York-Penn League in his first exposure to pro ball, he made slow progress in the Tribe’s farm system and was dealt to the Expos prior to the 2004 campaign.  Church found life with the Expos much more satisfying.  He tore things up at Triple-A Edmonton that year, batting .346/.430/.622, gained an All-Star berth and made his major league debut.

The next two seasons, Church bounced back-and-forth between the majors and minors.  He seemed to turn the corner in the second half of 2006, when he batted .305/.376/.550 after the All-Star break.  Church spent all of 2007 in the majors, but did not come close to duplicating the rate numbers from the year before.  The Nationals were happy to include him in a package along with Brian Schneider for Lastings Milledge.

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Now Church claims he is free from any lingering issues from the concussions he suffered last year.  The Mets are counting on him to be injury free and as productive as he was last year in the first two months of the season.  It is too much to say that the team’s fortunes depend on a productive year from Church, but it will be interesting to see how patient they are with him in 2009.

If Church gets off to a slow start, will the club look to form a platoon with Nick Evans getting some at-bats?  Or, if Fernando Martinez gets off to a hot start, will the club bring the much-hyped youngster to the majors to take over?

And where will Church bat in the order?  With the recent news that Jerry Manuel plans to drop Jose Reyes in the order, no one should feel safe with their role in the order.  Church could bat as high as second or as low as seventh.  Willie Randolph worked to make sure he did not have a bunch of same-side hitters together in the batting order.  We will have to see if Manuel feels comfortable with a lineup that has Delgado-Church-Murphy-Schneider hitting fifth through eighth, one that would invite other teams to bring in a lefty specialist in the late innings.

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