Four years ago, I covered the South Atlantic League All-Star Game in New Jersey, and that’s when I met David Wright. The Mets’ affiliate in the league was in Columbia, South Carolina, at the time, a team in the league’s southern division that had not — and did not over the rest of the season, if I recall — visit Lakewood that season. As a Mets fan, I looked at the rosters to see what prospects the organization had, and I was intrigued by a name I had not heard before.
Wright wasn’t voted a starter, but he essentially put himself on the minor-league map with that selection. He had been a supplemental first-round draft pick, but until that point, I hadn’t read much about him; after that, I knew the name and noticed when it appeared in print.
For some reason, I made a point to talk to Wright. It wasn’t too much of a stretch, once he came in second in the Southern Division in the pregame home run derby, but even before that outcome, I told myself to make a point to talk to the young third baseman who might be a Met someday. I had a better feeling about Wright than I did about reserve outfielder Angel Pagan or starting catcher Justin Huber and starting left fielder Jeff Duncan. Huber I had already talked to, at the previous night’s welcome dinner, mainly because he had already been chosen to represent the Mets — and Australia — on the World Team in the Futures Game.
Wright was the runner-up to then-Atlanta farmhand Andy Marte, falling by a point in a scoring system created to account for the difficulty of hitting one out at Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park. Any fly ball that reached the warning track earned a point, hits off the wall garnered two points, and home runs were worth four. Wright’s 28 points were one short of Marte’s total. But I spoke to Wright because, at that time, neither my Spanish nor Marte’s English were good enough to allow for an interview of the victor.
Even with the difficult surroundings, Wright hit six homers, one short of his season total at the time. The power was there, though we didn’t see it after the derby; he pinch-hit and had two at-bats as the designated hitter, going 0-for-2.
“I just didn’t want to embarrass myself,” he told me then. “Going up there first, there’s a lot of pressure.”
Wright was just 19 at the time, and the thinking was that he and Marte might be facing off as division rivals not far in the future. It might have happened, had the Braves not traded Marte to the Red Sox this past winter.
“I knew he had a lot of power and it was going to be tough for mine to stand up,” Wright said of his showdown with Marte. “Until that last swing, I was hoping.”
Wright lost that battle, but he could be the first player from that South Atlantic League All-Star game to make the one at the top level. This week, he moved into first among National League third baseman in voting for this season’s All-Star Game.
But he won’t be alone. The Phillies’ Ryan Howard — a member of the hometown BlueClaws in that ’02 SAL game — and Padres starter Chris Young, then an Expos prospect and the game’s winning pitcher, both have numbers that should warrant consideration from NL manager Phil Garner. Howard currently ranks third in the voting, behind the Majors’ leading vote-getter, Albert Pujols, and the Mets’ Carlos Delgado.
Wright has quickly gone from prospect to star, and he’s on the verge of becoming a superstar. For the past few months — mostly leading up to this season — he’s been called the Queens answer to the Yankee star power of Derek Jeter, the King of New York.
That might be a shared title now.