News broke last week that Hensley Meulens has been named the bench coach for the New York Mets. This is one more step in his baseball odyssey that began professionally in 1986 as a member of the Yankees organization. A native of Curacao, he was the first in what is a growing list of major league players to come from that small Caribbean island. Since Meulens began his professional career, the island has seen players such as Andruw Jones, Kenley Jansen, Andrelton Simmons, Ozzie Albies and Didi Gregorius rise to the majors. Meulens was once a prospect that put together an impressive minor league career leading Yankees fan to dream big, especially as his rise coincided with the poor performance of the late 80’s and early 90’s Yankees.
Meulens made his professional debut as a member of the Yankees organization in the Gulf Coast League in 1986. After finding mild success in the GCL, Meulens was bumped to play for the Low-A Prince William Yankees in 1987. The 20-year-old third baseman quickly established himself as a bat to watch blasting 28 home runs, and producing a .942 OPS. His play was impressive enough to earn a late season promotion to High-A Fort Lauderdale, where he would be managed by future Yankees manager Buck Showalter.
Already carrying the nickname “Bam-Bam,” there was considerable hype as Meulens began the 1988 season with the Double-A Albany-Colonie Yankees. With journeyman Mike Pagilarulo manning the hot corner in the Bronx, fans started thinking big about a potential impact bat rising through the minors. During the 1988 season he was managed by another future Yankees manager Stump Merrill, and played well enough to see time with Triple-A Columbus. Meulens did not produce enough to leave Double-A in his past, as he once again started the season there in 1989, again seeing action at two minor league levels that year.
In 1989, Meulens received a late season call-up to the majors. He played in eight August games after the Yankees traded Pagilarulo to San Diego. Meulens headed to Triple-A to start the 1990 season, and quickly reestablished his prospect status. He hit .285/.376/.510 on the season with 26 home runs, and won the International League MVP award. Still just 23, he earned a ranking as Baseball America’s 30th best prospect in baseball following the season.
With the hype reaching an apex for Meulens, he spent the 1991 season in the Bronx playing for his former minor league manager Stump Merrill. The success he found at the minor league level did not translate to the majors in his first extended look at the highest level. In 313 plate appearances, Meulens only hit 6 home runs and produced a .595 OPS.
Meulens’ bat failed to come alive during more trips up and down from the majors over the next few seasons. The end result of his major league career was a -1.7 bWAR, and a .220/.228/.353 line. He is generally labeled as the quintessential Quad-A player, one of the guys who was good enough to play well in the minors but could never find success at the highest level. After leaving the Yankees, he found success playing in Japan, hitting 77 home runs in three seasons overseas between 1994-1996. It was enough to earn him another short look at the majors with Montreal and Arizona towards the end of the decade. He continued playing in Mexico, Korea, and for the Netherlands in the 2000 Olympics before calling it a career.
Following his playing days, Meulens launched into a very successful coaching career that saw him win three World Series as a hitting coach for the San Francisco Giants. He even interviewed for the Yankees’ managing vacancy in 2017 before the job went to Aaron Boone. During his time playing in the Yankees’ system he played alongside future major league managers Torey Lovullo, Brad Ausmus, and Fredi Gonzales as well as numerous other players who have gone on to long coaching careers. He was also teammates with players like Bernie Williams, Jim Leyritz, Gerald Williams and many more players who were part of the mid-90’s to late-90’s Yankees teams that returned the franchise to the playoffs and World Series.
Meulens was the right age and position to fit with the other members of the late 90’s core, but he could not get over the hump and stick as one of the building blocks. His major league career never took off, yet Meulens’ journey through professional baseball has now brought him back to the city where the expectations for him once were so high.