Can Johan Santana come all the way back?
Well, here we are. Near the end of another spring training. The New York Mets are winding down their seven-week stay in Port. St. Lucie as questions abound before the dawning of the 2012 campaign on April 5 against the Braves at Citi Field.
Forget about the dismal spring training record. That never counts. May it be an omen of things to come though? Perhaps. The Mets have been abysmal this spring.
What is infinitely more important though are the answers to the following questions: Is Johan Santana going to be ready for Opening Day? Will there be any lingering effects of Valley Fever for Ike Davis? Has David Wright recovered fully from his rib cage injury? Will Andres Torres be set for the season opener after sustaining a nagging calf injury in mid-March?
The skeptics are out in full force. Including me. Right now, this certainly looks like a last-place club in the rugged NL East. For now though let's be optimistic and look into the crystal ball and try and predict how their 25-man roster will perform in 2012.....
Let's face it. If the Mets are to stand ANY chance of surprising this season, Johan Santana must continue to pitch like he has in the spring and resemble the ace he used to be before tearing an anterior capsule in his left shoulder 19 months ago.
So far, so good. For once, the Mets have some good news to talk about. Santana has been tremendous in spring training. He has not missed a start and has consistently been throwing his fastball in the upper 80s to mid-90s. In his fourth start of the spring against the Cardinals, the Venezuelan southpaw allowed just one run and whiffed six in six innings of work.
If Santana starts Opening Day it would give the Mets such an emotional lift. Can he stay healthy all season? What the heck, I'll say yes and be optimistic that Santana will.
Projected Stats: 14 W, 9 L, 3.18 ERA
**Watch for Santana to also be named NL Comeback Player of the Year
The knuckleball has been floating well in spring training for the mountain climber and that certainly bodes well for his prospects this season. Dickey has looked sharp and Terry Collins and his staff are looking forward to all the innings he can provide.
The 37-year-old Dickey led the Mets in ERA last season with a 3.28 mark (12th in the league) while providing 208.2 innings of work. He added 138 K's, third on the club.
Expect Dickey to be a workhorse again this season and he's due for a little better luck this time around. His 8-13 mark was not indicative of how well he actually pitched last season. Look for a few more victories in 2012.
Projected Stats: 12 W, 11 L, 3.35 ERA
The 25-year-old southpaw is facing an important season following a disappointing 11-11 campaign last year. He struggled to a 4.40 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. He also allowed opposing batters to hit .284 against him.
Niese has to improve. He has enjoyed a good spring so far and the Mets brass like his potential. The Lima, Ohio native is just starting to hit the beginning of his prime years and Collins and company need to see more maturation from Niese.
I'm expecting Niese to bounce back somewhat this season and provide some more consistent output.
Projected Stats: 12 W, 10 L, 3.95 ERA
It's been a brutal spring training for Big Pelf.
An ankle sprain in the early going set Pelfrey back and his performance has been putrid ever since. He owns an 11.49 spring ERA and has even started to tinker with a new delivery. Nothing seems to be working for the former first-round pick.
After a encouraging 15-9 campaign in 2010, Pelfrey was a huge disappointment last year, posting a 7-13 slate with a 4.74 ERA. He has been an innings eater though. You can usually count on the big right-hander to give the Mets about 200 innings a season.
I think the Mets should try and trade him. I think he needs a change of scenery and I think Sandy Alderson and company are running out of patience with him.
Projected Stats: 9 W, 14 L, 4,65 ERA
That's a wild goatee, eh? Anyway, the Cleburne, TX native burst onto the MLB scene last year in a huge way, going 7-0 with a 2.86 ERA in his first nine starts. That was the best start by a Mets rookie in team history, exceeding the 6-0 start by Jon Matlack in 1972.
Gee did struggle in the second half as the book on him got around the league. All in all though, Gee finished with a fine 13-6 mark and a 4.43 ERA in 160.2 innings pitched.
What can he do for an encore? Currently slated as the No. 5 starter, look for Gee to continue to improve and possibly displace Pelfrey as the No. 4 starter before the year is out.
Projected Stats: 12 W, 6 L, 3.86 ERA
New York's bullpen ranked 28th overall last season, so general manager Sandy Alderson set out to rebuild it over the winter. Alderson inked Francisco to a two-year, $12 million pact last December to become the new Mets closer.
Francisco looks like former Met closer Armando Benitez physically—a burly, strong right-hander. He comes to the Mets by way of Toronto, where he posted a 1-4 ledger with 17 saves in 21 opportunities last year. His ERA was a respectable 3.55 and he allowed opposing batters to hit .246 against him. Not bad.
How many save opportunities will the Dominican Republic native have this season? The NL East is one of the best divisions in baseball so it will be a challenge for Francisco. I say he'll be up to that challenge though.
Projected Stats: 2 W, 3 L, 3.25 ERA, 24 saves in 29 opportunities
At 6'11'' tall, Rauch is the tallest pitcher in baseball. How big will he come up for the Mets in his role as a setup man for Frank Francisco remains to be seen.
The 10-year veteran had a disappointing season for the Blue Jays in 2011 despite his 5-4 record. His ERA was 4.85 and he did blow five saves in 16 save opportunities.
One huge red flag was that he allowed 11 home runs in just 52 innings of work. His spring has been shaky—Rauch has allowed six runs on nine hits and a walk while striking out five in just 6.2 innings so far.
On the positive side, the Morehead State product did record 11 saves and added four holds, giving him 80 holds for his career.
The Mets are hoping Rauch can be the bridge to Francisco. He has the experience to do it, we'll see if he has the talent to back it up.
Projected Stats: 2 W, 4 L, 4.38 ERA, 12 holds, 2 saves
The 30-year-old right-hander has gotten off to a tough start this spring. Ramirez, who was acquired with Andres Torres from the Giants for Angel Pagan over the winter, has allowed five runs on nine hits and two walks in four innings so far this spring. He has fanned seven though.
Ramirez is currently slated to be the seventh-inning hurler for New York, setting things up for Rauch and Francisco. If he can duplicate his 2011 campaign with San Francsico, the Mets will be in good shape.
In 66 games last season, Ramirez was stellar. He was 3-3 and fashioned a 2.62 ERA. He had four saves, 11 holds and hitters batted just .216 against him. Impressive.
I feel that Ramirez will have another solid campaign but not quite as outstanding as last season.
Projected Stats: 2 W, 3 L, 2.97 ERA, 12 holds
The Colon, Panama native had a good season for the Mets last year, fashioning a 4-1 ledger with a 3.45 ERA. He added four saves (in seven opportunities) and chipped in with seven holds. In 47 innings pitched, Acosta struck out 46, nearly one an inning.
Acosta gives Collins a hard-throwing right-hander and added depth in the bullpen. He's still only 30 years old so he's still in his prime. If he stays healthy, look for Acosta to continue to impress.
Projected Stats: 3 W, 2 L, 3.50 ERA, 8 holds
Wow, what a live arm Bobby Parnell has. Several times last season, the 27-year-old flame-thrower topped 100 MPH. Sometimes he looks like Nolan Ryan, other times he looks like Anthony Young.
That inconsistency is maddening.
The good: Parnell struck out 64 batters in 59 innings in 2011. He had six saves and 11 holds. Pretty good.
The bad: Parnell owned a 4-6 record, blew six saves and owned a WHIP of 1.47. Yikes.
The decent: His ERA was 3.64. OK, whatever.
So which Parnell will we see this year? Who knows? My guess is it's probably going to be the same high-wire act we've seen before.
Projected Stats: 4 W, 5 L, 3.70 ERA, 10 holds, 72 K in 62 innings
Southpaw Garrett Olson, a former top prospect in the Baltimore organization, may be the main beneficiary of Tim Byrdak's injury this spring, at least for now.
Byrdak had left knee surgery recently and will start the season on the disabled list. Olson appears to be the leading candidate, as of this writing, to be the left-handed specialist out of the bullpen until Byrdak returns.
Olson didn't allow a run in his first six spring outings but he's not a kid—he's 28 years old now. He owns a 14-22 career mark with an ugly 6.14 ERA.
The Mets just hope he can hold down the fort until Byrdak comes back.
Projected Stats: 0 W, 0 L, 1.00 ERA in five games until Byrdak returns
Carrasco injured his right ankle about a week ago and is fighting off Miguel Batista for the last spot in the Mets bullpen. There is currently no timetable for his return but he has started to throw off the mound again.
The 34-year-old right-hander had a very poor season with the Mets in 2011 (1-3, two holds, 6.02 ERA) and his spot on the roster is not assured. Batista still has a chance of beating him out. Stay tuned.
Below is what we can expect assuming that Carrasco earns the final bullpen spot.
Projected Stats: 0 W, 2 L, 5.75 ERA, 2 holds
Torres was slated to be the Mets' Opening Day starter in center field but a calf strain he suffered last week has thrown a real wrench into the works.
Per Andy Martino of the New York Daily News: “He’s not a whole lot better,” Terry Collins said of Torres. “Each day means more time off, as far as him coming back. It’s a pretty big piece of the puzzle. We got him to fill a big void for us, and him being out, out of the gate, and with Scott (Hairston) hurt, we’re going to scramble.”
If Torres can't start on Apr. 5 against Atlanta, Collins is hoping Hairston can fill the void. Hairston is currently recovering from an oblique injury but hopes to return to the lineup soon.
The Mets are hoping that injuries are not becoming a real issue now for the 34-year-old Puerto Rican native, who missed 50 games with the Giants last season due to injury.
Projected Stats: 8 HR, 45 RBI, .248 average, 18 stolen bases (30 games missed)
So far, so good this spring training for Murphy, who has been playing second base with braces on both knees. If he can stay healthy, very good things are expected from the Jacksonville, FL native, who turns 27 on Apr. 1.
Murphy is slated to bat second to begin the season and the Mets brass love his line-drive bat. He batted .320 in 109 games last year with a .362 OBP. He stroked just six home runs but expect that to increase with the shorter dimensions at Citi Field.
Murphy should be an ideal hit-and-run batter from the two hole—he struck out just 42 times last season. The key is keeping him healthy and hoping he can become an adequate defensive second baseman. He is making strides in spring training working with Tim Tuefel but he has a lot of room for improvement.
I'll look at the glass half full and state that "Murph" will stay healthy this season and produce well.
Projected Stats: 11 HR, 70 RBI, .312 average, 150 games played
Wright finally made his spring debut on Monday, singling once in two at-bats and making a great diving stop at third base against St. Louis. It was great to see as the 29-year-old makes his way back from a strained left abdominal muscle.
The four-time All-Star is hoping to finally enjoy a healthy season after missing 60 games a year ago. The shorter dimensions at Citi Field should help, especially since the fences have been moved in about 15 feet or so in right-center field where Wright has excellent opposite-field power.
This is a big season for the Norfolk, VA native. The Mets have a club option for 2013 and trade rumors may swirl around the July 31 trade deadline if the Amazins' are far out of the race. I expect Wright to produce much more like 2010 than last season. He is in his prime and I'll project that he remains healthy this time around.
Projected Stats: 26 HR, 101 RBI, .285 average, 18 stolen bases
Davis finally smacked his first spring homer last Saturday, a three-run bomb against the Cardinals. It was a sight for sore eyes for manager Terry Collins since the former Arizona State product has struggled somewhat this month in Florida.
It does not appear that the left-handed slugger is feeling any effects from Valley Fever, which he was diagnosed with a few weeks ago. The Mets really need Davis to stay healthy and serve as their cleanup hitter in 2012, nestled between David Wright and Jason Bay.
Davis was off to a great start last season (.302) before suffering a freak season-ending left ankle injury colliding with Wright on an infield pop-up last May. He has tremendous power and the shorter Citi Field dimensions will only help. The Mets brass are keeping their fingers crossed that he suffers no ill-effects of Valley Fever this season because New York has no chance of surprising in the NL East without him.
Projected Stats: 24 HR, 89 RBI, .292 average
Jason Bay must feel the pressure. He has to. The British Columbia native is hoping that 2012 is finally the season he lives up to the four-year, $66 million pact he inked in December 2009.
According to Yahoo! Sports, the 33-year-old Bay believes he didn't sustain a serious injury when he was plunked on the right forearm by a fastball from Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg on March 25. Bay left the game a half-inning after he was hit. "Hopefully it's disaster avoided and it's just a forearm bruise and we'll be all right," Bay said.
Bay is yet another Met that needs to stay healthy. He's missed a combined 97 games the last two seasons. He's averaged just nine homers and 52 RBI since becoming a Met. Pretty anemic.
During spring training, Bay has opened up his stance a little more and he's hoping to take advantage of Citi Field's shorter fences by pulling the ball more. The jury is still out on whether he can live up to that big contract and Bay must prove that he is not a bust anymore.
Projected Stats: 20 HR, 78 RBI, .269 average
Lucas Duda is big. Lucas Duda is strong. Lucas Duda has power. The Mets love his potential.
Duda had a terrific second half last year, hitting .300 or better from July to September, including a red-hot month of August. During those dog days, the powerful left-handed slugger cracked five HR, knocked in 20 runs and hit a stellar .319.
In all, the former USC product finished with a .292 average, 10 HR and 50 RBI in just 301 AB. He is slated to begin the season in right field and will sit on occasion against a tough lefty for veteran Scott Hairston.
The Mets like his upside and with 500 at-bats and the shorter fences at the revamped Citi Field, Duda could hit 25-30 HR, while still providing a solid batting average. He's not a good defensive outfielder at this point, but he should improve with hard work and more game experience.
He has some nice upside.
Projected Stats: 27 HR, 92 RBI, .274 average
While still not in his prime years, the 25-year-old catcher took a step back offensively and defensively last season. His average slipped from .277 to .268 in 2011, and he hit only three homers in 340 AB.
Thole has very limited power as his .344 slugging percentage suggests. He did, however, improve his RBI total from 17 to 40 last season, and Thole does own a career OBP of .350, which is actually pretty good for a backstop.
With the fences moved in this season at Citi Field, GM Sandy Alderson and company are hopeful that Thole can add a few more home runs this season and continue to hit righties decently (.280 last year). I think he will. The Breese, IL native will sit against some lefty hurlers in favor of Mike Nickeas.
Thole also has to improve defensively—he had the dubious distinction of pacing the NL with 16 passed balls—and some of that comes with the territory of catching a knuckleballer like R.A. Dickey.
Projected Stats: 7 HR, 47 RBI, .263 average
Tejada may bat leadoff if Andres Torres misses Opening Day. He put on some more muscle over the winter and belted a home run last Thursday. It was only spring training but remember, he did not homer at all last season. For now, pencil Tejada in at the No. 8 hole in the lineup.
The 22-year-old Panama native showed great improvement at the plate last season, raising his batting average from .213 to .284. The Mets realize he can't supply the dynamic offensive production that Jose Reyes did, but they hope he can continue to show offensive potential.
Look for Tejada to run some more this season as well. Hopefully Mets fans won't try and compare him with Reyes. It's time to move on.
Projected Stats: 3 HR, 42 RBI, .289 average, 12 SB
The nine-year veteran is recovering from a left oblique strain but is planning on making his Grapefruit League debut today (Wednesday). Hairston had no setbacks when he took batting practice last Sunday so the Mets are hoping he will be good to go for Opening Day.
Hairston can play all three outfield positions so he gives manager Terry Collins a versatile veteran off the bench. He belted seven home runs in just 132 at-bats last season while batting .235. He actually hit six of his home runs against right-handers in 2011.
He hit .247 against southpaws last year.
Projected Stats: 11 HR, 38 RBI, .242 average
The former Georgia Tech product will serve as Josh Thole's backup and is a fine defensive catcher. He better be because he can't hit at all.
Nickeas batted a meager .189 last season in just 53 at-bats. Expect the number of at-bats to rise significantly for him this season. Nickeas is regarded as a catcher who calls a fine game behind the plate but the Mets would still like to see him raise his batting average over the Mendoza line.
Projected Stats: 2 HR, 15 RBI, .210 average
A former seventh-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds, Turner was Mr. Versatility last season. The Long Beach, CA native played second, short and third base defensively for the Mets and had a solid year at the plate as well.
Turner did an admirable job filling in at third when David Wright was hurt and finished the season with a 4-51-.260 line and added seven stolen bases in nine attempts. He cracked 30 doubles as well.
Look for Turner to continue to be a super sub for Terry Collins. I would expect his at-bats to drop quite a bit from the 435 he had last year unless Wright misses significant time again.
Projected Stats: 3 HR, 36 RBI, .265, 5 stolen bases
Cedeno brings a veteran presence as Ruben Tejada's backup at shortstop and he can also spot Daniel Murphy at second base. The former Pittsburgh Pirate played in 128 games last season as their starting shortstop.
The Puerto Cabello, Venezuela native hit .249 last year and owns a career batting average of .246. Expect Cedeno to hit around the same mark this season although in much fewer at-bats. He does not bring any power to the table as well.
Projected Stats: 1 HR, 25 RBI, .244 average
We'll give the nod to Baxter for the last roster spot over Adam Loewen and Vinny Rottino in a very tight race. Baxter grew up in the shadow of Shea Stadium in Whitestone, NY and is a left-handed hitting outfielder, giving manager Terry Collins a little more pinch-hitting flexibility off the bench.
The 27-year-old hit his first career home run in the Mets' final game of the season in 2011. It was the final home run and RBI of the year for New York. Overall, he hit .235 for the season.
Projected Stats: 1 HR, 10 RBI, .225 average