Expectations heading into the 2013 season are realistically low for the New York Mets. While the team has not admitted to entering a true "rebuilding" stage, a .500-record will be considered an accomplishment for the team this year.
But on a team not pegged to compete, there's always the potential for some individual performances to take center stage. This was apparent for this very club a year ago, when R.A. Dickey won 20 games on his way to a Cy Young Award, all at age 38.
And while we know what we can expect from guys like David Wright, Johan Santana and Ike Davis, there are some lesser-known players on a rather inexperienced Mets' ballclub who could stand to contribute more than expected in 2013.
So, as we approach Spring Training, let's take a look at some unknown players that could open up some eyes in Queens this season. These are not your household names, but they very well may make an impact for the Mets in the coming season.
Mike Baxter did manage to make quite an impact in 2012. The impact he made up against the left-field wall while catching a Yadier Molina rocket preserved what would become the first no-hitter thrown in the history of the New York Mets' franchise. Baxter suffered a dislocated shoulder after that collision, and missed nearly two months while recovering.
Baxter was having a solid season up until then. Before the injury, the left-handed platoon outfielder was batting .339 over 62 at-bats. Most of those at-bats were of the pinch-hitting variety, but he also gave the Mets a serviceable glove in left and right field.
As of now, the Mets' 2013 starting outfield projects to have Lucas Duda in right, Collin Cowgill in center and possibly Kirk Nieuwenhuis in left (the team is still search for another outfielder, including Scott Hairston). But Baxter should certainly have a spot on the 25-man roster in 2013, and we could see him have more playing time, especially if Cowgill and/or Nieuwenhuis falter.
Last winter, Collin Cowgill was a part of what became a rather significant trade between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Oakland Athletics. The D-Backs sent Cowgill, Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook to Oakland in exchange for Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow.
In 2012, Cowgill had just over 100 at-bats with the A's, finishing at a .269 batting clip and a .336 OBP. By no means were his numbers eye-staggering, but he was more of a part-time player in Oakland, spending some time down in the minors as well.
Almost exactly a year after the trade to Oakland, Cowgill was sent to the New York Mets in a minor league deal. Now, as a member of the Mets, Cowgill stands a good chance (by default) of opening the season as the team's starting center fielder. Last year's center fielder, Andres Torres, left via free agency, and it seems that the team isn't ready to hand the keys over to Jordany Valdespin.
Cowgill has the potential to put up some decent numbers. While in the minors, Cowgill stole 30 bases in 2011, and had 16 home runs in 2010. Of course, his playing time will be dramatically effected by what the Mets do (or don't do) during the rest of the offseason.
The 23-year-old Jeurys Familia was signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 2007. In the three seasons since, the right-hander has a career 3.85 ERA in the minor leagues, making all but one of his appearances as a starter. He has also accumulated over 500 strikeouts, including 128 a season ago.
Currently, the Mets' rotation is a bit of a question mark. Johan Santana and Jonathon Niese are mainstays. If healthy, Dillon Gee will likely resume his number three position in the rotation. That would leave Matt Harvey, Collin McHugh, Jeremy Hefner and Familia to duke it out during Spring Training for the fourth and fifth slots. Plus, phenom Zack Wheeler is waiting in the wings down in Triple-A.
Familia, who appeared in a brief eight games with the Mets in 2012, has a chance to be a part of the Mets' pitching staff in some capacity this season, particularly if any of the starters have any health issues (which is a pretty good chance). And at a young age, he has the potential to be a key component in years to come.
Last month, the New York Mets pulled of a major trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, sending Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey north of the border as part of a package deal. In return, the Mets received two catchers—John Buck and top prospect Travis d'Arnaud. Buck will almost certainly enter the 2013 season as the team's starting backstop. d'Arnaud will likely begin the season in Triple-A for some more seasoning.
Enter Anthony Recker. He's a 29-year-old minor league catcher with just 79 career Major League at-bats. But he projects to at least start the 2013 season as Buck's back-up. And his minor league numbers suggest he could be productive at the plate. In 2011, he hit 16 home runs with a .289 batting average.
Granted, he's no Mike Piazza, but give Recker some significant playing time and he could turn some heads.
Wilmer Flores should act as a reminder to all New York Mets fans of the future that is coming. This 21-year-old Venezuelan native has a strong career ahead of him, and that could very well start in 2013.
Flores has spent most of his five-year minor league career as a shortstop. He also has some experience at second and third base. And in 2012, he had his best offensive season. He sported a .300 batting average with 18 home runs between High-A and Double-A.
As we enter the 2013 season, the Mets' infield projects to have: David Wright at third; Ruben Tejada at shortstop; Daniel Murphy at second base; and Ike Davis at first. With Flores' skills and versatility in the infield, he could become a valuable backup infielder, enabling manager Terry Collins to confidently rest some of the regulars.
Zach Lutz and Brandon Hicks are also potential backup infielders the Mets could employ if they feel Flores is not ready in 2013.