6 New York Mets Who Will Turn Heads in Spring Training
The New York Mets have something entering spring training that they haven’t had in a long time: hope.
To put it into perspective, the Mets are the only team with two of the top 10 prospects in baseball.
While the recent cash-strapped years have been riddled by injuries, uninspiring play and poor acquisitions, this year there finally seems to be a semblance of a team that is starting to put it all together.
The team is still young.
On paper, the only question mark seems to be the outfield, which is currently led by two players who got demoted last season for their horrendous play. But the infield is very solid in each position. The team also has young power-pitching, the catcher of the future, and a revamped bullpen.
The game, though, is not played on paper. Players will try to step up and prove their worth in spring training, and back that up throughout the season.
Here are five players who will turn heads in spring training:
1) Travis D'Arnaud
Travis d’Arnaud, the aforementioned catcher of the future, is ready for the majors now.
Mayo also tweeted that if d’Arnaud can stay healthy, he “loves him,” and that he is “a long-term answer behind the plate.”
Before the list came out, d’Arnaud was already an incredibly sought-after asset.
When the New York Mets were looking to trade Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, they tried to trade Dickey to an unnamed team for two top prospects, but the team said no. But when that team found out the Mets landed d’Arnaud, the team immediately called and offered both prospects for d’Arnaud alone, but the Mets this time refused. He is simply that valuable.
But d’Arnaud, who turned 24 this past Sunday, also missed the last half of 2012 with a partially torn knee ligament and did not get his probable call-up last season.
However, he tore the PCL, which is considered the least serious ligament and never requires surgery.
Also, d’Arnaud stated in an interview with MetsBlog that his knee is “perfect.”
As for d’Arnaud’s minor league stats, he has improved every season offensively, culminating in 67 Triple-A games last season, where he hit .333 with 21 doubles, 16 home runs and a .975 OPS. D’Arnaud also plays great defense and has an above-average arm too.
He will prove over spring training why he is indeed the catcher of the future for the Mets, as well as one of the top prospects in baseball.
2) Collin Cowgill
Collin Cowgill is one of a number of cheap outfielders the New York Mets acquired to fill in a gaping hole. But of the players brought in, Cowgill is the one who will break out.
Cowgill had a rough 2012 season as he jumped between Triple-A and the majors, and struggled for playing time with the new outfield acquisitions the Oakland Athletics made.
But in 2011, playing primarily in Triple-A for the first time, Cowgill had a huge year. In 98 games, he hit .354 with 13 home runs, 70 RBI, 95 runs, 30 stolen bases and a .984 OPS. That includes an incredible on-base percentage of .430.
Cowgill played only 38 games in the majors last season, but briefly showed his potential.
Overall, Cowgill hit a pedestrian .269, but that does not tell the whole story of his ability and versatility.
Cowgill played all three outfield positions, and did not record a single error in any position. Despite the very brief stint, Cowgilll also hit in every single spot in the batting order except third. As a left fielder, where he spent a considerable amount of time, Cowgill hit .400 with a ridiculous .468 OBP and .993 OPS.
He could play left field if the Mets trust Lucas Duda enough in right field.
Cowgill is also a scrappy, fearless player. With runners in scoring position, Cowgill hit .412 with a .476 OBP and 1.064 OPS, as well as all nine of his RBI.
If 2011 proved anything, it is that Cowgill is a much better player with his feet firmly planted in one team.
Now that he has a clear chance as a full-time player on the Mets, Cowgill will prove himself this spring training and help shore up a weak outfield position.
3) Dillon Gee
The 26-year-old Dillon Gee is finally healthy after a scary 2012 season, and should have a stellar comeback year in the back half of the New York Mets’ rotation.
In mid-July, Gee had season-ending surgery to remove a blood clot in his throwing shoulder. Part of the problem was numbness in his fingers, which he claims are fully behind him thanks to the surgery. But just as a precaution, he was given nitroglycerine cream for the cold New York weather.
Before the injury, Gee was already on his way to a surprising year.
He was an average 6-7 with a 4.10 ERA, but a lot of that was due to a poor first two months of the season. For those months, his ERA was 4.85 in April, and 4.58 in May.
Furthermore, Gee has usually struggled with his command, but for 2012 his strikeouts were up and his walks were down. He averaged almost a strikeout per inning, and a walk almost every four innings. He must improve on the 12 home runs allowed, especially over only 109.2 innings.
Gee has an excellent two-seamer, which not surprisingly led to a .219 BAA against righties, but also a .287 BAA against lefties.
Gee is a tough, resilient pitcher.
In 2012, he had a .232 BAA with runners in scoring position. Ironically, after a first-pitch strike opposing hitters are hitting .261 against Gee, whereas after a first-pitch ball opposing hitters are hitting .226.
As the splits show, Gee is already a serviceable starter in this league. With a clean bill of health, Gee will use spring training to show that he can be a solid No. 4 or 5 starter.
4) Johan Santana
For years, I used to pitch through shoulder and back problems. I was actually at the hospital the same day that Santana had his reconstructive surgery, and I overheard a doctor say Santana was saddened but optimistic. In fact, Santana’s shoulder was so bad that they actually had to do open reconstructive surgery rather than the usual arthroscopic, which was reported in a New York Times article.
Needless to say, Santana’s recovery is admirable and his early success was unfathomable to me.
But Santana, as well as COO Jeff Wilpon, both believe that Santana is at full health and his shoulder is no longer a question.
Last season, Santana recorded the first no-hitter in New York Mets history, a 134-pitch marathon that left manager Terry Collins in agony. Collins could hardly watch as he constantly wondered if leaving Santana out there would have a negative impact on his remarkable comeback.
It may have.
Before the no-hitter, Santana had an astounding 2.38 ERA, 68 strikeouts and 21 walks in 68 innings. But after the no-hitter, Santana went 3-7 with an 8.27 ERA.
This includes a 15.67 ERA over the last five starts, before the Mets decided to shut him down for the season to recover.
This season will be much different. With the pressure gone of being the last team without a no-hitter, nothing can stop the Mets from doing everything to keep Santana healthy.
But the fact is that Santana is already healthy. According to Mike Puma of the New York Post, Collins claims, “As long as his arm feels good, he will give us the innings.” He was on pace for roughly 32 starts and 200 innings early last season, and he could approach those numbers in 2013.
Santana no longer has the mid-90s fastball he once had years ago, but his changeup is still just as effective as a strikeout pitch.
With his huge contract, Santana may become trade bait mid-season depending on how the season goes. In the meantime, though, expect Santana to showcase his off-speed pitches throughout spring training and prove why he will be a top starter this year for the Mets.
5) Zack Wheeler
Zack Wheeler, the second top-10 prospect, may end up in Triple-A after spring training, but he will one day be a top-of-the-rotation guy for the New York Mets.
Wheeler, Matt Harvey, and perhaps Noah Syndergaard are all one day expected to become one of the best starting pitcher trios in baseball.
At 6’4”, the 22-year-old has a long, pitcher’s body, which will be very beneficial for throwing hitters off-balance.
The scouting report on Wheeler is exceptional.
Wheeler has three quality pitches in his fastball, curveball, and changeup. He has the ability to throw mid-90s with his fastball, but more importantly has the presence of mind to drop the fastball to low-90s or high-80s to get more command if he needs it. His curveball gets unbelievable break, and is a great strikeout pitch. He slows and drops his arm a bit on his changeup, but that is a very easy fix and will surely be worked on in spring training.
As for his minor league stats, Wheeler has steadily pitched well as he has risen through the minor league ranks.
In 2012, Wheeler had a 3.26 ERA in 19 Double-A starts, and a 3.27 ERA in six Triple-A starts, which is as consistent as you can get.
In total, Wheeler finished 2012 with 148 strikeouts in 149 innings, which are dominant numbers, but Wheeler must slightly lower his 59 walks in those innings, as well. But considering opposing hitters hit a combined .221 last season, Wheeler’s command should not be in question.
However, it is very likely Wheeler will not be in the rotation on Opening Day.
If Wheeler is on the Mets’ roster before the All-Star break, he would be eligible for Super-Two arbitration in the future.
Quite simply, players can file for arbitration after 3-6 years of major league experience. But Super-Two arbitration means that if a player is in the majors for two years and 86 days, then if a few other likely clauses occur then Wheeler can still file for arbitration.
Considering the Mets are slowly recovering from their vast financial struggles, as well as the fact that they will eventually need to pay these prospects in the future, they will likely wait until the All-Star break to call up Wheeler.
This would afford them an entire extra year of his services before worrying about paying him long-term.
But if the Mets surprise early this season like they did in the first half of 2012, it is certainly possible Wheeler will be on the team before the All-Star break.
Nevertheless, fans will be drooling over Wheeler’s ability by the end of spring training, and his time will come very soon.
6) Ruben Tejada
The 23-year-old Ruben Tejada had the undesirable task last season of replacing one of the most dynamic players in baseball, Jose Reyes.
But Tejada did a fantastic job.
He may not be as dangerous as Reyes was, but Tejada is a great athlete. He played solid defense showcasing great range, and many of his 12 errors were throwing errors. As a hitter, Tejada surprised everyone and finished 2012 with a .289 batting average and 26 doubles. For a defensive shortstop with minimal power, 26 doubles is an impressive feat.
But much like the Mets, Tejada broke down in the second half of the season.
Tejada hit .325 with 13 doubles in 163 at-bats before the All-Star break, compared to .269 with 13 doubles in 301 at-bats after the break.
But Tejada will bounce back and improve even more this season.
He has always had a strong work ethic, and now, he and Daniel Murphy had an entire season to develop chemistry. Tejada also hit .303 to lead off an inning, and .292 at Citi Field. The Mets will value that type of consistent production from their leadoff hitter.
The only reason Tejada was not a full-time leadoff hitter in 2012 was likely due to his lack of base-stealing ability.
But Tejada has worked on base-stealing this offseason with Jose Reyes, arguably the most dangerous base-stealer in baseball, and told reporters that he wants to steal more. That certainly is not a tall order, as Tejada only tallied four stolen bases on eight attempts last season.
It remains to be seen whether Tejada will be a serious threat to steal more, but he will have a strong spring training and build on his unexpected 2012 season.
Expect Tejada to solidify the shortstop and leadoff spot for the Mets for years to come.