With the long-awaited return of baseball, many players will be battling to make the Opening Day roster.
For the New York Mets, much of the team is already established, but there are some noteworthy position battles.
The biggest battles will take place in outfield, catcher and the bullpen. Not coincidentally, the Mets have gone through wholesale changes this offseason at all three of those positions.
Every spring training invitee will have a significant chance to prove himself, but here are my current predictions for the 25-man Opening Day roster.
Harvey says he is aiming for a 20-win season.
- Johan Santana
- Matt Harvey
- Jon Niese
- Shaun Marcum
- Dillon Gee
Midseason call-up: Zack Wheeler
Johan Santana was on a roll in the beginning of 2012, culminating in a 134-pitch no-hitter, the first in Mets history.
But after that no-hitter, he was never the same pitcher, and the Mets shut him down for the season to recover.
This season, manager Terry Collins has already claimed that he wants Santana to start Opening Day. Despite the severe shoulder injury, Santana is still capable of pitching at a high level. Now that he appears fully healthy, Santana will rightfully be the No. 1 starter all season.
Matt Harvey proved in his brief midseason call-up last season why he has consistently been a top prospect for the Mets.
Considering he is an ace in the making, as well as aiming for 20 wins this season, he will secure the No. 2 spot.
Jon Niese is quietly one of the more consistent left-handed pitchers in baseball. He finished last season 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA in just under 200 innings. The 26-year-old must improve on his 22 home runs allowed, especially at pitcher-friendly Citi Field, but expect the same type of production and innings pitched from the reliable Niese.
Shaun Marcum was signed recently for a one-year, $4 million deal with the chance to earn $4 million more in incentives.
In 21 starts, Marcum was 7–4 with a 3.70 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 124.0 innings. The 31-year-old has a career 3.76 ERA, and is a very capable back-of-the-rotation starter.
He will be a very productive No. 4 pitcher.
Lastly, Dillon Gee claims to be 100% healthy, following season-ending surgery in 2012 to remove a blood clot in his throwing shoulder.
On paper, Gee only finished 6-7 with a 4.10 ERA. But a poor first two months inflated those stats. Gee’s strikeouts were up and his walks were down. He was primed for a breakout year in 2012, and now that he is healthy again he should be just as successful as the last starter in a competitive rotation.
Zack Wheeler, a top-10 prospect according to MLB.com, should impress greatly in his first spring training. But due to arbitration rules, if Wheeler makes the roster before midseason, he would be eligible for arbitration a year earlier than expected.
Wheeler is major league-ready. But the cash-strapped Mets will wait until midseason to debut him, thus affording another year of Wheeler’s services. He will not be on the Opening Day roster.
However, if Santana has a successful first half, it is possible he may be used as trade bait to a more legitimate contender for prospects. This would open a hole for Wheeler to fit in perfectly.
Regardless, Santana will lead the charge in a rotation that is fairly talented top to bottom.
If Francisco struggles or remains injured, Parnell could become the full-time closer.
Closer: Frank Francisco
Setup Man: Bobby Parnell
Lefty Specialist: Josh Edgin, Pedro Feliciano
Middle Relief: Brandon Lyon, Scott Atchison
Long Relief/Spot Starter: Jennry Mejia
With the news of Frank Francisco’s lingering elbow problems, Collins announced that Bobby Parnell would take over as the Mets’ closer until Francisco recovers.
But Parnell has improved greatly in 2012. He has always had a superb fastball, but last year he developed better control and command. He should only get better in 2013 as a setup man or closer.
Aside from the drama with the closer role, the Mets have a number of new faces battling for a spot in the bullpen after spring training. The new names include Brandon Lyon, Pedro Feliciano, Scott Atchison, LaTroy Hawkins and Greg Burke. But I believe the first three of those names will make the final roster.
Lyon is the only new face to accept a major league contract, aside from being the most talented of the bunch. He will make the team, as well as perhaps compete for the closer role if Francisco struggles.
Feliciano had a successful eight-year career with the Mets until he was released following the 2010 season.
But Feliciano is healthy again. In yesterday’s state-of-the-Mets address, Collins stated Feliciano had a “leg up” on the competition if he is anywhere close to the Feliciano of old.
He should team up with Josh Edgin as the lefty specialists, which is a huge role considering the strong lefty hitters in the NL East.
As for Atchison, he recovered late last season from a torn UCL, but elected not to have surgery. He returned later in the season to throw five scoreless appearances. If he can even come close to pitching like the man who recorded a 1.58 ERA in 51.1 innings, he will be a steal.
News came out this month that Jennry Mejia will come to spring training as a starter. Mejia has always had strong strikeout numbers, but he has not developed a good second or third pitch.
Therefore, I believe Mejia will not make the rotation, but he will make the major league roster as a long reliever and someone who can eat innings when the starter struggles.
Relievers are notoriously inconsistent throughout the league each year, and even if this is the Opening Day roster, expect many changes throughout the season for a weak or injury-prone Mets bullpen.
D'Arnaud is the catcher of the future, and he will win the starting job this spring.
Starter: Travis d’Arnaud
Backup: John Buck
Travis d’Arnaud, the crown jewel of the R.A. Dickey trade, will win the starting catcher position from the veteran John Buck.
In 67 Triple-A games last season, D'Arnaud hit .333 with 21 doubles, 16 home runs and a .975 OPS. D’Arnaud’s offensive production has increased as he has risen through the ranks, which is a phenomenal streak to have. He plays strong defense and combines that with an above-average arm.
Buck is two years removed from an All-Star selection and fully capable of 20 home runs, but he must swallow his pride and become the mentor to D’Arnaud.
The future is right now in the catcher position.
Wright (right) and a newly healthy Davis (left) should be a dangerous 3-4 duo this season.
First Base: Ike Davis
Second Base: Daniel Murphy
Shortstop: Ruben Tejada
Third Base: David Wright
Backup: Justin Turner, Jordany Valdespin, Zach Lutz, Lucas Duda (first base)
No surprises here, as the productive infield from the 2012 season will return for 2013.
Ike Davis is coming off a very disappointing season by his standards.
Davis got off to a horrendous start to 2012, but admitted recently he was extremely fatigued due to the lingering effects of Valley Fever. Davis reportedly had Valley Fever before the season, but claimed until then that it did not affect him by the time the season began.
Nevertheless, Davis finished the season with 32 home runs and 90 RBI. Those are outstanding numbers, considering the poor Mets offense and his paltry .227 batting average.
Now that he is fully healthy, Davis could feasibly approach 35-40 home runs this season.
Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada both surprised on defense.
At the plate, Murphy finished .291 with 40 doubles, while Tejada faded down the stretch but finished hitting .289 with 26 doubles. They will command the middle infield for the entire season.
At third base, David Wright is the undisputed leader of this team. He recently signed an 8-year, $138 million contract extension and is the face of the franchise. He is the starting third baseman for the rest of this decade.
Justin Turner is a serviceable backup and clutch hitter. He can play any position, and hit .293 with runners in scoring position.
Jordany Valdespin provides a left-handed bat off the bench who can also play any position. He will make the roster as a role player and fill-in for a resting starter.
I also believe Zach Lutz will make the Opening Day Roster.
In the state-of-the-Mets address, Collins said Lutz is the biggest home-run threat in their minor league system. The Mets will value Lutz’s versatility and daunting power.
The core of this infield is intact for the foreseeable future. It will be interesting to see who wins the battle to be the role players, but I believe these backups provide a strong presence for any situation.
But Lutz, in particular, is best suited for the next position covered: outfield.
Zach Lutz will emerge this spring and win the starting right fielder position.
Left Field: Lucas Duda
Center Field: Kirk Nieuwenhuis
Right Field: Zach Lutz
Backup: Mike Baxter, Collin Cowgill, Jordany Valdespin
Heading into spring training, the outfield is arguably the biggest question mark remaining on this Mets team.
When all is said and done, I believe these players will emerge.
In the state-of-the-Mets address, Collins stated that he believes that next to Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, Duda is the strongest player in the league. He reportedly told Duda that if he could hit upwards of .275, he will also hit 35 home runs.
With the kind of raw power Duda has, that certainly does seem possible—if he can achieve anything close to that average.
As for center field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis should bounce back after a monstrous slump in 2012 saw him demoted to Triple-A.
He could platoon with the recently acquired Cowgill, who in Triple-A in 2011 hit .354 with 24 doubles, 13 home runs and 30 stolen bases. Cowgill has not matched those numbers in the majors. But despite Nieuwenhuis' similarly poor production, this is his job to lose.
Next, I think Zach Lutz will win the right field job.
Collins is already considering trying Lutz and Turner in outfield. They may not play the best defense, but I believe Lutz will hit himself into the lineup.
If one of them struggles, Mike Baxter is a very capable outfielder and can fill in at all three outfield positions. Valdespin is also very versatile and has the capability to play both infield and outfield if necessary. But he will not be an everyday player.
This outfield could switch around drastically throughout the entire season, due to the expected poor production each position may yield.
But I believe that on Opening Day, these will be the outfielders on the major league roster who give the Mets the best chance to win.
As Collins has announced, Santana will be the Opening Day starter with this 25-man roster.
To make it as easy as possible for those who may be counting, here is a list of my predictions for the 25-man roster:
1) Johan Santana
2) Matt Harvey
3) Jon Niese
4) Shaun Marcum
5) Dillon Gee
5a) Zack Wheeler (midseason call-up)
6) Jennry Mejia
7) Scott Atchison
8) Brandon Lyon
9) Pedro Feliciano
10) Josh Edgin
11) Bobby Parnell
12) Frank Francisco
13) Travis d’Arnaud
14) John Buck
15) Ike Davis
16) Daniel Murphy
17) Ruben Tejada
18) David Wright
19) Lucas Duda
20) Kirk Nieuwenhuis
21) Zach Lutz
22) Justin Turner
23) Jordany Valdespin
24) Mike Baxter
25) Collin Cowgill