Brandon Lyon brings veteran stability to Mets bullpen
Spring training 2013 is in full swing in Port St. Lucie, Fla., for Terry Collins' New York Mets. Coming off a disappointing 74-88 campaign in which New York completely collapsed in the second half, optimism reigns supreme at this time of year.
It always does, for every major league team, in mid-February.
In order for any team to try to compete for a playoff spot, pleasant surprises have to happen along the way. Just a few years ago, former Mets general manager Omar Minaya took a chance and signed a journeyman knuckleball pitcher. Not much was expected of him, considering that he was in his mid-30s at the time.
That pitcher was R.A. Dickey, and what a surprise he turned out to be for New York. In 2012, the bearded right-hander became the first Mets pitcher since Dwight Gooden in 1985 to win the Cy Young Award. Dickey's surprising rise to prominence was one of the main reasons the Mets were able to acquire top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud, who came to New York from the Blue Jays in a trade for Dickey this winter.
So you never know when a player will truly surprise his manager and put together a season that is better than expected. With that in mind, here are five Mets players that could surprise the veteran skipper in 2013.
Brandon Lyon pitched for Toronto and Houston in 2012.
At present, the 12-year veteran is slated to be a setup man in manager Terry Collins' bullpen. That role could change quickly, though, depending on the performance of new closer Bobby Parnell.
Parnell has replaced Frank Francisco as the current closer because of Francisco's elbow injury. It's not known when Francisco will pitch in 2013 (if he pitches at all), so if Parnell falters in his new role, Lyon will be his likely replacement as closer.
Parnell has had some shaky moments in the past as the Mets closer, and Lyon has the pedigree to do a fine job if called upon. Despite posting just six saves over the last two seasons with Houston and Toronto, Lyon has tallied 79 saves in his career. That included a career-high 26 with Arizona in 2008 and 20 with the Astros in 2010.
So Lyon has proven that he can close effectively when given the opportunity. That gives Collins a nice security blanket if Francisco can't recover fully from his elbow inflammation issue or if Parnell fails in his current closer role.
That versatility is a huge plus for a shaky Mets bullpen.
Daniel Murphy hit .291 for New York in 2012.
It was quite a learning experience for Daniel Murphy last year.
As the Mets' full-time second baseman for the first time in his career, the Jacksonville, Fla., native initially struggled quite a bit defensively as he adjusted to his new role. Although Murphy will never remind anyone of nine-time Gold Glove winner Ryne Sandberg at second, he made some nice strides defensively during the second half of the 2012 campaign.
Now that Murphy is settling in defensively, his hitting should improve as well this coming season. A line-drive hitter, the five-year veteran hit .291 last season with six home runs and 65 RBI. He did not hit his first home run until Jun. 27 against the Cubs, when he belted two at Wrigley Field. That drought was hard to fathom.
Don't be surprised to see Murphy hit somewhere between the .291 mark of 2012 and his career-high .320 campaign of 2011. Murphy cracked 12 home runs in 2009, so his power numbers should move upward as well to around the 10-home run level.
It's all about a player being comfortable in his role, and Murphy seems to be getting more secure every day at second base. That should equate to more line-drive hits being sprayed around Citi Field.
Collin Cowgill will platoon in CF.
The Lexington, Ky., native is slated to platoon in center field with the left-handed hitting Kirk Nieuwenhuis this season. While Cowgill's stat sheet from 2012 is not overly impressive at first glance, digging a little deeper reveals that he was impressive at times.
Cowgill batted .269 overall in just 104 at-bats with Oakland last year and is a .255 career hitter. However, when he faced southpaws in 2012, Cowgill hit a robust .318, albeit in only 44 AB. It's a small sample to be sure, but it should bode well for the 26-year-old outfielder, who is just entering his prime.
During his rookie campaign in 2011 with Arizona, Cowgill batted .275 against lefties in 40 at-bats, so he's shown improvement already. He owns a career .298 average against southpaws.
Now on his third big league club, Cowgill has a real opportunity to solidify his career with New York. According to Andrew Keh of the New York Times, that opportunity is not lost on Mets outfield coach Tom Goodwin, either.
“Guys are realizing the opportunity they have, and Collin’s no different from any of them,” Goodwin told Keh. “When you have this type of opportunity, right now you come in with the feeling of wanting to get after it.”
Marlon Byrd was an All-Star in 2010.
Which Marlon Byrd will the Mets see in Port St. Lucie?
The player that was an All-Star outfielder with the Chicago Cubs in 2010? Or the player who batted .210 in 47 combined games with the Cubs and Red Sox last season before being released?
It makes for one of the most fascinating stories of this year's spring training.
Byrd is 35 years old now. He was suspended for 50 games last June by MLB for testing positive for Tamoxifen. He has been signed to a minor league contract, and there are no guarantees. The Mets are hoping he can, at the very least, platoon in right field with Mike Baxter.
Byrd has proven he is a very talented player. How much does he have left in the tank, though? According to Andrew Keh of the New York Times, manager Terry Collins thinks Byrd could win the job as the full-time right fielder.
“This guy was one of the best players in the National League not too long ago,” Collins explained. “If he’s the same player he was in Chicago a couple of years ago, we might have found ourselves a right fielder. I know he’s that kind of talent.”
We'll see how far that talent takes him. He could be one of the most pleasant surprises of 2013.
Josh Edgin enters his second season with the Mets.
The kid has great stuff. Now he just needs to get better results.
When Josh Edgin made his big league debut with the Mets last season on July 13 in Atlanta, his performance was a microcosm of his rookie season. He allowed two runs in 1.1 innings, including a home run to future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones (no shame there). He walked none and struck out three and showed manager Terry Collins that the husky southpaw can really bring it.
Edgin's fastball was clocked in the low-to-mid-90s last season, and he also has a very effective slider. Despite going 1-2 with a 4.56 ERA and five home runs allowed, Edgin struck out 30 batters in just 25.2 innings. That's 28 percent of the hitters he faced.
Edgin will be a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen this season and will be called upon to try to get a Ryan Howard or Bryce Harper out in a big spot. He held lefties to a .164 average in 2012 and was not terrible against right-handed hitters (.263). He'll face his share of right-handed batters this year, as well.
Still, there is more work to be done. He did blow the two save opportunities he was handed last season. He gives up too many home runs.
However, he did garner five holds and had a sparkling 1.13 WHIP. Edgin should only get better in his sophomore campaign as he learns how to work batters more effectively. The stuff is there. The potential is there.
Edgin looks like a keeper for many years to come.