Predicting New York Mets' Starting Lineup Halfway Through Spring Training
Spring training is in full swing at New York Mets camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla. With the start of the regular season less than a month away, manager Terry Collins has some important decisions to make regarding his lineup.
Who is going to bat leadoff? Who can protect Ike Davis best in the No. 5 hole? Will there be strict platoons in center and right field?
All important questions. Getting the answers is another story.
Michael Bourn would have been an excellent, base-stealing leadoff hitter. But that ship has sailed.
So Collins has to make do with the players he has, and fortunately he still has over three weeks to get his batting lineup in order.
Here is a prediction on what the Mets lineup will look like when the regular season commences on April 1 against the Padres.
Leadoff Hitter: Ruben Tejada, SS
Let's face it: The Mets do not have a bona fide leadoff hitter on their roster right now; that's why they went after Bourn. Tejada seems to be the best choice at this point to bat leadoff in Terry Collins' lineup.
Tejada hit a career-high .289 last season and his slugging percentage improved 16 points from 2011. His OBP did slip, though, from a career-best .360 in 2011.
However, Tejada ranked third on the Mets in hits (134) last season and actually hit better when inserted at the top of the order. In 338 at-bats in that role, the talented shortstop from Panama batted .293, so he has solid experience in the No. 1 slot.
There is no great leadoff option like Rickey Henderson or Kenny Lofton here, that's for sure. If the 23-year-old Tejada can learn a little more patience at the plate and draw some more walks though, he could turn into a pretty good weapon at the top of New York's batting order.
Batting 2nd: Daniel Murphy, 2B
Daniel Murphy trailed only David Wright in hits on the Mets last season with 166, and his line-drive hitting style seems to be very well suited for the No. 2 hole.
The Jacksonville, Fla., native hit .291 last season and is a very solid contact hitter. That makes Murphy a key component in the hit-and-run to move baserunners from first to third base more effectively.
Falling behind in the count does not seem to worry him. Murphy batted .282 last year when hitting with a 0-1 count, so he can take the first pitch and still be very productive.
Murphy belted just six home runs in both 2011 and 2012 so Mets fans would probably like to see "Murph" come closer to his career-high mark of 12 home runs in 2009. What is more important, though, is that he sprays line drives around the park, moves runners up and helps set the stage for Wright and Ike Davis behind him.
Batting 3rd: David Wright, 3B
David Wright is currently performing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Will he be feeling any pressure from the eight-year, $138 million contract he signed in December?
Perhaps. However, Mets fans expect Wright to continue to perform like the six-time All-Star that he is. He is the cornerstone of the franchise right now and, at 30 years of age, is in his prime.
Manager Terry Collins writing in Wright's name in the No. 3 slot in his lineup is as predictable as the Democrats and Republicans in Congress not being able to compromise on anything.
The 10-year veteran (wow, that's hard to believe) led the Mets in hits (178), batting average (.306), RBI (93), OBP (.391), stolen bases (15) and OPS (.883) while also slugging 21 home runs. With Ike Davis hitting behind him, Wright should see plenty of good pitches to hit. He hit even better with runners in scoring position (.317) last season.
Batting Cleanup: Ike Davis, 1B
When you consider that Ike Davis was hitting just .158 on June 8 last year and was in danger of being sent down to Triple-A Buffalo, it's really amazing to see what final numbers he produced in 2012 for the Mets.
The Arizona State product lifted his average up to .227 by season's end but more importantly, slugged a team-high 32 home runs, including 20 after the All-Star break. Whether he was over the effects of Valley Fever that he was diagnosed with in spring training last year or he finally got into a groove, Davis' solid second half bodes well for him entering the 2013 campaign.
Davis hit .255 after the break and added an excellent .542 slugging percentage as well. He has tremendous power and finished with 90 RBI last season, second only to David Wright.
Just 25 years old, Davis is starting to enter his prime years and should be one of the best slugging first basemen in the National League for many years to come.
Batting 5th: Marlon Byrd, RF
Byrd is the word so far this spring training.
Marlon Byrd that is. The 35-year-old outfielder was signed to a minor league contract last month and invited to spring training with an opportunity to make the club. So far, the 11-year veteran has taken full advantage of that golden opportunity.
A former All-Star with the Cubs in 2010, Byrd was hitting .400 in his first 15 at-bats during this season's Grapefruit League play. Unless he falters terribly, Byrd could get the majority of the playing time in right field this season. Left-handed hitting Mike Baxter will also see action as well.
A .278 lifetime hitter, the right-handed hitting Byrd breaks manager Terry Collins' lineup up nicely by placing him in between southpaw sluggers Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. As presently constituted, Byrd appears to still have a lot left in the tank, and the Mets need offensive production very badly from their outfielders this season.
So far, Collins likes what he sees.
"He's done a great job," Collins told Anthony DiComo of MLB.com . "One of the things I think we're excited to see is his steadiness in the clubhouse, him being a veteran guy. I like a lot of the things I see."
Batting 6th: Lucas Duda, LF
This is a huge season coming up for Lucas Duda.
Any way you slice it, 2012 was a season to forget for the powerful slugger. After showing tremendous promise with a productive 10-50-.292 campaign in just 301 at-bats in 2011, the USC product staggered to a 15-57-.239 finish in 401 at-bats last year.
Duda's disappointing year included being demoted to Triple-A Buffalo for a month in late July and then breaking his right wrist while moving furniture in October. He underwent successful wrist surgery but has struggled so far in spring training.
Duda needs to get things moving in the right direction quickly. His slugging percentage dropped almost 100 points from the previous season. He is moving from right field to left field this season, so hopefully the change in scenery with help him improve defensively and take some pressure off his broad shoulders.
The Mets hope that will translate to a much better season at the plate. He's 27 years old now and another poor season could leave his future with New York very much in doubt.
Batting 7th: Platoon, Collin Cowgill/Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF
The Mets might have the worst outfield in baseball. At this time, it appears that Terry Collins will be using a platoon of Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center field against right-handed hurlers and Collin Cowgill in center against southpaws.
Nieuwenhuis suffered a knee bruise last Sunday against the Marlins but should be able to resume playing sometime next week. He's gotten off to a tough start this spring after an up-and-down season in 2012.
The Santa Monica, Calif., native was hitting .325 at the end of April last year and was at 7-28-.252 when he was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo in late July. Nieuwenhuis suffered a right foot injury a few days later and was eventually shut down for the rest of the season on Aug. 22. He hit .271 against righties overall with the Mets.
Cowgill was acquired by the Mets last December from the Oakland A's for Jefry Marte. He's considered a good defensive outfielder and hit .269 in just 104 at-bats with Oakland last year.
Just 26 years old, Cowgill batted .318 against southpaw pitchers last season, albeit in only 44 at-bats. He was especially effective with runners in scoring position, hitting .412 with nine RBI in just 17 at-bats in those situations.
Batting 8th: John Buck, C
John Buck knows the deal. He's been around long enough to know that he is not the future behind the plate for New York.
Top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud is. Everyone knows it. However, the 10-year veteran is expected to do more than just keep the seat warm, so to speak, for d'Arnaud.
A former All-Star with Toronto in 2010, Buck hit 12 home runs with the Marlins last season despite a putrid .192 average. He has belted a combined 48 home runs the last three years and paced the National League in putouts with the Marlins in 2011. He's known for calling a good game behind the plate
Mets catchers hit a feeble five home runs all last season. That's brutal. Buck should hit that many by early-mid May, and before you know it d'Arnaud should be ready to take over the reins. Buck will also be a fine mentor for d'Arnaud. His experience of handling a pitching staff can only rub off in a positive manner with the young backstop.