New York Mets' Studs and Duds so Far in Spring Training
Coming into spring training, many New York Mets players were expected to battle on the field for a number of key roles on this year’s team.
Nothing is final until Opening Day itself, but already there are a few names who have stepped up, and a few names who have disappointed so far. Very recently, the Mets even optioned 10 players down to the minor league camp, including future ace Zack Wheeler.
With the team inching closer to the final 25-man roster, here are some of the studs and duds so far in spring training:
Stud: Marlon Byrd, OF
The weak Mets outfield will be a big theme of this article, as all three spots have been up for grabs since the beginning of spring training.
And if his 35-year-old legs can hold up, one of those full-time outfielder spots may go to the newly signed Byrd.
Byrd hit .293 with 39 doubles as recently as his 2010 All-Star campaign, but age and injuries have taken a toll on his body. Last season, Byrd was traded to the Red Sox after a 3-of-43 start to the season. Byrd quickly redeemed himself, though, hitting .270 with the Red Sox before a 50-game suspension for use of a banned substance.
But the time away helped Byrd rest his legs, and he has been a revelation this spring.
He has hit the ball well in almost every at-bat, and his eight hits in nine games do not accurately portray how well Byrd is seeing the ball right now. Byrd has also accumulated three doubles, three RBI and four runs in this brief span.
If Byrd can keep up this level of play, he will see a considerable amount of playing time this season.
Dud: Johan Santana, SP
Santana’s in-game form is an unknown right now, simply because he has yet to pitch in a game this spring training.
But that is exactly the problem.
After a miraculous and productive return from reconstructive shoulder surgery, Santana’s 134-pitch no-hitter ruined the rest of his season. Santana was eventually shut down to recover, as there was no point in tiring out his arm for terrible production.
As of now, the 34-year-old may begin the season on the disabled list. He is currently day-to-day as he looks to build up his arm again.
Santana’s shoulder trouble is not as much the injury concern as it has been. According to him and manager Terry Collins, the primary concern with Santana is that he doesn’t even have the arm strength to throw in a spring training game right now. Unfortunately, that is just as worrying as an injury risk.
However, Santana is fully capable of salvaging this season, especially given how early it is.
He has never needed an overpowering fastball, as evidenced by his pre-no-hitter 2012. Santana’s success comes from his abilities to mix speeds and keep hitters off-balance with his devastating changeup and effective slider.
Not surprisingly, Santana is also the talk of trade rumors. The Mets will likely try to unload his hefty contract this season as they look to rebuild quickly.
But before that can happen, Santana must pitch in a competitive game this season. He will build up that arm strength eventually, but it is disappointing that Santana has not come into this season with the necessary arm strength already.
Stud: Collin Cowgill, OF
With the outfield situation so open, the Mets acquired as many cheap, viable options as possible this offseason, including Cowgill.
The 26-year-old Cowgill has been one of the few to step up this season, and he could be a serious impact player.
At only 5’9” and 185 pounds, the diminutive outfielder has played himself into a potential starting role this season. Known for his fearless and headstrong playing style, Cowgill has thrived this spring as a full-time Met.
This is not surprising when you consider that Cowgill has been at his best when he is permanently on a single team. Last season, Cowgill bounced back and forth between Triple-A and the majors. As a result, he hit a pedestrian .250 in the minors and .269 in the majors.
On the other hand, 2011 was a completely different story.
Cowgill played the first 98 games in Triple-A, finishing with an astonishing .354/.430/.554 line, 24 doubles, eight triples, 13 home runs, 70 RBI, 30 stolen bases and only 63 strikeouts. He finished with 140 hits in those 98 games.
This spring, Cowgill has already shown flashes of that kind of production. He is currently hitting .375 with four runs, three doubles, a home run, three RBI, five walks and three stolen bases.
He and Marlon Byrd have overproduced drastically this spring, and both players could win starting roles that they were not expected to win.
Dud: Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF
Nieuwenhuis, as well as another dud on this list, were expected to be ringleaders for a weak outfield position.
Instead, both players have been colossal disappointments.
Nieuwenhuis is currently recovering from a bone bruise in his left knee, but thankfully for him there is no ligament damage. He injured it sliding headfirst during a game and banging it on the hard infield dirt at Roger Dean Stadium.
But before the injury, the 25-year-old had already been an embarrassment. He was 1-for-18 with seven strikeouts and only one walk.
Especially since Nieuwenhuis is a leadoff hitter candidate this season, that is not nearly enough production. The Mets also claim to value on-base percentage above stolen bases this season, and Nieuwenhuis’ current .150 on-base percentage won’t cut it.
In 2012, Nieuwenhuis was at first one of the surprises of the season. After the first month of the season, Nieuwenhuis was hitting an incredible .325 with a .386 on-base percentage. But his batting average dipped severely each month, hitting .263, .238, and finally .105 in July before being sent down to Triple-A.
Perhaps his worst stat as a potential leadoff hitter is that Nieuwenhuis recorded 98 strikeouts in only 91 games.
Nieuwenhuis was expected to platoon with Cowgill this season in centerfield, but if he doesn’t produce well after his injury heals then Nieuwenhuis will quickly lose that job altogether.
Stud: Matt Harvey, SP
Harvey was electric in his brief call-up last season, and he has been even better so far in spring training.
Harvey, who will soon turn 24, has always been a highly regarded prospect in the Mets’ farm system. He certainly did not disappoint when he made his long-awaited debut.
With minimal run support, Harvey went 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 42 hits allowed and 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings pitched. Moreover, Harvey had a 1.88 ERA at Citi Field, as well as an amazing .200 BAA. After a first-pitch strike, that BAA dropped to .153.
Of the nine spots in a lineup, only the third and fifth batters have a BAA higher than .238 against Harvey.
But Harvey’s weaknesses are that he sometimes lacks command, and that when batters do hit his pitches they hit them hard. 18 of his 42 hits allowed were extra-base hits, and in those 59.1 innings Harvey let up 26 walks.
But Harvey has shown excellent command and control this spring training.
Thus far, Harvey has a 2.00 ERA in nine innings. It is worth noting that both runs came off of solo home runs. But Harvey has limited the damage with ease, as he has allowed only five hits while recording a 12/2 K/BB ratio. Opposing batters are hitting .152.
Harvey could have a superb 2013 season at this rate, considering he never started games strong last season. In 2012, opposing batters hit .309 in his first 15 pitches of a game, while afterward they hit a mere .161.
Calling Harvey a stud this spring training is an understatement, as he has quickly established himself as one of the top starters on this team.
Dud: Collin McHugh, SP/RP
Not surprisingly, McHugh was one of the 10 players optioned to minor league camp after his disastrous spring training.
Originally competing for a possible long-relief or spot starter role, the 25-year-old McHugh has been abysmal.
In 4.2 innings pitched, McHugh has allowed 10 hits and five earned runs, netting him a 9.64 ERA and 2.14 WHIP. He may have allowed zero walks, but he also did not record a single strikeout. McHugh could not even compete against some of the lesser players on opposing teams, especially with a middling fastball and average off-speed pitches.
These stats go along well with McHugh’s rookie numbers last year. In four starts and eight total appearances, McHugh went 0-4 with a 7.59 ERA and 1.64 WHIP. In 21.1 innings, McHugh allowed 27 hits, five home runs and had a 17/8 K/BB ratio.
But McHugh is by no means a bad pitcher.
He was lights out in the minors, particularly in 2012. Pitching in Double-A and then Triple-A for the first time, McHugh started a total of 25 games and 135 strikeouts in 148.1 innings. He had a 2.41 ERA in Double-A and a 3.42 ERA in Triple-A, which is even more impressive considering it was his first experience at that level.
With the injury-prone Santana and Shaun Marcum in the rotation this season, expect McHugh to still eat up some innings at the major league level this season, but hopefully with a bit more success.
Stud: Bobby Parnell, RP
With the injury-riddled and inconsistent Frank Francisco out as closer, Parnell is now the team’s full-time closer.
The 28-year-old was a standout reliever for a poor Mets bullpen last year, accumulating a 2.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 61 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. But Parnell must work to improve on the 20 walks and 65 hits allowed in 2012.
More importantly, Parnell’s most daunting stat is that he only converted seven saves in 12 opportunities last season. If he is going to thrive as the Mets’ closer, he needed to drastically increase that success rate.
So far, Parnell has thrived pitching primarily in the ninth inning in six spring training games.
Despite the experience in the ninth inning, Parnell has had only one save opportunity, but he converted it. In six total innings, Parnell has not allowed a single run, giving up only four hits and one walk with three strikeouts. Opposing batters are hitting .167.
Francisco’s return from arm injuries is anyone’s guess. But if Parnell continues this level of production into the regular season, he could remain the closer even when Francisco does make it back.
Dud: Lucas Duda, OF
You can't spell Duda without dud.
Finishing the trend with the unexpected outfield play this spring, Duda’s spring training was a disaster, but things are not as bad with him as they have appeared at times.
Coming into spring training, the 27-year-old Duda had been working rigorously with the Mets’ hitting coach on his swing, and they are hoping Duda could develop his 6’4”, 255-pound body into a consistent slugger. Duda hit 12 home runs by the All-Star break and 15 overall, but he also had a .239 batting average and 120 strikeouts in 121 games.
But this spring, the Lucas Duda of February looked a lot different than the Lucas Duda of March.
In February, Duda could not even plant his foot in time to swing. He finished 1-of-10 with seven strikeouts as he was still working to get timing with his new swing. But this month, Duda has started to get it together again. He is hitting .400 in March with two doubles, a home run, three RBI and only three strikeouts in five more at-bats than in February.
Duda will always be a defensive liability in the outfield. He has enough arm strength to hold his own, but he plays the position below-average and does not have good foot speed or range.
Thus, Duda needs to rely solely on his bat to keep him in the starting lineup.
Things were looking bleak for Duda at first this spring, and overall he has still been a dud. But if this recent groove is no fluke, then Duda could very easily hit himself into the starting left field spot and the middle of the Mets’ lineup on Opening Day.
Stats via ESPN.com