With spring training starting to come to an end, it will be fascinating to see how certain position battles play out for the Mets before Opening Day.
The Mets' infield is all but set for the 2013 regular season. Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada and David Wright, will all return to play first base, second base, shortstop and third base, respectively. The Mets' rotation is also in place, with Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Shaun Marcum, Johan Santana and Dillon Gee. Jeremy Hefner, the Mets' long reliever can also make spot starts if anyone gets hurt.
The Mets' entire outfield, most of the bench and parts of the bullpen have been up for grabs throughout spring training. Here are some final predictions of the Mets' spring training position battles.
Projected 2013 Mets Starting Left Fielder: Lucas Duda
At the start of spring training, Lucas Duda figured to be the unquestionable starting left fielder for the Mets. However, Duda's spring has not been particularly consistent, while Jordany Valdespin has been hitting very well this past month.
Left field is now a battle between Duda and Valdespin, but in the end, Duda should hold on and be the starting left fielder on Opening Day. Left field seems to be Duda's job to lose, and it would be surprising if manager Terry Collins does not give Duda an opportunity at the start of the season to prove that he can be a solid everyday left fielder.
Furthermore, even though Valdespin has been having a torrid spring training with a .348 average, four home runs and nine RBI, he would be of more use off the bench than Duda for sure. For one, Valdespin has speed and can be used as a pinch-runner if the situation presents itself. Valdespin is also a lot more versatile in the field because he can play second base, shortstop and the outfield.
Projected 2013 Mets Starting Center Fielder: Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Collin Cowgill
Yes, this means that Nieuwenhuis and Cowgill are very likely to platoon in center field. Nieuwenhuis would start against right-handed pitchers, and Cowgill would play against left-handed pitchers.
Nieuwenhuis and Cowgill compliment each other well as a possible platoon. Nieuwenhuis throws right-handed, but is a left-handed hitter with some power. He can hit, but he has also struck out a ton, which does not help him get on base more often.
Cowgill, on the other hand, throws left-handed but bats right-handed. He is more of a contact hitter, but also has some power of his own.
Defensively, both players should be able to handle center field without any problems. It's the hitting though that will determine later in the season whether this is indeed a platoon or if one of these two outfielders will start every day.
Projected 2013 Mets Starting Right Fielder: Marlon Byrd
Of the three outfield battles, right field looks to be the most interesting. Returning outfielder Mike Baxter and newcomer Marlon Byrd have been in competition for the starting job, but Byrd's great spring training numbers should be enough to give him the Opening Day start.
After a lost 2012 season, Byrd is in Mets camp trying to bounce back and redeem himself. He has hit .314 with four doubles and four RBI in 35 spring training at-bats. Baxter on the other hand has not played as well. He has batted just .152 with one RBI in 33 at-bats.
While Byrd is an experienced veteran and a former All-Star (2010), Baxter will be entering his second full season in the major leagues. Baxter can be useful for the Mets even if he isn't starting every day, though. He has a career .333 average as a pinch-hitter and had quite a few clutch pinch-hits early in the 2012 season.
A platoon between Baxter and Byrd could very well happen in the near future, but at least for Opening Day, Marlon Byrd will likely start in right field.
Projected 2013 Mets Opening Day Bench: Anthony Recker, Justin Turner, Zach Lutz, Mike Baxter, Jordany Valdespin
Anthony Recker will almost certainly be the Mets' backup catcher on Opening Day. Travis D'Arnaud will very likely begin the year in Triple-A, while Landon Powell will probably back up D'Arnaud.
Incumbent utility infielder Justin Turner will play the exact same role he did for the Mets in 2012, but might even play the outfield a bit as well. Zach Lutz's time in the major leagues last year was very brief, but he could be a very useful right-handed hitter off the bench, with the power he has. Lutz would be the Mets' backup corner infielder.
Baxter and Valdespin will be the Mets' backup outfielders if they do not start or platoon regularly. Valdespin could also play second base or shortstop if necessary, being that he is a natural middle infielder. Both Baxter and Valdespin had great moments as pinch-hitters last year, with Valdespin setting a new Mets single-season record with five pinch-hit home runs.
Projected 2013 Mets Opening Day Bullpen: Bobby Parnell, Brandon Lyon, Josh Edgin, Jeremy Hefner, Pedro Feliciano, Jeurys Familia, Scott Atchison
With Frank Francisco nursing an elbow injury, the opportunity has been presented for Bobby Parnell to be the Mets' closer, which is a position he could occupy for the entire season. As for being on the roster itself, there was no debate that Parnell, Brandon Lyon, Josh Edgin and Jeremy Hefner would all be parts of the bullpen. It was the other three spots that were more or less up for grabs.
Pedro Feliciano, the Mets' former left-handed specialist, who returned to the team after leaving following the 2010 season. Feliciano was a workhorse for the Mets for five years, and it would only be right for the Mets to have him on the team as long as he is healthy. In the event Feliciano gets hurt though, Robert Carson would probably get called up to replace him.
Jeurys Familia should be able to earn a spot due to his youth, velocity and most of all, his potential. A converted starter, Familia has the mold of a reliever more than a starter. As long as Familia does not allow too many walks, which plagued him in the minor leagues last year, he should be able to perform well as a middle reliever. In addition, Familia could probably pitch for two or three innings in a game if necessary.
The final spot in the Mets' bullpen will be the toughest to determine. LaTroy Hawkins is a seasoned 18-year veteran. Greg Burke is a sidearm pitcher, who could be very effective as a right-handed specialist similar to what Chad Bradford and Joe Smith both once were for the Mets.
However, Scott Atchison will probably get the nod over Hawkins and Burke because of the stellar season he had with the Red Sox in 2012. In 42 appearances, Atchison posted a 1.58 ERA and had a 4-to-1 strikeout/walk ratio a year ago. If any position battle is up for debate, it would be for one of the three bullpen spots, but Atchison should still have the edge over Hawkins and Burke.