New York Mets' Biggest Winners and Losers of Spring Training
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As the final days of spring training wind down for the New York Mets, manager Terry Collins and his brain trust are finalizing the 25-man roster that will be headed to Flushing, N.Y., for the April 1 season opener against San Diego.
Some players have taken full advantage of their opportunity to make the parent club while others reflect on opportunity lost. Spring training can be quite a paradox. The optimism that usually accompanies it can also turn into disappointment when roster opportunities fade away.
It's been an interesting time in Port St. Lucie, to say the least. Only a precious few days remain. Here are the biggest winners and losers during this year's Mets spring training camp.
Winner: Jordany Valdespin
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No one has taken better advantage of his opportunity to head north with the Mets than this flashy, dynamic native of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic.
The 25-year-old Valdespin entered spring training hoping to lock down a reserve role and will now possibly be in manager Terry Collins' starting lineup when the Mets face San Diego in their season opener.
Due to various injury scenarios, Valdespin could start at either second base or center field. He's enjoyed a tremendous camp, hitting .347 through 16 games, with four home runs and a team-leading nine RBI. The ball seems to jump off Valdespin's bat. He's also added a team-high 17 hits and nine runs scored through New York's first 22 Grapefruit League contests.
"Like any young player, he’s learning how to co-exist with his teammates and his opponents, and he’s got a tremendous amount of talent," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told Jorge Castillo of The Star-Ledger.
That talent appears to have led him right into New York's Opening Day lineup.
Loser: Johan Santana
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What a disaster spring training has been for the 34-year-old southpaw.
When camp opened last month, Santana was expected to be the Mets' Opening Day starter. Instead, the 13-year veteran will open the season on the disabled list and is only throwing on flat ground from 90 feet. He has yet to make a spring training appearance.
Santana appears to be a long way from making his first start. According to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com, the former ace would have to be able to throw from roughly double that 90-feet distance before he can take the mound again.
This will take some time, as Santana told Rubin:
I'm just building up my strength and throwing more volume. And then, after that, hopefully I'll be able to start getting on a mound soon. ... With injuries you never know. I got to spring training feeling good. And then, once I started getting to pitch and stuff, and I got on the mound, I didn't feel I was making progress.
Winner: Marlon Byrd
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An All-Star with the Chicago Cubs in 2010, the 35-year-old Byrd was signed to a minor league contract as spring training commenced. The Mets have a real need for some offensive punch from their outfield corps, and Byrd has shown he can still contribute.
In fact, Byrd may begin the 2013 campaign as New York's starting right fielder. Through 17 Grapefruit League games, the career .278 hitter was batting .311 with four RBI and five doubles. He's played well defensively and would give the Mets a much-needed right-handed bat in the middle of their lineup.
The 11-year veteran would also break up Terry Collins' lineup nicely by being placed between left-handed sluggers Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. The Mets gave Byrd a golden opportunity to make the club, and he has taken full advantage of it.
Now we'll see if he can sustain that success.
Loser: Kirk Nieuwenhuis
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August 6, 2012. That was the day that Kirk Nieuwenhuis was shut down with a plantar fasciitis injury in Triple-A Buffalo. His 2012 season was over then, and it's been a tough road back ever since.
The Santa Monica, Calif., native batted .252 with New York last season and appeared to be completely healthy when he reported to spring training last month. It was time for a fresh start. He was expected to platoon in center field with Collin Cowgill when the regular season began.
Expect the unexpected. After getting just one hit in his first 18 Grapefruit League at-bats, Nieuwenhuis suffered a bone bruise on his right knee while sliding into second base on March 3. He did not return to action until this past Saturday when he struck out in a pinch-hit appearance.
The left-handed hitting Nieuwenhuis is hitting a feeble .045 with just one hit and eight strikeouts. Because he's missed so much time, Nieuwenhuis will begin his season at Triple-A Las Vegas, not in Citi Field when the Mets host the Padres on Opening Day.
"It’s difficult, but he’s got a track record,” manager Terry Collins told Jorge Castillo of The Star-Ledger when asked how he evaluates Nieuwenhuis’ spring. “We’ve seen him under the bright lights. We know what he can do.”
Winner: Bobby Parnell
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The flame-throwing right-hander entered spring training as New York's setup man in the bullpen and will leave camp as the Mets' closer—possibly for quite a while.
That's because Frank Francisco has missed the entire Grapefruit League campaign while he recovers from surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. Francisco saved 23 games for New York last season but did not throw live batting practice until this past Saturday. He still has a long way to go in his recovery.
Enter Parnell, who will be New York's closer until further notice. The six-year veteran has closing experience— he saved seven games in 12 opportunities last season—so he could remain the man manager Terry Collins calls on to protect a lead in the ninth inning even when Francisco returns.
Parnell has performed well since camp opened, posting a 2.53 ERA with two saves and a 1.13 WHIP in 11 Grapefruit League appearances. He appears ready and raring to take on his big responsibility.
“I am comfortable with it. I am confident in my stuff; I believe I can get outs,” Parnell told Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. “I am in a good place with it. This is what I want to do.”
That is music to Collins' ears.
"I love his demeanor on the mound,” Collins told Ackert. “He goes after hitters like he knows he’s going to get them out.”
Loser: Daniel Murphy
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It's been a spring training to forget for New York's second baseman.
Murphy has yet to compete in a Grapefruit League contest due to the strained right intercostal muscle he suffered in the first few days of camp. While his recovery has been slow, there finally seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel.
A career .292 hitter with the Mets, Murphy played in a pair of minor league games earlier this week and logged seven innings at second base in one of those contests. He may have to begin the season on the disabled list, though. Right now he has a lot of catching up to do both at the plate and in the field.
There remains a possibility that Murphy could begin the season on the Opening Day roster, but manager Terry Collins is going to be cautious with his No. 2 hitter. As Collins told Andrew Keh of the New York Times:
He’s a guy who takes endless swings to make sure his swing is just how he wants it, and he hasn’t been able to do that. We will make a decision at the end of the week which will benefit not only Dan but the organization.