There are a number of dark-horse prospects who could make the New York Mets' roster on Opening Day, and with pitchers and catchers arriving to Port St. Lucie, Fla., in the next few weeks, it’s easy to get excited about them already.
While many fans want to see star prospects, such as Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, make the Opening Day roster, they are less likely candidates and will probably begin the season in Double-A. This list lacks potentially elite prospects such as Syndergaard, but fans should care about these players, as they will be making an impact on the major league roster sooner rather than later.
Because of the bullpen competition that will occur during spring training, most of these prospects are pitchers who are either already relievers or starters who could end up in the bullpen eventually. I have only included prospects who have yet to make their major league debut, so prospects such as Wilmer Flores, Jeurys Familia and Wilfredo Tovar are not present.
Here are five dark-horse prospects who could make the Mets' roster out of spring training.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
Jacob deGrom is one of the more intriguing arms in the Mets’ farm system, and he has a legitimate chance of making the Opening Day roster out of camp.
DeGrom has been used as a starter throughout his minor league career. He has the potential to become a No. 3 starter at the major league level, but becoming a No. 4 or No. 5 starter is more likely.
With his big-sinking fastball, deGrom is an intriguing prospect as a starter; however , the Mets currently have plenty starting pitching depth with their top prospects (Syndergaard and Montero) and the recent signings of John Lannan and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Their depth, along with deGrom's advanced age for a prospect (he will turn 26 in June), could tempt the Mets to move him to the bullpen.
DeGrom could become an impact pitcher soon in the back end of the Mets' bullpen. He has experience closing, as he was Stetson University’s shortstop until his junior season when the team moved him to the bullpen. As he progressed as a pitcher, the team made him a starter, but deGrom is different than pitchers like Jenrry Mejia who only appear comfortable starting.
It could be wise for the Mets to keep deGrom in the bullpen, but teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals have been successful using their starting pitching prospects as relievers while still viewing them as starters in the long-term (examples: Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez).
With the Mets still needing a number of bullpen questions answered, deGrom could be an answer. His sinking fastball, which he throws at more than 90 mph, could play up in shorter stints out of the bullpen, and the team is likely less concerned about his Super Two status because of his age.
If deGrom has a strong camp, don’t be surprised to see him on Opening Day.
Another potential answer to how the Mets will fill out their bullpen, Jeff Walters could easily make the roster out of camp.
Walters, the former seventh-round pick out of the University of Georgia, made a name for himself in 2013 as the closer for the Mets' Double-A affiliate.
Walters pitched to a 2.03 ERA and broke the Binghamton Mets saves record with 38. While saves are a mediocre tool for evaluating relief pitchers, he has proven he can effectively pitch at the end of games.
I wrote about Walters earlier this offseason while ranking the Mets’ most major league-ready prospects, where I explained:
Walters’ plus stuff along with his command and ability to put hitters away make the chances of him becoming a solid major league reliever very high. In the current state of Major League Baseball, teams are always desperate for relief pitching at the trade deadline, and as the Mets proved in 2007 relief pitching can make or break a team’s season.
Walters, like deGrom, is less likely to be kept off the roster than other prospects because of his age (currently 26 years old). The team has less incentive to keep him in the minors as the Mets’ control over him extends later into his career.
With much of the Mets' bullpen situation in flux heading into the season, Walters is another dark-horse prospect who could easily sneak onto the roster and make an impact for the Mets in 2014.
As a left-hander out of the bullpen, Jack Leathersich definitely has a chance to make the roster out of camp, but he needs to display significant improvement with respect to his command if the Mets are to give him a chance.
Leathersich has had many Mets fans excited as a potential relief monster over the past couple of years, impressing with impressive strikeout totals in the minors. In 58.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year, Leathersich struck out a remarkable 102 batters.
While deGrom and Walters are relatively safe bets to become solid major leaguers at some point in their careers, Leathersich is less of a sure thing.
While Leathersich has dominated the minors, he has displayed poor command that will get exploited once he reaches the big leagues. Leathersich walked 45 batters in his 58.1 innings last year, and at the major league level, that just doesn’t cut it.
With the bullpen spots available and Leathersich’s proximity to the major leagues, however, he could make the roster out of spring training. He needs to show significant improvement with his command, though. Even if his command only improves marginally, Leathersich will likely see the big leagues in 2014 as a lefty specialist.
Cory Mazzoni is yet another prospect who is still used primarily as a starting pitcher, but he could find his way into the Mets' bullpen on Opening Day.
Injuries have held Mazzoni’s development back, as he only started 12 games in 2013; however, he still sports a plus fastball and will be 24 years old this season, making him a viable candidate for the bullpen.
A second-round pick out of North Carolina State in 2011, the Mets could still choose to keep Mazzoni as a starter in order to maximize their starting pitching depth. Mazzoni is definitely a player for fans to keep an eye on in spring training this year, as the team will likely need to make a decision about his long-term future, deciding whether to move him to the bullpen or not.
The Mets' starting pitching depth is currently stable while the team is lacking proven bullpen arms, so don’t be surprised to see Mazzoni converted to a full-time reliever in 2014.
He could potentially be on the Opening Day roster.
Danny Muno, the only position player on this list, could potentially make the Mets out of spring training because of his solid 2013 campaign and his ability to play either middle infield position.
The former eighth-round pick out of Fresno State has had an up and down career since entering the minor leagues. Muno started off sizzling, hitting .355 with a .980 OPS for the Brooklyn Cyclones, but in 2012 he was suspended for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy.
His performance has never been the same.
In 2013 Muno exhibited qualities for Double-A Binghamton that could make him valuable to the major league roster. While playing a solid shortstop, Muno hit only .249 but displayed a great approach at the plate, reaching base at a .384 clip.
As the Mets still pursue Stephen Drew, their shortstop depth is lacking. Beyond the lackluster Ruben Tejada, the options other than Muno are the elder statesman Omar Quintanilla and the slick-fielding but weak-hitting Wilfredo Tovar. Sandy Alderson loves patient hitters, making Muno an enticing option for the Opening Day roster if he has a strong camp.
While there is almost no chance the Mets would make Muno their starting shortstop on Opening Day, he is definitely an option to keep an eye on as the team heads into spring training.