Complete New York Mets 2014 Spring Training Preview
The 2014 season comes with optimism surrounding the New York Mets. They haven’t experienced a winning season since 2008 and produced their second-straight 74-88 record last year, but there’s hope this year will be different.
Over their final 100 games in 2013, the Mets played .500 baseball. That’s not going to get them into the playoffs, but it’s the best stretch they’ve had since beginning 2012 with a 46-40 record.
Gaining financial flexibility has allowed general manager Richard "Sandy" Alderson to spend more money this past winter than he has in his first three combined. Since he took the helm as the team’s GM, 2014 is what his front office has been pointing toward.
This is supposed to be the year the Mets start being consistently competitive for a long period of time.
Questions remain heading into the start of spring training on February 15, but New York will be an interesting team to follow. With the amount of top pitching prospects and acquisitions made for the offense, they have the potential to be in playoff contention at the start of September—if players stay healthy, and the team gets a few lucky breaks.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the players who are expected to make some kind of contribution to the Mets at the big-league level in 2014.
OF Chris Young (free agent from Oakland Athletics)
SP Bartolo Colon (free agent from Oakland Athletics)
SP John Lannan (free agent from Philadelphia Phillies)
SP Daisuke Matsuzaka (re-signed to minor league deal)
RP Kyle Farnsworth (free agent from Pittsburgh Pirates)
SP Johan Santana (still a free agent)
IF Justin Turner (free agent to Los Angeles Dodgers)
RP LaTroy Hawkins (free agent to Colorado Rockies)
RP Frank Francisco (still a free agent)
UTIL Jordany Valdespin (free agent to Miami Marlins)
The Mets lineup was in dire need of proven offensive players to support David Wright and Daniel Murphy. Bringing in Curtis Granderson and Chris Young will bring more home runs and RBI, but it will bring a lot more strikeouts as well. Acquiring both of them will also force an outfield rotation if Terry Collins feels that Eric Young Jr. is the best candidate to be the team’s leadoff hitter.
Losing Matt Harvey for the entire 2014 season was a tough blow. Alderson softened that blow by acquiring an 18-game winner and 2013 All-Star in Bartolo Colon. There are questions about his age (40 years old), weight (265 pounds) and history of performance-enhancing drugs, but he brings a veteran presence to a young pitching staff.
Every time we faced Oakland, he's basically got four different fastballs. He's got a straight one, he's got one that sinks, one that cuts, and one that's basically invisible, like a BP fastball. Instead of preparing for fastball, curveball, slider, you're basically looking at four different fastballs, and he probably threw 75 percent fastballs. It goes to show what a guy with good command can do, because not just against us, but every team he faces, he's giving his team a chance.
The additions made by the Mets are significant, but they’re seemingly filling holes that were left by outgoing players in 2013. There’s hope Granderson will provide a lot of production, but if he can replicate something close to what Marlon Byrd did—.285/.330/.518 line with 21 home runs and 71 RBI in 117 games—they’d be happy.
Bringing in Colon to fortify the rotation was only made possible because of Harvey’s injury. Unless another acquisition is made, Kyle Farnsworth will look to take LaTroy Hawkins’ role as the veteran presence in the bullpen.
Lannan and Matsuzaka provide more depth to the starting rotation. However, if Jenrry Mejia shows just a little bit of what he showed last season, one or both of them will punch a ticket to Las Vegas and start 2014 in Triple-A.
The departures of Johan Santana, Justin Turner, Jordany Valdespin and Frank Francisco will not be missed. Santana and Francisco combined to throw 6.1 innings in the big leagues but accounted for $32 million of the payroll.
Turner and Valdespin were nothing more than role players whom the organization felt could be replaced internally with younger players. Turner had a good reputation with his teammates, but Valdespin’s immature behavior and antics finally outweighed any potential baseball talent.
Injury Updates Entering Camp
SP Jenrry Mejia (bone chips in throwing elbow)
SS Ruben Tejada (broken leg)
RP Bobby Parnell (neck surgery)
SP Matt Harvey (Tommy John Surgery)
SP Jeremy Hefner (Tommy John Surgery)
Mejia, Ruben Tejada and Bobby Parnell have all recovered from their season-ending injuries in 2013 and are ready to make an impact in Port St. Lucie, Fla. once camp begins.
The fifth and final spot in the rotation is up for grabs, and the Mets are hoping Mejia wins it straight out from Lannan and Matsuzaka. He looked to turn a corner in his development with 27.1 spectacular innings of work last season. The only question is whether or not he can stay healthy.
Jorge Castillo of The Star-Ledger reported that while Mejia hasn’t thrown in the bullpen yet, he’s on schedule to compete for a roster spot this spring.
Tejada’s broken leg has healed, and the shortstop has been improving his quickness at a strength and conditioning camp this winter in Michigan. He is in the lead to be the team’s starting shortstop on Opening Day, but he’ll have to prove himself to earn it.
Terry Collins knows Tejada is aware he needs to get his career back on track this year, per ESPN New York: "You can tell when they're upset with what happened. Ruben Tejada was upset."
Parnell’s offseason was mostly spent rehabbing from surgery to remove a herniated disk in his neck. The front office has been optimistic that the closer will be ready for Opening Day, as Sandy Alderson shared with ESPN New York in December:
He's regained the weight. He's about to start throwing again. And we don't anticipate any problems. But that's one of the reasons we're going to have him come back up to New York -- to be seen not necessarily for a surgical follow-up, but just an overall review. But right now we don't have any reason to believe he won't be ready.
Parnell has been in Port St. Lucie since the middle of January to ramp up his preparations for 2014. He’s still been assured the ninth inning, per ESPN New York, but Alderson has been looking for available free-agent relievers with closing experience as a safety net in case he experiences a setback.
Hefner went under the knife for Tommy John surgery at the end of August. He was non-tendered by the Mets but was brought back on a minor league deal and invited to big league camp. There have been no setbacks reported since he began rehab, but he is expected to miss all of the upcoming season.
While Harvey had Tommy John surgery later than Hefner, he’s aiming to get some innings under his belt before the end of the regular season. New York’s ace plans on reporting to spring training on time and hopes to pick up a baseball soon after that, according to the New York Post:
They said I should be able to start throwing four months after the surgery and that’s Feb. 22, and I haven’t had any setbacks. I can’t wait. Even if it’s 10 feet, I just want to pick up a ball. As if right now, I don’t see why I wouldn’t be able to do that.
As of right now, he is hoping he can get back on the mound in August or September. The Mets plan to not have him ready to contribute until 2015, which is probably the safest bet.
Coaching Staff Analysis
Terry Collins hasn’t won more than 77 games in a season with the Mets since he became the organization’s manager prior to the 2011 season. He boasts a 225-261 record over that time.
Despite his .463 winning percentage, he has had to deal with various issues, including injuries, trades and roster limitations. Since Alderson brought him aboard, the organization has been in a rebuilding period.
The front office was pleased with how Collins handled these issues, awarding him with a two-year extension worth slightly more than $1 million per season. His deal includes a club option for 2016.
Collins was very happy about his new deal to stay at the helm in Flushing, according to MLB.com:
It is a true, true honor to be here. If you're going to manage, this is the place. There's no better stage, no bigger stage than to manage here. I love it here. I've had a great time here. I've probably enjoyed myself here more than anyplace I've ever been. So it's great to be back.
In addition to Collins getting an extension, his entire coaching staff is returning, and they’ve been together as a unit since the start of 2012. Dan Warthen has been the pitching coach since June 2008. Dave Hudgens is entering his third season as the hitting coach. Tim Teufel (third base coach), Tom Goodwin (first base coach) and Bob Geren (bench coach) were all hired in October 2011.
Now that the Mets have turned a corner in their rebuilding process (financially speaking), there will be pressure to compete with the pieces that the front office has brought in.
Mets COO Jeff Wilpon mentioned his expectations for 2014 on Mike Lupica’s radio show on ESPN New York’s 98.7 FM: "My expectation is that we improve on last year. In our last 100 games we played at .500 and if we can do that this year and we get to mid-August and September, the Mets will be right in the mix to get one of those wild cards."
If the team underachieves, this intact coaching staff could end up on the hot seat.
- SS Ruben Tejada* (.202/.259/.260 in 57 games)
- 2B Daniel Murphy (.286/.319/.415 in 161 games)
- 3B David Wright (.307/.390/.514 in 112 games)
- LF Curtis Granderson (.229/.317/.407 in 61 games)
- 1B Ike Davis* (.205/.326/.334 in 103 games)
- RF Chris Young* (.200/.280/.379 in 107 games)
- C Travis d’Arnaud (.202/.286/.263 in 31 games)
- CF Juan Lagares* (.242/.281/.352 in 121 games)
Projected starting lineup (with 2013 statistics)
*Tejada will be competing with Wilfredo Tovar and possibly Wilmer Flores.
*Davis will compete with Lucas Duda for the starting first base job.
*Lagares must prove he can handle himself at the plate, or Chris Young might take center field from him.
Projected bench (with 2013 statistics)
C Anthony Recker (.215/.280/.400 in 50 games)
OF Eric Young Jr. (.249/.310/.336 in 148 games)
IF Josh Satin (.279/.376/.405 in 75 games)
1B/OF Lucas Duda (.223/.352/.415 in 100 games)
IF Wilmer Flores (.211/.248/.295 in 27 games)
There are plenty of questions regarding the potential starting lineup. Multiple position battles will be happening in camp. Whoever wins those battles could significantly change the look and functionality of the above lineup.
The only proven players in the lineup (when considering 2013 performances) are Wright and Murphy. If healthy, Granderson will provide legitimate protection for Wright, as he has two seasons of 40 or more home runs on his resume.
According to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, Collins is aware that Granderson wasn’t “the guy” with the New York Yankees, but his presence makes the lineup much deeper than it has been in the past.
Who the first baseman will be is yet to be determined, but whether it’s Ike Davis or Lucas Duda, one of them could benefit from not hitting in the cleanup spot anymore. Not having the pressure of being the main source of power any longer could increase their productivity.
Depending on how much speed he’s gained during the offseason, Wilmer Flores could prove to be a versatile backup middle infielder, but Josh Satin could be even more valuable. In addition to having experience at various infield positions, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweeted that Satin is learning to play the outfield and is using Marlon Byrd as his instructor.
If Satin is not a liability in the outfield, Collins could definitely find a way to use him a lot more. In 94 plate appearances last season, he hit .317/.404/.476 against left-handed pitchers.
- Jonathon Niese (8-8 record, 3.71 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 143 IP)
- Bartolo Colon (18-6 record, 2.65 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 190.1 IP)
- Zack Wheeler (7-5 record, 3.42 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 100 IP)
- Dillon Gee (12-11 record, 3.62 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 199 IP)
- Jenrry Mejia* (1-2 record, 2.30 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 27.1 IP)
Projected starting rotation (with 2013 statistics)
*Mejia will compete with John Lannan and Daisuke Matsuzaka
Even without Matt Harvey, the Mets starting rotation is expected to be a strength this season. Adding Colon, although a risky move, was one that Alderson and the front office felt was worthy to take in order to solidify the front end of the rotation.
This will be a year where a lot of the young starters will look to prove they belong. Jonathon Niese had a career year in 2012 but took a small step back in the first half of 2013 prior to hitting the disabled list. He was back to his old self upon his return—a 5-2 record, 3.00 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 10 starts after being activated off the DL—but he needs to once again do that over an entire season.
Terry Collins told Adam Rubin of ESPN New York he’s leaning toward Niese as his Opening Day starter. This makes sense, as Niese already has one of these starts under his belt, and Collins sees him as the ace of the staff with Harvey sidelined.
However, Zack Wheeler is gunning for the Opening Day nod, despite just 100 innings pitched in his big league career, according to Marc Carig of Newsday: "My plan is to go in there and battle for the Opening Day spot. I don't see why I couldn't do it."
His confidence is great to see from a young starter. It’s good hearing he’s not satisfied with just being assured a spot on the staff. He’s ready to continue reaching for new heights. That determination should make it a fun competition to watch.
The lynchpin to the entire rotation could be Dillon Gee. After a rough start through the first two months of last season, the right-hander was one of the most consistent starters in the National League. He quietly led the starting staff in wins (12), games started (32) and innings pitched (199) and was second to Harvey in strikeouts (142).
Projected bullpen (with 2013 statistics)
Bobby Parnell (5-5 record, 2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 22 saves, 50 IP)
Kyle Farnsworth (3-1 record, 4.70 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 38.1 IP)
Scott Rice (4-5 record, 3.71 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 51 IP)
Vic Black (3-0 record, 3.71 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 17 IP)
Josh Edgin (1-1 record, 3.77 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 28.2 IP)
Jeurys Familia (0-0 record, 4.22 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, 10.2 IP)
Carlos Torres (4-6 record, 3.44 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 86.1 IP)
Similar to the projected starting lineup, there are questions regarding the bullpen heading into camp in Port St. Lucie. The health of Bobby Parnell is important to the back end of the relief corps, and he’s been participating in baseball activities for about a month.
Alderson’s attempt to get a veteran reliever on a big league deal has failed twice. Both Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney decided to sign elsewhere instead of landing in Flushing on a free-agent deal. Kyle Farnsworth has been brought in on a minor league deal, but there will also be a lot of young arms for a limited number of spots in the bullpen.
Joel Carreno, Cory Mazzoni and Jack Leathersich are three pitching prospects who are vying for a spot for Opening Day as non-roster invitees. Jeff Walters, the single-season and career saves leader for the Binghamton Mets, will be auditioning as well. As long as Farnsworth is the only veteran reliever in camp, it would be shocking to see him not make the team.
The biggest unknown is Jeurys Familia. Injury limited the righty to 17 appearances in 2013 between the minors and majors. Last season was also his first opportunity to exclusively be a reliever.
If he can control his pitches around the strike zone, Bernie Pleskoff of MLB.com thinks he has the potential to be a dominant reliever:
There is a great deal of mechanical inconsistency in Familia's delivery. He has to smooth out the motion, using less effort with repeated, clean finishes in his arm action to find rhythm. Cleaning his delivery, finding the fringes and corners of the strike zone with consistency, finishing his pitches and adding a pitch to his arsenal seems like a laundry list of flaws to correct. For smaller pitchers with less arm strength and not as much intensity, it might be a tall order. The task is less daunting because Familia has shown he can be reliable and overpowering. He just needs to be more consistent.
Prospects to Watch
Ranked the third-best prospect in the Mets system by Baseball America, Rafael Montero will likely be making his debut in the big leagues at some point in 2014. Signed as a 20-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, Montero’s composure on the mound has gotten him just one step away from the majors. Here’s Matt Eddy’s scouting report on Baseball America (subscription required):
Montero’s work ethic and mound presence stand out as much as his stuff. With long arms and loose limbs, he pounds the zone with fastballs, changeups and sliders delivered from a three-quarters arm slot. Montero sits in the low 90s, works the black on both sides of the plate and keeps enough in reserve to touch 95 mph in a pinch.
Considering how little time Jacob deGrom has been a pitcher, the progress he’s made in the minors is remarkable. A product of Stetson University, he didn’t start pitching until his junior year as the team’s closer. He’s been a starter throughout his professional career but missed the entire 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery.
He is the 10th-best organizational prospect according to Baseball America, and his strike-throwing ability has helped him rise through the system:
DeGrom succeeds by pounding the zone and showing a clean arm action and bulldog mentality. He threw nearly two-thirds of his pitches for strikes last season, though he would benefit from expanding the zone and getting batters to chase when he gets ahead in the count. He sits at 92-94 mph with plus sinking life, and he can rear back for 98 when he needs it.
The next prized pitching prospect in the Mets system, Noah Syndergaard is the team’s top minor leaguer, according to Baseball America. Each of the three prospects highlighted will be in big league camp as non-roster invitees, but Syndergaard won’t be making his way to the majors until sometime this summer.
Out of these three, “Thor” has yet to make his debut for Triple-A Las Vegas. He’ll likely be following the same trajectory through his final minor league seasoning as Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler did in recent years.
While Montero, deGrom and Syndergaard probably will not make the Opening Day roster, it will be fun to see how they perform against other big leaguers in camp.
Travis d’Arnaud has a great chance of making a significant impact in 2014. He’s already tabbed as the team’s starting catcher and will get a chance to prove himself—as long as he stays healthy.
He made his way to the majors last August, hitting .202/.286/.263 in 31 games played. Since he accumulated just 112 plate appearances, he still maintains his rookie status. He has all the tools to be successful, but he needs to relax and be himself on the field.
In talking about his experience in the big leagues with Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News, d’Arnaud admitted he was trying too hard: "Anxious would probably be the right word for it. I was just trying to impress everyone. Every time I went up there, I was trying to hit a home run. I was trying to throw my hardest and hit my hardest to prove myself every time I got a chance."
Entering his age-25 season, he is ready to show his potential—and fans are ready to see these scouting reports come to fruition.
Playing time may be hard to come by for Flores. The best-case scenario leaves him as either a bench player in the major leagues or back in Triple-A, playing every day for Wally Backman.
The 22-year-old had a great chance to show his potential last season when David Wright hit the disabled list with a hamstring injury. Unfortunately, an ankle injury slowed him down, and Flores hit .211/.248/.295 in 27 games played.
To increase his quickness, he decided to attend the same fitness and nutrition camp in Michigan this winter as a number of other players. He’s improved to the point where Sandy Alderson is interested to see how he handles shortstop during spring training, per MLB.com:
I wouldn't say [Flores to shortstop] is dead. I think that one of the things we want to see is how well he has done with his training regimen in Michigan. Before this offseason, I'm not sure he ever had any sort of structured, regimented conditioning program. The work that they have done on speed and agility and quickness, etc., may have an impact on his ability to play certain positions -- including second base and conceivably even shortstop. But right now, that's all speculation.
With the shortstop position up in the air after Tejada’s poor 2013 season, it will be interesting to see how much the coaching staff wants to see Flores at the position. If he can handle it, the projected lineup could encounter quite the shake-up.
Position Battle Predictions
First Base: Ike Davis vs. Lucas Duda
Alderson has been trying to trade Ike Davis for most of the winter. While he provides more upside with his power potential than Lucas Duda, he could bring more back in any trade. Plus, the organization seems to be more invested in developing Duda moving forward.
Earlier this winter, Davis opened up to Anthony DiComo of MLB.com about how he wants another chance to prove himself in Flushing: "I just want a chance to play. Honestly, I’ve loved my time with the Mets. I’m still a Met right now and I don’t want to get traded. But that part of the game is not up to us. You want to stay, but you don’t have any say in it."
It may seem like the Mets are more invested in Duda, but they’re trying to trade Davis because they know he has more upside. He should have some extra motivation in camp to prove himself. Combine that with Collins’ plan to give him more at-bats than normal in spring training, per Newsday, and this is a battle he won’t lose.
Winner: Ike Davis
Fifth Spot in the rotation: Jenrry Mejia vs. John Lannan and Daisuke Matsuzaka
As mentioned earlier, Mejia is healthy and ready to do battle in Port St. Lucie for the final spot in the starting rotation. Since he's mostly unproven at the major league level and his sample size from 2013 is too small, Alderson brought in Lannan and Matsuzaka as depth signings.
Mejia gives the Mets the biggest upside out of the three, but even if he stays healthy, he likely won't be able to pitch a full season. He's never thrown more than 108.2 innings in a single season as a professional.
With one Tommy John surgery under his belt already, Mejia will probably be limited to about 140 innings pitched. That will lead the way for either of these two veterans or one of the pitching prospects in Triple-A to make an impact come the summer.
Winner: Jenrry Mejia
Center Field: Juan Lagares vs. Chris Young
Juan Lagares is penciled in as New York’s starting center fielder, but he’ll have to earn his spot. Chris Young was promised a look at his natural position before inking a one-year deal.
This battle depends on whether or not Lagares can handle big league pitching. His defense is fantastic—he was among league leaders in many defensive metrics for outfielders. However, he hit .242/.281/.352 in 121 games played last season.
Entering his age-25 season, he is still young and has the potential to be a solid major league hitter. With the Mets trying to contend for a playoff spot this season, he must show drastic improvement in his approach to win a starting job. He did hit .342/.379/.412 in 28 winter league games in advance of this upcoming competition.
The improvement in the team last season once Lagares became the regular center fielder was evident. His glove was a true game-changer. His growth as an offensive player will shine through this spring. All he needs to do is show potential, and the job should be his.
Winner: Juan Lagares
Shortstop: Ruben Tejada vs. Everyone
Alderson started this winter on the hunt for a solution at shortstop. Not only was Tejada not performing well, but his work ethic as a big leaguer came into question.
Once the free-agent and trade markets dried up, the Mets decided they would need to give him another chance. Stephen Drew remains a possibility, but there’s no guarantee New York will acquire a Scott Boras client on his terms.
If Drew doesn’t come aboard, Tejada will likely compete with Wilfredo Tovar and Wilmer Flores. He does have some advantages on these two, as he’s shown signs of productivity in the majors and has more experience than both of them combined.
Tejada used his time this offseason wisely to get in shape and prepare to get back in the good graces of the organization. He can hopefully use the criticism he’s received as motivation to prove others wrong. I’ll be rooting for Flores, but ultimately it’s Tejada’s job to lose if no acquisitions are made.
Winner: Ruben Tejada
2014 Prediction: 85-77
This is an optimistic prediction, but February is the best time to be optimistic about a team’s chances. Winning 85 games may not be enough to qualify for a playoff spot, but it will have this team playing meaningful games at the end of the season.
A performance like this will show visible progress to fans that “the plan” is working and the organization is headed in the right direction.
Matt's Mets opinions have been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, Yahoo! Sports, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue and Mets Merized Online. To keep up with Matt, you can follow him on Twitter.