2014 New York Mets: 6 Players Turning Heads Early at Spring Training
Spring training is in full swing for the New York Mets, who are doing the best they can to start acting like a team capable of winning 90 games in 2014.
The Grapefruit League schedule is underway, and position battles at first base, shortstop, the outfield and the pitching staff are starting to heat up.
If New York plans on competing for a playoff spot in August and September, players need to step up and make a difference on the field. The organization is expecting that from those projected to be on the big league roster on Opening Day. However, minor leaguers waiting in the wings know they’re just one play away from getting the chance they desire on the game’s biggest stage.
Teams have been working out at their respective spring training facilities for less than a month, but players are already making heads turn with their performances on the field.
Here are six Mets players who are impressing the coaching staff and front office since Grapefruit League games began on February 28.
After signing a four-year, $60 million contract to hit cleanup behind David Wright, there was hope Curtis Granderson would be a prominent presence in camp.
Thankfully, he’s kept that promise since arriving in Port St. Lucie.
Manager Terry Collins was planning on easing him into games, similar to what he’s doing with Wright and Daniel Murphy. Anthony DiComo of MLB.com reported the outfielder’s desire to get as many at-bats as possible since injuries limited him to 61 games in 2013.
He went 0-for-2 in his Grapefruit League debut on February 28 against the Washington Nationals, but has gone 3-for-7 since. That includes a double, two home runs and three RBI.
His two homers came in one game against the Houston Astros on March 4. Both sailed over the fence in right field with ease.
The long balls came in back-to-back innings, helping propel the Mets to a 6-2 victory. Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal made an interesting observation: Granderson hit as many home runs in two innings as the entire team had in the previous four games.
Granderson should be turning heads, but it wasn't a guarantee that he'd immediately start producing. For the first time since Carlos Delgado was around, the Mets have an established, veteran power bat to hit cleanup. This latest power display shows that Granderson has plenty to provide New York in 2014.
Steven Matz’s ability and potential on the mound have never come into question. The biggest issue has been getting him off the disabled list and in between the lines.
Selected in the second round of the 2009 MLB draft, he didn’t throw his first professional pitch until 2012 because of a slow rehab from Tommy John surgery. Matz made big strides last season for the Savannah Sand Gnats, posting a 5-6 record with a 2.62 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 121 strikeouts in 106.1 innings pitched.
He hasn’t thrown an inning above Low-A ball, but the Mets added Matz to the 40-man roster, protecting him from getting selected in the Rule 5 draft. That move allowed him to attend his first big league camp, and he’s taking full advantage.
He’s thrown one inning so far this spring, allowing one hit and striking out two. Entering his age-22 season, his progress could be accelerated, depending on whether the Mets are comfortable doing so.
Adam Rubin of ESPN New York tweeted that a scout watching Matz thinks the lefty should skip High-A St. Lucie and head to Double-A Binghamton.
It would be shocking to see Matz start 2014 in Double-A, as the Mets have a tendency to move prospects slowly—especially pitchers. However, a strong first half in the Florida State League could bring him a midseason promotion, continuing his quick ascension through the farm system.
The starting shortstop job is still Ruben Tejada’s to lose. However, he’ll have to go out and earn it this spring, meaning it’s a wide-open competition in camp.
Omar Quintanilla, Wilmer Flores, Wilfredo Tovar and Anthony Seratelli are all in camp vying for a spot on the Opening Day roster as well.
Not to be forgotten is Daniel Muno, a non-roster invitee. Selected in the eighth round by the Mets in 2011, the middle infielder has moved past a performance-enhancing drug suspension in 2012 to get his career back on track.
He hit .249/.384/.379 with nine home runs, 67 RBI and 86 runs scored last season in Double-A. He eventually became Binghamton’s leadoff hitter and played both middle infield positions, but the majority of his time was spent at second base.
Muno has recorded two hits in seven at-bats this spring, but has also walked twice, driven in a run, scored a run and stole a base. Mets Minors reported that he collected two more hits, another walk and a stolen base in the team’s intrasquad game on February 27.
One of his two hits was a home run, which he hit off Dillon Gee.
If Tejada is the starting shortstop, the utility infielder job is very available. Seratelli’s versatility in the field could give him the upper hand, but if Muno continues getting on base and is capable with the glove, he could sneak his way onto the roster.
On February 27, I mentioned on Bleacher Report that a healthy and motivated Jeurys Familia was creating buzz in Port St. Lucie. He hasn’t stopped after his Grapefruit League debut.
In two innings of work, Familia has allowed one hit, no walks and no runs with two strikeouts.
He’s making people in the organization take notice, but he has the attention of his opponents as well.
It was Syndergaard, and then [Jeurys] Familia came in. You're seeing 97, 98 mph the fifth game of spring training. That's pretty impressive that they have arms like that over there. I haven't seen anything like that this spring. I guess over there you can add that guy to the list of young power arms that they have coming up. It's pretty impressive.
Since he’s been in the organization since 2007, it’s easy to forget Familia as one of the many promising arms the Mets have under team control. Jenrry Mejia had also become an afterthought, but that was before he turned in 27.1 spectacular innings in 2013.
If he can stay healthy, Familia will finally have the opportunity to use that high-90s fastball in late-game situations for Terry Collins this season.
The 2013 season was significant in multiple ways for Cesar Puello. Under the tutelage of Binghamton hitting coach Luis Natera, the outfielder finally put all his skills into one package on the field.
In 91 games played, Puello posted a .326/.403/.547 line with 16 home runs, 73 RBI and 24 stolen bases. His season was unfortunately cut short because of his performance-enhancing drug connection with Biogenesis, resulting in a 50-game suspension.
He’s in big league camp because he holds a 40-man roster spot and could be in Flushing sometime this summer. It’s a small sample size, but Puello has collected three hits in eight at-bats, including two doubles, two RBI, two runs scored and one walk.
The outfield is currently a crowded area for the Mets. Granderson and Chris Young are the only two guaranteed to get consistent playing time. Eric Young Jr. and Juan Lagares are battling for the final starting spot.
Puello’s speed and power, along with his strong throwing arm, could make him a valuable bench player, but he needs to play every day after missing significant time at the end of 2013.
Since Young signed a one-year, $7.25 million deal this winter, general manager Sandy Alderson will once again address the outfield next offseason.
After breaking out in Binghamton, Alderson may have Puello in his plans for 2015. Michael Baron of MetsBlog tweeted that even though he probably won’t make the Opening Day roster, Puello will be in the majors soon if he continues proving 2013 wasn’t an aberration.
Whatever Noah Syndergaard does during his first big league camp, someone notices it. He hasn’t pitched an inning over Double-A, but his raw ability has the organization excited about what he can become upon reaching the majors.
His first-ever start against major league hitters came on March 3 against the Braves. In two shutout innings, “Thor” allowed one hit and two strikeouts through 30 pitches.
His biggest test was facing Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton in the first inning. Syndergaard disposed of Atlanta’s starting outfield in 12 pitches. The New York Daily News reported the right-hander’s fastball reached 98 mph and was consistently in the mid-90s.
While fans want to see Syndergaard start the year in the big leagues, he’ll likely be following the same path as Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. He’ll begin 2014 with the Las Vegas 51s in Triple-A, followed by an eventual call-up in late June or July.
After seeing what he’s done so far in Port St. Lucie, the thought of having Syndergaard, Harvey and Wheeler in one rotation come 2015 is scary for opposing hitters. That doesn’t account for Mejia, Rafael Montero or Jacob deGrom, either. Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted that he would be investing his money in the Mets if they were a stock.
Minor leaguers in big league camp normally give fans a taste of what the future will be. A large number of impact prospects in the upper levels of New York's minor league system means the future has finally arrived for the Mets—and is hopefully here to stay.
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