New York Mets Spring Training Report: Updates of Surprises, Busts and Injuries
Whether that’s a realistic goal or not, the journey begins during spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Each spring, teams encounter surprises—both good and bad—along with varying levels of injuries. The Mets are no different this year, experiencing many different things as they maneuver through their Grapefruit League schedule.
The regular season kicks off for the Mets on March 31 at Citi Field, as they take on the Washington Nationals. A lot needs to be settled over the next two weeks prior to heading north.
Click through for updates of the biggest surprises and busts so far in camp, as well as the injuries that have surfaced.
All player statistics sourced from Mets.com, unless otherwise noted.
Surprise: Kirk Nieuwenhuis
The lack of outfield depth last spring helped land Kirk Nieuwenhuis a roster spot on Opening Day, despite hitting .086/.220/.086 in 35 at-bats.
With the acquisitions of Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, combined with Eric Young Jr. and Juan Lagares, it can be easy to now forget about him.
Nieuwenhuis is doing the best he can to jump back to the forefront of people's minds, and he’s done a good job of that so far this spring.
Through 28 at-bats, the outfielder is hitting .286/.412/.536. He’s among the team leaders with 10 strikeouts, but leads the squad with eight RBI, as well.
The results of the competition between EY Jr. and Lagares will help determine who New York carries as bench players. The fifth outfielder spot could be open for the taking, especially if Lucas Duda starts the season in Triple-A Las Vegas.
Matt den Dekker has also had a strong spring, and it could be down to him and Nieuwenhuis for that last spot. Both have a solid glove with some speed and a little power at the plate. These final two weeks of spring training could lead to an interesting race between these two.
Surprise: Zack Wheeler
Marc Carig of Newsday reported on February 3 that Zack Wheeler’s goal this spring was to be the Opening Day starter on March 31 against the Nationals. With just 100 big league innings of experience, he has a lot to prove to get that honor from manager Terry Collins.
Wheeler enjoyed a solid rookie campaign in 2013, posting a 7-5 record with a 3.42 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. One of the biggest things he needs to improve upon is his control. He allowed 46 walks last season, yielding a BB/9 of 4.1, according to Baseball Reference.
His experience from last season will make 2014 an easy transition. However, it would be unfair to expect the type of production New York received from Matt Harvey before he went on the disabled list.
Wheeler told the New York Daily News that he’ll still be aiming to head down the same path Harvey made last year.
The right-hander has been putting himself on that same track with his performance this spring. He owns a 0.84 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in a team-leading 10.2 innings of work. That includes just two walks and eight strikeouts, while opponents are hitting .216 off him.
An injury to Jonathon Niese has put his status for Opening Day in doubt, potentially forcing Collins to choose another starter for the season-opener. Wheeler is certainly stating his case, but the manager may be more apt to choose an experienced starter like Bartolo Colon or Dillon Gee.
Surprise: Cesar Puello
Cesar Puello put together a big season for Double-A Binghamton in 2013. The outfielder posted a .326/.403/.547 line with 16 home runs, 73 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 91 games played. Unfortunately, his year was cut short with a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.
His breakout season was noteworthy, but questions still remain as to whether or not it was an aberration, or the real thing.
After dealing with his suspension, he came into camp with something to prove. He was one of the players that didn’t survive the first round of cuts last week, but it had nothing to do with his performance.
Puello hit .364/.533/.545 with six RBI and five runs scored in 11 Grapefruit League at-bats. He also walked twice while striking out just once.
The current group of outfielders in camp forced Puello out of the conversation for Opening Day, but he left a lasting mark. He’ll start 2014 with Triple-A Las Vegas, trying to prove that what he did in Binghamton wasn’t a fluke.
If he continues to look comfortable at the plate and puts up big numbers, it will only be a matter of time before he makes his major league debut. Alderson brought in Young via free agency on a one-year deal, which begs to ask the question whether or not he wants to give Puello a shot in 2015.
That's a detail that shouldn’t be overlooked as the calendar eventually flips to next season.
Surprise: Eric Campbell
Last week, I mentioned that Eric Campbell’s stock is on the rise this spring. With Ike Davis and Lucas Duda slowly coming back from early spring injuries, all Campbell has done is hit.
He’s spent his time at first base, putting together a .357/.400/.500 line in 28 at-bats, including four doubles, two RBI and five runs scored.
As I’ve said before, Campbell has shown the ability to get on base at a high rate, sporting a .376 career on-base percentage. He’s clearly buying into the organizational philosophy, and is also versatile in the field.
Last season, he spent significant time in both corner outfield and infield positions.
Depending on what happens with Davis and Duda the rest of spring, the emergence of Campbell is something to keep an eye on. It’s unlikely, but there is a slight chance he backs his way onto the roster by the end of camp.
Bust: Ruben Tejada
Saying that Ruben Tejada’s spring has been a bust is being polite.
He found himself in the Alderson’s doghouse by the end of 2013 for his lack of dedication. His .202/.259/.260 line from last season didn’t help, either.
Alderson hoped to find an external solution to shortstop over the winter, but hasn’t been successful. There is still time to strike a deal via the free-agent or trade markets, but Collins must prepare to have Tejada as his starting shortstop.
Spending a majority of the offseason at a fitness and conditioning camp hasn’t translated to the field, as he’s posted a dismal .091/.130/.136 line in 22 at-bats. When only considering players in camp that have recorded a hit, Tejada has the lowest batting average on the team.
Anthony Rieber of Newsday cited Collins recently tried to build up the confidence in his shortstop:
I said, "Listen, you're the shortstop here. Your name and your number are going to be in the lineup. You've just got to go be the player we know you can be and you quit worrying about trying to impress everybody. We've seen it in the past and two years ago, you were the talk of the town. You had a bad year. Big deal. Forget it. It's over. Everybody has a [bad] year. Guys that are in the Hall of Fame have had [bad] years. So move on."
What he said is true. However, Tejada must turn things around on the field drastically for the coaching staff and front office to truly feel confident running him out there every day.
Bust: Travis D'Arnaud
Travis d’Arnaud revealed his thoughts to Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News in February on why he struggled to a .202/.286/.263 line in his first 31 big league games:
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.
In his second big league camp with New York, d’Arnaud is more relaxed and ready to make an impact. MLB.com named him the best catching prospect in the league, and he’s looking forward to shedding the “prospect” label since he’s the projected starting catcher for Collins.
While there is no question he’ll begin the 2014 season in the big leagues, d’Arnaud has had a very slow start at the plate this spring.
D’Arnaud collected three hits in his first seven at-bats, but has struggled since. He currently owns a .143/.200/.214 line in 28 at-bats. While he’s only walked twice, the one bright spot is that he’s not striking out an awful lot (four whiffs this spring).
There isn’t any doubt surrounding d’Arnaud’s status as the season-opener nears, but the Mets are depending on him to provide depth at the bottom of the lineup. A slow start from him will make it difficult for New York to reach that 90-win plateau.
Bust: Josh Edgin
Without many options at the start of camp, it looked as if Josh Edgin had a very good chance at breaking camp in the big leagues. That was until he was included in the first round of cuts, optioning him to Triple-A.
Edgin only pitched three innings in Grapefruit League action, but was hit hard, allowing eight hits and six runs (four earned) on three walks and one strikeout. That yielded a 12.00 ERA and 3.67 WHIP.
Jack Leathersich was also cut, leaving Scott Rice as the only true southpaw reliever in camp. The Mets are planning on shifting John Lannan to a reliever in order to fill that void.
There’s no doubt that Edgin’s first few appearances this spring didn’t go well. He struggled with command and the opposition wasn’t missing much, as they hit .500 off him.
However, he performed well after a slow start to 2013—3.77 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 28.2 innings—so it’s surprising the coaching staff didn’t give him more of an opportunity.
For the time being, Lannan will likely be Collins’ second southpaw in the bullpen while Edgin looks to once again work his way back to the majors while in Triple-A.
Eric Young Jr.
Getting into games had to wait for EY Jr. due to tightness in his oblique, according to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York. He made his spring debut on March 4 against the Houston Astros. In 25 at-bats, Young is hitting .280/.379/.320.
Rubin also noted that Colon dealt with calf tightness during the same time as Young. It prevented him from running drills outside for a couple of days, but was a minor setback. Through 8.2 innings, he owns a 7.27 ERA and 1.62 WHIP.
Sore calves have sidelined Davis since March 2. Christina De Nicola of MLB.com reported the first baseman played in a Single-A spring training game over the weekend as a designated hitter, but didn’t run the bases. Collins wanted to get him plenty of at-bats this spring, but he’s only walked to the plate six times.
De Nicola also provided an update on Duda, who has been slowed by a left hamstring strain. He was a designated hitter in a separate minor league game and didn’t run the bases, either. Duda has compiled seven at-bats in Grapefruit League action this spring, not appearing in a game since March 3.
Potentially the most serious spring injury this far, Niese was removed from his start on Sunday due to elbow discomfort, according to Rubin. The projected Opening Day starter will be dispatched to New York for an MRI to see the extent of the damage. After avoiding surgery last summer, it could be time to brace for the worst.
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