The New York Mets are 10 days into spring training, so now's a good time to take a look at position battles and roster predictions.
While Chris Young and Scott Hairston have seen their respective stocks rise over the last week, the second base competition is still as unclear as when camp began. Add to that more uncertainty over how the bullpen will be comprised and there are still lots of questions to answer ahead of the first round of cuts.
There are currently 56 players in major league camp, including 16 non-roster invitees. Of the 28 pitchers, eight are left-handed. There are three non-roster southpaws in camp and six non-roster right-handers. There are also six catchers, 14 infielders and 10 outfielders.
More than half of these will not be on the Opening Day roster.
Infield battle at 2B
At second base, it’s widely acknowledged that there are four main candidates, each with a varying degree of uncertainty.
To make matters cloudier, three of these four cannot be optioned to the minors without first clearing waivers. The second—and arguably just as important—thing to note is that none of them have stood out in the first week-and-a-half in camp.
- Luis Castillo, who many think will be gone by the time Opening Day rolls around, has just two singles and an RBI in four games. Sandy Alderson’s preference for an offensive second baseman hurts Castillo's chances of winning the job out of camp. With his hefty contract he’s hard to move, but he could be gone within a week. Luckily for him, nobody else has snatched the job away yet.
- Justin Turner is 3-for-15 with a double, an RBI, a run and a walk. He has started to turn it around after an 0-for-9 start to Grapefruit League play, but he’ll need more games like his outing against Atlanta on Saturday if he wants to stick around.
- Daniel Murphy has had more at-bats than any other candidate for the job, including several at third base. He is 4-for-16 with a pair of doubles, four RBI, a walk and a run and he could back into a starting role if Emaus continues to struggle. He hasn't seen many balls hit to him, but he has been working hard on the back fields with his transition and double-play footwork. Even if he loses out on the everyday gig, he should land a spot on the bench.
- Brad Emaus was my pre-spring favorite for the job at second, but just one hit—a lone single against the Nationals—in five appearances so far has made his position anything but guaranteed. He has the fewest at-bats of the four players and is likely to see more time this week.
Most would agree that there are two spots up for grabs in the Mets rotation. Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey and Jonathan Niese will have the top three slots, but things are more vague after that.
Chris Young has allowed just one unearned run on two hits over five innings in his two starts so far and Pat Misch—a career spot starter—has looked solid if not spectacular.
But then what?
Jenrry Mejia has thrown four scoreless innings, but he will not start the season with the Mets. Chris Capuano has been limited to just one inning of work so far and Dillon Gee has been largely hit-and-miss, but generally ineffective. Oliver Perez, meanwhile, was awful in his first outing before postponing his exit from New York with a serviceable second effort.
Nobody really thought much of the Mets rotation entering the spring and that hasn’t changed. The bottom two spots are likely to be filled with bit pieces whatever happens, but the fact that Young has shown promise is probably more than a lot of people expected at this stage. It’s only five innings, but it’s a start.
In the bullpen, things could go a number of ways still.
Boof Bonser looked great in his debut against Atlanta last week, and he followed it up with two more scoreless innings of relief against St. Louis and Boston. Right now, he has to have a spot, so that’s one of the right-handed roles filled.
You’d also have to think that Taylor Buchholz (three scoreless innings) and Pedro Beato (one run over four innings) are in the mix, too. That makes three right-handers. Add Bobby Parnell as a late-game reliever and an impressive Jason Isringhausen and you’re up to five before you even consider the fact that Francisco Rodriguez is a clear no-brainer.
Manny Acosta and Ryota Igarashi? Mah, maybe. There’s certainly not been anything to discount them from a job. I also had D.J. Carrasco in my original 25-man roster, but I don’t know where he fits in right now.
Tim Byrdak, Michael O’Connor and Taylor Tankersley were all invited to camp as non-roster invitees to compete for left-handed jobs in the ‘pen, but that battle could already be down to two.
Tankersley has swing-and-miss stuff, but he is also erratic and vulnerable to the longball. He gave up three runs in one inning against the Nationals and then allowed a solo shot against the Red Sox. The problem is that he’s throwing too many strikes. Twenty-three of his 25 pitches have been for strikes, and that’s just encouraging hitters to tee off.
Unless he can show some command, piping balls over the plate won’t get him a job.
As for the other two, things have started okay but a lack of appearances have led to an inconclusive report. O’Connor has logged just one inning and Byrdak has only four outs to show for his spring. Should Perez not get cut, these two will be up against him for the premiere lefty specialist position.
Is anyone else a little frustrated by the fact that our top performers so far are guys who have no shot at breaking camp with the club at the end of the month?
Fernando Martinez is 7-for-14 with a couple doubles and a homer, but he’ll be starting the year in Buffalo and no longer represents the potential that scouts saw four or five years ago.
F-Mart will be joined by Lucas Duda, who appeared in 29 games with the Mets at the end of 2010 but never really had a chance to make a sizable impact. His homer against the Red Sox yesterday was his first of the spring, and he's now batting .300 with three runs.
You can also probably add Nick Evans to that mix. While he’s the most likely of the three to make the Opening Day 25-man roster, he’s still a long shot. He is 7-for-19 with four runs and a walk, although he has also struck out six times already in six spring games.
Cramped in the Outfield?
Injuries aside, we know what Collins’ outfield will look like on April 1. Jason Bay will be in left, Angel Pagan will patrol center and Carlos Beltran will begin his new career in right. I have no problem with that.
For those who missed it, Beltran was the DH against the Red Sox Sunday in his first spring appearance. He hit from both sides of the plate, singled in his first at-bat and then scored from second later that inning. He wasn’t going full speed, but he reported no main problems with his knee despite sliding into home.
Bay crashed into another outfield wall but is reportedly fine.
So, other than those three, who will the Mets carry as the fourth outfielder, assuming Martinez is out of the question? A bigger question is whether they will carry two outfielders on the bench. Scott Hairston was my original pick and he already has three multi-hit performances (including three doubles) this spring. He’s 6-for-13 through six games, but he has historically struggled against right-handed pitching and has only so-so range.
Willie Harris has more speed than Hairston, but he lacks that pop off the bench that Collins may want. He has a homer and two singles so far this spring and he has shown the ability to take pitches, which certainly helps.
There are other options, but they’re even longer shots. Jason Pridie hasn’t had the at-bats yet to make an impact and Kirk Nieuwenhuis has started real slow. He began 1-for-13 and he’s still obviously a way away from making noise at the Major League level. I already mentioned that Martinez is on his way to the minors, regardless of how much he rips things up.
Has anyone else been quietly impressed with Chin-lung Hu? While he’s not shone with the bat too much, he has looked great in the field. His main role will be as a utility middle infielder and so far he’s fit that role nicely.
Ronny Paulino still hasn’t arrived at camp, so right now there’s a chance that if Mike Nickeas impresses he could stick around on the Opening Day roster for a little while longer. Paulino will need time to get up to speed and while Josh Thole is the No. 1 choice, Nickeas has looked solid behind the dish. He has a cannon for an arm and pitchers seem comfortable with him calling games. If his bat wakes up, he could be more than a one-week backup down the line.
Few people are talking about Ruben Tejada this spring even though he’s going about his business quietly and efficiently. He still needs more time in the minors, but he’s not that far away. If he can drive the ball more, he might be able to compete for a backup infield role later in the season. Right now he’s just a singles hitter with average speed.
Nobody is really worried about David Wright yet, but it is worth noting that he’s 0-for-9. He’s a career .300-hitter with 30-100 talent, so stay patient. He hit five homers in 50 spring at-bats last March so it’s a safe bet to say he knows what he’s doing. People give him too much of a hard time.
- Collins will hope to have narrowed down the second base battle by next Monday. He will have a short list of at least three and ideally, two. I see Emaus and Murphy making the final roster.
- The bullpen picture has to become a lot clearer. Right now, very few have done irreparable damage to their chances. Even fewer have already won their spot. Dickey pitches today against Detroit, but eyes will really be on Parnell, Igarashi and Isringhausen. Lefties O’Connor and Byrdak are also scheduled to pitch.
- Chris Capuano pitches on Tuesday in the split-squad game with the Nats, but I am more interested to see Carrasco throw again. Perez could guarantee he sticks around for a few more weeks with a strong start in Kissimmee against the Astros in the other game, but Buchholz and Beato are also likely to toss a couple innings, too.