Looking ahead 1.3 months into the future I see a number of exciting storylines to keep Met fans (even those who have lost heart with the 2013 season already) something to watch. I thought I would get this boulder rolling early so we could get some discussion started about where it might land (and whom it might squash).
The Future Face of the Franchise:
The team is going to be throwing a LOT of weight onto the shoulders of David Wright. He’s the face of the franchise and the last remaining player who you would call a “Star” on the team. Media attention will be directed Wright’s way as the New York Mets are now firmly HIS team.
With that being said, there is a sub-plot to whom that mantle will fall in the future:
Ike Davis, 1B: Can Ike Davis put it all together and have a full season of his best baseball? If he can he’s a Top 5 1B. If he can’t, he’s a .250 hitter who is productive but, like Kevin McReynolds, get’s overlooked.
Matt Harvey, RHP: Matt Harvey had quite a jaw-dropping debut in the big leagues. I expect him to be roughed up here and there in his first full season but there is a TON of reason for optimism. As good as Harvey was (equal or better than any other Met Rookie’s debut) scouts and baseball insiders still place Harvey as second fiddle to other players. Instead of listing them here, I’ll talk about them below.
Travis D’Arnaud, C: The first storyline involving D’Arnaud will be if he’s a future “Star” for the franchise or if he will be another cautionary tale about prospects. D’Arnaud comes to the Mets with a good deal of hype and with a high likelihood of contributing in Flushing during the 2013 season. Catchers are not usually Mike Piazza or Buster Posey, though. D’Arnaud has a lot to prove before the Mets can anoint him a “Star.”
Zack Wheeler, RHP: Discussion of future stars cannot exclude Wheeler, who some have always regarded more highly than Matt Harvey, and there is a reasonably good chance that his name comes up when (not if) Johan Santana gets hurt. Wheeler has “Ace” stuff and has shown the fruits of his potential in various stops through the minors. Is Wheeler better than Harvey? Can they both succeed in the majors? When will Wheeler contribute? All good questions.
Wilmer Flores, 3B: Signing David Wright to an extension left the Mets with two options: Move Flores off of his natural position (3B) or look to trade him. If you want to get a glimpse of the Met plans you need look no further than the trade of Jefry Marte. Now Flores is a lock to be the starting 3B for AAA Las Vegas and in a lineup that likely includes Travis D’Arnaud he’ll likely be showcased pretty well. The chances of him being the “Face” of the Mets is SUPER slim and would require an injury to Wright or the Mets splitting his time between 3B and 2B.
Noah Syndergaard, RHP: Snydergaard will likely be pitching in the lower levels of the minors but his placement in the upper echelon of Met prospects is warranted. I would expect Snydergaard to get more than a little attention this Spring as a future “Ace” candidate.
Matt Den Dekker, CF: The “Underdog” of this story is Den Dekker. The strikeout machine who obliterated AA at the start of the year. Unlike Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Collin Cowgill etc… he has the upside to still be a “Star” if only he can get all the pieces working together. I expect his name to play in a few storylines this Spring.
The Outfield Rotation:
The Mets currently have 9 legitimate (for the Mets) options for their starting outfield. The outfield will hardly be a source for accolades but it’s going to be a talking point even if the Mets do sign a legitimate “everyday” option. The Mets will be throwing a lot of lesser players at the outfield wall and hoping a few stick by playing over their levels. They will likely run out platoons for two of the outfield positions at a time with Lucas Duda set to receive the lion’s share of the permanent playing time in left.
Lucas Duda, [L] LF: Duda had a very good looking emergence in 2011. So good he popped up on the fantasy radar. His 2012 was so gloomy that he sank back to the minors. The hope is that Duda can at least round into a 25 HR hitter who can generate some RBIs with his lumberjack swing. The real issue is if he can hit consistently or hit lefties at all.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, [L] LF, CF, RF: Is Nieuwenhuis as good as he was when he first came up to the majors? Is he as bad as he looked when the Mets sent him back down to the minors. The answer (as it usually is) is somewhere between and the future role for “Captain Kirk” is likely going to be as the 4th or 5th outfielder, but at the moment he’s the Met’s best lefty option for centerfield (SO IT WOULD SEEM).
Mike Baxter, [L] LF, CF, RF: Baxter is a homegrown hero who is likely to make the team and stick with the organization for a while but the Mets want him on the bench as a reserve rather than starting 60% of the time as the left platoon for Justin Turner.
Collin Cowgill, [R] LF, CF, RF: Cowgill will start 70% of the games (unless the Mets add another OF). Don’t believe me if you like but Terry Collins is not going to roll out an all lefty outfield with Davis and Murphy playing every day. Cowgill’s splits are significant but not as disastrous as some.
Justin Turner, [R] LF, RF: Can “Big Red” play the outfield? Maybe. He’s faster than Josh Satin… so he actually is being given a shot. While I’m confident that Turner makes the team I don’t see him being a capable defensive OF and with Duda already a likely starter I can’t see him lasting.
Brian Bixler, [R] LF, RF: Bixler can play almost anywhere and I think his defensive chops in the outfield will cut it where Turner’s might not. Bixler, Turner and Quintanilla might all wind up as “Super-Subs” for a team with loads of deficiencies.
Andrew Brown, [R] LF, RF: If I said that I could trap lightning in a bottle, I would be lying. If I said I could keep time in a bottle, I’d be Jim Croce.
Matt Den Dekker, [L] CF: Den Dekker’s secondary storyline is that he could 100% win the starting CF job. The key would be that he’d need to win it outright and outplay both Nieuwenhuis, Baxter and Cowgill to earn a 90% play-share. He is capable of it. Even if the Mets refuse to give him a full-fledged shot at the majors this spring, expect Spring Training to be an early audition for Matt Den Dekker.
Juan Lagares, [R] LF, RF: The man who I think least likely to break camp as a MLB player is Lagares. He just doesn’t have the speed or power to justify him being a starter and the options of Cowgill, Turner, Bixler and Brown are all more likely to succeed.
The Starting Rotation:
The Mets have Johan Santana, Jonathan Niese, Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee and Jenrry Mejia slated as starters for the 2013 season. There is still a chance that the Mets sign someone that would be guaranteed a rotation spot but let’s look at those names who could EARN their way into the 2013 rotation.
Dillon Gee, RHP: Gee’s spot is guaranteed, right? WRONG! He was hurt and seriously hurt. The Mets don’t know what Gee is going to look like this Spring so even if the Mets were to sign Shaun Marcum, you can’t bank on Gee as a lock for the rotation.
Jenrry Mejia, RHP: Mejia’s spot in the rotation is hardly secure. He 100% would need to beat out Hefner, Schwinden and McHugh in Spring Training to earn the job. His off-season has hardly been sparkling either. I’d be willing to bet that Mejia starts in AAA even if he’s the best option by a small margin.
Jeremy Hefner, RHP: Should Mejia falter, the next in line would be Hefner. He proved that he could eat innings and the Mets would be remiss if they were to say that wasn’t important to them. Hefner has more of a proven record than the next two options.
Chris Schwinden, RHP: Schwinden bounced around a lot in 2012 and never pitched well in the majors but he’s still basically Dillon Gee (without whatever magic that Gee has) so he’s an option as an innings eater and factors into the race.
Collin McHugh, RHP: Are you on Twitter? Yes? Follow Collin McHugh, he’s a funny guy. The “Chubbier Whiter Fred Armisen”, has a higher ceiling than Gee, Hefner or Schwinden but it’s not so high that the Mets need to worry about being too protective. If he’s the best or one of the best pitching options in Spring Training the Mets will give his name a lot of consideration.
Jeurys Familia, RHP: Can Familia sneak back into the race to be a starter. I’d put the odds around 100:1 but as Jim Carrey might say, “So there’s still a chance!”
Zack Wheeler, RHP: Wheeler needs to do a LOT to be named a starter after the spring. Actually… the entire team does. For the Mets to risk Wheeler earning the “Super 2” status the team needs to show that they can win in 2013. This isn’t likely. For Wheeler it doesn’t stop there because he ALSO needs to pitch practically perfect baseball for the Mets to risk him in 2013. We’re talking about him have a sub 2.00 ERA and memorable battles (that he won) against “Stars”.
John Buck is likely to be given the reins to start the year but if he’s severely outplayed by D’Arnaud there is no guarantee of this. Remember when Ike Davis looked like a “Star” in the spring but the Mets STILL sent him to AAA. This is the situation that D’Arnaud could be looking at in 2013. The silver lining for Met fans is that John Buck still profiles as their best option (barring D’Arnaud) for hitting 5th between Davis and Duda/Murphy.