In the past few days, reports have surfaced regarding Johan Santana‘s eligibility for throwing the first pitch of the 2013 season in April, citing “shoulder fatigue” as the primary reason. While there has been much debate on his future, the immediate question for the Mets should be who will start for them on Opening Day?
While it is still a few weeks away and all signs point to Jonathan Niese being the inevitable replacement option, one pitcher has shown so much potential that he is making a case for that opportunity. That pitcher is Matt Harvey.
At the tender age of 23 (he will be 24 on March 27), Harvey has emerged as more than a prospect and has become a major part of the Mets present rotation rather than their future expectations. His first full season will be this year, but if last season was any indication as to how he will respond at the MLB level, he is by far the best pitcher the Mets have. He deserves the chance to be considered as the Opening Day starter for three reasons: confidence level, team trust and the hot hand.
First, Harvey broke out immediately after being called up last year. He set records and dazzled everyone. This helped his confidence. It showed him that he can compete at the MLB level. Every player believes they can, but until they actually do perform well, there is always a shred of doubt. That shred was obliterated in a matter of weeks last season. He has shown the mentality of an ace. Harvey posted a 2.73 ERA in his first ten career starts. He fanned 70 batters in 59.1 IP while walking only 26. He has the numbers to back up his promised potential.
While that is a small sample, he has shown this spring that he has not skipped a beat. He threw no-hit baseball for 4.1 IP against a younger starting Miami Marlins squad that is hungry to earn a spot in the Majors. If that has helped his confidence, an Opening Day start would boost it immensely. He would feel like he belongs and he is valuable to this team. That can only be a positive. With the veterans in that clubhouse, he will not get a big head, but he needs to be shown that trust.
Next, is the level of trust the team has to show him. Harvey is the future of this franchise. They have to show him they not only understand that but appreciate that fact by naming him the pitcher that they think can set the best tone opening up the season. The clubhouse needs to embrace the youth movement on this team in such a way that it becomes the new identity of the franchise.
That will help the players blend together into a collective unit that believe in each other and support one another throughout every adversity the season may hold. That unity is essential and it begins by the veterans and management showing faith in the younger players to step into roles that have massive pressure. That trust is a necessity on all levels.
Finally, Harvey has the hot hand going into the season at this point. On the strength of that no-hit dominance and the half season of 2012, he is building a resume that deserves notice. While it may seem like he will have to face the inevitable sophomore adjustment period, Matt Harvey seems to have the right mentality to face the season in stride. That mentality should help him avoid the second year slump that most highly-touted players seem to confront.
With all of these factored in, Harvey has to at least be considered to start Opening Day. While he most likely will not be and that decision will not effect his season one way or the other, if the Mets were to embrace him as their Opening Day ace, it would boost the team and Harvey in so many ways and solidify them even further.