At this point on the calendar, the Mets spring training record sits at 9-12 with six games left to play before opening day in Miami on March 30. While we always hope for a strong spring we usually end up, in a good year, close to .500. It would be nice to start off with a bang and continue that into the regular season and be sitting where the Kansas City Royals are at 16-9 or the Cardinals at 13-6. We have all been taught not to make that much out of the spring record, especially when several of our starters, including the entire infield, went to compete for our country in the World Baseball Classic.
One popular quote by baseball general managers is that we should not put too much stock in what we see a player do in spring training or in the month of September. The theory is that in spring training marginal players are trying their best to impress and in September, when many teams are out of the running, players try to pad their year-end statistics with the hopes that other teams will notice them heading into winter trading season.
One GM spoke about a player who some years ago had a monster spring training that included a .350 batting average and 7 home runs. When he sent the player to the minors among other spring training cuts, the owner of the team questioned his logic for doing so. Thanks to the vast world of analytics, the GM demonstrated that while the player had a great spring, his statistics were misleading. The analytics revealed that as long as he was thrown fastballs or changeups right over the plate, his hitting excelled. But when he was thrown curves or various other off-speed pitches, both on the inside and outside of the plate, he averaged close to .100 with no power numbers. The player was sent down to learn how to hit off-speed pitches.
We have all followed the injuries to our players. Thirty-something Jose Quintana will be out several weeks due a stress fracture. Thankfully Both David Peterson and Tylor Megill have stepped up this spring to fill in. Brandon Nimmo is week to week with a low-grade sprain of his right knee and ankle. Looks like Tommy Pham and his sub .152 spring batting average might just get some playing time and Jeff McNeil might be asked to play a little RF with Marte sliding over to CF if Nimmo is not ready by opening day. The devastating blow of losing Edwin Diaz for the season is not that easy to overcome. Thankfully, we added some good relief pitchers including closer David Robertson, and are on the hunt for more arms along with several teams who are scouting Zack Britton. Guess we will just have to score more runs to take the pressure off the late inning relievers.
So with just a handful of days left before the season starts, who will be the last few pieces of our opening day 26 player roster?
While many of us want to see Francisco Alvarez head north as a part-time catcher and right handed DH, the Mets want to see his catching skills progress. There can be no bigger job for a catcher, who is involved with every pitch of the game, than to be able to handle the pitching staff. Alvarez needs to go down to Syracuse and be ready when he gets the call to drive down to Citi Field.
Brett Baty continues to have a strong spring at the bat, and despite making one great play deep past third base, he still struggles with the everyday plays and has made four errors. Since he only played a handful of games at AAA, that would be an appropriate place for him to play every day and work on his fielding. That leaves Eduardo Escobar to start the season at 3B and share some playing time at the hot corner with Luis Guillorme. With a week to go, there is still a chance that Baty might make the big league club.
Mark Vientos is a strong bat with nothing to prove at AAA, has cracked a couple of spring training home runs, and while his hitting has cooled off, he was batting .286 as of this writing. It is startling that Vientos could progress up the ladder as one of our top prospects, yet still not have a position in the field that he excels at. We generally do not think of young prospects filling the DH position, which prompted us to bring in less complete players like Vogelbach and Ruf. That seems like a very outdated perspective. Vientos making the big team as a bench player and RH DH still looks like a good possibility and he could certainly lengthen the lineup by hitting long balls in the 7 hole.
Ronny Mauricio is another top prospect who excelled in 2022 but is blocked at all of the infield positions. With his speed and defensive ability the compelling question is how could they not have started training him in the outfield two years ago with the Lindor signing, with Baty ahead of him at 3B and a host of players capable of handling 2B? While Mauricio leads the team with 4 spring home runs, he should start the season learning to play left field at Syracuse. Given his potential and economical salary, let’s hope we hang on to him as he could turn into something very special. If Nimmo is not ready to start the season, it is hard to overlook the play of Tim Locastro. He leads the Mets in hits this spring, has stolen 6 bags, and oh, by the way, he plays the outfield and can cover CF. He will likely also start the season in AAA, but if Pham can’t put the ball in play, or if Ruf continues to look like the Ruf of 2022, look for Locastro to get a call up.
Vogelbach has the LH DH locked up, did a decent job last year and the elimination of the shift will help with his propensity to pull the ball. We traded for Darin Ruf last year with the hope that he would bolster the team from the RH DH position. He hit all of .152 in 66 at bats over 29 games with no home runs and 20 Ks. What we hoped for was a return to his 2021 form when he batted .271 and cracked 16 home runs. Although J.D. Davis had worn out his welcome at Citi Field, we could have used his .263 average and the 8 home runs he hit in 49 games. Ruf has had to overcome a sore hand this spring and his .150 batting average is certainly a disappointment. He will likely be the first veteran cut if he does not start the season strong.
As for our pitching, the starting staff is pretty locked in, and we will hold our breath this week to see if we can come up with an arm to take Diaz’s roster spot. While John Curtiss has looked promising, he is still a bit of an unknown commodity which means Tommy Hunter might get another crack at the majors.
It should be an interesting last week of spring training and we are all ready for the real games to begin. Who do you think will fill in the last few roster spots?