With opening day only 4 days away I would like to take a moment to discuss what I feel are the keys to the Mets having a successful, or at least productive, 2013 season. I am not naive fan, I like to think of myself as a realist, I do not see this roster winning a championship this season. At the same time I see no reason why they cannot be a fun group to watch showing signs of promise for the very near future.
There are 3 keys that I feel are necessary for the Mets to have a successful season:
1) The Outfield
This might be the biggest question mark heading into the 2013 season. ESPN, as they so kindly put it, said they are “likely not the worst ever.” As of today the Mets look to be heading into the season with Lucas Duda in left field, Marlon Byrd in right field and a platoon situation of Colin Cowgill and Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center field. These aren’t exactly the most exciting names in the world, but this is the hand fans have been dealt and the front office seems to be more than willing to put them out there.
Lucas Duda is a power hitting outfielder that the Mets have been high on since his late season surge in the 2011 season. Many people, myself included, thought 2012 was going to be a breakout season for Duda. But that didn’t exactly happen; he struggled early and often batting only .239 with 15 homeruns and 57 RBI. Not exactly the production the Mets were looking for. He has looked better at the plate so far this spring and if he provides the power numbers that they believe he is capable of, he can be the difference in giving the Mets a formidable lineup.
The centerfield position is going to be an interesting one to watch this season. With Mets not possessing one standout player in center, it likely means we are looking at a platoon to start the season off. Both Colin Cowgill and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are tough, gritty players, who are going to play hard, which is why I have been rooting for both of these guys. Nieuwenhuis gave the Mets a spark last season when he was first called up and showed promise of becoming the center fielder of the future. But as pitchers adjusted to him he quickly began to struggle at the plate, so much that he was sent down to triple A. He then injured himself and missed the remainder of the 2012 season on the DL. If he can return to his early season form, don’t be surprised to see him become the full time center fielder. He plays a very solid center field and can do a lot of different things with the bat.
Cowgill came over in an off season in a trade with the Oakland Athletics. From what I have seen of him he certainly plays the game hard, very rarely will you see him with a clean jersey at the end of a game. He has shown that he can play the outfield at a respectable level and has hit the ball quite well this spring. My concern with him is I don’t know if any of his tools are at an above average level to make him an everyday player. He does make up for what he lacks with hustle and a high baseball IQ which could quickly make him a fan favorite. I think he may be best left as a platoon player for this team, getting the occasional start in center, filling in as a late inning defensively replacement along with pitch hitting/running.
It has become very clear that Marlon Byrd will be the starting right fielder for this team. He has gotten the majority of the playing time out there and has produced very nicely all spring long. Byrd is coming off a difficult season; his production dropped and he later served a suspension for failing a PED drug test. I must say I am quite hesitant to root for anyone that has ever failed one of these tests, as they are each responsible for ruining the reputation and integrity of the game. With that being said, The Mets have given him his second chance and he has taken full advantage of it. They are hoping he can return to his all star form and all signs point to this being a comeback season for Marlon.
Two names to keep a look out for in the outfield are Jordany Valdespin and Matt Den Dekker. Valdespin has been on fire most of the spring, but the Mets seem unsure as to where play him. Although he has little experience in the outfield they have gotten him some playing time out there and he seems to have held his own defensively. It will ultimately be his bat that will get him playing time if any of the starters don’t produce. Den Dekker was fighting for a roster spot in center field before breaking his wrist just a few days ago. He has proven to be a tremendously defender and if he can improve on his offense he can earn a spot on this team.
2) Starting Pitching
The one thing that has been consistently proven throughout time, is that pitching wins baseball games more than anything else. With the news breaking today that Johan Santana will in all likely hood require surgery to miss the entire 2013 season the emergence of their young starters has become even more important. This has been something the organization has really been focusing on, trying to develop a young core of starting pitchers to build around. Although some of that core has yet to arrive, there are some exciting arms already in the staff.
Matt Harvey might be the player fans are most excited to watch to start off the season, and for good reason. He became the talk of the rotation from the moment he made his debut last year. Harvey has the size, ability and attitude that everyone wants to see in a front line starter. This season everyone is hopefully that he can continue to progress into a potential ace of the staff. With a fastball in the high 90’s and a plus curve ball, he will make every fifth day a must watch when he takes the mound. What impresses me the most about him is his desire to become the leader of the staff, someone the others can look up to, I would love to see him become the anchor of this staff for years to come.
Jonathon Niese has steadily improved each year in the big leagues. Last year was a big step forward as he was able to finish the season strong compared to the previous seasons when he withered away by September. This could be a sign that Niese is ready to hit his prime. The only question I really have with him is his peak as a top of the rotation or in the middle? For this season’s sake, I hope he takes the next step to win 15+ which would put him in line as a very solid #2 of a staff.
Dillon Gee was off to a nice 2012 season before an injury cut it short and ended his year. Gee is a nice change of pace pitcher as he mixes his pitches and location up very well. I don’t think Gee has that high of a ceiling, but with a solid young staff forming, he could benefit very well throwing in the 4-5 slot. Jeremy Hefner will be filling in the spot behind Gee in the rotation. I view Hefner as more of a long reliever/spot starter, but due to injuries he will get his shot in the rotation early on. He is still young and I would love to see him prove me wrong but I see him falling out of this slot as the staff gets healthy and younger stars begin to emerge.
The overall health Shawn Marcum will be crucial to the Mets going forward. With Santana out for the season, the Mets cannot afford to take another hit to the rotation for any extended period of time. I thought the Marcum signing was the best move they made this off season, signing only a one year deal with the numbers he has produced when healthy, I felt he can be a great addition. However his health already seems to be an issue before we even get the season underway. This is not a good sign, we have seen this all too often with the Mets the last few seasons. I foresee Marcum having an up and down season with the club. Solid starts for a few weeks at a time followed by stints on the DL, repeat, throughout the year. That’s just how I see his season playing at.
3) Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud
These are the two names we will be talking about until May 1st or whenever the day they are called up turns out to be. These two players are going to be the most interesting to watch this season and you can argue the performance of these two will be the ultimate difference between the future looking bright or bleak for this franchise.
Travis d’Arnaud was acquired in the off-season from the Blue Jays in a trade that sent R.A. Dickey to Toronto. Although Dickey was coming off of a Cy Young season and was a fan favorite, he was up there in age and that ball could stop knuckling any day now. I was a big fan of his and always enjoyed watching him pitch but I felt this was the right move to make. D’Arnaud could potentially give them a difference behind that we haven’t seen since Mike Piazza. I’m not saying he will become the next Piazza, but as long as he is being compared to him rather than Todd Pratt, that’s a start. He looks to have a very good bat from what I saw of him this spring. What impressed me most was his ability to go the other way with the ball and hit for power into the right center gap. To me that is always the difference between an average and a good hitter, the ability to hit the ball all around the field is a great sign at a young age.
Zach Wheeler was sent to us in the Carlos Beltran trade two years ago. From the moment he was traded to the Mets there has been a buzz surrounding this kid as the future the ace of the Mets. I have only seen him pitch a few times in the minors last season but I have not seen anything that tells me otherwise. He had a little set back this spring with a minor injury that prevented him from have any major league starts. I have seen interviews with Wheeler and I love the confidence he possesses in himself, he has a bit of that cocky confidence that a lot of great athletes have which I think is a great sign. I don’t think it will be long till we are looking at a 1, 1A situation made up Wheeler and Harvey.
I am torn with these two players being sent down to start the season in the minors because of financial situations. The fan part of me, wants to see these two up right now, but the logical side of me, understands what the Mets are doing. I realize this is for the best to keep them under our control for as long as possible. Whenever the date comes that these two arrive, all eyes will be on them. These two could provide an early/mid season spark to make them competitive or at the very least exciting to watch. Fans will be eager to watch these two make progress this season in hopes of them joining David Wright, Ike Davis, Matt Harvey and Jonathon Niese as the core of this team.
This could be an exciting 2013 season for the Mets as they look to turn the corner and once again become a relevant franchise. This season could turn out being similar to the 1984 season when we look back on it. Similar to how the past young talent began to take shape and gain experience before ultimately winning a title in 1986. If the right progress is made with their young stars they could be just a few key moves away from being a real contender again.