The past couple of days I was down in Port St. Lucie taking in a few Mets spring training games with my father. It was a great trip that left walking away with a few thoughts:
What/Who impressed me
Bartolo Colon- I was on hand for Colons first start of the spring. Although he allowed 3 runs over his 5 innings of work, he actually showed positive signs of why he was brought here. His fastball appeared to have good movement and he changes speed with all of his pitches quite well. He was hitting the low 90’s on the radar gun with his fastball and kept the ball down for the most part. The Mets will need their best defensive squad on the field behind him but I think this signing will prove to be a positive one. Who doesn’t love a fat guy?
Zack Wheeler – The forgotten young arm continues to progress. His effortless and fluid motion on the mound is fun to watch. He looks smooth all around and the ball comes out of his hand nicely. I got up close to the bullpen during his warm up session and it was hard to walk away and not be impressed.
Vic Black- I’m looking forward to the addition of Vic Black in the bullpen for a full season. When he’s on the mound, he has a presence about him that most successful relievers seem to have. I like his arsenal of pitches and his breaking ball is sharp. Hopefully Black can take the setup role and run with it.
Juan Lagares Defense- This won’t to a shock to any Mets fan, but his defense is truly impressive. He was tracking down balls with seemingly little to no effort. The most impressive play I saw him make was a throw he made to David Wright that gunned down a runner by a good 20 feet. It was one of those “wow” plays that caught everyone’s attention.
Matt den Dekker- A player who just last spring was fighting for a chance to start for the Mets, is now playing just to remain relevant in the organization, impressed me with his offense. He was 4-4 over the 3 games I saw and looked much more comfortable than I have ever seen him before at the plate. He had a nice approach, taking a few balls to the opposite field which is a great sign. The biggest concern with den Dekker was his lack of offensive production, striking out far too often. If he has turned the corner and is able to continue to put the ball in play, we could be hearing his name back in discussion for outfield playing time very soon.
Josh Satin – With Duda and Davis sitting out, milking injuries, Satin is making the most out of his. He hit a deep home run to left center field against the Cardinals that impressed me the most. He doesn’t pull the ball too often, and when he does, it is with power even less. That homerun is something that I would like to see more from him if he wants to see considerable time at first base.
Wilmer Flores- Flores is making everyone aware that he can swing the bat. His offensive game seems to be the real deal, as he really squares up on the ball nicely. I was on hand for his first game at Shortstop and he did ALRIGHT. He didn’t look like a future gold glove winner, but he didn’t look like he would completely embarrass himself either. His counterpart was Johnny Peralta that day, a player known much more for his bat than his glove. In my mind, I see him as a great comparison for Flores, if he can prove to be a serviceable defender at the position, his bat could force the issue in seeing more time at shortstop.
Kevin Plawecki – Although I only got to see one at-bat from the young catcher, it was hard not to walk away impressed. He has this confidence about him while in the batter’s box and ripped a double down the left field line. He already has the major league body and I am really intrigued with his offensive game. Assuming d’Arnaud will turn things around offensively this season, Plawecki could either become a valuable trading chip or they should look to shift him over to first base. If the catcher position is going to be blocked, why not work this kid out in a position that appears to be up for grabs?
Mike Stanton Homerun – Mike Stanton hit one of the longest home runs I have ever seen in my life off of Jake Leathersitch. He fouled off a few pitches straight back and you just knew he was getting ready to launch one. The ball has a special sound off of his bat and he has as much power as any player in the game. I just hope he doesn’t hit too many of those against the Mets when it really counts.
Chris Christie – The New Jersey Governor was on hand for the games Sunday and Monday. What impressed me about Christie was the fact that this was a genuine trip with his family and not some kind of media stunt. You didn’t seem him parading around the field or sitting in the dugout. He did sit up in the Wilpon’s box with his sons and could be seen actually watching the games. Later on in the day I saw him at Duffy’s bowling with his boys, right in the middle of everyone else. He wasn’t surrounded by security guards or anything like that, he was simply enjoying the evening with his family. Love him or hate him, I respect seeing a politician act like a real person at the very least.
What/Who didn’t impress me
Jose Valverde- I know the veteran reliever was brought in on a minor league contract and comes with praise from Jim Leyland, but I’m not a fan of Valverde. His fastball did still have some life on it, climbing over the 90 mph mark, but he grooves it over the fat part of the plate. Every batter seemed to be sitting back and waiting for him to throw a fastball. He will probably make the team out of camp, but if he continues to pitch like this, I don’t think he will remain on this team for too long. I hope he only serves the team in a mop up role and that he won’t be seeing any meaningful innings.
Jonathon Niese- Niese looked erratic during his first start of the spring. His command and velocity were both off, but that was expected. I’m not sure he is 100% healthy after his little shoulder scare, which could factor into him being the opening day starter. I wouldn’t say I am worried about Niese just yet, as he was able to get his 50+ pitches in, but I can’t say I’m completely confident in him either.
Jake Leathersitch – The young left-hander, who has had great minor league success, looked completely over matched in camp. The biggest blow came from a ball Mike Stanton hit that I’m not sure has even landed yet. He was sent down to minor league camp after the game, he appears to have plenty to work on before a return to the majors.
Ruben Tejada’s Offense and Defense – When you watch Tejada play these days you feel like you are watching a man who has lost all of his confidence. His defense, once the high point in his game, has suddenly become questionable. There are routine balls that are giving him a hard time now, plays that have to be made from a guy who puts up his type of offensive numbers. At the plate, he looks overmatched and behind mostly every pitcher he faces. Although he did hit a nice double down the left field line one game, he looked lost every other time up. You have to wonder if all of the scrutiny he has been receiving is getting the best of him.
Road game observations
On the final day of our trip, we stopped into Roger Dean Stadium, home of the Cardinals to see them take on the Mets. First observation, Cardinals fans are a very loyal fan base. Unlike Tradition field, where you will see scattered Mets attire mixed throughout the crowd, among many plain clothed fans, everyone wears Cardinals gear. From infants to grandparents, the stadium looked like a sea of red. I did notice they were rather boring though. Most of the crowd takes part in friendly conversations, which is a great atmosphere to be around as a fan of the visiting team, but I missed the passion of the yelling fans at the same time. Take that as you will but I did actually miss it.
The biggest difference I noticed between the two ball parks and fan bases? The drinking. At tradition field, the beers are flowing straight to the 7th inning stretch (A little longer if you make your way down to the bar in right field). The Tiki Bar is a few bodies deep and the beer vendors are selling as if it is the last day on earth. At Roger Dean stadium, it was like pulling teeth for the vendors to sell a beer. I was surprised by this coming from a team plays in Budweiser’s backyard. Not sure what to take away from that, maybe this team really does make Mets fans drink, but it was something that clearly stood out to me.
If you have a chance to head down to Spring Training in the future, do it. The ticket prices beat the hell out of what you will see during the regular season, we sat on the dugout one day for $28 a piece! That’s a price that you won’t be able to match anywhere in the majors. You can sit back and relax while enjoying a game where you won’t stress over the outcome. Although we all love to see our favorite stars in action, it’s also nice to see some of the future talent get their first taste of major league baseball in as well.
This trip has left me excited for opening day, March 31st can’t come soon enough.