Feb 21

Three Mets Players to Watch This Spring Training

COLLINS: Issues to address.

The Mets begin their first full squad workout in St. Lucie on Saturday, February 22 and for us fans there’s nothing better than watching the news filter out of the camp, knowing the first day of the season is getting ever so closer.

Spring training usually sets the benchmark for how a team will perform in the regular season. New additions show off their talent, last year’s rookies return with confidence, old-timers find ways to hang on and those recovering from injury face the uncertainty of testing out their bodies once more.

It’s a fascinating time for baseball fans, but also for those who set the MLB odds for each team and try to predict who will be the division and wild card winners. As rosters begin to take shape in the next six weeks, every team goes into Opening Day in a tie for first place. The tough part will be staying there.

For the Mets, their 2014 journey begins tomorrow. The Mets have many issues ranging from the muddled situation at first base and the yet to be contested battles for the fifth spot in the rotation and who will be the leadoff hitter. But there are three more things to watch for in spring training:

1. Bartolo Colon needs to deliver

Ever since our ace underwent Tommy John surgery late last year – ruling him out for the entirety of 2014 – many are betting and wondering who will replace the majestic Matt Harvey. All eyes will be on Bartolo Colon who was signed to a two year deal worth $20 million and has been the front office’s solution to replacing Harvey’s loss in the rotation. While we all keep our fingers crossed and hope for improved command from Zack Wheeler and the mid-season debut of the promising Noah Syndergaard, the Mets need to hit big it with Colon – Alderson’s highest paid pitcher in four years. They’ll also need to see Dillon Gee and Jon Niese look like the pitchers we saw in the second half of last season.

2. Travis d’Arnaud must step up

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fill of articles and features on framing pitches, and I’m looking forward to articles on D’Arnaud mashing pitches. TDA didn’t get his billing at top catching prospect for getting one or two extra strike call per nine innings. The rookie catcher played 31 games in the close of last season, but often showed how pressure can get to him. Yet despite his poor form that saw him finish 2013 batting .202, d’Arnaud has the capabilities to be a solid performer in the Mets roster and must prove himself in spring training. At 25-years old it’s time to show-off the offensive package we’ve been hearing about for the last four years.

3. Chris Young against RHP

I’m not worried about Curtis Granderson, we all know what he can do. But as long as Chris Young is being handed an everyday job after a season that saw him bat .200 with a .280 OBP – both lower than Juan Lagares – he’s the man under the microscope.  What scares me more about him – aside from Billy Beane casting him away and proclaiming him a platoon player – is his horrendous .225 career batting average against right handed pitching in 2,825 plate appearances. Is that sample size big enough for you? He has declined every year since 2010 except for his strikeout rate, that continues to climb. He’s pushing a promising prospect to the bench, he better pay us back in spades.

Feb 21

Looking At Mets’ Leadoff Situation

The primary objective for the New York Mets in their quest for a leadoff hitter is the combination of speed, base-running ability and on-base percentage.

Eric Young has the first two, but manager Terry Collins wants him to improve his on-base percentage. Young’s career on-base percentage is .325, and Collins is thinking of at least 25 more points.

YOUNG: Should bunt more.

YOUNG: Should bunt more.

“Ideally, you’d wish he’d have a .350 on-base,’’ Collins said earlier this week. “I don’t know if he’s going to, but you hope he does.

“All I know is what an impact this guy made on our team when we got him. He got some big hits, made some great plays defensively in the outfield. And when he got on, exciting things happened and we scored runs.

“So we’re certainly going to focus a lot on trying to get Eric to bunt a little bit more, maybe be a little more selective at the plate.’’

Even at .350, that pales compared to Rickey Henderson (.401) and Pete Rose (.375), two of the greatest leadoff hitters in history.

The Mets want Young to improve his walks-to-strikeouts ratio, which was a poor 35-67 last season in only 418 plate appearances and to bunt more.

With his speed, if Young averaged one bunt hit a week, that would be 26 additional for the season. Give Young 26 more hits over the same number of at-bats last year and his average would have been .320.

Collins prefers Young in the leadoff role over Daniel Murphy (lacks speed), Chris Young or Juan Lagares (low on-base percentage and too many strikeouts), or Ruben Tejada (low on-base percentage).

 

Feb 20

Strikeouts Do Matter For Mets

After writing about the high strikeout rates of Ike Davis, Chris Young and Lucas Duda, I received a question asking why my concern over strikeouts, with the reader saying, “there’s no difference between a strikeout and a soft grounder to second.’’

He couldn’t be more wrong.

First, a strikeout is a non-productive out, but much more can happen on a grounder to second, especially with less than two outs.

A grounder to second, or anywhere in the infield, or a fly ball, has the potential to create something positive while nothing can be generated from a strikeout unless the ball gets by the catcher. And, unless R.A. Dickey is pitching, how often does that happen?

A runner can score on a grounder to second. He can’t on a strikeout.

Also, with a soft grounder to second, there’s a chance the ball could get through for a hit or the fielder could muff it for an error. Either way, it leads to a base runner and potential run, or if there’s a runner on second or third, it could generate a run.

See the difference?

In addition, a grounder can advance a runner into scoring position.

When I once asked Davis about his propensity for striking out, he said, “I am a home run hitter. I like to hit home runs. Strikeouts are part of it.’’

Until he changes that attitude, he’ll never be a viable hitter.

I realize times have changed, but to me one of the most incredible statistics in history is that during his 13-year career, Joe DiMaggio hit 361 home runs, but only struck out 369 times.

Arguably, that might be more impressive than his 56-game hitting streak.

Carrying it a step further, last year the Mets struck out 1,384 times, or 8.5 times a game. Translated, they went a third of the game without making contact.

Still wonder why I think it’s a big deal?

Feb 20

Mets List: Top Ten Prospects

At least four of the New York Mets’ top ten prospects according to Baseball Prospectus are expected to play for the organization this season.

Baseball Prospectus, a website dealing with minor league prospects, to nobody’s surprise lists first pitcher Noah Syndergaard, whom manager Terry Collins said has a “hook from hell,’’ referring to the curveball to complement his 97 mph., fastball.

Here’s the list and their chances of playing for the Mets this season:

RHP Noah Syndergaard: As a Super Two, the Mets don’t foresee bringing up Syndergaard before June. Until then the Mets will use Daisuke Matsuzaka and/or John Lannan as the fifth starter.

C Travis d’Arnaud: Injuries derailed his opportunity last year. He goes into the season as the projected starter. The early returns were good on him defensively, but he needs to show something at the plate.

INF Wilmer Flores: He showed flashes of being able to hit, but the Mets must find a position for him. Manager Terry Collins left open the possibility of playing him at shortstop, but said he’ll likely open the season on the minor league level to get at-bats.

RHP Rafael Montero: As with Syndergaard, don’t expect to see him before June.

SS Amed Rosario: Was in the rookie year in 2013, and will be in Class A this season. He’s still at least three years away.

1B Dominic Smith: Last year’s first-round draft pick played for two Mets’ Rookie League teams last year and is expected to start the season in Single A. If he hits for the power expected of him, he could finish in Double A.

OF Cesar Puello: Is the Mets’ top outfield prospect outside of Juan Lagares. He hit .326 last year at Double A Binghamton and is expected to be in Triple A this season.

C Kevin Plawecki: Some scouts say he might have a higher upside than d’Arnaud. He’ll start the season in Double A.

CF Brandon Nimmo: One of Sandy Alderson’s draft picks. Hit .273 last season at Single A, which doesn’t warrant an immediate promotion.

RHP Marcos Molina: Has a 1.25 WHIP in two seasons of Rookie League ball. Could start there again or possibly in Single A.

Note: Each Thursday I plan to post a Mets’ related list.

 

 

Feb 19

Trade Market Still Open For Ike Davis

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson could be getting a second chance to trade first baseman Ike Davis.

The Mets didn’t want to go into spring training with the Davis-Lucas Duda logjam at first. However, their steep asking price coupled with their openness, if not eagerness, to trade Davis worked against them.

DAVIS: Still on the block.

DAVIS: Still on the block.

They appeared to favor Duda because of his better on-base percentage matched against horrific first-halves by Davis in 2012 and 2013. Davis’ 32 homers in 2012 seemed more and more fluke-like to Alderson.

Consequently, he tap-danced around their failure to trade Davis by saying he didn’t mind the open competition. Davis, from his perspective, said he was “in a bit of shock,’’ to still be with the Mets.

As spring training progresses teams with unsettled situations at first base will likely call the Mets about Davis, who’ll make a reasonable $3.5 million this year.

Reportedly, two of the original teams interested in Davis – Pittsburgh and Baltimore – are monitoring the Mets about Davis.

After losing lefty-hitting Justin Morneau in the off-season, the Pirates are considering a platoon of Davis with right-handed hitter Gaby Sanchez.

The Orioles meanwhile, are considering Nelson Cruz and Kendry Morales; both were made qualifying offers from Texas and Seattle, respectively, and would cost a compensatory draft pick.

The Orioles, who just lost the 17th overall pick in June’s draft for signing pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez from Cleveland, would not have to surrender a pick to the Mets if they signed Davis.

Alderson misjudged the market over the winter. With a second opportunity, he can’t afford a repeat, especially after making it known he wanted to trade Davis.

 MORE LATER TODAY