Feb 18

Mets’ Zack Wheeler Likes Low Profile

One of the highlights for the New York Mets last season was a double-header sweep of Atlanta anchored by future aces Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.

If you weren’t reading about Harvey last summer you were reading about Wheeler. This spring most of the ink is going to Noah Syndergaard, whom the Mets expect will be in the major leagues in June.

WHEELER: That night in Atlanta.

WHEELER: That night in Atlanta.

“That’s fine with me,’’ Wheeler told reporters Tuesday in Port St. Lucie when asked about the spotlight being on Syndergaard. “I don’t have to have all the attention.’’

Actually, in Wheeler’s perfect world, he would rather have little, if any. Wheeler is extremely quiet and shy, and if given the choice, he’d rather not talk if he didn’t have to.

Wheeler was 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA last season in 17 starts. Manager Terry Collins doesn’t presently see an innings limit on Wheeler, and believes his composure and natural stuff will enable him to progress.

Collins said at the Winter Meetings Harvey showed he could make adjustments on the run and thinks Wheeler has that same capability.

Wheeler was matter-of-fact when asked today what he needs to do to improve: “Just being more consistent, throwing more strikes and stuff.’’

Ask any veteran pitcher and he’d say the same thing. That’s one of the things the Mets like about Wheeler.

 

Feb 18

Wilmer Flores Could Be Viable Shortstop Option

The New York Mets have long touted Wilmer Flores as one of their future stars. To some degree, having Flores and Ruben Tejada made it easier to let Jose Reyes walk.

FLORES: Could get shortstop time.

FLORES: Could get shortstop time.

With Tejada coming off a bad year and striking out in the free-agent shortstop market, the Mets are considering giving Flores another chance at shortstop.

And, it’s a good idea.

The Mets drafted Flores as a shortstop, but moved him to other positions because he lacked the quickness in making the first step.

Even so, manager Terry Collins suggested at the Winter Meetings Flores might get a look at shortstop in spring training. Collins reiterated that intent after Flores’ success at a Michigan fitness camp, where he dramatically improved his quickness and speed.

With his quickness and speed improved, it makes sense to experiment with Flores. Shortstops don’t need speed. Cal Ripken wasn’t fast, but relied on quickness and positioning.

It could be the same for Flores, who suffered with ankle injuries last year.

“We did a lot of ankle exercises,’’ Flores told reporters about his work at the fitness camp. “We worked on things that we needed to work on, like speed, agility and getting stronger. I’d be happy to go again.’’

Flores played shortstop for four years in the minors, and is willing to try again.

“It’s not going to be a new position,’’ Flores said. “I’m sure I can play.’’

That confidence and Collins’ willingness to experiment are no guarantees Flores can play shortstop on the major league level.

Because the Mets are giving Tejada every chance to redeem himself, he’ll get most of the time at shortstop during spring training. The remaining time Flores gets won’t be nearly enough to show he can play the position.

However, Flores has greater offensive potential than Tejada, thereby giving the Mets a dilemma. Because the Mets need offense, it’s possible Flores could make the Opening Day roster as a role player off the bench.

Assuming Flores makes the team, he probably won’t play enough, certainly at shortstop, to make a substantial impact.

What then, is the best option?

The Mets’ options are to carry Flores as a bench player or to send him back to Triple-A. If it is the latter, it must be under the provision he only plays shortstop, and not second, third or first.

Collins suggested as much today.

“I think with what we have on the infield – you know what? – if he’s not going to get a lot of a playing time, he’s got to go play at his age,” Collins said. “Because the ceiling on his bat is too high. He’s got to go get at-bats.”

Flores needs to learn to play shortstop, and that takes repetitions. Lots of them.

Feb 16

Good Sign; Ruben Tejada Reports Early

One of the New York Mets on the hot seat is shortstop Ruben Tejada, who got into manager Terry Collins’ doghouse for not reporting early two years ago, his first replacing Jose Reyes.

He appears to have gotten the message, with proof being showing up to spring training Sunday, almost a week ahead of schedule.

TEJADA: In camp early.

TEJADA: In camp early.

Technically, he reported on time two years ago, but Collins’ way of thinking was in Tejada’s first year as starter he should have shown initiative and reported early.

Tejada redeemed himself by hitting .289 in 2012, but didn’t report in peak shape last spring and his work ethic was brought into question. Tejada got off to a miserable start both at the plate and in the field, was injured and optioned.

He struggled when he returned and ended the season with a fractured leg and seemingly out of the Mets’ plans.

However, when the shortstop market – Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Drew – became too pricey, the Mets thought they’d give Tejada another chance.

Other than the market, what moved the Mets toward a Tejada encore was his commitment in an off-season fitness camp in Michigan.

Tejada’s presence in Ann Arbor, and reporting early is a good sign.

Feb 15

Terry Collins Leaning To Jon Niese As Opening Day Starter

New York Mets manager Terry Collins reiterated his thoughts Jonathon Niese would be his Opening Day starter, as well he should according to conventional baseball wisdom.

Despite Zack Wheeler’s desire for the ball, the honor should go to Niese, last year’s starter and whom Collins called “the ace of the staff,’’ in wake of Matt Harvey’s injury. If not Niese, then it should be Dillon Gee, the Mets’ most consistent starter last year and author of 199 innings.

NIESE: Opening Day starter?

NIESE: Opening Day starter?

Barring injury, accepted baseball thinking is why Niese should start. Niese is the most experienced of the Mets’ starters – of those growing up in the organization – and having been signed to a long-term contract, the most is expected of him.

Niese’s 8-8 2013 record is mediocre, but attributable in large part because of a shoulder injury. Veterans usually get preference if for no other reason as a reward.

Bartolo Colon is obviously the staff’s most experienced starter, but has no cache within the organization to warrant the start.

As for Wheeler, he might represent the Mets’ future, but with 17 career starts and seven wins, he has a while to go.

You have to admire Wheeler’s desire to want to have that role. It shows where he wants to be in his career.

“Last year I was coming in trying to win a spot,’’ Wheeler said earlier this week. “This year I’m trying to get the Opening Day spot. … It’s nothing on those guys, on the other starters, because anybody in the starting rotation could be the Opening Day starter. But that’s just my mindset coming in – to push myself to try to get the Opening Day spot.’’

Niese probably thinks the same. At least, let’s hope he does.

ON DECK: Bartolo Colon greets media.

Feb 15

Bobby Parnell Could Benefit From Kyle Farnsworth’s Experience

While most New York Mets just phoned to say they were in town on Saturday’s reporting deadline, reliever Kyle Farnsworth held court, telling reporters he’ll be satisfied with any role manager Terry Collins has in mind.

When you’re 37-years-old and on your eighth team, you really don’t have much choice.

FARNSWORTH: Veteran presence.

FARNSWORTH: Veteran presence.

If healthy, Bobby Parnell closes, and Farnsworth will work in the late innings because of his experience. Same thing goes for Jose Valverde.

Speaking in classic spring training cliché, Farnsworth told reporters: “Nothing was explained. It’s still early. This is just quite a good opportunity to come here and try to help out the best way I can.’’

Helping out will also include being a sounding board for Parnell.

At one time, just like Parnell, Farnsworth touched the radar gun at 100 mph., but now his fastball is down to 92.6.

“I wish I could still do that,’’ Farnsworth said. “I don’t know – it’s just one of those things that you’re blessed to do, and you hope to be able to harness that.

“Over the years I’ve learned that you can get away with more mistakes throwing that hard. But the older you get the more you learn how to pitch. That’s where you have to mature and grow into things like that.’’

There’s not a pitcher alive who doesn’t wish he could throw 100 mph., but there’s also not a pitcher who wouldn’t say velocity is the third most important thing, behind control and movement.

Although Parnell made great strides last season, he’s still new at being a closer and boasted a 100 mph., fastball. If he’s paying attention, surely he’ll learn something from Farnsworth on how to set-up hitters and get by on guile as much as his stuff.

Farnsworth made 39 appearances last year for Tampa Bay, was released and signed with Pittsburgh and pitched in nine games with a 1.04 ERA.

Farnsworth’s experience also includes knowing what it takes to pitch in New York, having played with the Yankees.

“I experienced it in New York – press and atmosphere like that,’’ Farnsworth said. “That part is definitely not going to be new to me. I’m looking forward to it.’’

ON DECK: The Opening Day starter.