Well folks, that’s all she wrote. We’re officially done with Spring Training and as of this writing we’re only 3 days away from Opening Day. It felt like it flew by, but a lot happened during the month or so of exhibition games. There were roster cuts, injuries, a lot of impressive guys and some guys who left the fans a little worried. So, before we jump into Opening Day, I’m going to take this opportunity to give a final Spring Training round up and talk about some of the key points that occurred during Spring Training.
The Wheeler Situation
Why not start off with the most recent one? Zack Wheeler came into Spring Training only looking to solidify himself a spot in the starting rotation or worst-case scenario, the bullpen. But that didn’t happen for the 27-year-old pitcher. Wheeler got the start for the Mets in their first game of the spring and pitched a scoreless inning against the Atlanta Braves. His 2nd outing was against the Braves again, this time out of the bullpen though. He allowed a run off of 3 hits during 1 inning of work. He bounced back with a pretty impressive performance against the Yankees where he got the start. Going 3 innings, he allowed 4 hits but no runs which was impressive, and he made a case for himself to manager Mickey Callaway and all the fans. But sadly, it was downhill from here for Zack. Getting the start against the Nationals 1 week after his impressive outing against the Yankees, Wheeler gave up 5 runs off of 7 hits during 3 innings of work and it’d take him 54 pitches in the process. At this point, I personally had given up on Wheeler. He had been a letdown one too many times during the regular season and continued the trend in spring and I didn’t see any improvement from him. But he was given another chance, a chance to redeem himself when he got the start against the Nationals again in the tail end of the Spring season. He’d only go 2 innings as he gave up 7 hits and 5 runs (3 of them earned.) That was it for Wheeler, he was taken out of the game and replaced by Seth Lugo (who we’re going to talk about very soon.) While this particular outing wasn’t ALL Wheeler’s fault (there was some sloppy defense that played a big part in this game) it was this start with his last one that showed Callaway and Eiland that Wheeler hadn’t made the improvements necessary to solidify himself a spot in the rotation…or the bullpen. He was demoted to AAA 2 days later and will now have to work himself back to the big-league roster. I was surprised to see this happen, I really thought that Wheeler was going to be awarded a spot in the rotation simply because he’s a long tenured player but that wasn’t the case and I was happy to see him treated the same way any other pitcher would be treated. Hopefully Wheeler can work on his craft and possibly earn a spot on the 25-man roster, but truthfully, I don’t know if it’ll happen. I would much rather have Wheeler pitch well enough in AAA to earn the interest of a small market team and trade him away for some prospects or a closing pitcher since Familia and Ramos are free agents at the end of the season. But that’s all very far ahead of us, at the moment though Wheeler is starting his season in AAA and his spot in the rotation went to someone much more deserving.
Lugomania is running wild
I’m going to try my best to be unbiased here but as you probably know, I am a huge Seth Lugo supporter and I’m a big fan of his work on the mound. But let’s talk about his 2018 Spring Training. When Jason Vargas went down with an injury that’ll keep him out of the rotation for a short period of time (he can resume throwing 5 days after the surgery, but knowing the Mets and their history with injuries, I’d imagine they want to play it safe and make sure he rehabs properly) there was a lot of speculation as to who would take over in the rotation until Vargas returned. The 3 likely candidates were Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and Zack Wheeler. Lugo was used out of the bullpen during the spring except for one start he made in the beginning of the season. Over his time in the bullpen he was very impressive and only allowed 5 runs over 15.2 Innings Pitched and finished the spring with a 2.87 ERA which is rather impressive. To put it in perspective, Zack Wheeler pitched 10 innings and had an 8.10 ERA, allowing 11 runs to score during those innings. While it’s different since Wheeler was starting games and Lugo was coming in as a relief pitcher, it was still impressive. Lugo earned his spot in the rotation on the same day that Wheeler pitched his way out of it. After Wheeler had surrendered 5 runs over 2 innings, Lugo was brought in as damage control and impressed everyone in the process. Going 4 innings, he limited the Nationals to 2 hits and 1 walk while striking out 5 and only throwing 52 pitches (12 more than Wheeler had to throw to get out of 2 innings.) Lugo showed everyone that he was capable of being the guy that came up in 2016 and along with Gsellman helped the Mets get to the wild card when all their other starters who weren’t Syndergaard or Colon went down with injuries. It should be interesting to see what the Mets decide to do with Lugo after Vargas is cleared to return, I don’t see Vargas losing his spot in the rotation but if Lugo can out pitch the likes of Harvey or Matz, he could lock himself a spot in the rotation along with Syndergaard, deGrom and Vargas. But only time will tell what happens, but whether it’s as a starter or out of the bullpen, Lugomania WILL be running wild brother.
Matt Harvey might have had the most to prove coming into Spring Training this year. After 2 disappointing seasons, Harvey really had to prove that he could be a reliable 4th starter and not the Dark Knight. Harvey went 1 and 2 over 5 starts with a 4.50 ERA and allowing 10 runs over 20 innings. All things considered, it wasn’t a bad spring for Harvey. He had a couple of bad outings but nothing that looked too worrisome. His first outing was against the Braves where he went 2 innings and allowed 1 run off of 2 hits. His next outing was against the Tigers where he went 3 innings and kept them off the board while only allowing 2 hits. His worst outing was against the Yankees where he gave up 5 runs off of 6 hits through 4.2 Innings Pitched. That game was weird though and I covered it in my weekly Spring Training review, but there were some throws by the defense that weren’t errors but allowed guys advance further on the base pads due to poor throwing choices. But in the end, all the runs were charged to Harvey and the final blow came from a homer off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton. It was a rough outing for Harvey as he faced his real first tough line up of the season. He went 5 innings pitched against the Miami Marlins in his next outing and surrendered 3 runs off of 6 hits while striking out 8. Not the prettiest performance, but not the worst either. 3 runs are a lot for 5 innings of work, but his offense was having trouble scoring runs and wouldn’t score any until the 8th and 9th inning of the game. But that’s no excuse, 3 runs are 3 runs and Harvey allowed them all to cross. His last outing of the Spring would come against the team the Mets will face on Opening Day, the Cardinals. Harvey would go 5.1 Innings allowing 1 run off of 5 hits and striking out 5. It was a good outing for Harvey and gave him the confidence he needed to remind himself that he CAN be the 4th starter the Mets need and that he’s not going to have scoreless outings all the time, he’s not the Dark Knight. He’s Matt Harvey and that’s all the Mets need him to be. If Harvey can pitch like this during the regular season and keep his head on his shoulders, he could be the comeback player of the year but there are a lot of factors to it. Not only does he need to remain focused on the mound, but he needs to keep his attitude positive and not pull any of the BS he did seasons prior (missing practices and not showing up to a game.) Hopefully this will all happen with the tutelage of Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland. Overall, a good spring for Harvey.
Steven Matz, much like Harvey needed a good spring to prove to himself and his skipper that he could bounce back from seasons cut short by injuries. Matz’s Spring Training was very up and down. He had a VERY rough start to the Spring season and owned a 54.00 ERA after his first 2 starts. His first outing against the Houston Astros lasted 1 inning with 5 runs scoring off of 3 hits and 2 walks. Things got worse for Matz as he couldn’t even get out of the 1st inning in his next start against the Nationals. He gave up 5 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks all without being able to record the 3rd out of the 1st inning. But Matz would bounce back in a very big way and over his last 4 starts, he had a 1.96 ERA with 20 Strike outs and 5 walks through 18.1 Innings Pitched. His first bounce back came against the Tigers where he went 4 scoreless innings, allowing 3 hits and striking out 2. His next game was against the Marlins and after allowing 2 runs to score in the 1st inning, Matz fought back and struck out 5 over 4.1 Innings Pitched. Seeing him come back out after the 1st inning and set the side down in order was a great thing to see as it reminded us of what Matz is capable of and also showed he wasn’t going to let the 2 runs get to him. He had a similar outing against the Astros in his next start. Matz allowed a run to score in the 2nd and 3rd inning but fought back and struck out 9 batters through 6 innings of work. It was once again a great bounce back performance by Matz as he pitched with a purpose to prove to himself, the fans, and his skipper that he deserved his spot in the rotation. He’d have the pleasure of closing out the Mets’ Spring schedule with a game against the Marlins where he threw 4 scoreless innings while only allowing 2 hits. The story of Steven Matz’s 2018 Spring Training is a great one and hopefully it translates over to the regular season where he’ll be the 3rd starter in the rotation to start the season.
Brandon ‘Freakin’ Nimmo
Let us all take a moment to appreciate Brandon Nimmo for everything he is. He’s stepped up to the plate in a big way this spring. With Michael Conforto’s timeline unsure when Spring Training began, there was a question of who’d be starting in center field for the Mets come opening day. All signs would point to the veteran former Gold-Glover Juan Lagares, but Brandon Nimmo might have thrown a wrench into those plans. Nimmo got off to a hot start in spring but cooled down a bit towards the tail end of the season. But his numbers in comparison to Juan Lagares’ are eye opening. In 50 at bats during Spring Training, Juan Lagares holds a .200 Batting Average with 1 RBI and 1 Stolen Base with a .479 OPS. Brandon Nimmo has a .306 Batting Average with 3 Home runs, 11 RBI and a .984 OPS over 62 At Bats. I like Juan Lagares and I think he’s a great reserve player and what he offers in defense is invaluable in a close game. But as a starting center fielder, I don’t see how Lagares could get the position instead of Nimmo. 51 of Nimmo’s at bats were out of the lead off position and he batted .314 as the leadoff hitter with a .957 OPS, 2 Home runs and 9 RBIs. You don’t need me to tell you how important it is for the leadoff man to get on base and it’s likely whoever is the Center Fielder come Opening Day will be leading off for the Mets and putting Lagares in that position in my opinion is foolish. Nimmo truly earned the opportunity to be in that position and frankly Lagares didn’t prove why he should have the opportunity instead. It’s much like the Wheeler and Lugo situation, of course Lagares won’t be sent down to AAA but I think he lost his opportunity to be the starting Center Fielder when Conforto is absent. I could put up all the numbers and compare the two of them on their splits and who hits better in what situation, but in the end Nimmo has better numbers in almost every category. I don’t think Lagares should be cut off as a starting Center Fielder, I think him and Nimmo can share the time spent in Center Field, but I truly believe Nimmo is the best bet for the Mets’ Opening Day Center Fielder.
So, we talked about Lugo, Harvey and Matz but haven’t talked about the aces of the Mets’ rotation. Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom were both brilliant this spring. Of course, Syndergaard had more playing time because of deGrom’s back stiffness but from what we did see out of deGrom, he’s ready to go. deGrom pitched 7.2 Innings this spring and has a 2.35 ERA and 12 strike outs. Syndergaard pitched 20 innings and has a 1.35 ERA and 23 strike outs. They both were absolutely dominant on the mound. And while deGrom’s ERA is higher it’s only because he didn’t pitch as many innings, he only allowed 2 runs and 3 hits over his 2 starts. His first start was only 2.2 Innings as it was his first after coming back from the back stiffness. But his second start saw him go 5 innings and he looked to be in mid-season form. Striking out the side in order to start off his day and striking out 8 total, he was the same Jake that was carrying the team last season. And as it relates to Syndergaard, he went 7 innings in his last start of the spring and only allowed 1 run to cross…and he only threw 77 pitches. So needless to say, the Mets seem to be in good shape when it comes to their pitching rotation. There are clearly some questions with the other 3 guys and how long they can go in a game and things of that nature, but for deGrom and Syndergaard…oh they’re ready. I think the Mets pitching rotation is underrated this year as it was recently ranked #9 by the MLB but if everyone is able to perform as good as they did in spring, they could easily be in the top 5 rotations and something the National League should fear. We haven’t seen Syndergaard and deGrom be dominant at the same time since 2015 and since then they’ve become even more dominant on the mound. Having these 2 guys healthy at the same time is crucial for the Mets and they’re going to play a huge role in this team’s success this year.
It’s really difficult to talk about all the offense that occurred in Spring Training because there were so many guys who we won’t see again this season so I’m going to talk about the key guys. Cespedes, Bruce, Frazier, Gonzalez, d’Arnaud, Plawecki, Flores, Cabrera, Rosario and Reyes. Starting off with Yo, he hit 6 home runs and drove in 10 runs this spring and looked great doing it. There was some concern with shoulder stiffness early in the season and then his wrist pain towards the end of the season but they both seem to be things of the past as he finished the season strong. He looked good running the bases and in the outfield. His cannon of an arm is still there too as he threw out a runner trying to score just the other day and made it look easy. Cespedes is a key part of the Mets’ lineup and his health is something the Mets need to monitor but if the Spring is any sign of things to come, Yo could have his best year yet as a Met. On the other end of the outfield, there is Jay Bruce who’s returning to the Mets after having a career season last year with the Mets and then later with the Indians. Bruce hit .310 with 3 home runs and 8 RBIs of his own this spring and even has a stolen base to his credit. Bruce looked good and the early concern of his plantar fasciitis was quickly put to rest as he looked in peak shape the rest of the season. He had a couple of errors attached to his name but it’s Spring Training and overall, he looked great and much like Cespedes, he is a key part of the lineup and could be looking to have another great year. Todd Frazier played a very large role in the Yankees’ postseason run last year and when the Mets signed him, there was a lot of hype around it. Frazier had an okay Spring Training as a Met. It wasn’t anything to gasp at, but it was fine. Over 55 At bats he has a .236 Batting Average with 2 homers and 6 RBIs. Frazier is a 3-outcome player, he’s either going to strike out, walk, or home run. And while that’s not exactly the case as he can smack some double as well, he’s a power hitter and that’s what you’re going to get out of him. He had some errors attached to his name as well this spring, but other than the hiccups he looked good at 3rd which an important position for the Mets. It’s been a while since the Mets have had a REALLY good 3rd baseman and Frazier is hopefully going to fill that hole for the Mets and I’m sure once he gets more comfortable as a Met his bat will heat up. On the opposite end of the diamond, there’s another new guy in town by the name of Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a veteran player and a really good 1st baseman but many believe his best years are behind him and that could very well be the case. Gonzalez hit .207 with 1 Home run and 3 RBI over 58 At Bats. The Mets knew what they were getting when they signed Gonzalez for the league minimum, he’s a veteran guy who can play 1st base very well but had an injury filled season last year and has had his numbers go down each year. Much like Frazier, there is every chance that Gonzalez can heat up once he gets in front of the New York crowd and becomes more comfortable, but time will tell. Worst comes to worst, the Mets split the playing time with Flores or Bruce and look to trade Gonzalez if it comes to that but I’m willing to give it time. I think Gonzalez has a lot to offer the Mets if he can stay healthy AND heat up with the bat. Travis d’Arnaud had a really good Spring Training but d’Arnaud has been flirting with being a real dominant force in the lineup for a few years now but always seems to drop the ball. But he looked very good at the plate this spring with 3 home runs, 8 RBIs and a .333 Batting Average and 1.109 OPS over 36 at bats. Travis will be splitting his playing time with Kevin Plawecki, but the brunt of the playing time will likely go to whichever of them can be more of a threat at the plate. And speaking of Plawecki, he also had a good Spring Training. Plawecki came up last season looking like a different type of player. He was finally hitting like a Major League player and this will be his first time with the opportunity to play a full season in the majors. He came to Spring looking to prove worthy of that opportunity and over 37 At bats, he hit for a .270 average with 1 home run, 7 RBIs and a .747 OPS. It was good to see Plawecki getting the ball on the bat and looking like a real major league player. Him and Travis both have something to prove this season and it’ll be fun to see which one of them can do it better. I mentioned earlier that Flores could take over at 1st base if Gonzalez really doesn’t perform well and that is a real option because Flores was fantastic this Spring and continues to impress. Over 50 at bats he hit for a .320 average with 3 home runs, 7 RBIs and a .957 OPS. Flores has been a consistent hitter for the Mets and he continues to impress at the plate and if he continues to hit the ball the way he has been, he could go from a platoon guy to an everyday guy. Asdrubal Cabrera turned things around last season after asking to be traded because of being asked to play a different position. Cabrera took it back and decided he wanted to be a Met and he’d play what they asked him to which is a great thing for everyone because Cabrera is a great player and a great presence for the Mets. He brings a lot of good energy to the dugout and he’s a very capable hitter. Cabrera is a little streaky and it showed during Spring Training, but he still had a good outing as he hit .277 with 1 homer and 3RBIs over 47 At Bats. Cabrera is going to get a lot of playing time this year at 2nd base and if he can continue to hit like he did this spring then the Mets are in good shape with that position. Amed Rosario will be playing his first full season in the Majors this season and he looked good this Spring as he prepares for the season. He got 48 At bats and hit for a .313 average with 1 homer and 8 RBIs along with a stolen base. Rosario has been slated as the future of the Mets and that’s an accurate description. He’s going to be a major player when he’s at the plate or on the bases. He’s shown before that his speed has been greatly underrated and he could steal a lot of bases this season which is something the Mets haven’t had in a while. He’s also become very adept at being a Major League shortstop. He had a few hiccups when he first came up last season, but he must’ve worked on them because there were hardly any this spring which is good to see as he’ll be the Mets primary shortstop alongside his mentor, Jose Reyes. Jose Reyes did not have a good Spring Training. He hit for a .174 average with 4 RBIs and 5 stolen bases over 46 at bats. Reyes is going to be a utility veteran player as the majority of playing time will go to Rosario. But Reyes, much like Cabrera is a streaky player. When Reyes heats up, he HEATS up and can do so for a while. He had a really slow start last season but turned it around in a big way and could do so again this season when he gets the opportunity to do so. He can be a great pinch runner since he showed his speed is still there with his 5 stolen bases this spring. Reyes offers a good veteran presence to the clubhouse but if he can produce on the field as well, that would be fantastic. Hopefully he can turn around the disappointing spring.
I think I’ve just about covered everything that I haven’t previously discussed. Now all there is to do is wait for Opening Day and see what our guys in Orange and Blue can do. It’s always a risk getting your hopes up as a Mets’ fan, but this team has a lot to offer this season and with a healthy rotation and bullpen, the sky is the limit for them. We’ll talk again after the 1st week of the Regular Season and see how they’re doing. In the meantime, leave a comment, send a tweet, an email, a fax, a telegram, etc. etc. Opening Day here I come!