Sporting News gives deGrom top rookie honors

Mets right-hander voted best in NL after standout year

Sporting News gives deGrom top rookie honors

Mets standout Jacob deGrom has been named the National League Rookie of the Year by Sporting News magazine, with the hope of adding the BBWAA's award to his mantel in the coming weeks.

deGrom's contributions this season were unexpected if not invaluable. The right-hander had an ERA of 4.80 in Double-A and 4.52 in Triple-A last year before bursting onto the scene in 2014 to go 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA over 22 starts with the Mets.


deGrom threw 140 1/3 innings, surrendering 117 hits and just seven home runs all season. He struck out 144 and walked 43, fanning 9.2 batters per nine innings.

"I'm very honored to receive this prestigious award," deGrom told Sporting News. "My teammates were a huge reason for my success. Individual honors are nice, but what excites me the most is looking forward to next year and helping the Mets reach the postseason."

The Mets starter, with 31 votes, narrowly beat out Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton (27 votes) for the award. The Cardinals' Kolten Wong had nine votes, the Giants' Joe Panik had five and the D-backs' Ender Inciarte had four.

deGrom joins Jerry Koosman (1968), Jon Matlack ('72), Darryl Strawberry ('83) and Dwight Gooden ('84) as other Mets to receive the Sporting News Rookie of the Year award.

Joey Nowak is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Mets' Mazzilli motors around basepaths at AFL

Second baseman triples, notches two runs for Scottsdale Scorpions

Mets' Mazzilli motors around basepaths at AFL

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Some players swing hard enough to watch the ball take flight. And others know they'd better run as hard as they can. L.J. Mazzilli proved that he was proud to be in that latter class Monday night, when he tripled and scored two runs in Scottsdale's 7-3 victory over Glendale.

Mazzilli, a second baseman in the Mets organization, helped spark his Arizona Fall League team to victory by crushing a triple into the gap in the second inning. He scampered home on a passed ball that inning, and later walked, stole a base and scored on catcher Elias Diaz's triple.


That's all in a day's work for the fleet-footed Mazzilli, and he said after the game that he never thought his triple would leave the park. Mazzilli, batting .250 with two extra-base hits in six AFL games, said he knew he had to get out of the batter's box as quickly as possible Monday.

Box score

"That's far out there. That's big-boy status," he said of his triple. "As soon as I hit it, I knew it was going to be in the gap. I just put my head down and I was running as hard as I could, trying to get a triple."

Mazzilli's hit -- and a solo homer by teammate Greg Bird -- gave the Scorpions a 2-0 lead after two innings, and they went on to score the game's first five runs. Glendale would make things interesting with three runs over the fifth and sixth innings, but Scottsdale (6-6) closed out the game.

"It was a good win," said Mazzilli, the son and namesake of former All-Star Lee Mazzilli. "Everybody plays hard every day, and today we had more results. I think everyone did a really good job tonight all around."

Diaz tripled and walked twice for Scottsdale in the victory, and all of the home team's starters notched at least one hit. Only one -- leadoff man Roman Quinn -- had multiple hits. Starting pitcher Joely Rodriguez worked four scoreless innings for the Scorpions en route to the win.

Matt McGill, who started for the Glendale Desert Dogs, gave up five hits and five runs, but only three were earned. Glendale (5-5-1) made two errors and walked five batters.

Mazzilli, 24 years old, is trying to follow up on a strong season that saw him hit .292 in 66 games for Class A Savannah and .312 in 64 games after a promotion to Class A Advanced St. Lucie. Mazzilli, a career .293 hitter in the Minor Leagues, said he learned several lessons that he can take into next season.

"I feel I did well this year," he said. "I learned a lot in the first month and a half of the season when I was struggling a little bit. I figured out what it takes for me to be the best I possibly can be, and I stuck with that plan and approach. I just started trusting myself and things started happening."

Indeed, Mazzilli batted .232 in 25 games last April, and then he hit well over .300 in both May (.333) and June (.321) for Savannah. That hot streak continued at the next level, where Mazzilli batted .341 in June and .342 in August. That tear coincided with an epiphany of approach for the youngster.

"Everyone's different. Everyone's got their own game. You can't try to be someone you're not," Mazzilli said. "I think I figured out who I was about a month and a half into the season, and then I stuck with it. I realized that whatever I have to do for myself to be as good as I can possibly be is good enough. Hopefully, that will take me all the way."

Mazzilli played in one game at Triple-A Las Vegas last season, and his AFL season will give him an opportunity to round out his game against upper-level pitching. Mazzilli, a fourth-round Draft pick in 2013, played 14 games at shortstop last season, but he's still primarily a second baseman.

Now, playing with and against the best prospects in the Minor Leagues, he has an extended opportunity to measure himself against the next generation of big league talent. Mazzilli knows that it's a long fall season, and he's hoping to keep getting better every time he takes the field.

"I'm still trying to get in that groove offensively," said Mazzilli of his Arizona Fall League performance. "But you've also got to give credit to the pitching, because everybody out here is really good. The way I'm playing, I'm taking it day by day and I feel good, so that's what matters the most."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Strong crop of shortstop prospects on display at instructs

Cecchini, Ramos among those offering New York bright future in position that's plagued them

Strong crop of shortstop prospects on display at instructs

While shortstop has been an unsettled spot in the Mets' lineup in recent years, the club is amassing remarkable depth at the position in the Minor Leagues.

Some of the Mets wealth of young shortstops gathered in St. Lucie, Fla., for instructional league this fall, giving coaches and executives an extended opportunity to watch them all work. Among the group were Amed Rosario, Gavin Cecchini and Milton Ramos, the Mets' Nos. 6, 10 and 11 prospects. All three have joined the organization in the last 27 months and spent the season in the low levels of the Minor Leagues.


Even in the early stages of their development, they stood out to Paul DePodesta, the Mets vice president of player development and amateur scouting, during instructional league.

"Those are three pretty good-looking kids, all of whom are still college age," DePodesta said. "It's a pretty exciting group of shortstops."

Of the trio, Ramos joined the organization most recently. The Mets picked him in the third round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft and he spent the season playing in the Gulf Coast League. Scouts considered Ramos to be one of the best defenders in the Draft class, but wondered how well he would be able to hit.

DePodesta said Ramos has shown he can be a complete player.

"I was very impressed with how he handled himself offensively this summer," DePodesta said. "I don't think there's ever been a question about his hands or defensive ability."

During the regular season, Ramos shared playing time at shortstop with Alfredo Reyes. They each saw action at second base, as well. The Mets have used similar arrangements in the Minor Leagues before and are likely to continue to do so with so many capable middle infielders in the system.

DePodesta said the Mets view their abundance of shortstops as a positive, but must make sure they all get enough playing time to continue their development.

"It's gotten to the point where it's something we need to manage," DePodesta said. "I don't think it's ever a problem when we have a shortstop playing both shortstop and second base. It becomes a problem if someone's not getting everyday at-bats. We don't want to get to that point.

"But we're thrilled with the depth we have at shortstop, second base and even at third base in the lower levels. It's a really good group and, at least right now, there's no end in sight."

• Across the infield from the Mets wealth of shortstops in instructional league was first baseman Dominic Smith, the club's first-round pick in 2013. He played his first full professional season with Class A Savannah, where he hit .271/.344/.338 with one home run in 126 games. His power numbers were depressed, in part, by playing his home games in Grayson Stadium, which is notoriously difficult on left-handed hitters.

DePodesta said Smith's natural hitting ability was apparent throughout the season and in instructional league, where his advanced approach at the plate stood out.

"The game's a little slower for him right now," DePodesta said. "Dom just turned 19 during the season, so it's not like he's a lot older [than other players in instructional league], but he has a little more experience at this point."

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Work begins on right-center-field fence at Citi Field

Mets plan to draw in the fence in front of both bullpens

Work begins on right-center-field fence at Citi Field

SAN FRANCISCO -- Construction is underway to move portions of Citi Field's outfield fence closer to home plate for the second time in three years.

The Mets on Wednesday released pictures of their initial stages of fence reconstruction, revealing a modified wall in right-center field. A team official said right-center is the only part of Citi Field that the Mets plan to alter; they will release exact dimensions at a later date. General manager Sandy Alderson did not respond to a message seeking comment.


Construction photos reveal that the Mets plan to draw in the fence in front of both bullpens in right-center field, shaving off some of the odd angles resulting from the club's more significant fence overhaul three years ago. That year, the Mets drew in significant portions of the fence in left-, right-center and right fields, also making the entire wall a uniform eight feet in height and painting it blue.

The changes transformed Citi Field from one of the toughest parks in baseball to hit a home run to roughly league average in that department. They did not, however, alter Citi Field's reputation as one of the foremost pitcher's parks in baseball. The Mets hit 59 home runs at Citi Field this season, compared to the league average of 70. They scored a total of 286 runs there, compared to the league average of 332.

Alderson has previously insisted that the Mets are not changing their dimensions specifically to help Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda, David Wright or any of the team's other power hitters, who by and large performed better on the road.

"It's not about tailoring the ballpark to a particular player or a particular composition of team," Alderson said last month. "It's about making Citi Field as fan-friendly and as exciting as we can make it."

In theory, altering Citi Field's dimensions will hurt the Mets as much as it helps them. But the organization boasts a sizeable stable of young pitchers, including Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom, who excel at striking out batters and limiting fly balls.

They also have a lineup full of hitters who have struggled to hit home runs in recent years, both at Citi Field and on the road. Moving the wall in right-center field should help the homer totals of Granderson and Duda in particular, in addition to providing an unquantifiable psychological boost.

"We've got guys that hit the ball in that area," manager Terry Collins said last month. "That's a big area for Curtis. David made a career of hitting the ball in that area. I think it would help Lucas. Travis [d'Arnaud], one of the things people talk about is his power to the opposite field. So it may help him. You walk in and say, 'Hey, it's reachable.'"

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less Columnist

Bernie Pleskoff

Defensive-minded den Dekker an able fourth outfielder

Glove, wheels can help prospect stay in mix with Mets

Defensive-minded den Dekker an able fourth outfielder

New York Mets outfield prospect Matt den Dekker finished the season playing 53 games and getting 152 at-bats for the parent club. He hit a respectable .250 with no home runs and seven RBIs. While den Dekker's offensive contribution will be important to him and the Mets going forward, his outstanding Gold Glove Award-caliber defense and above-average speed can be very useful tools on a roster balanced with outfielders who hit for more power.

The left-handed den Dekker, now 27, has been in the Mets organization since being selected in the fifth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.


Playing for Westminster Academy Christian School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., den Dekker earned a second team All-State selection in 2006. His efforts earned him a spot at the University of Florida, where he played for four years. After batting .296 as a junior, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected den Dekker in the 16th round of the '09 Draft. He chose to return to Florida for his senior year and hit .358, earning the fifth-round selection by the Mets.

Though his defense and speed might be his two most compelling tools, den Dekker can be surprisingly good offensively. He has made adjustments along the way in his Minor League career that have seen him shorten a long swing, gain more patience at the plate and refine an ability to better recognize the spin on breaking balls. Each of those factors has led to more contact and a better overall feel for hitting.

den Dekker is 6-foot-1, 210 pounds with little room left for further physical development. He's a scrappy player, and he's improved his hitting enough to be considered a top-of-the-order hitter in the Mets' lineup.

In 2011, den Dekker struck out a combined 156 times on his way to a .265 batting average as he logged 616 plate appearances for Class A Advanced St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton. That's when his swing was longer, he was lunging at pitches outside and in the dirt and his patience was marginal, at best.

Now, however, den Dekker can be characterized as having a short, line-drive stroke with quick hands through the ball. He doesn't try to pull pitches or hit home runs. He is looking to put the barrel on the ball and hit to all fields.

den Dekker had similar results in 2012, but in each of his Minor League seasons, he has improved the second time he was assigned to a classification, becoming more familiar with the competition.

In 2013, den Dekker was set back by a broken wrist that resulted from attempting to make a diving catch during Spring Training. He was able to compete in only 67 Minor League games, including 14 at St. Lucie and the remaining 53 at Triple-A Las Vegas. den Dekker hit a combined .291 for the year, which was the best in his career at the time. He saw some brief playing time in the big leagues at the end of the season.

den Dekker spent 2014 back at Las Vegas, where he posted a .334 batting average before being summoned to the Mets in late May.

den Dekker's defensive ability could be helpful to the Mets as a fourth outfielder. I see him as a quality center fielder or left fielder who takes good routes, has good range, and gets accurate reads off the bat. He has good baseball instincts. den Dekker doesn't have the type of power usually required of a right fielder, but he could certainly assume that position if needed. His arm is strong and accurate. He can make all the routine plays, and some of the more spectacular variety.

den Dekker can steal bases and will get better at that craft once he gets more experience against the pitchers he is facing. His technique is good for now as he gets a good jump, but he still needs to refine his base-stealing mechanics a bit and trust his abilities.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Mets' throwbacks predicted World Series matchup

Mets' throwbacks predicted World Series matchup

Look at that photo! That picture, taken during the June 28 Mets-Pirates matchup, appears to show New York outfielder Eric Young Jr. wearing a jersey emblazoned with the names of the 2014 World Series participants: the Royals and the Giants. Clearly, this is the work of some Photoshop prankster operating deep in the netherworld of the internet, right?

Wrong. Not only is that photo real, but it happens to be really, really cool. Check your sundials: it's story time.

Continue Reading on Cut4

Prospect Reynolds goes yard in extras in AFL game

Shortstop, ranked 20th in organization, goes yard in 10th to lift Scottsdale

Prospect Reynolds goes yard in extras in AFL game

With one on and two outs in the top of the 10th inning Saturday, Matt Reynolds came to the plate to face right-hander Ben Klimesh. Scottsdale and Surprise had been deadlocked at five since the seventh inning and it looked like they would remain that way going to the bottom of the 10th, as Klimesh started Reynolds off with two strikes.

Klimesh's next pitch caught too much of the plate, however, and Reynolds turned on it, driving it over the left-field wall for a two-run home run. Scottsdale held on in the bottom of the inning and defeated Surprise, 7-6. The loss snapped the Saguaros' three-game winning streak.


Reynolds, the Mets' No. 20 prospect, finished the game 3-for-5 with a double and two runs to go with his homer. After starting the Arizona Fall League 0-for-7, the 23-year old shortstop said he has started to feel better.

"I'm still trying to get comfortable again at the plate," he said. "I felt bad the first two or three games. But I think I'm starting to turn the corner."

During the regular season, Reynolds hit .343/.405/.454 with six home runs and 20 stolen bases in 126 games between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas. But Las Vegas' season ended Sept. 6 with a loss to Reno in the Pacific Coast League playoffs, meaning Reynolds hadn't played in a month before the AFL opened Tuesday.

Reynolds said he took batting practice and hit off a tee during the break, but that didn't compare to the level of competition he has faced in the AFL.

"It's extremely difficult, especially after going six months seeing live pitching almost every day," Reynolds said.

Reynolds shook off the rust early Saturday, as he singled in his first plate appearance and scored when Kyle Higashioka followed with a homer to give the Scorpions a 3-0 lead in the second. But, as was the case throughout the game, the Saguaros quickly answered, scoring three runs in the bottom of the inning.

After seesawing in the middle innings, the Scorpions pulled ahead again in the seventh when, with two outs, Roman Quinn walked and Brandon Nimmo followed with an RBI double. But the lead was short-lived as the Saguaros produced some two-out offense of their own in the bottom of the inning. Juan Perez and Trea Turner hit back-to-back two-out singles to score Hunter Renfroe and tie the game at five.

Even after Reynolds' 10th-inning homer, the Saguaros responded in the bottom of the inning. Rusney Castillo hit a one-out single and Nick Williams followed with a drive to center field to drive him in. But Quinn and Reynolds combined to throw Williams out at third base and right-hander Nefi Ogando got Renfroe to fly out to right field to end the game.

Reynolds said throwing Williams out was a big momentum swing, just as Surprise was mounting another rally.

"Quinn did a great job getting the ball off the wall and he got it in quick to me," Reynolds said. "[Third baseman] Dante Bichette [Jr.] put a great tag on the guy."

Turner, the Padres' No. 5 prospect, finished the game 3-for-4 with a walk, a stolen base and two RBIs. Patrick Kivlehan, the Mariners' No. 6 prospect, went 2-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs.

The Saguaros offense had been the league's best in the first week of the season, but the Scorpions produced just enough big plays to grab the victory. Their offense was boosted by Higashioka, who finished the game 3-for-5 with two runs and a stolen base. Quinn, the Phillies' No. 5 prospect, added two runs and three stolen bases.

After spending much of the first week of the AFL season getting back into form at the plate, Reynolds said he now hopes to be able to work on his overall game this fall.

"There's not one aspect that I don't want to work on," Reynolds said. "Once you get complacent in this game is when you start failing."

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Kiner among 10 finalists for '15 Frick Award

Kiner among 10 finalists for '15 Frick Award

The list of 2015 Ford C. Frick Award finalists has been narrowed to 10, with the winner set to be announced on Dec. 10 at the Winter Meetings.

The finalists are Richie Ashburn, Billy Berroa, Rene Cardenas, Dizzy Dean, Dick Enberg, Ernie Johnson Sr., Ralph Kiner, Ned Martin, Joe Nuxhall and Jack Quinlan. The award is presented annually "for excellence in baseball broadcasting" by the Hall of Fame.


The winner will be honored during the July 25 awards presentation as part of the Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y. To be considered, an active or retired broadcaster must have a minimum of 10 years of continuous Major League broadcast service.

The list of 10 includes three fan selections (Enberg, Kiner and Quinlan) and seven that were chosen by the Hall of Fame research committee. Cardenas and Enberg are the only two living candidates.

Final voting will be conducted by a 20-member electorate, comprised of the 16 living award recipients and four broadcast historian/columnists.

Joey Nowak is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Mets to replace hitting coaches Johnson, Natera

Barwis in as new strength and conditioning coach

Mets to replace hitting coaches Johnson, Natera

Disgruntled enough with the state of their offense to change hitting coaches in May, the Mets are once again undergoing a coaching shakeup. The team announced Thursday that it does not plan to invite replacement hitting coach Lamar Johnson or assistant Luis Natera back for 2015, though it will offer both men positions within the Minor League system.

"We appreciate the hard work of Lamar and Luis this year at the Major League level," general manager Sandy Alderson said in a statement. "We hope they will continue to be part of the Mets organization in the future."


Pitching coach Dan Warthen, bench coach Bob Geren, third-base coach Tim Teufel, first-base coach Tom Goodwin and bullpen coach Ricky Bones will all return to their roles in '15. The Mets also announced that they have appointed Mike Barwis to oversee all Major and Minor League strength and conditioning for their organization, parting ways with former strength coach Jim Malone.

Johnson 64, took over as hitting coach on May 26, after the Mets dismissed his predecessor, Dave Hudgens. But the Mets did not improve by any great statistical measure under Johnson's watch, producing a slash line of .238/.308/.370 with him versus .237/.309/.352 with Hudgens. Prior to becoming hitting coach, Johnson spent a decade as the organization's roving hitting instructor and Minor League hitting coordinator.

The Mets named Natera to their newly created position of assistant hitting coach in March, hoping to provide continued instruction for players in the batting cage during games. The Mets also hoped the Spanish-speaking Natera would resonate with their Latin players.

Neither move turned out the way the Mets envisioned; the team finished 22nd in the Majors in runs scored, 22nd in on-base percentage and 27th in slugging.

To replace their two hitting coaches, the Mets will look both inside and outside the organization. The immediate fallout is that there will not be room for popular Triple-A Las Vegas manager Wally Backman on the big league staff.

Barwis, 41, has worked as a conditioning consultant for the Mets since 2011, most recently running a team-sponsored fitness camp for Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada, Wilmer Flores and several other Mets last winter. Best known for his reality television show, "American Muscle," Barwis will now directly oversee the hiring and supervision of all Mets strength and conditioning coaches, and will implement his own system-wide performance training program.

Malone, who has been the team's strength and conditioning coach since '13, will no longer be part of the organization.

"Jim Malone did an excellent job for us over the last two seasons, and we wish him well," Alderson said in a statement. "Mike Barwis and his organization offer the Mets an inclusive in-season and off-season approach to performance training, which we think will accelerate the development of our players at all levels."

• As expected, reliever Jenrry Mejia underwent sports hernia surgery Thursday in Philadelphia. The Mets announced that the operation was a success, and that they expect Mejia to be back to full strength well in advance of Spring Training.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


d'Arnaud undergoes successful elbow surgery

Mets closer Mejia also slated for procedure to fix sports hernia

d'Arnaud undergoes successful elbow surgery

WASHINGTON -- Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud on Wednesday underwent successful surgery to remove a bone chip that broke off in his right elbow. D'Arnaud anticipates an approximately one-month recovery, putting him on track to be ready well before Opening Day in 2015.

Though d'Arnaud has not admitted publicly how long he had been playing through discomfort in his elbow, he said the pain became acute while making a throw to second base in a Sept. 23 game against the Nationals. The rookie catcher finished that game on the field, but he did not appear in another game this season. The Mets hope d'Arnaud's injury was at the root of his defensive inconsistencies down the stretch.


"Obviously it was affecting his throwing," manager Terry Collins said last week. "I think he changed his mechanics to try to get rid of the discomfort a little bit."

In addition, Mets closer Jenrry Mejia is scheduled for the operating room later this week to repair a sports hernia. Third baseman David Wright (ligament damage in left shoulder), outfielder Juan Lagares (sprained right elbow) and reliever Vic Black (right rotator cuff strain, herniated disc in neck) all intend to avoid surgery on their season-ending injuries.

Worth noting
Jacob deGrom, a leading candidate for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, has also been named a finalist for MLB's Players Choice Award in the same category. MLB Network will reveal the winners of those awards on Nov. 3.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Over its 23-year history, the Arizona Fall League has developed a reputation as a finishing school for baseball's top prospects. This year, once again, many of the game's best young players will gather in the desert, hoping to prove themselves in the same league that helped catapult Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Trout to stardom.

When the AFL opens play Tuesday, the concentration of talent will again be readily apparent. Two of the three Opening Day games feature premium pitching matchups, and the third game is highlighted by two of the best shortstops in the Minor Leagues.


The action begins at 3:35 p.m. ET when Peoria and right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the Royals' No. 2 prospect, visits Surprise and right-hander Taijuan Walker, whose last start was a complete game for the Mariners in the midst of their pennant race.

At the same time Tuesday afternoon, Glendale and shortstop Corey Seager, the Dodgers' No. 1 prospect, will host Mesa and shortstop Addison Russell, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect. The day ends with another pitchers' duel, as right-hander Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates' No. 1 prospect, will take the mound for Scottsdale at 9:35 p.m. ET at Salt River, facing right-hander Archie Bradley, the D-backs' No. 1 prospect.

Games with that level of talent are commonplace in the AFL, where 23 players ranked on's Top 100 Prospects list will play this season.

For the second year in a row, Byron Buxton, baseball's top ranked prospect, is among the top prospects playing in the desert this fall. Last year, the Twins' No. 1 prospect hit .212/.288/.404 in 12 games as a 19-year-old for Glendale. This year, he will be playing for Salt River as he tries to make up for lost time after missing most of the regular season due to injuries.

Buxton played in just 31 games during the regular season. A wrist injury he suffered during Spring Training delayed his start to the season and continued to hamper him throughout the first half with Class A Advanced Fort Myers. Then, in his first game after being promoted to Double-A New Britain in August, he suffered a concussion in a harrowing outfield collision and was sidelined for the final three weeks of the season.

Now healthy again, Buxton will be one of the most-watched players in the AFL. But his is far from the only storyline to watch over the next six weeks.

Making up for lost time
Like Buxton, several other players are headed to Arizona to make up for time they lost to injury during the regular season. Others who are taking advantage of the extra developmental time include outfielder Jesse Winker, the Reds' No. 2 prospect, and shortstop Tim Anderson, the White Sox's No. 2 prospect.

Many of the starting pitchers in the AFL are there because injuries prevented them from reaching their innings caps during the regular season. Bradley, Glasnow, Zimmer and Walker all spent part of this season on the disabled list, as did right-handers C.J. Edwards, the Cubs' No. 5 prospect, and Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays' No. 5 prospect.

Recent Draft picks
Last year, just four months after he was selected second overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, the Cubs sent third baseman Kris Bryant to the AFL. He hit .364/.457/.727 with six home runs in 20 games. He was named MVP and helped Mesa to the league championship game. That performance helped serve as a springboard for his historic '14 season, when he hit 43 home runs and reached Triple-A.

It is unlikely any player will be able to repeat Bryant's spectacular performance this season. But three members of the '14 Draft class will play in the AFL, led by shortstop Trea Turner, the Padres' No. 5 prospect. He was selected 13th overall in June and hit .323/.406/.448 with five home runs and 23 stolen bases in 69 games between short-season Eugene and Class A Fort Wayne.

In addition to the small group of '14 draftees, several members of the '13 Draft class will play in the AFL. Right-hander Mark Appel, the first overall pick last year, headlines the group. The Astros' No. 2 prospect had a rocky start to his first full professional season, but pitched much better after his promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi in July. He will try to build on that progress while pitching with Salt River this fall, where he joins Bradley and Buxton to form one of the most star-studded rosters in the league.

Pace of play
Major League Baseball announced last week a set of experimental rules designed to speed up the pace of play would be used in the AFL this year.

• A hitter must keep one foot inside the batter's box throughout his plate appearance, unless one of a few exceptions, such as a foul ball, occurs.

• Intentional walks will be called for by the manager and the batter will automatically take first base.

• There will be a maximum break of two minutes, five seconds between innings, with hitters required to be in the batter's box by the one-minute, 45-second mark. If either team doesn't comply, a ball or strike will be assessed accordingly.

• There will be a maximum of two minutes, 30 seconds allowed for pitching changes, including those that occur during an inning break. A ball will be called if a team takes too long.

• Each team will be permitted three "timeout" conferences covering any meeting involving pitchers and catchers, managers, coaches and batters. Timeouts during pitching changes and those that result from an injury or other emergency will not be counted toward the limit. Additionally, at Salt River home games, a 20-second pitch clock will be used. Those games will also include instant replay, as MLB continues to study potential modifications to the review system.

The experimental pace of play initiatives continue the AFL's tradition of being a testing lab for MLB's potential rule changes. Last year, the instant replay system was debuted in the AFL.

Defensive moves
Position changes often happen in a less-competitive environment than the AFL, but the league gives players who are moving around the diamond another chance to get experience.

This year, Josh Bell, the Pirates' No. 3 prospect, will be the most prominent player learning a new position. He has exclusively played the outfield in the Minor Leagues, but the Pirates already have a star-studded trio of young outfielders in the big leagues. So, this fall, Bell will try out first base, where he began taking ground balls during the regular season.

Although Peter O'Brien, the D-backs' No. 7 prospect, won't be changing positions when he catches for Salt River this fall, his progress defensively will be closely watched by evaluators. The 24-year old was a catcher in college, but has played four positions since the Yankees drafted him in the second round in '12.

The D-backs acquired O'Brien at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in exchange for Martin Prado, but injuries limited him to four games with his new club. The D-backs are sending him to the AFL as a catcher, and how he performs behind the plate over the next six weeks could inform his ultimate defensive home.

No matter where O'Brien ends up defensively, his offensive prowess gives him a chance to reach the Major Leagues. He hit 34 home runs in 106 games this season, ranking fifth among Minor Leaguers.'s Top Prospects in AFL
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
4. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
5. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
9. Archie Bradley, RHP, D-backs
13. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
16. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates
29. Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
38. Raul Mondesi, SS, Royals
40. Jesse Winker, OF, Reds
41. Mark Appel, RHP, Astros
47. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals
49. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners
53. C.J. Edwards, RHP, Cubs
60. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
71. Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres
82. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
84. Nick Williams, OF, Rangers
85. Daniel Robertson, SS, A's
86. Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals
87. Miguel Almonte, RHP, Royals
88. Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays
96. Trea Turner, SS, Padres
98. Matt Olson, 1B, A's

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Rookie arms dazzled, but Mets fell short of goals in '14

With Harvey out, deGrom, Familia buoyed staff, though lineup was inconsistent

Rookie arms dazzled, but Mets fell short of goals in '14

NEW YORK -- From the moment Matt Harvey decided to undergo Tommy John surgery last October, a bit of optimism leaked out of the Mets' 2014 season. The Mets still hoped to compete for their first playoff berth in eight years and genuinely believed they could achieve that -- that's why general manager Sandy Alderson originally brought up the topic of 90 wins as a benchmark. But the Mets knew that without Harvey, their road would be much more difficult.

"It really wasn't a prediction," Alderson said of his 90-win dream. "It was about thinking differently. If you're going to set a goal, you need to set a goal that you can't just achieve easily. You have to set a goal that's aspirational. We [didn't] get there, but you know what? We played a lot better this year than we did last year. There's no reason that next year, we can't do it."


Free-agent contracts for Bartolo Colon, Curtis Granderson and Chris Young buoyed the Mets' hopes over the winter, but Colon proved inconsistent, while the latter two players struggled. That left things up to the organization's incumbent young players, who took a collective step forward -- but not a big enough one in the end.

"There've been two or three players who didn't produce the way we would've liked," Alderson said. "If one of them or two of them would've produced the way we would've liked, it would've been a whole different season."

The result was yet another October-less finish for the Mets, who -- with Harvey back next spring -- believe they at least improved enough to make a serious run at a playoff berth in 2015.

Record: 79-83, tied for second with Atlanta in the National League East.

Defining moment: The Mets arrived in Chicago early on the morning of June 3, having just played 57 innings over a successful five-game series in Philadelphia to keep pace in a crowded NL East. That night, Scott Rice served up a walk-off single to Cubs outfielder Nate Schierholtz, the first of six straight games the Mets lost by a combined total of 10 runs. They never made another serious run at the division lead.

What went right: When the Mets traded embattled first baseman Ike Davis to the Pirates in April, they were essentially gambling that Lucas Duda could transform into a solid middle-of-the-order bat. He responded with aplomb, smacking 16 homers over one particular 62-game stretch. … Zack Wheeler quietly continued his development into a frontline pitcher, delivering quality starts in 10 of 11 tries at one point. … Travis d'Arnaud began answering the myriad questions about his bat, breaking out in early June and never looking back. … Harvey suffered no setbacks in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, setting himself up for an Opening Day 2015 return. … Wilmer Flores proved he could play shortstop at least an adequate level, giving the Mets a legitimate option there going forward. … For the first time under Alderson, the Mets employed an above-average bullpen, leaning in particular on new closer Jenrry Mejia and setup man Jeurys Familia, as well as lefty specialist Josh Edgin and right-hander Vic Black. … The rotation was as good (and healthy) as advertised, with rookie Jacob deGrom emerging as a strong young star.

What went wrong: The Mets, quite simply, did not hit. They spent most of the summer ranking at or near the bottom of the league in on-base and slugging percentages, due in part to Granderson's rough first year in Flushing. Granderson bookended a hot June and July with elongated slumps in April, May and August. … David Wright, too, was not his normal self, enduring a power outage early in the year and never recovering. The third baseman jammed his left shoulder in mid-June and experienced lingering effects for the rest of the year, finally shutting it down in early September. He finished with the worst on-base and slugging percentages of his career, as well as a career-low eight home runs. … The Mets also lost closer Bobby Parnell to Tommy John surgery after a single appearance. … And they flat-out could not beat the Nationals, losing 11 of their first 13 games to them. … Top prospect Noah Syndergaard battled inconsistency at Triple-A Las Vegas, never making it to the Majors in what the Mets had hoped would be his debut season.

Biggest surprise: Duda's emergence was a blessing for the Mets, who suddenly appear set at first base for the indefinite future. Once Duda began employing a more aggressive approach at the plate, he started hitting home runs with regularity, eventually settling into the cleanup spot for good.

Hitter of the Year: With apologies to Duda, whose emergence transformed the middle of the lineup, second baseman Daniel Murphy was the Mets' lone All-Star for a reason. Improving his plate discipline while retaining his power gains of 2013, Murphy also shed the wild hot and cold streaks that had defined him in the past. Before a series of injuries struck late in the year, Murphy had a legitimate chance to lead the Major Leagues in hits.

Pitcher of the Year: Few in baseball were better in the second half than deGrom, who did not need a full season to establish himself as the rotation's top performer. Though Wheeler performed at a high level for longer, his peak was not as impressive as that of deGrom, who proved all but unhittable from mid-July into September.

Rookie of the Year: deGrom, of course, though not by a landslide. Coming out of the bullpen, Familia proved stellar in what was technically his rookie year as well. Filling in at closer at times, but mostly handling the eighth inning for the Mets, Familia developed over the course of the summer into one of baseball's top late-inning arms.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Strong finish nets deGrom NL Rookie of Month honors

Strong finish nets deGrom NL Rookie of Month honors

NEW YORK -- As perhaps a prelude to a National League Rookie of the Year Award, Mets starter Jacob deGrom on Tuesday was named the NL's Rookie of the Month for September. It was the second Rookie of the Month honor this season for deGrom, who also won it in July.

Despite skipping his final start due to an innings limit, deGrom posted a 2-0 record and 1.67 ERA in September, striking out 38 batters against six walks in 27 innings. Opponents hit .189 against him in the month.


Overall, deGrom finished 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA, 144 strikeouts and 43 walks in 140 1/3 innings. His main competition for the NL Rookie of the Year Award, Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton, hit .250 with 56 stolen bases, six home runs and a .292 on-base percentage.

"Now, I'm thinking about it," deGrom said of the Rookie of the Year, shortly after the Mets announced his shutdown. "It would be a great honor."

deGrom will enter next season alongside Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler atop the Mets' rotation. At 26, he is the oldest of those three pitchers.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Mets' 2015 plan includes small but impactful changes

NY believes top-notch rotation, led by Harvey, will carry team to contention

Mets' 2015 plan includes small but impactful changes

NEW YORK -- The Mets have no grand plans to change much over the winter. When pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., four and a half months from now, the roster will not look markedly different from the one that populated Citi Field last Sunday.

But the Mets have reason to believe that with even modest improvements, they can be significantly better. The team expects more productive seasons from third baseman David Wright and outfielder Curtis Granderson, to say the least, and anticipates a boost from starting pitcher Matt Harvey in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. By boasting one of the top rotations in baseball, the Mets believe, they can transform an average club into a playoff contender.


Beyond Wright, Granderson and Harvey, the Mets hope to see improvement from many of their young players -- from Juan Lagares in the outfield to Wilmer Flores in the infield and Zack Wheeler in the rotation.

"Now we've got to move forward," manager Terry Collins said. "We've got to play more consistently. We've got to do a better job of situational hitting. And we've got to get David and Grandy going. David, his offensive production is down this year, probably due to the fact that he was hurt. But we need him in the lineup. We need him in the middle of the lineup doing what he does, and that's get big hits."

General manager Sandy Alderson has already said the Mets do not plan to expand their payroll much beyond its current level, which is just shy of $90 million. But Alderson doesn't believe his club needs that luxury. Outside of left field and possibly shortstop, the Mets do not see any irreparable weaknesses on their roster. Instead, they see a team ripe for improvement in multiple areas.

Arbitration-eligible: C Anthony Recker, 1B Lucas Duda, 2B Daniel Murphy, SS Ruben Tejada, OF Eric Young Jr., RHP Buddy Carlyle, RHP Dana Eveland, RHP Jenrry Mejia, RHP Dillon Gee, RHP Bobby Parnell.

Free agents: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Rotation: How the Mets address their rotation over the winter should be telling. A clear surplus of starting pitching exists, with Harvey returning to a rotation that already includes Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Jon Niese, Gee and Bartolo Colon. The Mets also have top prospects Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero waiting in the wings, giving New York what Collins called a series of "good decisions" to make. There is a decent chance the Mets trade one of their starters, with Colon and Niese the most likely candidates. But Alderson has often emphasized the importance of starting-pitching depth, knowing injuries are an unavoidable part of the game. Both Niese and Gee have proven injury-prone in recent years, giving the Mets an excuse to hang on to as many arms as possible.

Bullpen: For the first time in years, the Mets are set with their relief corps heading into the winter -- the only question is who their closer will be. Mejia handled the job relatively well in 2014, but fell victim to numerous minor injuries throughout the summer. That could be enough for the Mets to give the ninth inning back to Parnell as soon as he is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, perhaps even sometime in April. Another option is Jeurys Familia, who was the Mets' best reliever all year before enduring a rough patch in September. Regardless of their roles, those three will reunite with left-hander Josh Edgin and right-handers Carlos Torres and Vic Black, giving the Mets an extremely stable bullpen core heading into the winter. The team is unlikely to add even a single big league piece to that mix through free agency.

Catcher: This, too, is a relatively stable area for the Mets -- albeit one in which the team may soon have to make another of Collins' "good decisions." Travis d'Arnaud's breakout in 2014 ensured that he will be the unquestioned starter heading into Spring Training, leaving no obvious spot for prospect Kevin Plawecki, who has surged through the ranks since Alderson selected him in the supplemental round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. The Mets may soon have no choice but to begin shopping Plawecki, a bat-first catcher known for his patience at the plate. It remains unclear who will back up d'Arnaud, with Recker due to hit arbitration for the first time. Though the Mets value Recker in his current role, his escalating salary could prompt them to non-tender him.

First base: With his hot midseason run in 2014, Duda bought himself plenty of time as the Mets' unquestioned starting first baseman. Concerns still exist, particularly regarding Duda's ability to hit left-handed pitching. But the starting job is his to lose going into the offseason, while Eric Campbell and Josh Satin figure to battle it out in Spring Training for the backup gig that Campbell held for most of 2014. The Mets' top first-base prospect on the farm, Dominic Smith, struggled through his first full professional season in 2014 and remains years away from entering the big league conversation.

Second base: A worthy first-time All-Star in 2014, Murphy remains one of the best pure hitters in the game and successful enough at the dish to make up for his defensive shortcomings. Given their sudden glut of middle-infield options, the Mets could once again look to trade Murphy this winter, though that window may have closed for good; Murphy should earn close to an eight-figure salary through arbitration, decreasing the chance that rival teams would give up anything of value for him. Assuming Murphy stays, 20-year-old prospect Dilson Herrera should open the regular season at Triple-A Las Vegas, giving the Mets ample insurance in the event of an injury or in-season deal.

Shortstop: No position on the diamond offers more varied possibilities for the Mets than shortstop, where Flores may have done enough in September to make the team think twice about acquiring someone from outside the organization. Flores' ability to hit and defend at the big league level both remain in question, but the Mets don't have any better in-house options; prospect Matt Reynolds is raw and untested, while Tejada has long since worn out his welcome. The Mets could swing a trade or invest in one of several tempting free-agent options -- J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie or Asdrubal Cabrera, to name three. But with a limited payroll, the club is more likely to give Flores first crack at the position, knowing Reynolds will be available should things go south.

Third base: No one -- not Wright, not the Mets, not their trainers -- knows for sure how much the captain's nagging shoulder injury was to blame for his poor 2014 production. All the Mets can do is hope that it affected him to an extreme extent, knowing they need a major bounceback from Wright in 2015. The Mets are committed to him for another six seasons and $107 million. At best, he is still an elite, albeit injury-prone player entering his age-32 season. At worst, he is already well into the decline phase of his career. The Wright of 2006-08 may be gone forever, but the Mets desperately need him to be at least the Wright of 2012-13.

Outfield: Left field is the big issue here, with Lagares set to man center field for the foreseeable future and Granderson locked into right for three more seasons. With no obvious options on the farm, the Mets should look to free agency, where Melky Cabrera and Nelson Cruz highlight a weak pool of options. One intriguing name is 24-year-old Cuban defector Yasmany Tomas, who may not be ready for the big leagues by Opening Day and could easily prove too expensive for the Mets' taste. Alderson could also go cheaper by investing in an aging free agent such as Michael Cuddyer, who happens to be friends with Wright. Beyond the starters, Matt den Dekker and Kirk Nieuwenhuis figure to compete for one backup job, while Young is a non-tender candidate in his second year of arbitration eligibility. Top prospects Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto both have high ceilings, but neither is ready to make an impact in 2015.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Mets close season optimistic for next year

Duda drives in four, Colon wins 15th as NY finishes second in NL East

Mets close season optimistic for next year

NEW YORK -- During the ninth inning of the Mets' season-ending 8-3 win over the Astros on Sunday, moments before they officially earned their first second-place finish since 2008, Matt Harvey shuffled over to Terry Collins in Citi Field's home dugout. The embodiment of why this season went awry for the Mets, Harvey looked his manager in the eyes.

"We're going to do it next year," he said.


Relaying the story minutes later, Collins added: "He doesn't lie to me."

It was more than a year ago that Harvey emerged from an MRI tube in Manhattan, setting the Mets on their current path. Testing that day revealed a partially torn ligament in Harvey's right elbow. He underwent surgery. The Mets lost their best pitcher and -- though they shied away from admitting it at the time -- their greatest chance at a quick return to playoff glory.

They fought anyway. They propped themselves up by signing Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon at the Winter Meetings, trumpeting those players as cogs in their long-awaited salvation. But the thought lingered that without Harvey, their fate had already been cast.

In reality, to pin the Mets' sixth consecutive losing season on Harvey's injury would be to dismiss all context. Had Harvey been healthy, the Mets might never have discovered rookie Jacob deGrom, who spent most of the summer putting up Harvey-like numbers. Even Harvey may not have been able to change the luck of New York, which finished as the league's only sub-.500 team that scored more runs (629) than it allowed (618).

His absence simply represented the top of a not-consistently-downward spiral, which ended Sunday at Citi Field. Colon's six innings of three-run ball made him a 15-game winner at age 41, a feat unto itself. Lucas Duda's career-high 89th and 90th RBIs put the Mets ahead for good, before his 30th homer iced the victory. Bobby Abreu's 2,470th and final career hit was a nice moment for the 34,897 who filtered in and out of the park on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon. The day's highlight, a two-hit effort by Astros second baseman Jose Altuve to seal the American League batting title, was not nearly enough to send the Mets to defeat.

"It was a good ending to a tough year," said Collins, whose team finished tied with Atlanta for second place in the NL East. "We certainly are looking forward to 2015. Every guy in that room is going to dedicate himself, I know, this winter."

Collins pinched his thumb and forefinger together.

"We talked about being this close," he said. "We're this close. Now we've just got to get over the top."

For now, the Mets head into winter as a 79-win team -- their highest total since 2008, but still far from general manager Sandy Alderson's preseason hope of 90. As they have throughout the month of September, the Mets received enough contributions from varied sources Sunday -- two-hit games by Matt den Dekker and Wilmer Flores, a season-capping effort by Duda, spotless relief innings from Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia -- to look toward next season with genuine optimism.

So why not keep those beer mugs, soda cans and water bottles half-full? The Mets will have Harvey back next year, even if his effectiveness remains to be determined. They will add him to a rotation that should also include deGrom and Zack Wheeler, who both took massive steps forward this summer. The Mets' lineup will include a healthy David Wright and perhaps a rejuvenated Granderson, in addition to the power bat they hope to add this winter.

"A lot of individual guys, and us as a team, have finished on such a strong note that we have some momentum going into the offseason," Wright said. "Hopefully that carries over into Spring Training."

Of course, as Duda put it, "we're not where we need to be or want to be." Unexpected issues can and will surface. Injuries will occur. Players will falter. But the Mets feel, for the first time in years, that they have amassed enough skill and potential to thrive regardless of what happens.

"I think we're capable of doing that," Alderson said. "I think we have a lot of potential for growth within the group of players that we currently have."

Last September, the Mets were supposed to head into the winter feeling genuine optimism for the first time in a half-decade. Harvey's injury changed all that, delaying that feeling until right now.

"There are clearly going to be higher expectations for this team next year," a reporter told Collins on Sunday morning, attempting to launch into a question about them.

"Mm-hmm," Collins said, cutting him off. "And there should be."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Abreu exits to ovation, savors last moments in uniform

Veteran, retiring after 18 seasons, singles in his final at-bat Sunday

Abreu exits to ovation, savors last moments in uniform

NEW YORK -- It was a moment 18 years and 2,425 games in the making.

In the fifth inning Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, with a line-drive single to left, Bobby Abreu recorded his 2,470th and final big league hit. He waved his batting helmet to acknowledge a standing ovation from the fans at Citi Field and received the ball he hit before departing for pinch-runner Eric Young Jr., bringing an end to a Major League career spanning nearly two decades.


"Special, special," Abreu said, his eyes wet and words hard to find. "The way I wanted to end it -- on the field. Thanks to all the fans for the ovation over there and my teammates, they're a part of that. It was nice. I don't think it could be better than that."

It was an emotional day and an emotional moment for Abreu, and though he says he's ready to stop being a player -- he mulled it over most of the season -- he sat at his locker for close to half an hour after the end of the game, still in full uniform. An Abreu No. 53 jersey was displayed in the clubhouse, already adorned with teammates' signatures. He accepted congratulatory words from well-wishers. He spoke again of wanting to be a coach somewhere down the line.

"It's nice to wear [the uniform] for a little bit more time," Abreu said. "As soon as I take it off, I'm never going to wear it again -- as a player. Just enjoying the moment."

Young, Abreu's replacement at first, later scored to put the Mets on top for good in their 8-3 win over the Astros to cap 2014.

Abreu, who announced Friday that this season would be his last, started in right field for the 21st time this year and the 1,942nd time in his career. He finished Sunday 1-for-2 with a walk.

Mets manager Terry Collins said he and bench coach Bob Geren didn't make any decisions regarding Abreu until Sunday morning. The pair didn't know when they would take Abreu out, but hoped he would reach base to make it easy.

"Let's get him in part of the game, see if he can get a hit. If he can get a hit, I think it's a good way to end it," Collins said. "What does he do? Get a hit. It was tremendous for him.

"We all want to do it justice."

Safe to say, mission accomplished. Abreu's final act was playing against the organization with which he got his professional start (the Astros), playing for the team against which he collected his first big league hit (the Mets), and playing under the same manager as when he was a 22-year-old September callup in 1996 (Collins).

Abreu retires a career .291 hitter with 288 homers, 1,363 RBIs and an .870 OPS.

"This kid, I saw him when he was just a young kid, a young baby," Collins recalled. "He was such a talented player, and to see the kind of man he grew into and the kind of person he grew into [means a lot].

"It's going to be difficult to emulate the career," Collins continued. "Just emulate the man."

Tim Healey is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Duda caps breakout year with 30th home run

First baseman became backbone of lineup, posting career highs in hits, RBIs, average

Duda caps breakout year with 30th home run

NEW YORK -- When the Mets traded first baseman Ike Davis to the Pirates in mid-April, the move was as much about letting go of their struggling slugger as it was anticipating his replacement. Sunday afternoon that replacement-turned-mainstay, Lucas Duda, punctuated the end of the season with the trusted power he had provided all season.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Duda walloped a changeup from Michael Foltynewicz into the right-center-field bullpen, his 30th home run of the season, to score Daniel Murphy and solidify the Mets' 8-3 victory over the Astros. That capped off a two-hit day that included a two-run double in the fifth, giving him 92 RBIs for the year.


"It was definitely nice to end on a win," said Duda. "Thirty, that's a pretty nice number. Hopefully I can build on that and take it into next season."

The Mets are hoping for the same thing.

Duda became just the 17th Mets player to reach 30 home runs -- the first since Davis hit 32 in 2012 -- putting Duda in third place behind Anthony Rizzo (32) and Giancarlo Stanton (37) this season and doubling Duda's previous outputs for each of the last two years.

That, following his walk-off goner Saturday night, was enough to make the usually stoic Duda grin as he cleaned out his locker and said his goodbyes.

"This guy shows no emotion and two days in a row, he's got a big smile on his face," said manager Terry Collins. "It was great to see."

It was a breakthrough year for Duda, who posted career highs in just about every major category, including homers, batting average (.253), runs (74), hits (130) and doubles (27), while managing to play in 153 games.

"It's been fun to watch," said David Wright. "[Duda] finally got an opportunity to play and the numbers speak for themselves. To hit 30 home runs here is a pretty tough feat. The production, he's solidified himself as a middle-of-the-lineup type guy. I'm really, really happy for him to get to 30 and give him even more confidence going into next year.

Duda will rightly be excited as he heads into Spring Training not having to directly compete for first base. He may also be excited that the Mets are likely to move in the dimensions of Citi Field's right and right-center field next year, according to general manger Sandy Alderson.

"I think just coming into Spring Training healthy and building on this year … I'm really looking forward to next year and what it holds," said Duda. "I'm excited."

"You can see he can drive the ball more, especially to right-center," said Bobby Abreu, who ended his impressive career Sunday with the Mets. "No doubt he's got the power. All he's got to do is learn how to use it. He's on the way right now with 30. There's going to be more coming for him."

Jake Kring-Schreifels is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Colon posts 15th win, reaches 200 innings in Game 162

Alderson indicates that coaching changes are unlikely, right-field wall may be moved

Colon posts 15th win, reaches 200 innings in Game 162

NEW YORK -- In the hours prior to Sunday's season finale at Citi Field, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve delivered a gift to Bartolo Colon: a signed bat, featuring an inscription in Spanish. The token of goodwill perhaps bought Altuve some karma; he finished 2-for-4 against Colon to become Houston's first ever batting champion.

Colon, for his part, completed his eighth season of at least 200 innings and his eighth with at least 15 wins. He did it all at age 41.


"It's one of the most significant things for my personal goals, personal career," Colon said through an interpreter, "because I accomplished something that is hard to accomplish at my age."

Some other picked-up pieces from the Mets' 162nd and final game of the season:

• General manager Sandy Alderson cautioned reporters not to "assume there will be any changes" to manager Terry Collins' coaching staff. The team plans to announce its plans later this week, though significant turnover is unlikely. Pitching coach Dan Warthen and bullpen coach Ricky Bones guided the Mets to the National League's sixth-best ERA and the franchise's fewest runs allowed over a 162-game season since 1990. Bench coach Bob Geren is a longtime Alderson ally, while third-base coach Tim Teufel is a well-regarded organizational staple.

If a change comes, it could occur at hitting coach, where Lamar Johnson took over from Dave Hudgens in May and did not oversee much improvement (a .239/.307/.370 slash line, versus .237.309/.352 under Hudgens). Though Alderson would not say whether Triple-A manager Wally Backman is a candidate for the big league staff, there is no obvious spot for him.

• The Mets are "likely" to move portions of their outfield fence in next year, according to Alderson. The area in question is in right-center field, almost exactly where Lucas Duda hit his career-high 30th homer on Sunday.

• Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka's stateside career, which began seven years ago amidst massive hype and an eight-figure contract, may be coming to a quiet end. A pending free agent, Matsuzaka said he has not yet considered whether he would like to pitch in the United States or Japan next season, but that he wants to sign somewhere as a starter. Matsuzaka started only nine of his 34 games in 2014.

• Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis remained hospitalized Sunday with an infection. Nieuwenhuis missed the season's final three games, finishing with a .259 average and .828 OPS. He will be out of Minor League options next year, making him a prime candidate to make the team as a reserve outfielder.

Jacob deGrom is due to be married on Nov. 8. It should be an eventful few days for deGrom; the Baseball Writers' Association of America will announce its postseason awards, including National League Rookie of the Year, the following week.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Worth the wait: Duda's walk-off HR in ninth lifts Mets

First baseman delievers two-out, two-run shot, ends Astros' shutout bid

Worth the wait: Duda's walk-off HR in ninth lifts Mets

NEW YORK -- During the postgame hoopla Saturday night at Citi Field, amidst the celebratory scrum at home plate and Lucas Duda's ice-water bath and high-fives a tad more emphatic than normal following the Mets' 2-1, walk-off win over the Astros, David Wright ran into Mets manager Terry Collins.

The third baseman noted that this moment -- seeing Duda smile wide by the time he touched first base and toss his helmet between third and home -- was the most fun he's had in a while.


Duda's ninth-inning, walk-off home run served as an important reminder to the team. Baseball, for all the games and players the Mets have lost this season, not only can be fun, but it should be fun.

"[Duda] doesn't smile much. He doesn't have much to say. There's not a lot of emotion in that body, but tonight there was," Collins said. "That certainly shows that there's still fun here.

"The game is a lot of fun. We've worked very, very hard and on this club with my coaching staff and the players to enjoy ourselves each and every day. It's tough here. It's tough in the big leagues. The expectations are you're supposed to win, and we're certainly well aware of that. But the one thing you have to do is you have to enjoy coming out to the ballpark. I think our guys do that."

It was a reminder, too, that Duda, whose big bat has been mostly dormant this month, indeed has a big bat. The game-winning home run was his 29th of the season -- and just his second off a left-hander -- and came on a 92-mph fastball from Houston reliever Tony Sipp. Sipp left it belt high and on the inner half of the plate. Duda swatted it 330 feet off the right-field foul pole with his parents, David and Eleanor, in the stands for his first game-ending long ball.

"I don't hit many walk-off home runs, so I don't really know what to do," Duda said. "I've seen a lot of other guys throw their helmet up, so I thought I'd do it."

Added Sipp: "A guy with that much power, you've got to locate at least down and I left it up. He did what most power hitters do with fastballs that are elevated in the middle."

Duda's dramatics ended what was a mostly futile night at the plate in support of right-hander Rafael Montero. In Montero's final audition, of sorts, in 2014, he made his case to stick as a starter, and it was a pretty good one.

Although he exhibited signs typical of a rookie trying to find himself at the Major League level -- nibbling too much, working into and out of trouble -- Montero ultimately had a strong showing. In 5 1/3 innings, he allowed one run on six hits and two walks while striking out six.

Houston managed five hard-hit balls off Montero, but the rookie right-hander did a good job in that he scattered them, one each in five innings. The Astros didn't break through until the sixth, when Jason Castro's line-drive double to right plated Dexter Fowler.

That ended Montero's night and season. In addition to a strong showing with Triple-A Las Vegas, Montero finished with a 4.06 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in 10 Major League games (eight starts). Montero was especially effective in his final three starts, which were spread out over six weeks. He held opposing batters to a combined two runs in 18 innings (1.00 ERA).

"One of the biggest things early was I thought his command was much better," Collins said of Montero's effort Saturday. "I don't know if he got a little tired -- he hasn't pitched in 10 days, at that length -- but his changeup was good tonight. I thought this was the best slider I've seen him have.

"He certainly showed tonight he's capable of pitching at this level."

The Mets lineup did Montero no favors most of Saturday. Against a motley crew of Houston hurlers, New York had two hits and advanced two hitters as far as second base through eight innings.

Eric Young Jr. tripled in the ninth to set the stage for Duda.

Duda enters the season's final day a homer shy of 30 and two RBIs shy of 90 -- round numbers that would be nice to reach, but are ultimately arbitrary and don't really add to or take away from what has been a breakout season for the Mets' first baseman.

"That shows you exactly the kind of damage he can do," Collins said. "I think for him, he's going to go into the offseason very, very confident that he's a middle-of-the-order guy."

Tim Healey is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


McHugh returns to Citi a success story

McHugh returns to Citi a success story

NEW YORK -- Handshakes and hugs awaited Collin McHugh when the Mets'-turned Astros' pitcher showed up at Citi Field this weekend, having just completed a breakout rookie season. Rising through the Minors alongside Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom and others, McHugh debuted at Citi in 2012 but struggled. The Mets later traded him to the Rockies, who ultimately designated him for assignment.

That led to a job with the Astros for McHugh, whose trip to Flushing gave him the opportunity to say hello to Josh Satin, Josh Edgin and other old friends.


"It's cool to see them have success and see this team kind of build from the roots up, too," said McHugh, who is not scheduled to pitch this weekend. "I feel like both organizations are moving in really good directions."

For the Mets, McHugh never entered the conversation of elite prospects, despite strong numbers climbing up the Minor League ladder. But he has blossomed into one of the game's best pitchers in Houston, posting a 2.73 ERA this season with 157 strikeouts in 154 2/3 innings. Despite being a flamethrower (his average fastball velocity jumped to approximately 91 mph this year), McHugh is one of only 17 big league pitchers with at least 150 innings and more than a strikeout per frame. Wheeler is another.

McHugh has, in short, looked nothing like the pitcher who posted an 8.26 ERA over five starts and six relief appearances with the Mets.

"I think everybody at some points hits a time where you either figure it out or you don't," McHugh said. "I feel like this year, I finally started figuring it out."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Niese exits final start with elevated heart rate

Niese exits final start with elevated heart rate

NEW YORK -- An old issue, once brushed aside but never completely forgotten, forced a premature end to Mets starter Jon Niese's season. Niese left Friday's game against the Astros in the sixth inning with an elevated heart rate, which has affected him in the past.

Pitching in the sixth inning at Citi Field, Niese gave up a leadoff single on an 86-mph cut fastball to Gregorio Petit, who was cut down stealing second on the next pitch. Niese appeared to grimace on that offering, leaving the game after a brief consultation with trainer Ray Ramirez.


"It's certainly something that you can't mess with at the time," manager Terry Collins said. "He said it was really racing fast, so we took him out."

Niese's season thus ended with a 9-11 record and 3.40 ERA in 30 starts, placing him within a massive group of players -- David Wright, Travis d'Arnaud, Juan Lagares, Vic Black, Dilson Herrera and Dana Eveland are the others -- that the Mets have shut down due to injuries this month.

It was not the first time that an elevated heart rate has affected Niese, who left games early due to arrhythmias in 2011 and '12. After each episode, Niese underwent a battery of tests that revealed nothing overly concerning. He will undergo more testing soon.

"I guess it's just the way my heart is built," Niese said. "It just happens. I have an idea of what's going on. It's not really that scary. When it happens, I know it's going to go away eventually."

Niese made plans to fix the problem for good via a heart ablation in December 2012, but in the weeks leading up to the procedure, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic near his home in Ohio told him it was not necessary. As a result, Niese never underwent it.

A typical ablation procedure threads catheters through veins to a patient's heart, according to the Mayo Clinic, to correct structural problems that can cause arrhythmias. It works by scarring or destroying heart tissue that triggers an abnormal heart rhythm or, in some cases, by preventing abnormal electrical signals from traveling through a patient's heart.

"The doctors just said that it was nothing major and that I didn't need to have surgery," Niese said at the time. "I'm just going to go on as normal and that's it. It's a really good thing."

Niese has endured multiple health issues since that time. He missed two months last summer with a partial tear of his left rotator cuff, then opened this season on the disabled list with inflammation on his left elbow. In July, Niese again hit the DL with inflammation in his shoulder.

He did submit a fine statistical campaign when healthy, coming within one out of a career-low ERA and nine outs of a career-high innings total. Over his past three seasons, Niese has averaged 10 wins and 173 2/3 innings per year, with a 3.49 ERA. Now one month shy of his 28th birthday, Niese has two guaranteed seasons and two team options remaining on the five-year, $25.5-million contract extension he signed in April 2012.

"Kind of up and down," was how he assessed his 2014 season. "I always can improve. I've just got to avoid all the little things like tonight."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Torres surrenders three runs after Niese's exit

Granderson's homer provided the lone run in series-opening loss

Torres surrenders three runs after Niese's exit

NEW YORK -- This isn't what Mets manager Terry Collins had in mind when he said he wanted all of his pitchers to end their seasons healthy.

Left-hander Jon Niese, who cruised into the sixth inning of the Mets' 3-1 loss to the Astros at Citi Field, exited the game after 5 1/3 scoreless frames Friday night with what the team called an elevated heart rate. Niese had thrown only 66 pitches -- no more than 15 in a single inning -- when Collins and a team trainer visited the mound in the top of the sixth. Moments later, Niese departed, ambiguously bookending his up-and-down season. He ends 2014 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, marks both good for the second-best of his career behind 2012.


"There are so many areas to improve on," Niese said. "With not having my stuff, my arm strength as much as I wanted to, I figured out how to pitch this year, which is another good step."

Niese, who left games under similar circumstances in 2011 and 2012, but wasn't outwardly concerned about the issue Friday, caps 2014 on a statistically strong run despite the uncertainty surrounding his health. In his final four starts, Niese posted a 1.71 ERA and 0.987 WHIP, one of his strongest three-week stretches at any point this season.

More specifically -- and more importantly, maybe -- Niese exhibited sharp control, walking just two batters (compared with 23 strikeouts) and throwing just over two-thirds of his pitches for strikes in that span. Overall this season Niese, issued about one walk for every three strikeouts while finding the zone with just under two-thirds of his pitches.

Those recent outings represent a clear upward trend and important rebound from what had been a mostly rough second half for Niese. His steady opening three-plus months -- a 2.96 ERA and 1.21 WHIP -- ended with Niese landing on the disabled list to give his fatigued left shoulder a rest. The Mets hoped the time down would give him strength the rest of the way.

It didn't. Including Friday's outing, Niese owned a 3.95 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in the second half.

Niese made significant improvements despite -- and maybe as a result of -- the lack of shoulder strength. He also pointed to the further development of his changeup, his fifth pitch, as a reason to head into the winter happy.

The numbers back that up. Against Niese's change entering Friday, opposing batters hit just .246, according to Brooks Baseball, compared with .324 in 2013. They also slugged .391, far lower than the .514 mark they posted last year when Niese threw the changeup.

"I didn't have as good a second half as I did a first half, but I kind of felt the same at times, I felt better at times in the second half. I really don't think [the time on the DL] benefited or hurt me," Niese said. "I really had to pay attention to the hitters this year. I wasn't able to just throw it by them.

"Hopefully I can do some things this offseason to help my arm strength and next year be able to pitch with my good stuff."

Part of that plan -- an attempt to be proactive in keeping the shoulder strong throughout the year and skip the midseason respite -- involves heading to the Mets' Spring Training facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in early January. Last winter, at home in Ohio, it was often too cold for Niese to go outside and long toss, a problem he won't have in Florida.

That will give him a head start on the Mets' looming rotation battle and roster crunch, with at least six, and as many as eight, arms contending for five spots.

Niese's scoreless effort against the Astros was all for naught. Reliever Carlos Torres allowed three runs (two earned) in the sixth inning, all before retiring his first batter. Batting-title contender Jose Altuve singled to score Robbie Grossman, and Altuve scored when catcher Anthony Recker dropped a relay throw following Chris Carter's double. Matt Dominguez's single plated Carter.

The Mets' lone run came via a Curtis Granderson homer in the fourth. He smacked a Brad Peacock fastball -- low and over the plate -- into the right-field seats for his 20th of the year.

It wasn't enough to get Niese the win, but, as he put it, "a lot of that is out of my control."

"He was pitching great. Obviously last outing of the year, you want to go out with your best outing of the year," Recker said. "He was definitely on his way there. He still obviously had a great outing even though it got cut short. Good thing for him to build off of next year."

Tim Healey is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Durable, reliable Abreu decides to retire after 18 seasons

Durable, reliable Abreu decides to retire after 18 seasons

NEW YORK -- Standing at the end of a borderline Hall of Fame career arc, Bobby Abreu walked into Mets manager Terry Collins' office recently and relayed his intentions to retire after this season.

"Are you sure?" asked Collins, Abreu's first and final big league manager. "You have to be sure. You have to be 100-percent sure that enough's enough, because there's going to be a time when you're going to miss it."


Abreu, 40, was as certain as anyone can be, making an emotional announcement Friday afternoon at Citi Field. A player as well-known for his plate discipline as any in history, Abreu shied away from hype throughout his two-plus decades as a professional. Yet he entered Friday's play with a .291 average, .395 on-base percentage, 288 home runs and 400 stolen bases, making two All-Star Games during his nine years with the Phillies. Abreu also won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger and made seven MVP ballots overall, and is baseball's active leader in doubles and walks.

The Mets plan to discuss a way to honor Abreu appropriately on Sunday, Collins said, so that he can "walk off with his head held high."

"I feel happy with my career," Abreu said. "I feel blessed. We all create goals in my life, and me as a baseball player, I made all those goals."

Known also for his quiet clubhouse leadership over 18 seasons, Abreu said he would like to become a coach one day, but not before he settles several business ventures outside the game.

Philosophically, his attributes as a hitter would make him an ideal fit on New York's staff. A capable hitter with two strikes, Abreu ranks eighth all-time in pitches per plate appearances (for as long as Major League Baseball has tracked that stat). He walked more than 100 times in eight separate seasons, a statistic made possible by his durability. Over a nine-year span beginning in 1998 (and encompassing his entire Phillies tenure), Abreu averaged 157 games played per season, batting .305 with a .928 OPS and an average of 22 homers and 29 steals.

Those numbers make him a borderline Hall of Famer. Abreu's 59.9 career Wins Above Replacement rank 119th in history, ahead of such modern-day outfielders as Vladimir Guerrero, Ichiro Suzuki and Sammy Sosa. The case against Abreu is that that he never constructed a truly elite statistical season, instead compiling strong career totals via durability and longevity.

"He was probably a little bit underappreciated," Collins said. "But I think when it's all said and done, his numbers will speak up for themselves."

Statistics aside, Abreu established himself as strong clubhouse influence, particularly amongst his fellow Latin players. Collins leaned on him this season to mentor Mets outfielder Juan Lagares and shortstop Wilmer Flores -- the latter, like Abreu, a native Venezuelan. Such are the attributes that Collins believes will eventually make Abreu a valuable big league coach.

He should know. As manager of the Astros in 1996, Collins brought Abreu to the big leagues as a 22-year-old outfielder late that season. Eighteen years later, after a year away from the Majors, Abreu impressed former Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens enough during Winter Ball to earn a Minor League contract in February. Abreu proved his skills at Triple-A Las Vegas, joined the Mets for a stint, then headed back to Vegas when the Mets designated him for assignment. Earlier this month, general manager Sandy Alderson rewarded him with a second callup, in part because he believed Abreu's plate approach set a strong example for his teammates.

"He's an example for all these young guys," Collins said. "When you've got one of the genuine, great players who is willing to go down and ride that bus and get on those 4 a.m. flights just to have the chance to get back to the big leagues, it says a lot."

This weekend, Abreu will make his final Major League appearances against the Astros, the team that first signed him as a 16-year-old in 1990. It will be an emotional experience for Abreu, just as announcing his retirement Friday was. Between tears, Abreu choked out his intentions in a conference room at Citi Field.

"I just want to say goodbye," Abreu said, struggling with the words. "And adios."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Struggling to find form, Gee ends 'frustrating' season

Struggling to find form, Gee ends 'frustrating' season

WASHINGTON -- On May 10, Dillon Gee was 3-1 with a 2.73 ERA, cruising to what Mets manager Terry Collins figured would easily become a 15-win season. But Gee began experiencing shoulder soreness after his outing that day, landed on the disabled list and ultimately missed two months.

When he returned, he was not the same pitcher, going 3-7 with a 5.10 ERA over his final 13 starts. The last of those came Thursday at Nationals Park, when Gee allowed four runs in five innings of a no-decision in the Mets' 7-4 win to cap what he called a "frustrating" season.


"Obviously he's had a rough second half," Collins said. "I wish we had answers."

Throughout that time, Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen worked on mechanical tweaks that he hoped would help Gee reclaim his prime form: a 13-6 record and 2.66 ERA over a nearly 12-month span beginning last May 31. But none of it has noticeably helped the right-hander, who struggled to find his usual pinpoint command of the strike zone down the stretch.

"Physically, I think I felt fine," Gee said. "I don't know if I maybe tinkered with some stuff without really knowing it. I definitely just felt a lot different as the year progressed. I could never find that feeling that made me feel so good in the first half. Like I said, physically I felt OK, so there's really no excuse for it."

Whatever the reason, Gee's struggles have made his role somewhat tenuous heading into the winter. The Mets plan to feature a 2015 rotation featuring Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom, leaving two available spots for Gee, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon. Even if the team winds up trading one of those pitchers or delaying the start to Harvey's season, top prospects Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero are both essentially big league-ready as well.

Where that leaves Gee remains to be seen.

"I hope the winter off rests him and everything gets back to where it should be," Collins said, "and he comes back to Spring Training being the guy that he can be."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Burkhardt signs off for last time on Mets coverage

Burkhardt signs off for last time on Mets coverage

WASHINGTON -- The accolades have always belonged to Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, who have highlighted SNY's Mets coverage since 2006. But ask any of them about that success and they will inevitably mention Kevin Burkhardt, the broadcast's field reporter since 2007.

For the final time on Thursday, Burkhardt wrapped up his reporting and tossed things back up to Cohen in the booth. After eight seasons at SNY, Burkhardt is shifting his focus to a full-time national role covering football and baseball for FOX.


"It's like dating somebody for eight years," Burkhardt said. "You're still into them, but then you break up. There may be good reasons for it, but you still miss it."

When SNY first hired Burkhardt for the 2007 season, he did not realize the full scope of how many people would see his broadcasts on a nightly basis. A former car salesman, Burkhardt possessed extremely limited television experience, never even landing a large-market radio job until he was in his 30s. Then along came SNY, whose faith in Burkhardt launched a career that is still ascending.

If it hadn't already, that all hit home for Burkhardt last Wednesday, when hundreds of fans crowded Citi Field's Shea Bridge to receive autographs and pictures during his final home broadcast. Burkhardt stayed planted on the bridge until he had satisfied every request.

"I never really fully realized when I was hired the exposure, the opportunity that it was," Burkhardt said. "I knew it was a great job and I was excited for it. But when I got hired, I really didn't understand the scope of what I was getting into until I started doing it and realizing how many people watch and how many people pay attention to what you say and how your words can have an impact.

"Not many people are lucky enough to do this. I've tried to enjoy it, and I think that's come across on the air. I've hopefully showed an ability to be multitalented in different things, and not take myself too seriously. And also, I've gotten better. When I look at tapes when I first started until now, it's really gotten me better as a broadcaster."

Working with Cohen, Hernandez and Darling was a highlight for Burkhardt, who is now teamed with former NFL safety John Lynch and sideline reporter Pam Oliver in his play-by-play role with FOX. Burkhardt will also do baseball coverage in the summer for FOX, though his days of covering 150-plus games per year are long gone.

"I think it's really going to hit me next year when it's February and I'm not roaming around Spring Training in shorts and sunglasses," Burkhardt said. "That's going to be like, 'Wait a minute, I feel out of place.'"

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Gee's flinch snaps Mets' admirable balk-less streak

NY was on track to be first NL staff to finish season without one in 15 years

Gee's flinch snaps Mets' admirable balk-less streak

WASHINGTON -- Poring over some statistics earlier this week, Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen realized his team was on the brink of one of baseball's statistical oddities: Mets pitchers had nearly become the first National League team in 15 years to go an entire season without balking.

"That's pretty amazing," Warthen said on Wednesday afternoon. "But I guarantee there will be a balk tonight, now."


Technically, there was not; the Mets and Nationals were rained out that night. But in the fifth inning of Thursday's makeup, sure enough, Dillon Gee balked.

With runners on first and second base and no outs at Nationals Park, Gee did what no Mets pitcher had for 159 consecutive games, breaking Major League Baseball's hallowed Rule 8.01. For nearly an entire season until that point, there had been no twitches amongst Mets pitchers. No confusion. No false moves. The Mets were on the brink of becoming the first big league pitching staff in seven years to complete an entire season without issuing a balk, and the first NL team in 15 years.

Before Gee, Carlos Torres was the most recent Mets pitcher to balk, last Sept. 27. Gee's hiccup ensured that the 1968-69 Mets would continue to hold the franchise record of 182 straight games without a balk, though times were different back then; since 1975, only seven teams have gone the entire season without one.

Meanwhile, the top 100 team balk totals in big league history -- including Oakland's seemingly unbreakable record of 76, which highlighted the league's balk-happy 1988 season -- have all taken place since 1975.

What's more, Torres issued his balk last year during a relief appearance. Before Gee's balk, which helped fuel a three-run Nationals rally, Mets starters had gone more than two full seasons without advancing runners in that fashion.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Harvey attends Jeter's farewell to Yankee Stadium

Harvey attends Jeter's farewell to Yankee Stadium

WASHINGTON -- As Zack Wheeler put the finishing touches on his season Thursday and the Mets wrapped up their final road trip of the year, Matt Harvey was back in New York as usual. His Tommy John rehab done for the year, Harvey has recently resumed spending his days at home in Manhattan.

But Harvey was not in his East Village apartment watching the Mets on television. He was at Yankee Stadium, soaking in the atmosphere of Derek Jeter's final home game.


"Tonight is about #RE2PECT!!" Harvey wrote on his Instagram account, below a picture of Jeter's face on the Yankee Stadium video board. "Saying farewell and paying the man this game has been blessed to have! A childhood idol and it's now an honor to call a friend!!! #derekjeter"

In Washington, reaction from the Mets' clubhouse was mostly indifferent. "Not really," manager Terry Collins said when asked if he cared that Harvey was watching the Yankees rather than the Mets.

General manager Sandy Alderson issued a public no comment, later joking about Harvey's proficiency taking "selfies."

Though the Mets and Harvey went through a public spat during Spring Training, with the team wanting him to rehab in Port St. Lucie, Fla. and Harvey preferring to do so in New York, that issue has long since fizzled. The two sides ultimately came to a mutually beneficial arrangement in which Harvey stayed in New York when the Mets were home, and flew to Florida when they were on the road. With a few exceptions, Harvey generally was not with the team on road trips.

As long as Harvey remains on schedule with his rehab -- and he is, with plans to be ready for Opening Day -- the Mets do not particularly care what he does with his free time.

On Thursday, that free time revolved around Jeter, one of the players Harvey grew up idolizing as a Yankee fan in Connecticut.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Beat reporter jinxes Mets balkless streak on twitter

Beat reporter jinxes Mets balkless streak on twitter

If you don't believe in jinxes, this story may force you to change your mind.

Going into Thursday's Nationals-Mets doubleheader in Washington, the Flushing-based club was on the verge of becoming the first NL team in 15 years to complete a full season without committing a single balk.

Continue Reading on Cut4

Wright: I'm learning when pain is too much

Wright: I'm learning when pain is too much

WASHINGTON -- David Wright's willingness to play through pain became clear three years ago, when he spent weeks battling through a stress fracture in his lower back. Only then did he succumb to the injury, ultimately missing two months.

Though Wright's 2014 injury -- a jammed left shoulder -- never seemed as debilitating, it deeply affected his production. The third baseman admitted that much for the first time on Wednesday, telling reporters that he needs to learn to be more honest about his health.


"I always say that I'm going to learn my lesson," said Wright, who also tore his hamstring last summer while attempting to play through a minor muscle pull. "And I probably, moving forward, need to be a little more truthful to myself and the medical staff as to exactly what I'm feeling."

With the Mets fading from contention at the time, the team finally shut Wright down on Sept. 9 in an effort to help him avoid surgery. Now more than a week into his six-week rehabilitation program, Wright still believes he will achieve that goal.

But he has also learned the extent to which he put himself at risk. Testing done this month revealed that Wright "stretched out and slightly damaged" some of his shoulder ligaments, in his own words, resulting in instability in the joint.

It also resulted in the worst season of Wright's 11-year career: a .269 average, .698 OPS and eight home runs in 134 games.

"This is on me," Wright said. "When I don't go in there and don't say anything and push through things, that's kind of the way I've always been. And [it's] just hard-headed."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.