Winter weather may still be pummeling the Northeast, but Wednesday marks the first official day of spring. Opening Day comes just a dozen days later, and down amongst the palm trees and warm breezes of Florida, the Mets are ready.
... Or are they? Injuries to David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Johan Santana, Frank Francisco and others have the Mets singing their own winter blues in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where the team has entered its final fortnight of camp. If injuries linger, it could open the door for various prospects to debut this summer at Citi Field.
To that end, you've already heard the hype about blue-chippers Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud. What about some others?
When is the soonest that we might see the big league debuts of Rafael Montero, Luis Mateo and Domingo Tapia? Will any Mets prospects debut this year besides Wheeler, d'Arnaud and maybe Wilmer Flores?
-- Jim B., Buffalo, N.Y.
None of the three pitchers you mentioned has appeared above Class A ball, meaning none are likely debut this summer -- there's just too much distance standing between them and the Majors. Montero should start off at Double-A Binghamton, with an outside chance at a September callup if he pitches phenomenally. Mateo and Tapia will headline a hyped Class A St. Lucie rotation.
As for prospects who could debut at Citi Field, the Mets have more than a few on their radar. Wheeler certainly, d'Arnaud for sure, Flores perhaps for a late cup of coffee. Several pitchers who have already made their debuts, including Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia, are also likely to see New York this summer.
Also possible is Matt den Dekker, provided he is able to curb his strikeout issues while continuing to hit with power. The Mets have abundant outfield opportunities available and are thrilled with den Dekker's defense, so a strong Triple-A showing at the plate is the only thing standing between him and a big league role.
A once similarly-ranked outfield prospect, Juan Lagares, could also debut this summer if he hits more like he did in 2011 and less like he did in 2012.
Left-hander Darin Gorski, one of the first cuts from big league camp this year, could also make his debut as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. The Mets tried Gorski in that role after he served exclusively as a starter last year at Binghamton, with mixed results. Cory Mazzoni, one of Gorski's rotation mates at Double-A, could also parlay a strong summer into a late-season debut.
If second baseman Reese Havens stays healthy, he has a shot. But that has not happened in a long time for Havens, a former first-round pick. Shortstop Wilfredo Tovar also has a chance, though it would probably require both a strong season from him and an injury to someone above him on the depth chart.
So those are the names to watch -- other than Wheeler and d'Arnaud, of course, whom most Mets fans are already watching.
With Wright blocking Flores at third base, is it realistic to presume Flores will move to second base for good sometime in the near future? And if so, would he be in the Mets' plans with Daniel Murphy in his way, or could you possibly see one of them get traded?
-- Evan G., Buffalo, N.Y.
You read the situation correctly. Flores began playing second base toward the end of last season, and played it almost exclusively in big league camp this year. He should split time between second and third again this summer, though you're right -- if Flores has a future with the Mets, it will likely be at second base.
Wright is a franchise cornerstone signed through 2020; he's not going anywhere. So if Flores proves defensively adept -- or even adequate -- at second base, there's a significant chance the Mets would trade either him or Murphy sometime before Murphy reaches free agency after the 2015 season.
Which one stays and which one goes will depend on several factors, including the timing of Flores' debut and the potential return on a trade for either of them. Recall that the Mets have listened to trade offers on Murphy for a while now -- Padres reliever Luke Gregerson was one highly-publicized offer last summer -- but never bit on any of them. The biggest thing stopping them? They never had an adequate alternative at second base. Flores could be that guy.
With the 50th anniversary of the Mets behind us, will the club resume wearing alternate uniforms again? Namely the return of black uniforms at certain night games and the return of the black and blue cap?
-- Bobby B., Woodside, N.Y.
The Mets began phasing out their Piazza-era black uniforms after the 2011 season. But they will have access to alternate royal blue uniforms on a regular basis this season, using that as an official alternate for the first time both at home and on the road.
The home alternates have orange lettering with white piping, similar to the "Los Mets" jerseys the team has won in years past. The away alternates feature "New York" written on the front, in gray lettering with orange piping.
In addition, the Mr. Met batting practice caps that the Mets have worn all spring will be available to them during the regular season, though the team has not said if it will wear those caps during games.
What happened to Daniel Herrera? After the announcement that he needed Tommy John surgery, he sort of fell of the radar. Is he still with the Mets as a non-roster invitee? He could be a low-cost, high-risk reliever the Mets are trying to stock up on arms to shore up the bullpen.
-- Jeremy C., Scotia, N.Y.
Herrera underwent Tommy John surgery less than a year ago, so he will not be ready to pitch in games until May or June. The lefty has been rehabbing in Minor League camp, with an eye toward helping the Mets later this summer.
As an aside, you may not recognize Herrera if you see him. He donated his long black hair this winter to Locks of Love, a charity benefiting children who lost their hair battling serious medical issues. When he reported to Minor League camp last month, Herrera sported a closely-cropped buzz cut.