Thirteen days from now, Mets pitchers and catchers will be on the back fields in Port St. Lucie, Fla., playing catch and working on their defense. Position players who reported early will be taking batting practice and lifting weights. Spring is almost here, along with the optimism that always leaks into all 30 training camps.
Yet for the Mets, plenty of questions remain. We tackle a few of them in this week's Inbox.
I think Dillon Gee is the best pitcher on the Mets, and will continue to impress in 2014. What is your opinion?
-- Kent H., Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
Stuff-wise, Gee isn't even close to being the best pitcher on the Mets -- you don't need much scouting experience to know that. But that's why he has continually amazed me through the four years I've covered him.
Gee thrived in his first two big league seasons despite his physical limitations and lingering shoulder issues, and it seemed like luck. He didn't strike out anybody, walked too many guys and lived in constant danger of a Minor League demotion. Then came 2012, which saw Gee genuinely improve across the board. He added velocity, began throwing his breaking pitches more often and started attacking the zone with authority. Gee's walk rate plummeted and his strikeout rate spiked, until a scary nerve injury knocked him out in July and threatened his career.
When Gee struggled upon his return last season, I figured that his brief run of success was complete. Then he surprised me again by morphing into the Mets' best pitcher from late May through September, securing his future through a $3.6 million arbitration payday.
Even with Matt Harvey injured, there's a decent chance someone else on the staff -- Zack Wheeler? Jon Niese? Bartolo Colon? -- will outperform Gee this season, but he is quite likely to remain his steady self, which is extremely valuable for the Mets. A 21st-round Draft pick, Gee has since developed into a true big league asset that fans should appreciate, if they don't already.
I am not as down on Ruben Tejada as most fans. He was viewed as part of the future heading into 2013, and one terrible season won't make me forget that. With that said, is there any chance a bad start for Tejada would make the Mets turn to Wilfredo Tovar? I understand that on paper, Tovar provides next to nothing offensively, but his glove is highly regarded, and Tejada's struggles at the plate last season seemed to follow him onto the field. If our shortstop is going to have a .300 on-base percentage, I'd rather he make all the plays at a key defensive position.
-- Daniel B., Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y.
It's a logical thought, and one the Mets -- assuming they don't sign Stephen Drew -- may have to consider if Tejada continues to struggle.
Juan Lagares proved last season that a player can contribute significant value even without doing much offensively, particularly at an up-the-middle position. Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons ranked 14th in National League MVP Award voting despite below-average offensive statistics. With the steroid era come and gone, many teams -- the Mets included -- are circling back to the idea of "defense first" players at such premium defensive positions as shortstop, catcher and center field.
General manager Sandy Alderson, however, has stated in the past that there is a "minimum offensive requirement" for Major League starters, implying that Lagares stands near the cusp of it. Outside of some superb strikeout rates in the Minors, meanwhile, Tovar has done little to prove he's even close to that level.
Realistically, Tovar's ceiling -- lower than Tejada's -- is probably that of a backup shortstop. Another few months of replacement-level ball from Tejada could force the Mets to take a look at Tovar, just as they did Lagares when Collin Cowgill, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Rick Ankiel weren't performing, but I'd consider that a worst-case scenario for them at this point.
Why? Quite simply, because of Satin's career .234 batting average and .661 OPS against right-handed pitchers, versus .315 and .862 against lefties. He is a nice piece for any team to have -- a hard worker, a good clubhouse guy, and an ideal platoon partner or bench bat. But nothing in Satin's statistical profile suggests he's ready to be an everyday player in a league dominated by same-handed pitchers.
I know Wheeler is being touted as a future ace (or at least a 1-B to Harvey), but I've also noticed that his velocity seems to dip precipitously even after a few innings. Given that starting pitching is the one place the franchise seems to have some depth, I'm wondering if there is any thought of grooming Wheeler for the closer role, like Boston once did with Jonathan Papelbon. Having Wheeler and Bobby Parnell coming out throwing 96-98 mph, and each having very effective offspeed pitches would give the Mets a formidable 1-2 punch in the late innings. Your thoughts?
-- Robert W., Stratford, Conn.
The Mets could probably convert Wheeler into a closer right now and he would be dominant, but few teams would do that to a player who has so much potential; the Red Sox shifted Papelbon to address a glaring need, which the Mets don't really have right now thanks to Parnell.
The overwhelming majority of pitching prospects are starters. Those who don't succeed -- usually because they lack a third pitch -- convert to relief at some point. So unless Wheeler proves unequivocally over the next few years that he's not fit to start, the Mets will use him in the rotation, where he can contribute the most innings.
As for an in-game velocity drop, remember that Wheeler threw more innings last season than he ever had. He was tired at the end of the season, but now he knows what it's like to pitch into September. I would expect improvement in that area in 2014.
Where is Brandon Nimmo in terms of his development? One major deficiency I've seen in his game is a lack of power development. Is that something the Mets are concerned about, or do they think it will come around as he enters the upper Minors?
-- Dennis M., Belleville, N.J.
Nimmo remains a project at this point. There's still a ton of swing-and-miss in his game and, as you mentioned, not a lot of in-game power.
Organizations tend to take a wait-and-see approach with such players as Nimmo, who is physically raw and professionally inexperienced. Wilmer Flores, for example, didn't show much in-game power until the year he turned 21, but like Nimmo, he always projected to find it someday. Moreover, Flores has maintained that skill since he found it.
Nimmo turns 21 in March, so give him another year to develop. If he hasn't started whacking balls out of the park by the end of 2014, then you can start wondering if he ever will.
Why are the Mets not enthusiastic about Eric Young Jr. as the starter in left field? He stole a lot of bases last season and is set to do so again, he is a decent leadoff hitter and, if he reaches safely, can steal second. Daniel Murphy in the No. 2 hole pulls the ball to second to move him over, and David Wright blast a fly to the outfield. 1-0 Mets, every game.
-- Jeff K., Red Lion, Pa.
I think your read on the situation is wrong. Since the Winter Meetings, manager Terry Collins has said numerous times that he envisions Young starting in left, which would probably push Lagares to either the bench or Triple-A Las Vegas -- an unpopular strategy with fans, if Twitter is any indication.
Collins' justification is that the Mets lack an obvious leadoff man. Although Young doesn't fit all the qualifications for that -- his on-base percentage leaves much to be desired -- he does boast the type of blazing speed that Collins covets.
Given all that, and understanding that Curtis Granderson and Chris Young are all but guaranteed starting outfield spots, Eric Young versus Lagares may be the Mets' most intriguing roster battle this spring.