LAKELAND, Fla. -- As a youngster, Noah Syndergaard loved to watch Major League stars Torii Hunter and Ian Kinsler on TV. He saw both in person on Saturday, standing at home plate, ready to bat against him.
"It was kind of cool," said Syndergaard, who worked the first three innings of the Mets' 3-2 victory, allowing the Tigers two runs on two hits, both singles. "Those were guys I grew up watching."
"Tell him, 'Don't ever say that again,'" joked Hunter when told of Syndergaard's comments.
"I was awesome when he was three years old. Come on."
Then, Hunter laughed.
"He has a bright future," said the Tigers' veteran right fielder, who was 1-for-2 with a walk against the Mets' highly-touted 21-year-old right-hander.
"Before I went up to the plate, guys in the dugout were saying, 'He's a top prospect.' Well, he definitely showed it today. He has a great arm. He has a great curveball, and I saw him working on his changeup. He's not a top prospect for no reason."
Syndergaard walked three batters, two of whom scored, and struck out three. The 6-foot-6, 242-pound Syndergaard, who is expected to start the season at Triple-A, threw 52 pitches, 31 for strikes. Most were fastballs in the 93-97-mph range.
In his three innings, only three balls off Syndergaard left the infield.
"If he's going to be a big league pitcher, which he is, he needs to learn," admitted Mets' manager Terry Collins. "The kid's got composure. He knows what he's doing. He's going to be just fine.
"That third inning [when Syndergaard breezed, facing the minimum three batters, it] was proof he's got all the stuff he needs."
The Tigers got both of their runs off Syndergaard in the second inning, when Don Kelly and Daniel Fields, both of whom had walked, crossed the plate on Steve Lombardozzi's sharp single that Eric Young Jr., making his first start at second base, deflected into right field.
"I think I was trying to do a little too much that inning," Syndergaard admitted. "I wanted to throw more offspeed pitches today. I wanted to throw my changeup a little more. If you can't throw your changeup for a strike, hitters are just going to sit on the heater."
"He's just starting to learn how to pitch," said Mets catcher Taylor Teagarden. "He's just got to get more innings."
In his first spring outing on Monday, Syndergaard threw two scoreless innings and his fastball touched 98 mph in a 6-2 victory over the Braves. He surrendered one single and didn't walk anyone -- prompting Collins to declare, "Right now, he's on track to be special."
"I thought I did better than I did last time," said Syndergaard. "Hopefully, I'll get to four innings next time."
When asked if, after Saturday's start, he feels closer to the big leagues, Syndergaard said, "I feel closer. Actually, I felt a lot more confident."
Last season, Syndergaard was a combined 9-4 with a 3.06 ERA in 23 starts between Class A Advanced St. Lucie in the Florida State League and Double-A Binghamton in the Eastern League. In 117 2/3 innings, he yielded 107 hits and 28 walks, while recording 133 strikeouts.
Jim Hawkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.