2013 MLB Season Preview: New York Mets
Leading up to the 2013 MLB regular season, Greg Kaplan will be taking a close look at all 30 teams, division by division. Along with previewing each team heading into the season, Kaplan will try to predict which teams will be playing baseball deep into the October playoffs, and which teams will be playing golf come that time of year.
Fourth Place – New York Mets
Fifth Place – Miami Marlins
Catcher - John Buck (32) – 106 games, .192/.297/.347, 12HR 41RBI, 29 runs, 15 doubles (w/ Miami Marlins)
First Base - Ike Davis (26) – 156 games, .227/.308/.462, 32HR 90RBI, 66 runs, 26 doubles, 110 OPS+
Second Base - Daniel Murphy (28) – 156 games, .291/.333/.403, 6HR 65RBI, 62 runs, 40 doubles, 10 stolen bases, 102 OPS+
Third Base - David Wright (30) – 156 games, .306/.391/.492, 21HR 93RBI, 91 runs, 41 doubles, 15 stolen bases, 143 OPS+ – 2012 All-Star
Shortstop - Ruben Tejada (23) – 114 games, .289/.333/.351, 1HR 25RBI, 53 runs, 26 doubles, 4 stolen bases
Left Field - Lucas Duda (27) – 121 games, .239/.329/.389, 15HR 57RBI, 43 runs, 15 doubles
Center Field - Kirk Nieuwenhuis (25) – 91 games, .252/.315/.376, 7HR 28RBI, 40 runs, 12 doubles, 4 stolen bases
Right Field - Mike Baxter (28) – 89 games, .263/.365/.413, 3HR 17RBI, 26 runs, 14 doubles, 5 stolen bases, 115 OPS+
Though it hasn’t been talked about too much, there is actually some decent depth to the Mets starting line-up, especially in the infield. David Wright entered last season in the last year of a contract and having to prove that he is indeed worthy of a lofty contract. All he did was put together one of his best offensive seasons in his career and truly earn the eight-year deal the Mets gave him in the off-season. Should the Mets ever regain control of the National League East, it will be with David Wright leading the charge. That much is a given.
As for the players that will surround Wright in the line-up, it’s easy to forget the type of season Ike Davis had last year. He was absolutely atrocious in the first half, seeing his average dip around the .150 mark for largely all of the first half. It was that terrible stretch that makes his final line actually more impressive. Davis actually led the National League in home runs in the second half (20), and if he’s able to put together a full season around the .260-.275 range he’s more than capable of doing, he could cement his place as one of the best all-around first basemen in the league.
Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada deserve some recognition of their own. Both are capable players in the box and provide depth to a line-up that looks a little thin on paper. Murphy should always be hitting above .300 with his plate discipline, and Ruben Tejada is perfect for the Mets in the two-hole.
It’s fine and dandy that Tejada is a perfect two-hole hitter, but the Mets right now have nobody to bat lead-off. The closer we get to Opening Day, the more realistic it becomes that whoever wins the battle for center field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Collin Cowgill, will also be the lead-off hitter for this team. Look, both players are gritty and play the game with a certain edge, but even the most optimistic of Mets fans (I include myself in that group) does not view either player as a guy that can lead-off on an every day basis. It’s why Mets fans really wanted Michael Bourn. Not only would Bourn have provided a superior level of defense and speed, but he filled so many holes the Mets have that it made too much sense.
While we’re talking about the outfield, this unit is…weak. It’s the truth. So many things have to go right in the outfield for it to be even reasonable. Lucas Duda, when everything is clicking, is perfectly capable of hitting 30 home runs. But, he’ll be 27 this season and hasn’t put it together for an extended stretch in the opportunities he’s been given. Nieuwenhuis and Cowgill, again, will be fun players to root for. But they’ll have to combine to play near an All-Star level for this team to compete. Then there’s Mike Baxter and Marlon Byrd likely teaming up to play right field. Yeah.
The more frustrating part about the outfield unit is that after Matt den Dekker, who has yet to prove he can handle AAA pitching, the more impactful outfield prospects, specifically Brandon Nimmo, are still years away. If there is one area where the Mets need to trade from their depth in the young pitching department, it’s to address the outfield. To their credit, they tried to do that and snag Justin Upton in a deal built around either Ruben Tejada or Daniel Murphy. But, the price tag was still too high (and it probably was better for the long haul that they didn’t pull that trigger). I don’t know which proven outfield bat will eventually be made available (Alex Gordon?), but the Mets have to start looking for someone on the trade market. Otherwise, they’ll never be able to keep pace with the Nationals or the Braves offensively.
Starting Rotation -
Ace - LHP Johan Santana (34) – 21 starts, 117.0 IP, 6-9, 4.85 ERA, 111 Ks (8.5 K/9), 2.85 K/BB, 1.33 WHIP
#2 - Shaun Marcum (31) – 21 starts, 124.0 IP, 7-4, 3.70 ERA, 109 Ks (7.9 K/9), 2.66 K/BB, 1.27 WHIP (w/ Milwaukee Brewers)
#3 - Jonathon Niese (26) – 30 starts, 190.1 IP, 13-9, 3.40 ERA, 155 Ks (7.3 K/9), 3.16 K/BB, 1.17 WHIP
#4 - Matt Harvey (24) – 10 starts, 59.1 IP, 3-5, 2.73 ERA, 70 Ks (10.6 K/9), 2.69 K/BB, 1.15 WHIP
#5 - Dillon Gee (26) – 17 starts, 109.2 IP, 6-7, 4.10 ERA, 97 Ks (8.0 K/9), 3.34 K/BB, 1.25 WHIP
Without question, the strength of the Mets franchise in 2013 and for many years to come will be in the starting pitching department. A lot of people think that by trading R.A. Dickey in the off-season, the starting rotation will take an immediate blow that they won’t be able to recover from. While nobody is expecting one of the pitchers on the Mets staff to duplicate Dickey’s 2012 Cy Young-winning season, it’s just as unfair to think this rotation is below average now without him.
Starting at the top, maybe all casual baseball fans remember about Johan Santana’s 2012 campaign was his memorable no-hitter and how terribly he finished the season, eventually needing to be shut down completely in August. While all that is true, it’s also easily forgotten that Santana, even without his best stuff in his arsenal, was pitching at a near All-Star level in the first half of 2012. Santana is still one of the smartest pitchers in the game, and I truly believe that he is more like the pitcher in the first half of 2012 than the second. I say that well knowing that if Santana flashes any sort of success this season while maintaining his health, the Mets are going to trade him. I can promise you that.
After Santana, the story in 2013 for the Mets will be Jon Niese and Matt Harvey. Harvey will be going the entire season entrenched in the starting rotation and without an innings limit, needing to take that next step in his young career and establish himself as a top-of-the-rotation type starter. For Niese, he entered last year that his hot streaks in 2011 could become a full, complete season as a starter. He did that and much more, proving his command and mound presence is on-line with that of a pitcher on a winning staff. This year, it’s just a matter of rinsing and repeating. The wins will come to him the better the line-up gets around him. But, without question, he’s a player Mets fans are excited about in the long run.
The Bad News -
In all honesty, the bad news about the Mets starting rotation is that the offense isn’t up to speed yet to make it more competitive. Even the weakest link of the Mets staff (Dillon Gee) has proven he can give you 7+ innings and keep opponents to three runs or less. That’s a winning formula for a team with the offensive fire power that most teams in the league have. The Mets, however, simply don’t right now.
Should any pitcher be lost for a significant period of time this year, Zack Wheeler is waiting in the wings. Wheeler, acquired straight up for Carlos Beltran two trade deadlines ago, has earned the reputation as a “can’t miss” prospect and one of the game’s next big things. He’ll be given the chance to prove it at some point this season, either after Johan Santana is traded or gets injured.
The reason the Mets don’t win more than 80 games this year will not be the fault of the starting rotation. This unit will be fine, and will only get better the deeper into the year we get when players like Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia or Cory Mazzoni are given a chance to earn a spot in the rotation for the long run.
C Anthony Recker (29) - 22 games, .143/.263/.245, 1HR 4RBI, 4 runs, 7 hits (w/ Oakland A’s and Chicago Cubs)
OF Collin Cowgill (27) – 38 games, .269/.336/.317, 1HR 9RBI, 10 runs, 3 stolen bases, 28 hits (w/ Oakland A’s)
UTIL Jordany Valdespin (25) – 94 games, .241/.286/.424, 8HR 26RBI, 28 runs, 9 doubles, 10 stolen bases
IF Justin Turner (28) – 94 games, .269/.319/.392, 2HR 19RBI, 20 runs, 13 doubles
OF Marlon Byrd (35) – 47 games, .210/.243/.245, 1HR 9RBI, 10 runs, 30 hits (w/ Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox)
There is some nice pieces to the Mets bench that could develop into more prominent roles as the season goes on. For me, if there is only player currently on the Mets bench that could become a starter (and possible lead-off candidate), it’s Jordany Valdespin. One of my close friends and long-time Mets fan buddy Ted and I have come to calling Valdespin “The Enigma”, because that’s truly what he is. In one minute, he could look like a future All-Star, and in the next, he can look like an over-matched player that will never be more than a AAAA-type talent. Nevertheless, he’s one of the more fun players on this team to watch. He plays with so much confidence and swagger that he makes you want him to be more. If he develops more patience at the plate, his power and speed combination can play at this level. But, that’s a massive if.
I’ve already touched on the type of talent Cowgill is. He’s gritty and the Mets will need him to blossom in order to be competitive. Justin Turner is nice infield depth who is also a tremendous pinch-hitter. However, any time he’s getting more than 250 at bats in a season, there should be some reason for concern as to where the season is heading.
Closer - Frank Francisco (R) (33) – 48 games, 42.1 IP, 1-3, 5.53ERA, 23 saves, 47 Ks (10.0 K/9), 2.24 K/BB, 1.61 WHIP
Set-Up Man - Bobby Parnell (R) (28) – 74 games, 68.2 IP, 5-4, 2.49ERA, 7 saves, 61 Ks (8.0 K/9), 3.05 K/BB, 1.24 WHIP
Middle Reliever - Josh Edgin (L) (26) – 34 games, 25.2 IP, 1-2, 4.56ERA, 30 Ks (10.5 K/9), 3.00 K/BB, 1.13 WHIP
Middle Reliever - Brandon Lyon (R) (33) – 67 games, 61.0 IP, 4-2, 3.10ERA, 1 save, 63 Ks (9.3 K/9), 3.15 K/BB, 1.25 WHIP (w/ Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays)
Middle Reliever - LaTroy Hawkins (R) (40) – 48 games, 42.0 IP, 2-3, 3.64ERA, 1 save, 23 Ks (4.9 K/9), 1.77 K/BB, 1.38 WHIP (w/ Los Angeles Angels)
Middle Reliever - Pedro Feliciano (L) (36) – Did Not Pitch in 2012 due to injury
Long Reliever - Scott Atchison (R) (37) – 42 games, 51.1 IP, 2-1, 1.58ERA, 36 Ks (6.3 K/9), 4.00 K/BB, 0.99 WHIP
Just like their starting rotation, there is immense depth to the Mets bullpen this year. Frank Francisco is likely to start the year on the disabled list, and it’s actually the best-case scenario for the Mets if he does. Francisco’s absence does two things that work in the Mets favor. The first of which is open a roster spot for side-winder Greg Burke and creates the flexibility to change the bullpen on the fly by bringing in different arms depending on who’s hot and who’s not.
The second, and most importantly, is it gives the reigns to the 9th inning to flame-thrower Bobby Parnell. Without question, Parnell was the best reliever the Mets had last year, and it is time for the team to figure out if Parnell can be up to the task of closing ball games for a living. The development of Parnell’s knuckle-curve has changed his game from just being someone who relies on his 100+ MPH fastball to a more complete pitcher. He has the stuff, and now the Mets will find out if he has the make-up in a year of learning for the team as a whole.
As for the rest of the unit, it’s definitely veteran-led, but will have a smattering of young arms throughout the season. Josh Edgin will look to become the new Mets lefty specialist, and who better for him to learn from than the old guard of Pedro Feliciano? Jeurys Familia will make an appearance at some point this season, and he, along with Parnell, are the two logical candidates for the future of the Mets 9th inning.
Top 10 Prospects (courtesy of MLB.com)
1. C Travis d’Arnaud – Expected to start 2013 in AAA
The only reason why d’Arnaud is starting the year in the Minor Leagues is because he ended last season injured and the Mets want to delay his free agency clock. Otherwise, there is no question that d’Arnaud is ready to make an impact everyday for the Mets. He also has the honor of being the only player to be traded twice for defending Cy Young award winners without recording a Major League at-bat. D’Arnaud may never be the same offensive catcher as a Mike Piazza New York has seen before, but he’s already lightyears more advanced than the Josh Tholes Mets fans have been used to seeing recently.
2. RHP Zack Wheeler – Expected to start 2013 in AAA
The Mets are the only team in baseball to have two prospects within the game’s Top 10 overall. Matt Harvey is already in the show, but executives around the league seem much more excited about the possibilities Wheeler can bring to the table. He throws harder than Harvey, which is impressive enough in its own right, and has a higher ceiling as the future ace of the pitching staff. Needless to say, Mets fans are salivating about the possible Wheeler-Niese-Harvey trio to lead their rotation for the next decade.
3. RHP Noah Syndergaard – Expected to start 2013 in High-A
The less talked about member of the R.A. Dickey trade, Syndergaard is a lanky righty with the same type of ceiling Wheeler had when the Mets traded Carlos Beltran for him. There is still a lot of projection and development needed with Syndergaard, but getting him on top of d’Arnaud in the Dickey trade is quite the coup for Sandy Alderson.
4. OF Brandon Nimmo – Expected to start 2013 in Low-A
The Mets have been purposely slow with Nimmo, who didn’t even have a baseball team in high school while in Wyoming as a prep athlete. He still has the projection as a center fielder at the next level and continues to develop his power. He already maintains a tremendous plate discipline, which is a major reason why Sandy Alderson took a chance on him with a first round pick in 2011. It’s time to see how Nimmo takes to playing a full season of Minor League baseball to judge what’s next for him.
5. RHP Jeurys Familia – Expected to start 2013 in AAA
As talked about earlier, Familia is going to find a real nice home in the Mets bullpen sooner rather than later. The team let him develop as a starting pitcher, but there just won’t be enough room in the rotation for him down the road. He has a great fastball and decent off-speed offerings to change-up the options at the plate. By mid-May, nobody would be surprised to see Familia as the primary set-up man in the Mets bullpen.
6. SS Gavin Cecchini – Expected to start 2013 in Low-A
The Mets took Cecchini in the first round of the 2012 draft, and he’s already impressed with the bat in his brief exposure to short-season ball in 2012. He profiles as a more dynamic shortstop than the team currently has in Ruben Tejada, so how he continues to develop in a post-Jose Reyes world for New York will be a strong storyline to follow.
7. 3B Wilmer Flores – Expected to start 2013 in AAA
Flores is slated to play third, but if he plans on remaining with the Mets in the long run, it’ll be determined by how well he takes to playing second base. There has never been question about whether Flores would hit (he hit around .300 with 18 home runs in the Minors last year). It has always been where he would play defensively. No longer having the range to play short, how well Flores handles the transition to second will show if he’s a future Met, or a future piece to a larger trade package.
8. RHP Rafael Montero – Expected to start 2013 in High-A
As good as Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey were last year for the Mets in the Minor Leagues, nobody was as impressive as Rafael Montero. Montero struck out better than a batter an inning, all while only issuing 19 walks. Of those 19 free passes, nine were intentional. Did I mention he just turned 22 in October? Montero isn’t getting the headlines yet, but he’s one of the more intriguing lower-level prospects the Mets currently have.
9. RHP Luis Mateo – Expected to start 2013 in Low-A
Did somebody mention intriguing lower-level prospects? I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Mateo only walked nine batters in 73.1 innings while recording 85 strikeouts. Mateo’s best pitches, his fastball and slider, are probably Major League ready right now, but he still has some leg work to do in his development. Well, actually, all he has to do is continue to dominate the Minor Leagues, and we’ll be seeing him within the next two years.
10. RHP Michael Fulmer – Expected to start 2013 in High-A
Drafted late in the first round in 2011, the Mets challenged Fulmer right out of the gates with an aggressive assignment to full season ball in 2012. He responded with a strong debut, though he was overshadowed by teammate Montero. Fulmer won’t turn 20 until mid-March. His fastball is already a plus pitch, and his slider and change-up have the potential to develop into the same. Like I’ve been saying, the Mets have firepower in their young arms. Even if only two stick and blossom, that’s better than what most teams have going for them right now.
In Summary –
Look, I realize this isn’t a team destined for a long run into the playoffs. However, ever since Sandy Alderson took charge of the Mets front office, this has been a team that has been planning for a re-birth of sorts in 2014. There is plenty to be excited about for these Mets in the long run, and how this team continues to develop from top to bottom will determine if they’ll be able to stack up to the big boys in the division for years to come.
I’m a die-hard Mets fan. I was going to watch this team regardless of who was on it. However, this is easily one of the more fun collection of players I’ve had the opportunity to root for since the 2008 season. I’m tired of people telling me how the season is going to end up. I have an idea without your input. I’m going to watch almost every game this year regardless of how many they win. I know we’re destined for fourth in the division, but that’s fine.
2014 is coming soon.
Season Prediction – 76-86, fourth place in National League East