On February 23 at 12:00 PM on a warm, sunny day in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, the New York Mets kicked off their Spring Training against the Washington Nationals, live from Tradition Field. The team’s minor leaguers looked sloppy on defense, committing three errors, yet the team persevered, managing to pull off a 5-3 victory.
Spring Training provides a chance for manager Terry Collins to experiment with a roster that has shed such formidable talents as Carlos Beltran, R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes over the past two seasons. However, the Mets acquired some top prospects in the off-season who seem eager to prove they belong in the majors.
Of particular note is Zack Wheeler, a top pitching prospect whom the Mets acquired from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for All-Star slugger Carlos Beltran in 2011. Following a rocky start, Wheeler hit his stride, proving that he could be on track to help fill R.A. Dickey’s sizeable shoes.
Shawn Marcum took to the mound for the Mets in the first and second innings. Expectations for Marcum, who is likely to be a back of the rotation pitcher, is to consume as many innings as possible. Marcum was efficient when he located his breaking pitches and fastball, but otherwise gave up hits too easily, yielding three runs to the Nationals in the second inning. Marcum is the only Major League contract the Mets signed this past off-season.
Zack Wheeler came in relief for the next two innings. He overthrew at first, but perked up after allowing a walk that landed a runner on third base with just one out. Wheeler threw right at the next two batters, dialing up his fastball to as high as 98 miles per hour. The hapless Nationals watched strikes zip by them, and the runner on third never came home.
Judging by today’s game, Wheeler seems to play best in high-pressure situations. He settled into the fourth inning with hard strikes and walked off the mound already looking like a Major League player.
General Manager Sandy Alderson did not sign any free agent outfielders this past off season, so those positions are up for grabs. The best-case scenario is Lucas Duda in left field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis playing center and Marlon Byrd, who was inked on a Minor League contract and hit a single and double in the game, in right field. Duda and Nieuwenuis were both demoted to Triple-A last season for their high strikeout rates and inconsistent power.
Putting Nieuwenhuis in the leadoff spot signals desperation. Last season he averaged .252 with a sub-par .315 on-base percentage in 91 games. He also stole only four bases. Some players have power but lack plate discipline; others can get on base but do not run well. Nieuwenhuis singled in the first inning, which should speak for itself.
The game showcased the team’s young prospects and potential, but also underscored the Mets’ uncertain future. For better and worse, the lineup foreshadows what fans could see on Opening Day.
-Colin Cowgill, an outfield prospect signed from the Oakland Athletics during the off season on a Minor League deal, was impressive in his brief appearance. He hit a double, ran to third on an error and then hustled the base running into a run for the Mets at the bottom of the sixth inning. He also drew a walk in the eighth inning.
-Ruben Tejada displayed unexpected power in the first inning with a two-run homer.
-Lucas Duda went down looking, swung and missed and went 0-3. David Wright only reached first base on an error and Ike Davis via a walk. They are the big three for the Mets offensively and carry the most weight on their shoulders in scoring and driving in runs.
-Second baseman Daniel Murphy did not play due to a strained right intercostal muscle.