By Mike Steffanos
The evening Mets news features some forecasts on players improving on last year and others sliding back to the pack. Marty Noble looks at some young Met outfielders in winter ball, and BA looks at an intriguing Mets pitching prospect.
Sports Illustrated: Ups and Downs
SI baseball writer John Donovan prognosticates on 5 players that might be expected to have bounce back seasons, and 5 more that might come back down to earth. In the "Five who should be better" category, we find a familiar name:
Carlos Beltran, Mets
Last winter's prime free-agent catch had the worst full-time season in his still-young career, with only 16 homers (22 fewer than in '04), 78 RBIs (-26) and a .744 OPS (down from .915). Living up to the big contract in the Big Apple got to him, clearly, but he'll have a better lineup around him this year and not quite as many eyes on him. He may not hit .310, but he's a better player than he was in '05.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but we'll take it. As for the "Five due for a fall", the top name is one that is also familiar to Mets fans:
Manny Ramirez, Red Sox
If he's staying in Boston -- that's the latest breathless dispatch from Ramirez -- he has a much better chance of being Manny again. Ramirez and David Ortiz make beautiful music together, and Fenway Park fits Manny's quirky sensibilities, not to mention his powerful swing, perfectly. But even if Manny stays, the Sox are changing, with a revamped infield, a new center fielder and a lineup in flux. How's all that going to affect Ramirez? After 11 straight seasons with an OPS better than .950 -- only Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Bonds and Lou Gehrig have done better -- Manny might not be Manny anymore.
If Manny is going to go on the decline, rest assured that his contract won't. We already have one drastically overpaid player in Carlos Beltran -- even if he does bounce back somewhat. Adding another, who also happens to be 34 years old, is not a recipe for success.
Interestingly enough, the other 4 players that Donovan sees as on the decline are all National Leaguers: Alfonso Soriano from Washington, Andruw Jones from the Braves (of course, he could come down quite a bit from 2005 and still be quite good), Derek Lee from the Cubs (ditto), and Chris Carpenter from the Cardinals.
Mets.com: Winter Ball Success Stories
Marty Noble reports on the Mets enjoying successful winter ball campaigns, including 3 outfielders competing for jobs:
The composition of the Mets' bench for 2006 probably will remain a work in progress until the final days of Spring Training. If the Mets do carry six outfielders -- not likely with the versatile Chris Woodward available for outfield duty and the probability of an 11-man pitching staff -- Victor Diaz, Endy Chavez and Tike Redman probably will be the primary outfield understudies.
Each has had a productive season playing in winter ball. Diaz, the only incumbent Mets player among the three, is one of the leading hitters in the Dominican League playoffs. Chavez, recently signed as a free agent, is playing regularly for Magallanes in Venezuela, and Redman, purchased from the Pirates in November, has hit well for Ponce in the Puerto Rican League.
Each has a chance to be on the Mets' Opening Day roster -- Diaz because of his extra-base potential and natural hitting ability, Chavez because of his speed and defensive skills, and Redman because, other than Jose Valentin, he might be the only left-handed hitter on the bench.
Actually, Chavez also bats left, not that he hits much. For Diaz, it would seem to be put up or shut up time. He's looked like he has the potential to be a really good offensive ballplayer; yet everyone seems to be conceding the starting RF job to Xavier Nady, who hasn't exactly set the world on fire himself in the majors. If Diaz doesn't earn a role of at least first outfielder off the bench, I would think his days here were numbered. Maybe he'll choose to let this situation motivate him, and become the player a lot of us thought he could be.
Baseball America: Henry Owens
In an article on various minor leaguers enjoying good winter ball seasons, one of the profiles is the Mets' own Henry Owens, a converted catcher who came to the Mets via the rule 5 draft. Owens is an intriguing relief pitcher prospect in an organization that hasn't produced many.
AP: Diamondbacks sign #1 Pick
Arizona has signed the #1 pick of the entire 2005 draft, 18-year-old shortstop Justin Upton, to a contract that includes a $6.1 million signing bonus. It is hoped now that Upton has signed that other dominoes will fall, including the Mets unsigned top pick RHP Mike Pelfrey.