By Mike Steffanos
We've survived the first part of spring training, where everyone gets to know each other a little and nothing happens. Next week things get a little more serious, as the Mets play a couple of intersquad games before spring games against other teams begin Thursday.
For myself, I can't remember looking forward to the meaningless spring games more than I am this year. It's not just that the team actually has a chance to do something this season, it's also the interest I have in some players that could help the Mets now and in the future. With Pedro Martinez starting off slow and Victor Zambrano slated to pitch for Venezuela in the WBC, there will be more opportunity for youngsters like John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Brian Bannister and Alay Soler to show their stuff. All but Pelfrey have a real chance of heading north with the Mets; all have a chance to be an important part of this pitching staff for years to come.
Kaz Matsui and Aaron Boone will battle for the second base job. Both have reported to camp in great physical shape, prepared to battle for their baseball lives. There's another battle going on between two young guys in right field. For Victor Diaz, losing the starting job to Xavier Nady could mean banishment to AAA-Norfolk for at least the start of the season.
For all the interest I have in Duaner Sanchez, Jorge Julio and Chad Bradford, I am also interested in whether Heath Bell and Juan Padilla could muscle their way back into the bullpen picture. Who's going to step up among the lefties? How about Royce Ring, who seemed so promising for a while last season, and then couldn't get arrested? Maybe he can learn to throw strikes and become the lefty specialist.
Spring training is a weird time. If your team is bad, who cares? In most cases when your team is good, there are few, if any, jobs to be won -- and you just want to get the season started to see how it plays out. For a Met fan this year, there is both the promise of a great season and a truly interesting camp. That just doesn't happen very often.
Newark Star-Ledger: Dave's Big Brother
Don Burke has a really nice piece on how Cliff Floyd and David Wright formed a friendship while Floyd mentored him.
Wright on Cliff:
Cliff's probably one of the guys I'm closest to on the team. I feel like I could go to him and talk to him abut anything. At the same time, we joke around. He treats me almost like a little brother.
He's one of those special players, one of the best guys I've met. There are so many All-Star caliber players who you feel like you can't mess with. And he's one you can go up and mess with and he'll give it right back.
Newsday: Mike Pelfrey
David Lennon writes about Mike Pelfrey, who draws a crowd for routine workouts. Lennon quotes pitching coach Rick Peterson on Pelfrey:
It's obvious that he's got great stuff. That's why he was the [team's] No. 1 draft pick [in 2005]. But to see the way he handled himself, that really demonstrates his ability to focus.
NY Post: Victor Zambrano
Larry Brooks pens a column on Victor Zambrano, whom the Mets need a reasonable performance from in 2006. Brooks quotes Peterson on why the Mets expect much more from Zambrano this season:
What you have to remember about Victor's season last year is that he was coming off an arm injury, which always means there's going to be an adjustment period. The way he threw today, he was much looser, much freer and much more uninhibited, which is what we hoped to see.
Victor was battling last year trying to find the groove. And that was to be expected until he could get confidence in his body.
Now, the biggest thing of all is that he feels so much better about himself. He's made statements to that effect to me. He's excited about representing Venezuela in the World Classic, he's got another year of maturity and he's coming through adversity.
He's going to help this ball club.
Maybe by the end of this season, they'll be calling that right-hander in Chicago the other Zambrano. Oh, and note to Larry Brooks: telling us we could have had Soriano for Kazmir proves that you're not qualified to be the Mets GM, either.
Daily News: Henry Owens
Adam Rubin reports on Henry Owens, the young, hard-throwing RHP who has a real chance of making this club. Owens informs Rubin, "I'm coming here with the mind-set to make this team."
Rubin also quotes Willie Randolph on reliever Jorge Julio, scheduled to finally show up in camp today:
I don't want to say he's violent, but we'd like to smooth him out a little bit.
The Mets feel that if they can get Julio to stop trying to overthrow the ball and use better mechanics, they can make him an effective reliever again.
Rubin also reports that intersquad games will be played Tuesday and Wednesday, with the spring training opener against St. Louis coming Thursday.
NY Times: Jorge Julio
Speaking of Jorge Julio, Ben Shpigel has a nice profile in the Times which explains why he had visa difficulties.