By Mike Steffanos
As tomorrow's official reporting date for pitchers and catchers approaches, some of the candidates for the rotation have already shown up. Needless to say, they're all getting attention from the press, as the rotation battle shapes up to be one of the more intriguing story lines of spring training 2007. Even Aaron Heilman merited a piece by Adam Rubin in the Daily News today, although Heilman indicates to Rubin that he clearly understands the unlikelihood of him getting another chance at starting with the Mets:
Unfortunately, I can't have a lot of say in what my role is. I can just try to control the things I can - which is my performance when I'm out there. I'll just go out there and have another good year and help the team win.
Most of the talk about the fifth starter job centers around the veterans Chan Ho Park, Aaron Sele and Jorge Sosa or the youngsters Mike Pelfrey and Phil Humber. Jason Vargas comes into training camp with almost no expectations. This is a 24-year-old southpaw who was a Top-10 prospect for the Marlins and received some votes for rookie of the year in 2005. While he certainly isn't an elite pitching prospect, Vargas doesn't lack a resume or belief in himself. Unlike Park or Sele, Vargas' best days are still in front of him.
Moreover, as quoted by Shpigel, Vargas understands why his game slipped off track last season and looks forward to a fresh start with the Mets:
Looking back, Vargas said, the trade was a blessing. He can reunite with his favorite catcher, Paul Lo Duca, whom Vargas called "the best at knowing how to handle hitters at this level," and Carlos Delgado, who was the first teammate to shake his hand and welcome him on July 14, 2005, his first day in the majors.
But more so, Vargas is looking forward to proving that 2005 was not a fluke. He ascended through two levels of Class A ball and pitched three games in Class AA before joining the Marlins. In his first six weeks, Vargas went 5-1, throwing a complete game, and last season he emerged from a pack of young starters to win a rotation spot out of spring training. He struggled with his slider, with his control, with everything, and was demoted to Class AAA Albuquerque in May.
"It was the first time I'd ever been sent down at any level," Vargas said. "I didn't really know what was going on with me as a pitcher. It was difficult to make adjustments because even when I was confident and thought I was coming around, I struggled."
I guess Vargas didn't get the memo from John Thomson on Lo Duca...
I think the Mets are in a no-lose position with Vargas this spring. I think he has enough experience if his mechanical problems are straightened out to steal a job away from one of the veteran candidates. If that doesn't happen, he goes to New Orleans and benefits from some development time that he didn't get with the Marlins. Yesterday I picked Vargas as one of the "Youngsters Who Could Step Up". He could make me look smart (no easy task) if he comes out of camp as the fifth starter.
Meanwhile, Phil Humber is one of the truly bright prospects in the Mets system, and Kernan's piece a chance to know him a little better. As quoted by Kernan, Humber feels that he has put his injury problems behind him:
This is the best I've ever been throwing. I haven't felt this good since my days at Rice, when I was getting six days between starts. It's so nice to compete and not be worrying about, "Does my arm feel right today? Is it going to hurt?" I don't have any of those doubts now.