By Mike Steffanos
Yesterday I shared a few initial things that I'm paying attention to this spring from the 2009 Mets starting rotation and bullpen. Today we'll take a look at the position players, tomorrow the bench.
Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro will most likely share this job. Schneider will play more because he's a LH bat and also because Castro inevitably breaks down when asked to catch more than a couple of times a week. Robinson Cancel will shuttle between Buffalo and Queens during Ramon's DL holidays.
Schneider actually puts up respectable offensive numbers for a catcher when he faces right-handed pitchers. Last season he hit .277/.354/.415 in 297 AB vs righties but only .187/.291/.200 in 87 AB against southpaws. All 9 of his home runs and 31 of 38 RBI came against RH pitchers.
In a perfect world, Castro would start every game against a lefty. Sadly, this would probably ensure seeing Cancel with the big club before the summer solstice. The Mets like him well enough, but he doesn't hit very much, which is why the soon-to-be 33 year old catcher has less than 100 major league AB. More than half came with the Mets last season. Beneath Cancel there is nothing beyond a couple of Quadruple-A organizational types and prospects who are a long, long ways away.
Carlos Delgado needs to be a reasonable facsimile of the red-hot hitter we saw after June. There just isn't any depth here, and no real RH candidates beyond the long-shot Nick Evans, although Fernando Tatis played there some last season. Depending on who makes the team Tatis, Daniel Murphy and Marlon Anderson could see time there.
While it would be great if Delgado could continue to put up the numbers he did over the last three months of 2008, even something like .275 with 25 HR and 90 RBI would get the job done. Much less than that or an injury would leave the Mets likely scrambling to find someone via trade.
Luis Castillo has come to camp 17 pounds lighter and promising to change the minds of fans who turned on him in '08. To me and others who I have read, the big question is whether he can get off to a quick start. If he does, he has a chance. If not, I'd bet the farm against him.
Despite putting up an anemic .245 AVG last year, 47 points shy of his lifetime AVG, Castillo still managed to get on base 35% of his plate appearances. He knows how to work a pitcher, but last season he seemed to be trying too hard to get walks. If he can recover some of his old production he could help this team, which struggles at times to correctly work opposing pitchers. I actually think he has a chance to rebound, but again, he'll need a fast start or they'll boo him out of town.
Alex Cora is plan B, but he doesn't provide much offense and is another LH bat on a team that is top-heavy with them.
That Wright kid has a chance to be pretty good if Mike Francesa fails to convince Mets management that he needs to be traded for a bag of balls. One concern I had with Wright last year was that he became pull-happy for much of the year and also had a pronounced uppercut to his swing. I attribute both to simply trying too hard to get his club back to the playoffs.
The above mentioned swing flaws makes Wright prone to striking out, and he disappointed in a number of key situations last year. I'd like to see him go back to being more of an opposite field hitter and cut down on the 118 strikeouts. Still, most hitters would kill for what I'm labeling as a slightly off season from David.
For his first couple of seasons in the majors, Wright was overrated as a fielder. Now I think he is somewhat underrated. I'm impressed with how much he's tightened up his throwing, which was his one real weakness as a defender.
Wright doesn't take many days off, but when he does I assume Tatis and Cora are most likely to fill in.
I'm not a huge fan of Jose Reyes' celebrations. I'm 50 years old and grew up playing sports when you didn't do that stuff. On the other hand, I'm not joining the bandwagon that blames Reyes for the way other teams react to the Mets. Frankly, I think that's something the press plays up for its story value.
As August turned to September, the Mets went down to Miami to face a Marlins club that was still clinging to a legitimate playoff hope. The Mets brought with them their shaky bullpen that would prove to be their undoing later in the month.
The Mets took 2 of 3 from Florida, sending those playoff hopes into a tailspin. The only game the Marlins won came when Aaron Heilman walked in the winning run. So yes, the Marlins ended the Mets season again because they hate the Mets and Reyes so much, blah, blah, blah. My question would be, how come they didn't hate the Mets enough in early September to win a key series on their home field? To put this another way, if the reason the Marlins took 2 of 3 to end the Mets season was because Reyes had them so fired up to beat the Mets, how come Florida only won 6 out of the previous 15 games they played against the Mets when they actually had something to lose? Weren't they mad enough at Reyes when it meant something for their own season?
Supposedly Reyes gets the Phillies all fired up, too. I guess if they weren't so mad they would have done worse than losing 11 of 18 to the Mets last year.
When you have two incredibly disappointing seasons in a row, people look for scapegoats. It's ridiculous how much mileage some columnists and talk radio types get out of making Reyes' celebrations an issue. The Mets missed the playoffs because their bullpen didn't hold leads. Everything else is just noise.
Reyes continues to grow up, and I hope it involves leaving some of the goofy stuff behind. Still, it's been a privilege for even a dinosaur like me who doesn't love the celebrating to watch Reyes play the game with such skills, energy, enthusiasm and love. If the price for that is the goofy stuff, I'll live with it.
I honestly look for a big year from Reyes. The past couple of seasons have been a learning experience and something to grow on. I think he takes a step closer to his potential this year.
I know, I know, this gets me kicked out of the club, but I love this platoon. I think both Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis bring a level of intensity and professionalism when they play. I wouldn't be in favor of the full-time job being handed to either, but a platoon is an excellent way to work these players into the lineup. If one of the two fails to produce or gets hurt it's not that hard to find a replacement for half of a platoon.
I don't have any wild predictions that Murphy will hit .313 over a full season, but I like him to hit enough and get on base a lot. Once he gets on he runs surprisingly well for someone who isn't built like a gazelle.
I don't think a .280+ AVG is out of the question for Murphy, and he'll walk enough to have a good OBP. The big question with him is going to be power. The 13 HR he had in just over half a season in Double-A last year was somewhat of a breakout power-wise for Murphy. The previous year he had 11 in just over 500 AB for St. Lucie in Advanced A ball. While he has some pop, he doesn't look like a guy who will ever wow you with power numbers.
As for Fernando Tatis, the big question was whether 2008 was a fluke. If he could put up numbers close to what he did last year the Mets should be alright in LF. He brings a fire and passion for the game that this team needs. Although he had 11 HR in just over 270 AB last year I thought he was a much more dangerous hitter when he wasn't swinging for the fences.
If the LF platoon doesn't work, it might mean a call-up for top prospect Fernando Martinez. At this point it would be great if he would stay healthy enough to get plenty of AB in New Orleans. Barring injury, I'd be surprised if we didn't see him in September at least.
The LF platoon will be a test of the player evaluation by Minaya and the front office. They obviously felt that they could get enough production out of Murphy and Tatis, which enabled them to put resources elsewhere. If they're wrong, there's going to be a lot of heat for not signing someone whether it be Manny, Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu or someone else. If it works and Fernando develops, they'll be geniuses. If not, someone could be on their way to a pink slip. I like the platoon, as previously stated, but I do understand the other side, too. At any rate, it should be an interesting watch.
This is a guy who plays gold glove defense in one of the premium positions while putting up numbers that you would take from a corner OF or first baseman. In a sense, Beltran's offense allows the Mets to gamble with a LF platoon that's not going to hit a lot of homers.
In his fifth season, Beltran seems comfortable in New York. While certainly not a fiery, vocal leader, Beltran is a positive role model to younger players. He never comes across as selfish or distant either, and by all accounts is generous with the fans. I guess you either like him or you don't, but he gets my vote.
If Ryan Church can put up a full season of what he did the first two months last year he'll be an All Star. If he struggles like he did when he returned late in the season, the Mets will be in big trouble. Somewhere in between those extremes would probably work.
Church seemed to blossom under Hojo's instruction last year, and looked good against left-handed pitchers early on. He plays terrific defense in RF, which by all accounts will be a tricky assignment in the new park. I don't have any problem with the Mets giving him a chance at the full time job this season now that he is showing no aftereffects from the two concussions that ruined his first campaign here.
He's another guy who plays hard every day and seems to give a damn about winning and losing. If he could give them that, his good defense and solid corner OF offensive production the Mets should be fine. If he could build on what he started last April and May they could be much better than fine.
Check back tomorrow when I tackle the Mets bench. I would have done it in this one if I hadn't gotten so long-winded on a couple of players. The fun thing about writing for a blog is that I'm never quite sure where some of these pieces are going when I start writing them.
Finally, if you're looking for tickets for a game that sells out early (like vs the Yankees or those NL east teams who really get mad at Reyes), remember my friends at Ticket Solutions have single-game Mets Tickets available for virtually any game.