By Mike Steffanos
Tim Redding won't be ready to open the season with the Mets. John Maine isn't throwing his curveball yet. Freddie Garcia looks like what he is -- a thirty-something pitcher trying to come back from shoulder surgery. Livan Hernandez can't break a pane of glass at ten paces with his fastball.
While spring training 2009 has been a relatively happy camp, there is no shortage of reporting any perceived vulnerability of this club in the media. Certainly questions linger about the fifth starter and a couple of bullpen spots, but a closer look reveals there has been a lot of good news coming out of camp.
The Mets passed up chances to land an established bat for their corner OF slots, instead opting to stay with Ryan Church in right and a platoon of Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis in left. Despite the off-season controversy, early returns look promising.
Church looks like the guy who was the best player on the team for the first six weeks last year before his season was ruined by concussions. He's hitting the ball to all fields with authority and hanging in against lefties just fine.
Meanwhile, the projected platoon has morphed into Murphy being the everyday left fielder, and by all accounts the kid seem just fine with the idea. He impresses even the most skeptical observers with his work ethic and feel for the game. It seems like I've gone from reading dire predictions for the kid's failure to a growing consensus that he could handle the job.
Another young player, Nick Evans, seems poised to make a contribution if Fernando Tatis proves to be a flash in the pan. Evans contributed last year, but at times seemed overmatched. This spring he has been raking the ball, showing the power that wasn't all that evident last year. The difference seems to be one of confidence, and he's making a still likely decision to send him down to start the year harder and harder on the brain trust.
With Duaner Sanchez gone, there is a spot to be taken if the hard-throwing youngster is ready for it, and it's starting to look like he is. He's throwing more strikes and working on a split finger pitch to complement his heavy fastball. While he definitely shows short-man quality stuff, Parnell, who has been a starter in the minors, can stretch out to pitch multiple innings and give the Mets flexibility in the bullpen.
What interests me about these players beyond what they stand to contribute is where they came from. Murphy was a 13th round pick in 2006. Parnell was a ninth round pick the year before. Evans came in the fifth round a year before that.
Finding gems in later rounds and developing them into major league ballplayers is a mark of a good player development system. For years the Mets couldn't even get it right with their top picks. This is a positive trend for both this season and beyond.