Saturday, March 26, 2022

Early Thoughts from Spring Training

The Mets will have some tough decisions to make this spring, particularly in the outfield and who will be the bullpen lefty.

As the New York Mets continue to prepare for the season, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer have both given fans reasons to feel good about the top of the team's rotation. On Monday, Max Scherzer debuted first, pitching against the Marlins in their ballpark. Scherzer clearly had been doing the work during the protracted lockout. He went 5 innings against Miami, throwing 72 pitches. Scherzer wants to be prepared to throw 100 pitches when the regular season gets underway in a couple of weeks. The Mets hitters gave Max the "deGrom treatment," failing to score a run for him. Scherzer took the loss despite allowing only a solitary run.

Jacob deGrom had a more conventional first time out when he took the mound against the Houston Astros in Port St. Lucie on Tuesday. deGrom went 2 innings, tossing 30 pitches. Other than allowing a double to Lewis Brinson to lead off the second, deGrom was dominating. Jacob is obviously not targeting 100 pitches for his regular-season debut, and that's fine. I don't believe most Mets fans will hold it against their ace if he opts to ease into the season. We just want to see Jake still pitching in October.

What was most hopeful in that regard was deGrom's willingness to take a little off his fastball. This is reportedly Jacob's plan for the season, to hold back on throwing at maximum velocity on every pitch. deGrom was quoted by Pat Ragazzo on Sports Illustrated's website:

"That's kind of going back to trying to be smooth, not trying to throw as hard as I can and work down the slope so I am happy with how that went today. I am sure there will be times when I throw as hard as I can. When I am really in sync and smooth it feels like it comes out better than when I actually try to throw really hard."

Being smooth and not utilizing max effort all of the time would seem to be an excellent way for deGrom to avoid repeating last season's repeated trips to the injured list. Having a full-time DH in the National League will also help. At least one of Jacob's injuries last season was reported to have occurred when he was hitting. The chances of the Mets to break through and be the legitimate playoff team they failed to be last season increase exponentially for every inning Jacob deGrom can toss for them in 2022. A replay of last year would be a disaster. There's a long way to go here, but this is at least a promising start.

Carlos Carrasco and Chris Bassitt were supposed to pitch against the Marlins in Thursday's spring training game. However, the weather forecast wasn't the greatest for the 6 pm start, so the Mets decided to let both pitchers get their work in a minor league intrasquad game earlier that day. Bassitt was dominating while Carrasco struggled. Then, in today's game, Taijuan Walker pitched a couple of scoreless innings in his spring debut.

We'll avoid the temptation to read too much into pitchers' results this early. The main thing is that all of the Mets starters are healthy and getting ready for the season. The addition of Chris Bassit to the rotation moves Carrasco and Walker back to the fourth and fifth spots, which really takes the pressure off of both pitchers as they prepare for the campaign ahead.

Having Tylor Megill and David Peterson in reserve puts the Mets into a position of strength beyond where they began the 2021 season. And I hope both of them start off the season in Syracuse's rotation. I like their chances of being solid major league starters, but I think both would benefit from refining their game more away from the New York spotlight. Both Megill and Peterson were rushed to the big leagues directly from Double-A and never even had the chance to log innings at Triple-A. The Mets don't have a big prospect close to the majors, but these two are a step above the sort of Triple-A depth the Mets have had in recent years.

The Mets broke through for 9 runs against the Marlins on Wednesday, but the offense hasn't sparkled so far this spring. Again, I avoid the temptation to jump to conclusions based on a few spring games. There have been some positive signs for sure. Dominic Smith and J. D. Davis have looked pretty good so far. Given the way the roster was constructed, the Mets will need both of those guys to be effective offensively for them again.

Francisco Lindor has hit the ball well this spring. Of course, he hit well last spring, too, before slumping for most of the early part of the season.

Jeff McNeil wasn't hitting the ball great before today's game against the Nationals, but he at least had a couple of walks. Then he had an excellent game today, going 2-3 with a triple and driving in a run.

Robinson Cano hasn't been hitting in the early going. I'm curious to see where it goes with Cano. I have no doubt he will be on the roster to start the season, but I wonder how much playing time he'll get if he doesn't start hitting. If I had to bet, it would be that Buck Showalter will give Cano a chance to earn some time. This isn't the old Wilpon-led Mets, however. I think Robinson Cano really will have to produce to keep getting DH ABs — particularly if Smith and Davis are productive.

Newcomers Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha have shown some pop in the early going, which the Mets will certainly need from the two of them. And good news on the winter's other significant position player addition, Starling Marte:

Puma reported that Marte took full batting practice today and is ready to take a normal turn in tomorrow's game. I still honestly question the Mets' outfield depth going into the season, but I also understand Michael Conforto isn't coming back on a 1-year deal to be a part-time RF for the Mets. The concern I have is that I think the Mets will need at least 300-400 AB from outfielders other than Brandon Nimmo, Mark Canha, and Starling Marte, maybe even more than that if Nimmo has another season where he misses significant time.

If Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis both hit, they can definitely pick up some of the slack in the OF. You can live with the defense if they provide above-average offense. If Nick Plummer and/or Khalil Lee can keep their head above water in the majors when one of the 3 starting outfielders winds up on the Injured List for a stretch, that will help. But unless the Mets get really lucky with the health of their top 3 outfielders, I think this will be an issue that will have to be dealt with this season. Johneshwy Fargas, who filled in nicely for the Mets last season, is back on a minor league contract. We might see him at Citi Field this summer, too.

Another interesting thing to keep an eye on in spring games is the competition for bullpen lefty. Chasen ShreveÁlex Claudio, and Rob Zastryzny have all pitched well so far. Shreve, who pitched a scoreless inning today, probably has a leg up on the other two. He was an effective reliever for the Pirates last year. Claudio has struggled recently but was good for the Texas Rangers early in his career. However, none of the three is on the 40-man roster. The Mets will have some tough decisions to make as the season goes on.

While the Mets will open up one spot when the put pitcher Joey Lucchesi (recovering from Tommy John surgery) on the 60-day Injured List. But they're likely to have other tough decisions to make as this season goes on — maybe even before it starts, if they decide to keep two lefties or OF Travis Jankowski on the roster to start the year. Some candidates to be dropped off are pitchers Jake Reed and possibly Thomas Szapucki if his velocity doesn't come back. Catcher Patrick Mazeika is another possibility. There will definitely be some tough decisions ahead for the Mets as they shuffle reinforcements onto the roster as the season goes on.

Please be well and take care. Let's go Mets!

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

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