July 31, 2015 may be considered the turning point for the New York Mets season that culminated in a surprising World Series run last year. Just days after Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores teared up on the field thinking he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in an eventually collapsed trade, he hit a 12th inning walk-off home run, shrinking the Washington Nationals divisional lead over the Mets to two games.
But about three hours before the start of that pivotal divisional game and minutes before the 2015 trade deadline, Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson pulled the trigger on a trade with the Detroit Tigers for Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes.
Cespedes then proceeded to have the most powerful stretch of his four year career, hitting 17 home runs with 44 RBIs while still notching a nearly .290 average in just 57 games with the Mets leading up to their postseason berth.
Although the Mets fell to the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, they pushed far beyond many preseason projections, largely due in part to three things that appear to have followed them into this season: strong starting pitching, a powerful back end of the bullpen, and a more substantial and deep lineup.
The Starting Rotation
This is the strongest part of the team featuring four high powered, front-of-the-rotation type arms in Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz. “(The rotation) can go all the way, but I’m already a little concerned about deGrom’s health in Spring Training,” said Montclair State Sports Media Professor Marc Rosenweig.
Matt Harvey was officially tabbed as the Opening Night starter by Mets Manager Terry Collins due to his impressive 2015 regular season and subsequent postseason work, all while coming off of Tommy John surgery. With his elbow injury nearly two years behind him and his strength looking fully back, Harvey looks primed to continue to head the Mets’ top-end rotation as the clear emotional leader.
Jacob deGrom comes in at the two spot, but could be considered a bona fide ace himself, having won NL Rookie of the Year in 2014 and being a 2015 All-Star. In 30 starts last season, he put up strong numbers including 205 strikeouts in 191 innings, and maintaining a 0.98 WHIP. Although his fastball was down a few miles an hour during Spring Training, deGrom has stated that he isn’t worried about it, and he and the team expect it to rise again during the season.
The imposing 6’6” Noah Syndergaard, or ‘Thor’ as he is known to fans, might have the most purely powerful arsenal of all the Mets’ young pitching talent. Syndergaard’s triple digit velocity has the potential to throw him into the upper echelon of pitchers in the game. Thor dominantly struck out over a batter an inning while keeping a 3.24 ERA last season, but his main issue was the long ball, as he gave up 1.19 HR/9. He looks to carry over his consistent spring work though, as he gave up a lone homer in over 20 innings of work.
The lone lefty in the Mets’ rotation is New York native Steven Matz, who boasts a sweeping curveball as well as a mid-90s fastball. Although a strained lat muscle held him to only 6 starts in his rookie campaign, he more than held his own, posting a 2.27 ERA in just over 35 innings. The MLB.com No.1 Mets’ prospect Matz ended a tough spring with five no-hit innings, so if he can remain healthy this season, he has lots of upside. Unfortunately, that looming ‘if’ has been the trademark of his young career.
Fan favorite and 18 year veteran Bartolo Colon will be the heir to the fifth rotation spot, at least for now. Colon had the lowest walk rate in the majors last season, showcasing his high end control that should translate into this season, even with his diminishing velocity. It’s very possible he will see time in the bullpen, as he did last postseason, once Zack Wheeler makes his way back from Tommy John mid-season.
Former top prospect Zack Wheeler, who missed all of 2015 due to Tommy John surgery, is expected to return to the Mets’ rotation around early July. Theoretically, he will then displace Colon from the rotation, granted everyone else is healthy, but GM Sandy Alderson says the Mets have discussed the possibility of using a six-man rotation again this season, in an effort to keep starters fresh. “I think (Wheeler’s) return will add a measure of competition among the pitching rotation,” said Thomas Formoso, the sports editor for the Montclair State student newspaper The Montclarion. “It can only make the rotation better and everyone around him better.” Wheeler has had two relatively successful years in Queens, but will look to improve his WHIP this season.
This past offseason has been one to remember for fans, as the team spent more money than usual bringing in a few new and returning major bats in Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker, and Asdrubal Cabrera. “The offense should be stronger,” said Rosenweig. “Defense could still be a problem.”
Curtis Granderson approached the plate much more patiently last season, gathering nearly 100 walks with a .364 OBP, and still cracking 26 homers. Grandy’s calming presence atop the lineup this season in front of the big bats of Cespedes, Duda, Walker, and others should help provide a steady flow of offense all year.
Strong-armed outfielder Yoenis Cespedes will be starting his second season with the Mets after working out a deal to come back after exploring free agency. Although his car collection was the talk of Spring Training, his bat produced well, hitting .388 over 18 games. “I think Cespedes has a lot to prove now that the pressure is on him more than ever,” said Formoso. “His fielding efforts will likely come under scrutiny as he never truly looks to be in a hurry and seems to be putting in minimal effort.” His second half of last season will be hard to match, but the Mets are looking for Yo’s big bat to produce from the three hole again.
Outfielder Michael Conforto might be the Mets’ most intriguing player to watch all season due to his inexperience coupled with early success. In just his first full professional season at any level, the 23-year old Conforto hit .270 with 9 home runs in just 56 games, including 3 more homers during the team’s postseason run. “It’s hard to tell (how he’ll do), said Sam Romano, a Sports Media major at Montclair State. “Sometimes rookies get beginner’s luck and then end up in a bit of a sophomore slump.”
The streaky lefty Lucas Duda will be manning first base again this year, hoping to continue his 25-plus homer trend of the last two seasons. Although he hit a robust .285 against lefties last season, something long considered a weakness of his, Terry Collins has stated the Mets may implement a platoon against lefties with him, possibly moving catcher Travis d’Arnaud to first and the superior fielding Kevin Plawecki to behind the plate.
If Travis d’Arnaud can avoid his plaguing injury bug, his 2016 campaign has the ability to propel him into one of the top hitting catchers in baseball. His recent issues have been his fielding work though, where base-stealers were 11-for-11 on him last postseason. “I wasn’t able to slow the game down,” said d’Arnaud to the NY Daily News. If he can get back to his 33% throw out rate from last season, he’ll be a much more complete contributor.
‘The Captain’ David Wright, a mainstay at third for the Mets for the past 12 seasons, appears to be on the back end of his career after playing in a career low 38 games last season due to spinal stenosis. “If (Wright) remains healthy and is able to hit, I think he has a good amount of time left,” said Romano. “If his hitting keeps declining, I’m not sure.” If Alderson can keep his offseason promise of 130 games played for Wright, he could be a fresh and important bat in an already improved lineup.
Second baseman Neil Walker figures to be a middle of the lineup bat for the Mets after posting solid offensive numbers the past two seasons, including a Silver Slugger Award in 2014. The Mets traded one of their plethora of pitchers in Jon Niese to get him as a replacement for fan favorite Daniel Murphy after he left for the division rival Nationals this offseason.
After combined work by mostly Wilmer Flores and the departed Ruben Tejada at short last year, the Mets are looking for more consistency there this season with the newly signed Asdrubal Cabrera. Over his 9 MLB seasons, he has produced well offensively as a shortstop, averaging around 15 homers and 60 RBIs a year. Cabrera’s weakest area though has been in the field, with his lateral quickness a bit below average, but his arm still remains strong even from the deepest infield gap.
Jeurys Familia, an ex-starter, amped up his power and exploded onto the scene last year with an upper 90s sinker and a whipping slider. He will retain his role this season as the Mets’ closer after converting 43-of-48 save opportunities last year.
The lack of lefties in the Mets’ bullpen last year is a thing of the past, as two are already here with a third on the way. Newly signed Antonio Bastardo and Jerry Blevins will be the current lefties in the bullpen. 2014 lefty standout Josh Edgin is slated make his debut sometime in May after Tommy John kept him out last season.
The bullpen rounds out with homegrown talents Hansel Robles and Logan Verrett, along with two ex-closers in Addison Reed and Jim Henderson. The versatile Bartolo Colon may see time here too, especially when Zack Wheeler returns.
“(The Mets) have a bullpen that’s fun to watch regardless of your favorite team,” said Romano.
Five players have been locked in for the Mets’ bench this season: Gold Glove winning outfielder Juan Lagares, new signee Alejandro De Aza, catcher Kevin Plawecki, last season’s shortstop Wilmer Flores, and the versatile Eric Campbell. Flores provides the most solid bat of the bunch and can back up all four infield spots, so Campbell’s value resides in his ability to play the corner outfield and infield. Lagares and De Aza are capable hitters with strong gloves in all three outfield spots.
Possible In-Season Call Ups
Two of the most surprising Opening Day roster moves were dropping relievers Sean Gilmartin and Erik Goeddel down to Triple-A Las Vegas. Even though Gilmartin impressed as a reliever last season with a 2.57 ERA, the Mets reportedly want him to stretch out as a starter in Vegas. Goeddel put up an even stronger campaign last season with a 2.43 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP, but ultimately got beat out for a spot by Henderson. Both pitchers will almost surely be in the major league bullpen at some point this season.
Two more pitchers to keep an eye on for an in-season promotion are reliever and MLB.com’s No. 14 Mets’ prospect Dario Alvarez and starter Rafael Montero. Both have some work to do in Vegas though, with Goeddel and Gilmartin above them in the call-up pecking order.
Shortstop and MLB.com’s No. 7 Mets’ prospect Matt Reynolds appeared close to a roster spot this spring, but will now reside in Vegas, along with apparent Mets second baseman of the future Dilson Herrera. Both will only see Citi Field if injuries or major slumps attack the Mets’ infield.
In the outfield, Roger Bernadina is the most likely to join the big league club this season, especially if De Aza gets traded due to his expensive salary as a fifth outfielder. Two deeper guys who could see outfield time depending on injuries are MLB.com’s No. 2 Mets’ prospect Brandon Nimmo and Travis Taijeron, who posted a strong .366 average with two homers this spring.
As long as the injury bug doesn’t attack major players like it has in some recent years, the Mets look like they have the bones to make a strong follow up to their deep postseason run of last season.
“I believe that the Mets will make the playoffs,” said Formoso. “Their pitching staff is still one of the best and I believe they will reach at least the NLCS if everything goes as planned.”