Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mets Fever: Spring Training Preview

After an off-season consumed by far more questions than answers the 2012 baseball season finally arrives tomorrow morning when pitchers and catchers formally report for spring training. This spring, unlike years past, brings with it little mystery for the boys in blue as both the roster and rotation appear to be set. With the exception of probably one bullpen spot and a bench position, there will be no spring training battles to make the team.

Photo By Michael Baron
Without question the biggest concern for the Mets will be the health of Johan Santana, who threw of the mound Friday for the first time this year. Santana, still recovering from September 2010 shoulder surgery, would be a significant addition to what many consider a very weak rotation. Expected to be ready for opening day, the Mets have neglected to bring in a sixth option at starting pitcher, which could leave them scrambling come early April should Santana fall short.

Additions: The Mets will feature several new faces this spring. First and foremost will be the arrival of Andres Torres, who was acquired in the December 6th trade of Angel Pagan to San Francisco. Torres, considered a defensive upgrade, will have plenty to prove at the plate this spring if he is to assume the role of everyday center fielder this April. Another face added by way of the Angel Pagan trade is Ramon Ramirez who should help settle the Mets beleaguered bullpen, having pitched to a sub 3.00 ERA over the past four seasons. The other key addition is that of Frank Francisco who will assume the closer's role previously held by Krod. Francisco, who pitches to a similar strike out ratio, will have significant shoes to fill when he toes the rubber as a full-time closer for the first time since 2009.

Departures: Without question the most significant departure of the off-season was that of Jose Reyes. The departure of the reigning NL batting champion leaves significant holes at both the shortstop position and lead off man for the Mets. Although they were dealt prior to the trade deadline last summer, the Mets will enter spring training this year without Carlos Beltran for the first time since 2005 and without Krod for the first time since 2009. Both having played major roles for the Mets in the past, the team will look to move on as it reinvents itself into a much more middle market team in the big city.

Other things to look for this season will be the continued development of both Daniel Murphy at second base and Lucas Duda in right field. Both playing outside of their comfort zone in the field, Murphy and Duda should play vital roles offensively this season as they hope to offset their defensive struggles elsewhere. The reentry of Ike Davis into the lineup will be a big boost both offensively and defensively for the 2012 New York Mets. In addition to providing protection in the lineup for David Wright, Ike will look to build on what was a strong start to the 2011 season before going down in May with an ankle injury for the remainder of the year.

Photo By Michael Baron
Ultimately, in addition to remaining healthy this season, the 2012 Mets will need comeback seasons from both David Wright and Jason Bay if they hope to compete in a much improved NL East. Each will have all spring to repair their approach at the plate which was compromised as a result of the once cavernous outfield at Citi Field, which welcome the team north this spring with its new hitter friendly dimensions.

Finally, this spring will bring with it a first hand look at many of the Mets rising stars. Both Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia will see time with the big league club this spring as they prepare for their promotion to the major league level, which will likely come later this summer. Additionally, fans should get a better look at the likes of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Reese Havens and others who could eventually be contributors for the big league club.  The focus for much of this spring could land on these youngsters who currently represent the future of a franchise riddled with doubt both on and off the field.

Will the Mets win seventy games this season, push towards the .500 mark or shock the world and make a run at the playoffs?  That answer, and the answers to many other questions will start to take shape tomorrow when the Mets kick off their 50th anniversary celebration in Port St. Lucie, FL when spring training gets underway.  Finally, its time for baseball. Lets Go Mets!!

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