Few camp battles, but much excitement for Mets
Many players hit Florida early as club aims to exceed expectations in 2013
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It speaks to the eagerness of the players here that although Mets pitchers and catchers are not officially required to be in camp until Monday evening, most of them arrived days ago. Position players do not need to arrive until Saturday, and yet the entire projected 25-man roster is already in house.
They have all been filtering in for weeks, anticipating this: the official start of Spring Training in Port St. Lucie.
"It's our job to come in and make sure that our game is at the top level it is," said outfielder Mike Baxter, one of the early reporters. "Talking with some of the guys that are in camp already, everybody's coming into camp feeling good, 100 percent. The ball's now in our court to go out and play as well as we can."
As far as camps go, this one should be relatively straightforward. The Mets do not have any position battles in their starting lineup or rotation, meaning they merely need to fill out their bullpen and their bench between now and Opening Day. And they already have clear ideas of who will fill those roles, with little wiggle room for others to step in.
So camp will be more about jelling as a unit, improving individually and taking the first steps toward besting last season's fourth-place finish in the National League East. Fifty-eight players are expected to spend time in big league camp, including 18 non-roster invitees. Of those, several have strong opportunities to make the team -- Scott Atchison, Pedro Feliciano and LaTroy Hawkins in the bullpen, along with Andrew Brown and Marlon Byrd in the outfield.
"It's exciting," starting pitcher Shaun Marcum said. "You get to come in here and see a lot of new faces, meet a lot of new people, so that's always exciting. Other than that, it's about going about your business. I'm getting ready for the season, looking forward to getting out there."
The real highlight of camp will revolve around two players who have virtually no shot of making the Opening Day roster: right-handed pitcher Zack Wheeler and catcher Travis d'Arnaud. Two of the top 10 prospects in baseball, Wheeler and d'Arnaud may be big league-ready now. But the Mets plan to proceed cautiously with those two, starting them out in the Minors before promoting them midsummer.
Still, Wheeler and d'Arnaud will see plenty of Grapefruit League action, beginning Feb. 23 against the Nationals at 12:10 p.m. ET. Like the rest of the pitchers and catchers in camp, they will take their physicals on Tuesday and participate in their first official workouts on Wednesday -- though both have unofficially been working at the complex for days.
Position players will join them by Saturday, with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Feb. 18. From there, it's on to the Grapefruit League season.
Though the Mets have relatively few position battles in camp, they do have questions that need answers. They must determine, for example, whether Frank Francisco is healthy and fit enough to remain their closer, or if Brandon Lyon or Bobby Parnell should step in.
They must decide how best to deploy their outfield, which lost one of its most productive power hitters from last season, Scott Hairston. Manager Terry Collins will almost certainly proceed with at least one platoon situation in his outfield, and possibly two.
"I think it's definitely a good opportunity for me," said Collin Cowgill, who should fill half of one of those outfield platoons. "I'm happy to be here and really looking forward to the season."
Speaking of Collins, he is entering the final year of his contract. As spring turns into summer and the season wears on, that may become more and more of an issue.
The Mets also must determine who will step up to replace R.A. Dickey in the rotation. Wheeler and Matt Harvey have the talent to do it, while Jon Niese has the experience to take another big step forward. A strength in 2012, the starting rotation will again be a focal point in '13.
But as much as things change, one thing remains the same: David Wright. The star third baseman reported weeks early, as usual, eager to begin anew after signing an eight-year contract that should make him a Met for life. If the Mets decide to name Wright their captain, they could do it as soon as this week.
So stay tuned for coverage on Mets.com, now that Spring Training has officially begun. Already, there are plotlines aplenty.