When PECOTA released their preseason major league projections earlier this year, there weren’t many surprises to be found in the National League East: The Washington Nationals were projected to once again top the National League East with 88-wins while the Atlanta Braves trailed them in second place with 82-wins. The surprise team in the group wasn’t the cream of the east, but rather the middle of the division. PECOTA boldly predicted that the Mets would reach the 80-win plateau for the first time since 2008, only two games behind the second place Braves.
Preseason projections are far from gospel and t’s all too easy to remember that Sports Illustrated pegged the injury-plagued 2009 Mets as the preseason World Series Champions. However, this 80-win projection is far different than that made in 2009 for a myriad of reasons. No longer is this a club built to win now, but rather a club trying to fit pieces together to build toward a perennial winner. As the club sits 10 games under .500 (17-27) on Friday, May 24th, it may be hard to fathom that the club could eventually finish the season with 80 wins. If baseball has taught us anything, it’s that the spirit of competition and youth is extremely passionate and that anything that can happen, will happen (Even the Chicago Cubs will have their day).
It may be early to be looking toward the second half of the season, but it’s the period that the club will definitely hit their stride this season. The current roster is not one that’s going to win many games, but with upcoming promotions the club will see players who are now starting be pushed into roles more suitable for their talents. Not convinced? Here are a few reasons why:
- Matt Harvey: Kicking off the list with Harvey may appear to be a strange choice because of how strong he has already been early in the season, but his strengths are the reason that he tops the list. It would be redundant to talk about just how dominant Harvey has been this season, but he has earned the title of the undisputed ace of the Mets’ pitching rotation and as long as he’s at the helm, there’s a strong possibility the club will win every fifth day if the offense can contribute two or more runs.
- Rafael Montero: An 80-win season doesn’t necessarily have to be reached through constant Wild Card contention. One can look at the 2012 San Diego Padres to examine how a strong second half can influence a team moving forward. The club is 19-15 since a 2-10 start and rests only four-and-a-half games behind first in the competitive National League West. Montero is an addition that likely won’t be made until September rolls around, but if his dominant performances this year are any indication, he’ll certainly be adding to the club’s win total. Montero has struck out 59 batters in 53 1/3 innings pitched between Binghatmon and Las Vegas and has an incredible 1.2 BB/9 rate. He most recently was given the opportunity to have a spot start in Las Vegas in which he heavily impressed by throwing 6 2/3 innings of two run ball, striking out five and issuing only one walk in a hitter-friendly environment.
- Zack Wheeler: Acquired for Carlos Beltran on July 28th, 2011, Wheeler’s every move has been stalked by anxious Mets fans ever since. The clock on Wheeler has officially begun as reports surfaced yesterday that he’ll likely only make three-to-four more starts with the Las Vegas 51s before being promoted to the big league club. Wheeler’s promotion will come at a much needed time as the starting rotation’s struggles have caused Terry Collins to tax his bullpen. His promotion will move either Dillon Gee or Jeremy Hefner to long relief, which will bolster not only the rotation but also the depth of the bullpen. Wheeler’s promotion is a win on two accounts for a club desperate for a solid bullpen.
- Improvements at First: Ike Davis may or may not be in Las Vegas when Zack Wheeler makes his big league debut next month, but the fact remains that no matter who’s at the position through the rest of the season -demotion or not- can’t feasibly hit .149. The club simply won’t allow anyone else to have the kind of a leash that Davis has. Whether it’s Duda, Lutz, Murphy, Satin, or an external option, the offensive production will improve.
- Travis d’Arnaud: John Buck has been an incredible addition to the 2013 roster because of his veteran presence in the clubhouse and early-season offensive heroics. He has helped to aid Matt Harvey’s development as a frontline starter, worked with the staff to get them to perform to their maximum potential, and has befriended his eventual replacement Travis d’Arnaud. Buck’s offensive production has plummeted to a .224/.284/.456 clip, but he’ll soon be replaced by d’Arnaud. Although d’Arnaud is just under two weeks away from having his walking boot removed, once he resumes playing he’ll only be a month or two away from Flushing. At the very latest, he’ll be with the big league club in September. The best case scenario seems to be a late-July or early-August arrival, but he’ll be a big upgrade.
- Outfield Opportunity: If you’re no longer thrilled with seeing Rick Ankiel, Marlon Byrd, Mike Baxter, Jordany Valdespin, or the other six players who have started in the outfield for the Mets this season, things will be changing shortly. It’s likely than one or both of Ankiel and Byrd will be shipped off at the deadline for a lower-end prospect or cash considerations that will open to road for people like Cory Vaughn to get his shot in Flushing sooner rather than later. Collin Cowgill and Kirk Nieuwenhuis will likely get another look before the year is over, but there will be more opportunity for a name to breakout at the big league level. Vaughn is looking more and more to be the person as he’s now posting a .300/.385/.469 line in Binghamton and will be seeing time in Las Vegas this summer. He’ll likely be a September call-up, but his potential is definitely intriguing.
As the Mets push toward earning a modicum of respect in the National League East, it’s easy to forget just how much talent and flexibility the club has in the coming years. The already-present core led by David Wright and consisting of Bobby Parnell, Matt Harvey, Daniel Muprhy, and Jonathon Niese will soon be joined by Travis d’Arnaud, Rafael Montero, and Zack Wheeler. Pieces that are here on one-year contracts such as Ankiel and Byrd will be shipped off, and the beginnings of the Alderson’s team will come to fruition.
Things may appear bleak now, but this ship is about to be turned around.
Photo Credit: Michael Baron