Mets Spring Training: What We’ve Learned
It may be just about 1/3rd of the way through spring training, but with the newfound excitement surrounding this Mets team, this seems like as good a time as any to start overreacting.
Much has been made of Pete Alonso and whether he’d be able to return to his 2019 form, and so far the results are promising. Forget about the prodigious opposite field grand slam he hit last week, as power will never be the chief concern for the Polar Bear. What’s stood out thus far is the plate discipline that was so lacking in 2020. The big first baseman has already walked five times this spring, including three times on Tuesday. Alonso’s most crucial issue a season ago was chasing pitches outside of the zone. Wherever he ends up hitting in the lineup, Alonso will have protection behind him — probably in the form of Dom Smith — and as long as he remains picky at the plate, there should be no shortage of pitches to hit in 2021.
Even waiting on what the team hopes is a June return for Noah Syndergaard, the Mets have the potential for one of the best opening day rotations in all of baseball. Jacob deGrom has looked like Jacob deGrom so far, already touching 100 on the radar gun and in a shock to absolutely no one, was named the Mets Opening Day starter for the third consecutive year. Behind him, Marcus Stroman looks to bounce back after opting out in 2020 and has looked good through his two starts, often times mixing his delivery mechanics to keep hitters off balance. Taijuan Walker made his spring debut on Tuesday, going two innings and allowing two earned runs on two hits while walking and striking out two. Walker reached 95 on the gun and displayed an impressive arsenal of pitches, especially in the first inning where he struck out the first two batters of the game.
In addition to the new look rotation, there’s a new man behind the plate calling signals in James McCann. The catcher was the first splash move of the Steve Cohen era, as the Mets opted for a four year, 40 million dollar deal for McCann in lieu of making a play for JT Realmuto. Thus far, the returns have been more than promising. The organization has raved about McCann’s influence in the clubhouse, and he’s far and away the best defensive catcher the Mets have had in recent memory, already showing off the throwing arm that earned him the nickname “McCannon” from former teammate Justin Verlander. At the plate, McCann is a more than capable hitter, showing an affinity for utilizing the opposite field in the early going.
Naturally, everything isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, even in the Florida rays. The Mets bullpen has enough capable arms to be efficient, but in order to be a strength it needs bounce-back campaigns from the likes of Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances. The most glaring hindrance of both big righties is the ability to keep traffic off the bases, namely in the form of walks. Each walked a pair in their debut performances a week ago, with Betances charged for four runs. Familia continues to be have his own issues with control, so much so that catchers are being instructed to hold their target own the middle of the plate in hopes his natural movement will be enough to balance between avoiding walks and batting practice balls.
Aside from ramping up to game-ready status, the primary goal of spring training is to make it to Opening Day in good health. Those hopes took a hit this week, as reserve first baseman/outfielder Jose Martinez is expected to miss four months after tearing his meniscus in a freak collision with an umpire on a foul ball. The injury leaves the Mets with a hole on their bench, now in need of a righty depth player.
If you were worried about the Mets defense before, you’re certainly not feeling any better now. The Mets committed seven total errors between Sunday and Monday. Jeff McNeil, who figures to be the everyday second baseman but has the versatility to handle third and the corner outfield spots, had a nightmare game at third on Sunday, while JD Davis has had his own struggles. We haven’t even seen Smith in left yet. The defense is never going to be flawless, and there’s plenty of good gloves stashed on the bench, but the simple fact is that it needs to better than it is right now.