Friday’s opening intrasquad game proved the prospect showcase, with center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis delivering a two-run homer on a curveball from Daniel Herrera, third baseman Zach Lutz’s double setting up the victorious team’s other run and highly regarded pitching prospects Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia getting in two innings apiece.
Saturday, the ‘A’ team will take center stage shortly after noon, when the starting infielders play together on one intrasquad team, including Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy. The starting outfielders as well as catcher Josh Thole will play on the other side.
As for Friday, Nieuwenhuis’ two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth of the seven-inning game provided a 3-2 win after Frank Francisco notched the save. Dillon Gee pitched two innings for the losing side and allowed one run, when he walked Nieuwenhuis, surrendered a double off the left-field wall to Lutz and then an RBI groundout by Valentino Pascucci with the infield playing back.
Nieuwenhuis, 24, likely is ticketed for Triple-A Buffalo to open the season. That move became cemented when Nieuwenhuis missed the second half of last season with the Bisons. He underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left, non-throwing shoulder. That stunted his development, and the Mets obtained Andres Torres from San Francisco to play center field in 2012.
One American League team tried to acquire the lefty-hitting Nieuwenhuis during the offseason. The Mets were uninterested in discussing moving him.
The decision with Nieuwenhuis -- who may be a midseason call-up, especially if Torres falters -- ultimately will be whether he is too big to play center field at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. Nieuwenhuis, who moves well for his size, firmly believes he can remain at the position rather than shift to a corner outfield spot. Terry Collins dropped a Jim Edmonds comparison in discussing Nieuwenhuis.
“I feel good out there. I feel comfortable,” Nieuwenhuis said about center field. “I love playing it. I love tracking balls down and running in gaps and stuff like that. It’s something I love.”
A scout recently agreed about Nieuwenhuis’ potential to remain in center field.
“He’ll fool you,” the scout said. “He can cover some ground for a big boy.”
Said Collins: “He’s got great skills. And, of course, he plays the game the way you want it played. He plays really hard. He’s one of those guys, boy, it gets close to 7 o’clock and his mood changes. So I think he’s got to go get some Triple-A at-bats, for sure.
“Is he a prototypical center fielder, one of those guys who can really run like mad? Probably not like that. But he’s such a workaholic that he reminds me a little bit, although Jim Edmonds was left-handed [throwing], of Jim Edmonds -- a guy who was a little click above average runner, but yet no fear, great angles, can go after any ball. If he gets to be like that, yeah, he can play center field in the big leagues.”
Harvey’s outing was cut short one out shy of his two-inning allotment. The 2010 first-round pick ripped skin off the lower portion of his thumb delivering a pitch. Harvey said the issue arises from time to time. Both Harvey and Collins said pitching Monday night as previously scheduled in the Grapefruit League opener following Gee will be no issue.
Harvey allowed three hits and one walk while striking out one in 1 2/3 scoreless innings Friday.
“I just couldn’t quite get into a rhythm and didn’t locate as well as I wanted to,” Harvey said. “I’m happy with the way my body felt. My arm felt good.”
As for the thumb, Harvey said: “My fingernail kind of slips off the ball a little bit and comes off, and [the index finger nail] ends up cutting my thumb a little bit. … It’s happened before. It’s something I can work on, put some glue on. It’s fine.”
Familia, who has an electric fastball, breezed through two innings, allowing no hits, one walk and striking out two. The right-hander was pleased with his fastball and slider, but noted his changeup is a work-in-progress. He was getting tips from Miguel Batista in the bullpen.
Scouts believe Familia may ultimately be a reliever. And Familia has even told Harvey he would love to close his games in the majors. But Familia isn’t giving up on starting just yet.
“I was just kidding,” Familia said about his conversation with Harvey regarding closing. “When he asked me, I said, ‘I want to be your closer. I want to close your games.’”
“He really threw the ball good,” Collins said about Familia. “So did Matt. Matt threw the ball good. He’s just got to get more balls in the strike zone. But I thought his breaking ball was good. And Familia, boy, he’s got one of those really short strokes that the ball really jumps on you.”