- Adam Rubin, ESPN Staff Writer
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Only hours remain in spring training for the Mets. The Amazin's complete their Grapefruit League schedule against Andy Pettitte and the Yankees at noon today in Tampa, then fly home. Next up: Johan Santana versus Tommy Hanson on Thursday afternoon at Citi Field.
Check back at ESPNNewYork.com later today for a revealing feature on Santana, ESPN Stats & Information's Mark Simon looking at upcoming Mets statistical milestones, scouts breaking down the Mets pitching staff and an in-depth series preview with Atlanta Braves info.
Wednesday's news reports:
• After all the talk about potential DL trips, it turns out the only players landing there apparently will be Pedro Beato (shoulder) and D.J. Carrasco (ankle). Closer Frank Francisco, lefty specialist Tim Byrdak and center fielder Andres Torres all are ready to break camp with the team. Francisco threw a bullpen session Tuesday, two days after receiving a cortisone shot in his ailing left knee. The closer said he is pain-free, despite some residual inflammation. Sandy Alderson acknowledged the issue could linger -- "especially for a guy who weighs 260 pounds," the GM told reporters.
Byrdak recorded three outs in Tuesday's Grapefruit League game, exactly three weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Torres, who had resumed game action during the weekend on the minor league side, had two plate appearances Tuesday in his first Grapefruit League game since March 20, when he suffered a strained left calf. He singled against Ivan Nova and was hit by a pitch. Read more on the positive health resolutions in the Star-Ledger, Record, Journal, Daily News, Post and Newsday.
• As a result of the trio's health, Vinny Rottino and Daniel Herrera have been dispatched to Buffalo. The Mets also had held back Kirk Nieuwenhuis in Port St. Lucie after the center-field prospect's Triple-A teammates had departed, but Nieuwenhuis was cleared by late Monday to head north to join the Mets' top minor league affiliate.
• Because the three players avoided the disabled list, the Mets will only need to clear two 40-man roster spots -- for backup lefty-hitting outfielder Mike Baxter and spot starter/long reliever Miguel Batista.
• Ike Davis hit a walk-off homer and the Mets beat the Yankees, 7-6, Tuesday in the first spring-training meeting between the clubs in Port St. Lucie since 1995. Mike Pelfrey limited the Yankees to a Nick Swisher solo homer and one other hit while striking out five and walking none in four innings. Read more in Newsday, the Times, Post and Star-Ledger.
• Swisher reminisced to David Waldstein in the Times about growing up at the Mets' spring-training complex. Writes Waldstein:
From age 8, when his father, the former major leaguer Steve Swisher, was a minor league manager with the Mets and later a coach with the big-league club, Swisher was a fixture at the Mets’ spring training. There were the days when he won $100 off Todd Hundley, joked around with the eccentric Bill Pulsipher and took what he estimated were a million swings on the back fields. Returning here Tuesday as a 31-year-old Yankees right fielder brought back a stream of memories for Swisher, who celebrated his return by hitting a home run in a 7-6 loss to the Mets in the same park where he used to shag fly balls as a youngster.
• Paul DePodesta, who oversees the Mets' farm system and amateur scouting, participated in a chat at Baseball Prospectus. DePodesta addressed the new collective bargaining agreement, which will restrict Mets spending on draft picks. He also discussed left-handed prospect Josh Edgin's future, 2011 first-round pick Brandon Nimmo (who will participate in extended spring training rather than break camp with full-season Savannah), the plan to give Jordany Valdespin limited exposure to center field while keeping him primarily in the middle infield, the elimination of the Mets' Gulf Coast League team, and under-the radar-prospects. On that last subject, DePodesta identified Domingo Tapia and Rafael Montero as legit prospects not getting hype. "Both guys have a chance to emerge as our next group of top-tier potential major league starting pitchers," DePodesta predicted. "They have power stuff. Tapia routinely touched 100 mph last summer. And both pound the strike zone."
DePodesta added that while the organization is committed to building from within, they also realize they need to strategically add capable free agents. "It's awfully difficult to build a championship-caliber club just with your own minor league players (though the Rockies basically did)," DePodesta said. "But if we can build up a core, and we absolutely believe we can and we will, then we will have plenty of capacity to make strategic free-agent or even trade decisions."
On top prospect Zack Wheeler, DePodesta said: "Like most young pitchers with big stuff, it's just a matter of consistency. He has a major league repertoire right now. In fact, it's better than most major league starters. The difference is simply how consistently he's able to make the ball go where he wants and do what he wants. He's making progress and isn't far off, and we'll see stretches this year when he's locked in and looking like a big leaguer."
DePodesta said his children have selected Lucas Duda as the player most likely to pick up the Linsanity mantle.
• Read ESPNNewYork.com's position-by-position analysis of the Mets, including scout comment.
• Matt Harvey will start Buffalo's opener Thursday at Pawtucket. He will be followed in the Bisons' rotation by Jeurys Familia, Chris Schwinden, Jeremy Hefner and Garrett Olson. "It's a huge honor," Harvey told Mike Harrington at the Buffalo News' Bisons blog. "I wasn't sure going into spring training exactly where I was going to start [between Buffalo and Binghamton]. Wally [Backman] told me the whole time I had a good chance of going with him. As soon as they told me, I was extremely honored and happy."
Double-A Binghamton, which opens at home, will have Collin McHugh on the mound Thursday, in Game 1. Lynn Worthy profiles the B-Mets in the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin. Wheeler, Edgin, Juan Lagares, Matt den Dekker and Darin Gorski highlight the Double-A roster.
See the full minor league roster assignments here.
• The Mets will have a group seating/party area between the old and new left-field walls at Citi Field, with ticket prices ranging from $100 to $200 per person and including food and drink. Meanwhile, executive VP Dave Howard acknowledged Tuesday that Opening Day is not yet sold out. Read more in the Times, Post and Newsday.
• Rhiner Cruz, the hard-throwing right-hander plucked from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings, has made the Opening Day roster of the Astros. Cruz will need to stick with Houston at the major league level for the full season in order to officially become Houston property.
• Among Post baseball writers, Ken Davidoff and Mike Vaccaro predict the Mets finishing fourth in the NL East, ahead of the Braves. George King, Mike Puma, Joel Sherman, Kevin Kernan and Dan Martin pick the Mets for the basement.
Kernan has a National League preview. Kernan's Mets comment: "Offense will be fine if Wright is healthy because Ike Davis and Lucas Duda can crush, but this is a transitional season. Not enough pitching. Looking forward to seeing Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia join the rotation and watching Zack Wheeler grow."
Sherman has these Mets predictions in a 2012 crystal ball column:
Johan Santana needs two DL stints to survive just a 15-start season, but uses his savvy to go 8-5 with a 3.58 ERA when he does pitch. Jon Niese’s command and maturity catch up to his competitiveness and stuff, allowing him to become a 15-game winner with an ERA in the threes. Andres Torres tanks and the Mets turn to Matt den Dekker, who proves to be Devon White Lite: Long legs and a long swing leading to ace defense, bunches of strikeouts and some lefty pop. Ike Davis and Lucas Duda each top 30 homers, but Davis does it with Gold Glove contention defense while Duda is so troublesome in right the Mets are forced to consider whether he can play there long term. The same goes for Daniel Murphy as a definitely-can-hit, but-can’t-field second baseman.
Frank Francisco’s knee issues and inability to deal with the running game leads to Terry Collins going with a hot-hand approach at closer and no Met recording more than 18 saves. Ruben Tejada is not Jose Reyes, but he proves himself an everyday major league shortstop by making all the plays defensively while maintaining a good on-base percentage in the .350 range. David Wright is helped by the shortened Citi Field fences and rebounds to a .285, 24-homer season, but nothing helps Jason Bay, who finishes with just 10 homers.
• Andy Martino in the Daily News writes Jon Niese's deal will be close to the five-year, $28.5 million guarantee the Texas Rangers gave to left-hander Derek Holland, but "not necessarily quite that lucrative."
• Omar Minaya, now a lieutenant to GM Josh Byrnes in San Diego, tells Christian Red in the Daily News that Ruben Tejada will be a capable alternative to Jose Reyes. “He’ll surprise you,” Minaya told Red. “Listen, you’re not going to replace Jose. But I don’t think Ruben is of that mindset. Ruben is a fine shortstop. He’s a young kid who can throw, catch, who is going to hit the ball into the gap. He’s a well-rounded baseball player.”
• Columnist John Harper writes in the Daily News the Mets really could use the Yankees' Brett Gardner. Meanwhile, he quotes Alderson on the lack of Yankees first-team players who attended the game in Port St. Lucie as saying: “That’s an issue for Major League Baseball, not for us. But I don’t know whether Yankees fans are happy to see a Yankee uniform or would prefer to see somebody recognizable in the uniform.”
TRIVIA: Who has been the only player other than Reyes to bat leadoff for the Mets on Opening Day since 2005?
Tuesday's answer: Schwinden led Buffalo in strikeouts last season with 134, in 145 2/3 innings.