Commentary

Spring has sprung in Port St. Lucie

As Grapefruit League gets ready to ripen, here are four things in store for Mets

Updated: February 9, 2013, 1:58 PM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Even though New York Mets pitchers and catchers are not required to officially report until Monday, there has been no shortage of activity at the team's complex.

Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee, who constitute three-fifths of the rotation, already have been working out here.

Travis D'Arnaud
Adam RubinWhile you shovel your driveway after Nemo, Mets prized prospect Travis d'Arnaud is catching rays down in Florida. When will he make his major league debut?

So have the top three catchers: ex-Marlin John Buck, prized prospect Travis d'Arnaud and Anthony Recker.

Ike Davis and David Wright have arrived, representing half the infield.

So have Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter, who should form the lefty portion of the team's outfield contingent, barring the signing of free agent Michael Bourn.

What's in store for the Mets in camp? Here are four major things to watch:

1. What outfield? General manager Sandy Alderson is still in a waiting game with agent Scott Boras over Bourn. Assuming that signing does not materialize, there should be one highly competitive outfield spot.

Duda is the left fielder. And the Mets are on record expecting lefty-hitting Nieuwenhuis and righty-hitting Collin Cowgill to platoon in center. Baxter then would presumably form the lefty half of a platoon in right field.

With whom? That's one question the Mets will have to sort out after observing Grapefruit League games.

Veteran Marlon Byrd, 35, will be in camp on a minor league contract after winning the Caribbean Series with Mexico this week. He hit .222 with six RBIs in 27 at-bats during the tournament. Former Colorado Rockie/St. Louis Cardinal Andrew Brown will be one primary competitor for Byrd. There are converted infielders to be considered, too: Zach Lutz and even Justin Turner.

2. Debutants: When will prized prospects Zack Wheeler and d'Arnaud make their major league debuts? Both are long shots to make the Opening Day roster, so they very well could form the battery for Triple-A Las Vegas' season opener at Sacramento on April 4.

The first milestone to watch is 20 days into the season. Stalling a promotion until after that point would delay their free agencies from after the 2018 season until after the 2019 season.

More likely, both need more minor league seasoning anyway. So sometime this summer appears a better timeline for the debuts, barring an injury to a veteran creating a need earlier.

3. Knuckle curve: You cannot subtract reigning National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the rotation and claim it is just as good, not even with a full year of Harvey and Wheeler looming. But it will be interesting to see how minimal the drop-off is with recently signed right-hander Shaun Marcum stepping into a starting slot.

The primary open question as far as the rotation is whether Johan Santana's swoon after his June 1 no-hitter was related to fatigue or potentially something more ominous. Manager Terry Collins asserts that it was just fatigue.

4. O-pen casting? When Alderson hasn't been offering barbs about his outfield, Frank Francisco seems like the magnet for the GM's sobering talk. Collins has walked back Alderson's comments about Francisco not having a firm grasp on the closer's role, but Francisco still needs to demonstrate during spring training that he is healthy.

Francisco has yet to throw off a mound after undergoing surgery in December to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow.

The bullpen has some veteran names with upside, but some of those pitchers are question marks. Aside from established Brandon Lyon and Bobby Parnell, minor league free agents Scott Atchison and old friend Pedro Feliciano could give the Mets a boost.

Atchison missed two months with the Boston Red Sox last season before returning in mid-September. He opted not to have Tommy John surgery on a torn elbow ligament. Feliciano has not pitched in the majors since his last tour of duty with the Mets, in 2010. His two-year, $8 million stay with the Yankees included shoulder surgery, then only brief minor league action last season.

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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