Delete your phone’s weather app. It’s pointless now. For the next month and a half, no matter what’s happening outside, it’s only going to feel like spring. That’s because, even if they won’t matter come March 29, baseball games are being played this weekend, and that’s cause for excitement.
The Mets begin their Spring Training slate on Friday against the Braves, and though many roster spots already appear to be solidified, there are still questions that remain. We’ll start getting some answers this weekend, so here are a few things you should keep an eye out for.
In an effort to improve his launch angle and avoid hitting ground balls, the offensively-challenged Lagares spent time during the offseason with swing guru Craig Wallenbrock. Offensive ineptitude has plagued Lagares during his five-year career (.257/.297/.366), with his saving grace being his Gold Glove-caliber defense. Players like J.D. Martinez and Chris Taylor cite Wallenbrock as a significant contributor to their Major League success, and if he can do for Lagares what he did for them, the Mets will have one of those rare “good problems” of having too many quality outfielders than there are outfield positions.
Lagares will see a lot of at bats in the lead off spot this spring (Brandon Nimmo, however, will bat there on Friday), not necessarily because the Mets envision him hitting there when the season opens, Mickey Callaway explained this week, but because they want him to get as many reps as possible. A couple of doubles in the gap this weekend, and he may be well on his way to giving Callaway fits trying to find playing time for all of his outfielders.
There are currently three pitchers on the Mets with solidified spots in the rotation: Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, and the newly acquired Jason Vargas. This leaves two spots open for either Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler, with the odd man out likely relegated to the bullpen.
As Brian pointed out Wednesday on Orange and Blue Thing, Matz and Harvey have the inside track for the two remaining spots. The one wrinkle in this scenario is that the Mets currently have only one lefty in the bullpen in Jerry Blevins, so there’s always a possibility that management thinks Matz is more useful in the pen.
Wheeler, for what it’s worth, will have the first opportunity to make an impression on Callaway and Dave Eiland when he starts on Friday. If he stays healthy throughout the preseason, impresses during his outings, and either Matz or Harvey struggle, Wheeler may steal one of the rotation spots and head into the season as the starter he insists he is.
The Mets were in sell-mode last summer, and this weekend may be the first time for some Mets fans to see the haul from these trades. Both Drew Smith (acquired from the Rays for Lucas Duda) and Gerson Bautista (acquired from the Red Sox for Addison Reed) will see work in the first three Spring Training games.
Smith, 24, is a non-roster invitee, and as a result, is unlikely to break camp with the team, but he possesses a mid-90’s fastball and a plus curveball. He has succeeded at every stop in the Minors, so a good 2018 season could see Smith land a permanent spot in the Mets bullpen come 2019. Smith is scheduled to throw Friday.
Bautista, 22, throws gas, occasionally cracking 100 mph on his fastball, with a complimentary slider that hovers around the high 80’s. The rap on him is that he struggles with command due to mechanics, so it will be interesting to see what he can learn from Callaway and Eiland during their time in Port St. Lucie. If he manages to work out those kinks, Bautista could be a useful bullpen arm either late this season or in 2019. He is scheduled to throw on Saturday.
Tune in this Friday and Sunday at 1:10 PM on SNY, and Saturday at 1:10 PM on WPIX. And rejoice, everyone. Baseball is back.
Photo credits: Alejandra Villa | Newsday
Kevin C. Cox | Getty Images