New York Mets Preseason Position Report: Starting Pitching
Mets Pitching Depth is Key to Success
Over the next couple weeks as we get ready for pitchers and catchers to report to spring training, I will be previewing each position around the diamond so all can get an idea just where the New York Mets stand heading into the 2013 MLB season. While looking at each position, I thought it would be fitting to begin with the Mets strengths, in hopes that by time I get to the weaknesses, maybe GM Sandy Alderson would have made a move to enhance the team.
In starting with the rotation, I believe this will be the backbone of all that the Mets accomplish this year. The starting pitching depth is once again a strength, as realistically, the Mets sit eight deep in this position. After the starting five, the Mets have good options in Collin McHugh, Jeremy Hefner, and even Jenrry Mejia, if needed.
In the minors, the one strength for the Mets is pitching, whether relievers, or starters. Some of them, such as Noah Syndergaard who was garnered as a prospect for R.A. Dickey, is a year or two away. But the Mets can only look at now. By mid-season, RHP Zack Wheeler should be ready to make his big league appearance, and help form the mold that will be one of the most talked about pitching staff's in MLB for a few years.
So let's take a look at the projected starting five for the Mets 2013 campaign. From top to bottom, as with any staff, if health is not a factor, then this rotation should be able to keep us interested this summer. I expect some good things from each and every pitcher in the rotation: growth, improvement of secondary pitches, and command. Now it is up to Johan Santana to be the leader until that torch is passed sometime in 2013 with either a trade, or the Mets allowing him to walk after the season.
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Santana Has Something Left to Prove
Johan Santana is the man who rewarded all Mets fans with an incredible pitching performance on June 1, 2012 with the franchises first ever no-hitter, and he should get the nod for opening day on April 1 against the San Diego Padres. Nobody on this staff is more deserving.
After not pitching in 2011 due to shoulder surgery, Johan came back last year and had a stellar first two months before breaking down around the all-star break, which everyone attributed to the extra pitches during his no-no wearing down his arm. But after a long off-season of strength and conditioning, Johan should be ready for a complete season once again. The options for Santana are obvious: Alderson will be looking to trade him by the mid-way point, or release him after the season so as not to pick up his option for 2014.
If Santana can get any run support this year(something that lacked his first three), then he will be a viable number one that can maneuver his pitches in and out of the zone while pitching smart, since he will not be able to overpower opposing batters. This will be the year that Santana proves he has something left in his tank, and as a lefty, some team will be willing to gamble on him at one point or another. He will also be a huge lift to the younger pitchers on the staff as they grow into the number one or two roles for the future.
Young Harvey Will Quickly Become an Ace
Matt Harvey will be the one to directly be influenced by watching Santana every fifth day and having him in the clubhouse. The 98MPH hurler who is fierce on the mound with good secondary pitches can learn a lot from someone who has been a number one for so long. I project Harvey to be a good number two as he starts between the two lefties on the Mets staff, and his hard throwing, bulldog style demeanor will be difficult to catch up to after seeing Johan's crafty stuff.
The 2013 season will have tremendous expectations for Harvey who proved he belonged in the majors after a solid second half in 2012. Harvey will show that his 70 strikeouts in 59 innings with a 2.73ERA was not a fluke, but just the beginning. The next step for Harvey is to be able to extend his starts into the seventh inning throughout the course of a full season. This young stud will be a stalwart on this staff for many years, joined soon by the appearance of Zack Wheeler later this year. Together, the hopes of Mets fans will become much brighter.
Harvey has shown that he is in complete control of the mound every fifth day, and it will be interesting how the NL adjusts to him after being able to study his tendencies on tape. The question will be if Harvey himself has been able to make the adjustments to keep everyone guessing: that is the mark of a true number one.
Niese Rounds Out Formidable "Top 3"
It is safe to say that if Santana can remain healthy, and Harvey continues on his path, then the Mets may very well have one of the best top three starters in the majors with LHP Jonathan Niese joining them. Niese showed in 2012 that he could be a legitimate two in this league winning 13 games over 190 innings pitched. He finished the season with a 3.40ERA and struck out 155 while more importantly staying healthy all year.
Niese will not overpower any hitter, but his crafty curve and corner-finding fastball will drive opponents crazy throughout the course of a game. He will be a key component for the Mets moving forward as they try to establish a top quality rotation for the next few years. Niese should be able to push 15 wins this year, and if that happens, then the Mets just may surprise a few before all is said and done. Niese could be the Mets equivalent of Andy Pettite in the foreseeable future as he should become next year's number two starter in between Harvey and Wheeler.
Gee Should Be in Top Form in 2013
Dillon Gee will be anyone's guess in 2013. Coming off surgery to widen a damaged artery in his pitching shoulder, Gee has been working out and throwing since November, and claims he has never felt better. Before getting shut down in July, Gee was 6-7 with a 4.10ERA in 17 starts, and was looking as if he had gotten his pitches where he wanted them. This year, as Gee heads into spring training, the fourth spot in the rotation would be a perfect niche for him to fill.
Gee will never be your prototypical two or three starer, but his consistency is where his value lies. He will continually give Terry Collins six to seven innings while helping the Mets stay in games. As much as the others are key to sticking with the other top pitchers in the game, Gee will become one of the better fourth starters in MLB. If Gee can pitch a full year and make 30 or so starts, I could see him winning 10-15 games and solidifying the back of the rotation.
Addition of Marcum Solidifies Rotation
RHP Shaun Marcum was a great addition by GM Sandy Alderson in an off-season of many minor moves. Marcum should be ready to round out the Mets rotation and get back to winning 10-13 games after missing two months due to elbow tightness in 2012. Plus the fact that he is reunited with C John Buck, who caught for him when they were both part of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010.
Marcum could be a viable number three in most major league rotations, averaging 2.3 walks/9 and 7.3K/9 in 2010 and 2011, while posting a 3.59ERA. Last year, Marcum was only able to make 21 starts, but was still able to post a 3.70ERA while averaging almost eight strikeouts per nine innings. With Santana, Harvey and Niese ahead of him, it is safe to say that Terry Collins would be very fortunate to have a Marcum-type pitcher at the back of his rotation. If Marcum, as well as the others, remain healthy, this could very well be one of the best rotations in the majors.