New York Mets Preseason Position Report: Infield
Mets Infield Will Be a Strength
It's almost time for spring training and the anticipation of the New York Mets and the beginning of the 2013 MLB season. With that anticipation, fans can look forward to a few new faces on their team and whether or not the Mets can make a run this year, or if they are just "punting" to get to 2014. Many of you might not agree when I say that the Mets are closer to contending than not, and it all starts with the return of a formidable pitching staff, as I highlighted the other day in my Pitching Report.
Another key area the Mets have a strength in is their infield. With the off-season signing of 3B David Wright to allow him stay a Met for life, this infield is primed for some big years ahead of them. The Mets will have the same infield for the second year in a row, and the emergence of a more able tandem in the middle in the form of 2B Daniel Murphy and SS Ruben Tejada, Manager Terry Collins' crew will make more of an impact than many can fathom.
1B Ike Davis rounds out the diamond at 1B, and as long as he can produce from the plate, there is no reason that he should not be able to represent the Mets at the 2013 MLB All-Star game right here at Citi Field. GM Sandy Alderson has opened the gates for players such as Brandon Hicks, Justin Turner, Josh Satin and Brian Bixler to come to spring training and challenge for a roster spot. The bench players selected will inevitably be a key to pinch hitting roles and spot starts, and it seems as if everyone will be up against Turner who has been a Met regular since 2011.
It will be a breath of fresh air to see some of the Mets' minor leaguers come to battle in Port St. Lucie, and maybe we will be surprised at the outcome as the bench begins to evolve. So here is a quick preview of what I believe will be another strength for the Mets. Pitchers and catchers are set to report on Feb.11 while the position players are set to join them on Feb.16. Here's to a healthy and quality spring training for all, and once again: You Gotta Believe!
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We Like Ike
After playing in only 36 games in 2011, then a terrible start to his 2012 campaign, it is safe to say that Ike Davis is here to stay with the New York Mets. Ike finished off last season with 32HR and 90RBI while playing in 156 games and raising his average for the year to .227. I know that average is nothing stellar, but considering that he played the first two months batting a dismal .069, the turnaround was remarkable.
Ike was on with Mike Francessa of WFAN-NY yesterday and seemed optimistic about the upcoming season, and he very well should be. It is hard to argue that Davis can be one of the best first baseman in the NL, since he has as sure a hands as anyone. Now it is up to his bat to complete the transformation. If Davis can bring his average up to somewhere around .270, then we will see his RBI total top 100 and his home runs stay in the 27-35 range. Mets fans will sign up for that each year. Just remember that Davis only turns 26 in March and the upside is incredible.
Murphy No Longer a Detriment
The New York Mets were wise to settle with Daniel Murphy on his arbitration case, agreeing to a one year contract for just over $2.9M. Murphy definitely is worth the jump in salary from $512,000 in 2012. While it may have taken Murphy a couple years to become comfortable at second base, he rounds out this infield quite nicely. Murphy did commit 15 errors in 2012, but I expect that number to go down this year as the tandem between himself and SS Ruben Tejada has grown.
From the defensive side, Murphy will never amaze fans with his range, but as long as his glove improves again, he is more than able to get the job done. Add to that his ability to hit for average and his penchant for doubles, Murphy can be a viable threat at the top of the Mets order in the number two spot. The only way that Murphy does not make an impact for the Mets this season would be due to injury. But as long as he plays in at least 155 games, fans will be very happy to have him, mustache or not.
Tejada Has Grown at Shortstop
The next step for young Ruben Tejada is to complete a full MLB season at his position. Over the past two years, Tejada has posted a .284 average in 2011 in 96 games, and a .287 average last year while claiming the role after the injury, then departure of Jose Reyes. Some questioned at first whether Ruben would be a viable alternative after the flashy Reyes, and 2012 presented the answer. Although he may not be the prototypical lead-off man, Tejada should once again be able to prove the nay-sayers wrong.
With the 23 year old getting better every year, Tejada should once again amaze fans and coaches with a brilliant defense that will only get better with the trust level of Murphy on the other side of the bag. There is no reason why this Mets infield should not be able to help them win some games this year with big double plays and strong arms, and Tejada will be at the center of it all. Tejada will get most of his spring training as a member of Team Panama in the World Baseball Classic that begins on Feb.15. But when the Mets welcome him back, they will be assured of gaining a leader on their own diamond. The future looks bright for this rising star.
Wright is the Cornerstone to Success
The final piece to the Mets infield is also the most important piece as we head into the 2013 season. David Wright will own third base for the rest of his career as a Met, and he will also have to become more consistent. Last year, Wright tore the cover off the ball throughout the first half, and it was no coincidence that the team witnessed a scoring dry spell of epic proportions at about the same time as Wright slowed down later in the summer. Pre All-Star game, Wright hit an incredible .351 with 106 hits and an OPS of 1.004. Post All-Star game, Wright batted a paltry .258 with 74 hits and an OPS of .750. Hopefully Wright will be able to find his swing while representing Team USA in the WBC this spring.
Wright, of course, had a lack of support around him also with the anemic Jason Bay, and a less than formidable roster around him for protection. This year, the main issue will be who will protect Ike Davis in the cleanup spot in order for Wright to be protected. While defensively Wright will occasionally throw one in the dirt or over the first baseman's head, he will be assured of having Ike save him once again. With another first baseman, Wright might have had 20 errors, instead of the 10 he finished with last year. Regardless, if Wright can hit .300 again while putting 20 or more home runs in the stands and driving in 100 RBI, then the year will be a productive one.
Turner Has Some Competition?
Justin Turner has been a constant on the Mets bench the past couple years, and has done a relatively good job. He is able to play three infield position well: SS, 1B and 2B. But he does not play any of them exceptionally well, and will be tested this spring with invites to SS Brandon Hicks, 2B Reese Havens, 2B Brian Bixler and 1B Josh Satin joining the fray. What gives Turner the nod is his versatility, but that is not to say that the others bats will not be the key to them winning a job.
Hicks has spent time in both the minors and majors with the Atlanta Braves and Oakland Athletics, but is not known for a solid bat, but defensively, he can be an asset if Murphy happens to miss some time. He has shown some HR power in the Pacific Coast League, but it hasn't yet translated to the major league level. Wilmer Flores is a SS that can also play 3B, and has shown he can hit for average and power in the Florida State League, but I see him being showcased for other teams in hopes of Alderson being able to pull off a trade. Havens needs more seasoning from the plate before I consider him an option to join the Mets in any capacity as his average has dipped every year for the past three years.
Bixler was a non-roster invitee that Alderson brought in from the Houston Astros, and although he is a sure-handed second baseman, his hitting leaves a lot to be desired. The only other player that might vie for a spot would be Zach Lutz, who saw very limited action with the Mets last season. Again, he is a third baseman that will not have much of a chance with Wright keeping the corner. The only hope for Turner to be unseated is if Hicks, Bixler or Havens tears the cover off the ball during spring training, but I do not see that happening. Turner is a fan favorite, and he fits well in the clubhouse as a grinder-type player that can provide a spark.