New York Mets Preseason Position Report: Bullpen
Warthen and Collins Have a Lot of Fixing To Do
The New York Mets officially began their spring training today as pitchers and catchers report to Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie. Nothing garners the hope of spring during the trials of a heavy winter as this day. While most of the pitchers, catchers and position players have been in camp, getting ready for the 2013 MLB season, now it is really the time to break down the spots that are up for grabs for the Mets.
Last year, the Mets had the second worst bullpen in the majors, and in turn, have jettisoned several arms to other teams. We will not be seeing the likes of John Rauch, Manny Acosta or Ramon Ramirez this season, but will the new arms brought in be effective, as a bullpen is one of the hardest spots to construct on a roster.
Earlier in the off-season, GM Sandy Alderson inked Greg Burke to a quiet minor league deal in the wake of releasing bust Jason Bay. Throughout the winter, he has also added names such as Scott Atchison, LaTroy Hawkins, Pedro Feliciano(yes, he's back), and more recently Brandon Lyon. The plethora of arms will be weeded through by pitching coach Dan Warthen and manager Terry Collins, and as with any bullpen in the league, will be a mystery until the games begin.
What the Mets hope to find out this spring are two things: is Frank Francisco their closer, and do they have a reliable set-up man to get to him. It is safe to say that with the Mets loaded starting rotation, they should be in many games this year, but they can not afford to lose those games as they did last year in the seventh and eighth innings.
So here is a preview of arms that will vie for a spot on their major league roster and a brief clue as to how that bullpen will shape up come opening day. Of course, this is the Mets, and anything can change at any time. But looking ahead, these pitchers will undoubtedly give the Mets their best chance at success.
Closers' Role is Francisco's To Lose
Although Mets fans were not happy with the way Frank Francisco closed games, when he was healthy he did have success when all was said and done. Francisco had 23 saves in 26 opportunities last season before getting injured, but he did post a whopping 5.53ERA. If healthy, he may be the most viable candidate for a Rolaids reliefs role, but Francisco can get the job done.
The question remains if Bobby Parnell, who filled in for Francisco in his absence in 2012, can take the next step and duplicate his own success that he had later in the year. At the end of 2012, Parnell was sitting on a very respectable 2.49ERA and had posted 7 saves. Much of the Mets bullpen woes were in the seventh and eighth inning, which is why Parnell did not have many chances to garner a save considering the offense could not score runs and the set up men were very erratic.
The one thing that Parnell did accomplish was allow Warthen and Collins the chance to see that his pitches have become more refined and a closers' role would not be that far-fetched. If Francisco has even a hint at the inability to shut down a game, we might be seeing the future of the Mets sooner than expected.
Lyon Will Be a Strong Addition
Not everyone who has gotten the call to join the Mets spring training camp will get the call to head north when the time has come for opening day. Three additions that are notable are those of Greg Burke, Scott Atchison and newly signed Brandon Lyon. The longest shot I feel to make the Mets will be that of 37 year old Atchison, who suffered a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow in July of last season. He chose not to have Tommy John surgery and even made a couple of appearances at the end of the year for the Boston Red Sox. Atchison age and injury negates the fact that he had a career year in 2012 posting a 1.58ERA and a 0.99WHIP. He will have to have an incredible spring and clear a bevy of tests in order to make the move with the team.
Burke was signed early in the off-season to a minor league contract with an invite to Port St. Lucie after spending most of his career in the minor leagues. In Tuscon with the Pacific Coast League last year, the right hand pitcher posted a very formidable 1.53ERA in 44 games with 17 saves in 21 opportunities. I see the Mets being cautious with Burke, and sending him to Las Vegas to see if that success can translate there before calling him up later in the year.
The best signing this off-season by Alderson may very well be that of Lyon, who is 33, a right hander, and can earn up to $1.65M in bonuses this year with a base salary of $750,000. As part of the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays in 2012, Lyon posted a 3.10ERA and 63 strikeouts in 61 innings, and has been durable throughout his 11 year MLB career. Lyon will be a great addition to the seventh and eighth innings and has also had success in the closers' role if the need arises. In 2012, he posted a .194BAA and it seems as if the shoulder trouble he had in 2011 is behind him.
Young Arms Ready To Make a Difference
Last year, Mets fans were able to see first-hand the fruits of a good minor league system that is strong with fresh arms. In the bullpen, relievers such as lefties Josh Edgin and Elvin Ramirez, and right-hander Robert Carson were brought to Citi Field and proved they belong. Edgin becomes the Mets new lefty specialist in the absence of Tim Byrdak with a strong spring showing. He had a respectable 3.24ERA going into his last two appearances against the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012 when he allowed four earned runs and saw his ERA get hiked up. But the one thing that Mets fans will love to see is that he is a home grown product that may be better than what we saw a few years ago with Pedro Feliciano.
Carson was a call-up last season that did what was asked of him, but may need a little more seasoning in the minors. When you look at the Mets heading north with six or seven relievers, and Francisco, Parnell and Lyon being no-brainers, it might be difficult for Carson to make the cut. In 13.1 innings, Carson allowed 13 hits with a 4.73ERA, and the best way for him to get the work he needs would be in Las Vegas. But he is another reason Mets fans should be excited as the flurry of young arms in the minors are pushing for change at the major league level.
Ramirez will be another long shot to make the Mets roster as the head towards opening day. He posted a numbing 5.48ERA in 20 games while allowing 24 hits in 21 innings. Not the type of stats you want to see in any MLB bullpen. Those numbers are in stark contrast to his minor league stats as he had a 2.13ERA in 55 innings pitched with 57 strikeouts. So the hope for the future is there, but it will not be at the beginning of 2013.
Hefner Should Retain Long Relief Role
The long relief role should continue to be left up to Jeremy Hefner who made several spot starts for the Mets in 2012, and was able to fit into the role given quite well. On the year, Hefner accumulated a 4-7 record with a 5.09ERA, but he was much better out of the pen, than as a starter. He is not a hard throwing righty, but had very good command allowing only 1.7 walks per nine innings. Other than Collin McHugh, I can not see any other pitchers surfacing to take the long spot from Hefner. McHugh needs more time and seasoning in the minors to work on his location of pitches and to get back command of a fastball and his propensity to give up the long ball.
Jeurys Familia will get a good look this spring from Warthen and Collins, but if the veterans have good outings, he will most likely begin the season in AAA. That may not be a bad thing for Familia, who received a taste of the big leagues last season. He has always been a starter for the Mets in their minors, but it is evident that because of a lack of a third solid pitch, Familia may be more apt to project as a highly durable reliever or eventually a closer. Time will tell, but the minors seem like a foregone conclusion for Familia unless he really amazes Warthen and Collins going further.
The last of the Mets homegrown hopefuls to break camp in 2013 is none other than Jenrry Mejia. He, like Familia, has been projected up to this point as a starter, but his usefulness may eventually come from the bullpen. With the recent signing of Lyon and the invites to Burke and Atchison, it may be far-fetched to believe that Mejia will get the nod on the roster. He has experience at both starter and relief on all levels, but his command needs seasoning and although he will work mainly as a starter during spring training, it would take a miracle for him to get ahead of the others in the rotation. Mejia is still only 23 years old and could use the extra time in the minors before sticking with the Mets.
A Blast From The Past?
The other hopefuls to make the Mets major league roster may not be the long shots that fans may perceive them as. 40 year old right hander LaTroy Hawkins has had a long career, and may still have something left in the tank. Don't let his age fool you. Hawkins recorded a 3.64ERA in2 4 innings for the Los Angeles Angels in 2012, and he has been a reliable and durable reliever since his debut in 1995. He can eat away innings in the middle of a game, and still does relatively well on no rest. But with the livelier, younger arms in the Mets camp, should they even bother to waste their time looking at him? Time will tell, but a veteran presence can prove invaluable in the clubhouse. I still do not see him making the cut.
Finally, we get to a blast from the past: Pedro Feliciano. All Mets fans remember Feliciano being thrown out there game after game while turning his arm into spaghetti from 2006 until 2010. Still, he became one of the best situational lefties the Mets have ever had, but was it worth possibly ruining his career? After making nearly 89 appearances average between 2008-2010, the most in the majors, Feliciano tore a capsule in his left shoulder in spring training in 2011 after signing a contract with the New York Yankees. He never pitched for them and the Mets brought him back on a minor league contract this winter. Can he find the magic again? Probably not, but he is an inexpensive piece that will be worth looking into if you are Alderson, Collins and Warthen.