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NL East Preview: Amazin’ Mets

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Are the Mets better than the Marlins? Yes, but not by as much as the Nationals.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Washington Nationals Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In this installment of our NL East Preview, we’ll take a look into the New York Mets, what makes them tick, and what we can reasonably expect of them this season.

Projections are based on RotoChamp, Steamer, ZiPS, and Davenport’s approximations. The starting rotation, bullpen, starting lineup, and bench were taken from the MLB.com current Mets depth chart. I also used MLB Pipeline, sportsforecaster.com, baseballamerica.com, baseballprospectus.com, baseball-reference.com, thebaseballcube.com, and rotochamp.com to become the Fish Stripes resident “Mets Expert.”

Starting Rotation

1. Noah Syndergaard

With all his success at the major league level thus far, it’s sometimes hard to believe that Syndergaard is still just 25-years-old. Also known as “Thor,” due to his hair, this 6’6”, 240 lb. power pitcher (and hitter) seems to have enough talent to back it up. A first round pick (along with Justin Nicolino in the second round, btw) of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010, Syndergaard was twice the NL Player of the Week, named to the 2015 MLB All-Rookie Team, and selected as an NL All Star in 2016.

Syndergaard only made seven starts in 2017 due to a torn right lat muscle, but has put up a 24-18 record, a 2.89 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and struck out 418 in 363 13 innings through his major league career over 62 starts. This season projects for him to pitch 170 innings, post a 12-7 record, and strike out nearly 200 batters with a 1.14 WHIP.

In five starts against the Marlins, “Thor” has whiffed 42 in 33 innings and held Marlins hitters to a .236/.244/.301 slashline, also posting a 1.64 ERA and going 3-0. He’s a career .200/.273/.345 hitter at the plate, with four home runs and 10 RBI in 130 plate appearances.

2. Jacob deGrom

After going mostly unremarked on any national prospect watch, Jacob deGrom emerged from Tommy John surgery in 2011 with a fastball that increased from 87 all the way up to 97. 2014’s NL Rookie of the Year’s best pitch is his fastball, which he mixes with a curveball, a slider, a changeup, and a split-finger to excellent results.

deGrom has averaged 180 innings per year over his last three seasons, and has a career major league WHIP of 1.12, a 45-32 record, a 2.98 ERA, and 731 strikeouts in 680 23 innings. This season, he’s projected to pitch approximately 190 innings, put up a 13-9 record with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP, and strike out 200 batters.

deGrom has faced the Marlins more than any other team through his four-season MLB career, holding them to a .289/.322/.383 slashline, with 90 K’s in 311 plate appearances.

MLB: New York Mets-Workouts
deGrom, with a more “serious” haircut.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

3. Matt Harvey

Harvey was picked with the seventh overall pick back in 2010 by the Mets, and soon after that had earned the nickname “The Dark Knight.” In 2013, he pitched to an NL-best 2.01 FIP and finished fourth in the Cy Young Award vote, making the all star team in the process. Unfortunately, late in that season it became apparent that he would need to go under the knife for Tommy John Surgery. He would make a triumphant return in 2015 and win the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Since then, he’s missed half each of the last two seasons with assorted arm injuries.

Harvey has racked up a 34-35 record with a 3.51 ERA overall since his 2012 debut, with a 1.176 WHIP and 592 K’s in 612 13 innings. After diminishing returns over each of the past two years, 2018’s projection reflects another substandard season. He’s expected to go 6-9 with a 4.60 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP over 129 innings. In 11 starts against Miami, he’s posted a 2-4 record with a 4.31 ERA, a 1.345 WHIP, and 64 strikeouts in just under 65 frames (he issued only nine free passes over that same frame of reference).

4. Steven Matz

Matz was picked by the Mets in round 2 of the 2009 draft, and was later named to the 2014 Double-A All-Star Team, the 2015 Triple-A All-Star Team, and the 2016 MLB All-Rookie Team. He’s got a good fastball which averages 94 MPH, a decent curve, and an above average change up in his repertoire.

Since making it to the majors in 2015, Matz has gone 15-15 with a 3.99 ERA over 41 starts, with 211 whiffs in 233 23 innings and a 1.30 WHIP. Against the Marlins, he’s gone 2-2 with a 3.67 ERA and 23 K’s in 27 innings over five starts. His projections are all over the place, but splitting the difference reveals an expected 4-4 record and a 3.93 ERA in 71 innings. I’m sure the Mets are hoping to get a little more out of him this season.

5. Zack Wheeler

New York’s likely fifth starter, Zack Wheeler, like most of the rotation, is a first round pick. The San Francisco Giants chose him sixth overall back in 2009. Blessed with a slider, a hard curve, a top-notch fastball and an adequate changeup, he projects to finish the season with a 5-6 record, a 4.29 ERA, a 1.40 WHIP, and 81 K’s in 86 innings pitched.

Wheeler was pretty decent in 2013 and 2014 when he first showed up in the majors, but missed the next two seasons with a torn ligament and Tommy John Surgery, respectively. In his three seasons of actual ball, he put up a 21-23 record with a 3.90 ERA and 352 strikeouts in 371 23 innings in 66 starts. In his seven starts against the Marlins, he has held our batters to a .184/.271/.270 slashline, earning a 2-1 record, a 2.28 ERA, and a 1.038 WHIP.

Starting Lineup

C - Travis d’Arnaud

d’Arnaud made his way up through the Phillies’ and the Blue Jays’ systems before joining the Mets in the 2012 trade that involved R.A. Dickey and Syndergaard, and made his major league debut the next season. Since then he’s been backstopping for the Mets to the tune of 393 contests, including a career-high 112 games last season. He’s got a career .245/.306/.406 slashline to his credit and is expected to slash near that again this season, projecting with 13 homers and 47 RBI over 350 at bats.

When appearing in games against the Marlins, he has gone 13-for-35 with three long-balls, 10 RBI, and a 1.164 OPS.

1b - Adrian Gonzalez

Gonzalez, a relative graybeard on the youthful Mets at the age of 35, was the first overall choice off the board in the 2000 draft by....the Florida Marlins. We traded him with two other players to the Rangers for Ugueth Urbina. Yeah.

Since then, Gonzalez has also appeared with the Padres, the Red Sox, and for the last six seasons with the Dodgers. He has cranked 311 career moon-shots, slashing .288/.359/.488 with 1,176 RBI in 1,875 contests. The Mets picked him up through free agency in January, and somehow pulled the magic trick of getting the Braves to pay 95% of his $22.4 million salary. Anything the Mets get out of Gonzalez is basically for free. If he can rediscover his power stroke (he only totaled three homers last season in 252 plate appearances), he can make the Braves pay twice - and I’d pay to see that. His composite projections have him slashing .263/.331/.419 with a dozen homers and 53 RBI in 346 at bats.

Gonzalez, a five-time all-star, owns his lowest slugging percentage against any team when playing Miami, coming in at .261/.328/.370 with just five home runs and 35 RBI in 69 games.

2b - Asdrubal Cabrera

Cabrera is a solid 32-year-old veteran switch-hitting infielder from Venezuela. He’s got some power from the left side and has twice hit 20 or more home runs. He won the AL Silver Slugger Award for shortstop with the Cleveland Indians in 2011.

Through his career, he has slashed .270/.332/.420 with 139 round-trippers and 630 RBI in 1382 contests. Projections this season have him slashing just about the same, with 15 homers and 58 RBI in 471 projected at bats. Although he was at one time considered injury prone, he seems to have leveled out as he has gotten older, and has appeared in 130 or more games for the last seven seasons.

When playing against Florida / Miami, Cabrera has slashed .255/.304/.420 in 53 contests over his 11 major league seasons, with seven home runs and 30 RBI in 204 plate appearances. By a wide margin, the best inning of any given game for Cabrera is unquestionably the fourth. He slashes .294/.358/.465 in that frame for some reason.

3b - Todd Frazier

Frazier is a 32-year-old corner infielder from New Jersey. In 2004, the Rockies chose him in the 37th round, but he played instead for Rutgers. It was a wise choice, and the Reds picked him in the first round three years later, 34th overall. He has since played for the White Sox and the Yankees, then signed with the Mets as a free agent last month for two years and $17 million.

Frazier, a frequent contestant in the midsummer all-star festivities in the home run derby, is a two-time all-star. He’s projected this year to slash .235/.324/.447, with 28 home runs and 82 RBI. That’s a slight step down from his career line of .245/.321/.459. In fact, he seems to have peaked in 2016, with progressively more homers each season leading up to that year (six, 19, 19, 29, 35, 40) and just 27 last year.

Frazier is pretty good against the Marlins, slashing .296/.343/.480 in 25 games, with three homers and 16 RBI in 108 plate appearances.

SS - Amed Rosario

Rosario played just enough last season to lose his rookie eligibility, with 165 at bats (anything over 130 will do). Here’s what the Baseball Census has to say about him:

Amed Rosario is an aggressive hitter, and comes to the plate looking for a hit every single time. Seems to really study the pitcher he’s facing in between at bats and can draw a walk if he can see a pitcher is losing command. Explosive swing that’s quick through the zone and covers all of the plate. His swing packs a punch but won’t be enough to hit the ball over the fence consistently, more of a line drive machine with good bat speed. His line-drive approach lets him rip balls to the corners and gaps with ease and his speed is plenty enough to collect lots of extra base hits. Extremely fast on the bases. Seems to struggle some with his first step on steals, but his speed is elite when running the bases. He’ll be able to score from second and go from 1st-to-3rd on singles with ease, and speed will likely forever be a part of his game thanks to great footwork and a thin, wiry frame that shouldn’t add significant weight long-term.

This season should see Rosario get the majority of the starts at shortstop for the Mets. He’s projected to hit .266/.306/.391 with nine homers and 54 RBI in 530 at bats. Last season, he only played three contests against Miami, going four-for-12 with a stolen base.

At just 21 years of age, the book on Rosario is only getting started. This season will go a long way toward seeing what he has to offer at the major league level.

LF - Yoenis Cespedes

Like two other Mets in the starting lineup, Cespedes is also 32-years-old. One of the most sought-after free agents in history after defecting from Cuba in 2012, he has since played outfield for the Athletics, the Red Sox, the Tigers, and for the last three seasons with the Mets. In 788 contests through his six-season MLB career, he has slashed .274/.329/.498 with 154 round-trippers and 495 RBI.

Cespedes remains one of the National League’s premiere power hitters, and is projected to hit 29 homers and 85 RBI this season, with a slashline that’s pretty much in line with his career figures. He’s a two-time all star, the 2015 AL Gold Glove winner in left field, and a 2016 Silver Slugger outfielder. In 43 contests against Miami, he has slashed .287/.353/.527 with 10 homers and 26 RBI in 187 plate appearances.

Defensively, Cespedes has a plus-arm, and can play all three outfield positions.

CF - Juan Lagares

Despite being first on New York’s current depth chart in center field, Lagares is only projected to get 252 at bats. This isn’t due to any specific shortcoming on the part of Lagares, but more to the eventual return of Michael Conforto to the starting lineup. Lagares is is projected to slash .250/.293/.361 with four homers and 22 RBI.

Lagares, who just turned 29-years-old, won the NL center field Gold Glove in 2014. In 553 major league games over five seasons, he has slashed .257/.297/.366 with 20 home runs and 146 RBI. He has played 65 contests against the Marlins, and put up a .231/.295/.324 slash with one homer and 18 RBI.

RF - Jay Bruce

Bruce, rightly regarded through his career as a power-hitting strikeout machine, will be turning 31 next week. In 10 major league seasons, he has slashed .249/.319/.472 with 277 homers and 838 RBI in 1416 games. The three-time all star has also played for the Reds and the Indians through his career, and won two Silver Slugger Awards.

Bruce’s projections for 2018 are right in line with his career numbers, at .249/.317/.476 with 29 moonshots and 91 RBI. He’s not a great fielder, but his .984 career fielding percentage is passable enough for the New York outfield. In 69 games against the Marlins, he has slashed .270/.348/.490 with 14 homers and 43 RBI in 296 plate appearances.

Bullpen

Jeurys Familia

Familia is a 28-year-old reliever from the Dominican Republic. He’s a power pitcher with an excellent slider. His projection for the season has him pitching 53 innings and earning a 3-3 record with a 3.40 ERA, a 1.26 WHIP, and 24 saves.

The 6’3”, 186 lb. right-hander will be entering his seventh MLB season, and has put up a 9-13 record with a 2.63 ERA, 286 whiffs in 278 23 innings, and a 1.21 WHIP in 273 games. He has played more against the Marlins then against any other team, appearing 36 times and holding the Marlins to a .197/.307/.212 slashline, racking up a 1.40 ERA and a 1.190 WHIP, and striking out 34 in 38 23 innings.

Anthony Swarzak

Swarzak, entering his ninth major league season, is a native of Davie, FL. He was a second round pick of the Twins back in 2004, and is entering his age-32 season. Mostly, he pitches to contact, which used to keep his strikeout numbers low. He has increased his K/9 to 12.1 last year, well above his career 6.4 figure.

Swarzak has a 23-30 record in his MLB career, between the Twins, the Indians, the Yankees, the White Sox, and the Brewers. He has a career 4.22 ERA, a 1.329 WHIP, and 402 whiffs in 561 13 innings. He joins the Mets this season on a two-year, $14 million contract.

Swarzak has only pitched 2 23 innings against the Marlins, allowing four hits in 12 at bats. His composite projection has him at 4-3 with a 3.32 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP, and 70 K’s in 65 innings for this season.

A.J. Ramos

A familiar face for Marlins’ fans, Ramos played was a 21st round pick for Florida in 2009, and pitched 325 games in relief for the Marlins. Over his six years with the Fish, he was 15-16 with a 2.78 ERA, 379 strikeouts in 345 innings, and a 1.23 WHIP.

Ramos can still put up numbers, and is expected to save nine games for the Mets. He is projected to go 3-3 with a 3.72 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP, and 66 K’s in 58 innings.

Jerry Blevins

Blevins, who is entering his 12th major league season, is a 6’6” left-hander from Tennessee. This will be his fourth year with New York. He’s also played for the Athletics and the Nationals. He’s appeared in 500 major league games, and put up a 26-11 record with a 3.38 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP, and 430 whiffs in 418 innings.

Blevins has a deceptive delivery, and he excels at striking out left-handed batters. In fact, over his career, he has 777 at bats against righties and 777 against lefties. He’s struck out 254 left-handers and 176 righties.

Blevins is projected to go 3-3 with a 3.35 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP, and 62 strikeouts in 51 innings this year. He has appeared in 27 contests against Miami, and has held the Marlins to a .177/.278/.194 and a 1.071 WHIP. He has a 4-1 record, a 3.38 ERA, and 17 K’s in 18 23 innings.

Hansel Robles

Robles is a right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic, and is entering his fourth season with the Mets at the age of 27. He’s a strikeout pitcher with a varied stable of pitches, ordering them with enough unpredictability to fool hitters at the top level.

Robles is projected in 2018 to pitch 49 innings and strike out as many batters, with a 4.41 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP. Over his career to date, he has racked up a 17-12 record in 171 contests, striking out 206 in 171 innings, with a 3.97 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP.

Versus Miami, Robles has held the Marlins to a .258/.364/.366 slashline, going 3-1 with a 4.32 ERA and 26 K’s in 25 innings. He also has allowed 1.520 WHIP. The Marlins touch him better than any other NL East team has to date, in the largest sample size against any major league team (111 plate appearances).

Paul Sewald

Sewald is a 27-year-old righty from Las Vegas, and has been with the Mets since getting drafted in the 10th round in 2012. Last season was his first in the majors, and he finished with an 0-6 record, a 4.55 ERA, a 1.209 WHIP, and 69 K’s in 65 13 frames.

Sewald is expected to improve on his rookie performance to the tune of 3-3, 3.88, 1.26, and 61 K’s in 58 IP. He throws a lot of strikes, with good size and a lot of strike out ability. He is sometimes guilty of leaving the ball up in the zone, which makes him prone to allow the long ball. Despite walking 21 as a rookie, he has never walked a Miami player in his 11 13 innings against the Fish. He holds a 0.882 WHIP and a 3.18 ERA against them, with 12 strikeouts.

Rafael Montero

Montero, now 27 and in his fifth major league season with the Mets, is a 6’ right-hander from the Dominican Republic. In 58 major league games to this point in his career, he has gone 6-16, starting in just over half of his appearances. He has a 5.38 ERA, a slightly scary 1.705 WHIP, and has struck out 189 in 192 13 innings. The Marlins have hit him even better than that, with a .310/.416/.389 aggregate slashline and a collective 1.926 WHIP in 31 23 innings.

Montero projects to pitch slightly better than his career numbers in 2018, grading out at 3-4 with a 4.37 ERA, a 1.51 WHIP, and 69 strikeouts in 72 innings. He sets up with a three-quarters delivery, and his long arms make for a deceptive and unpredictable pitch selection.

Jamie Callahan

Callahan was a second rounder for the Red Sox in 2012, and joined the Mets at the trade deadline in 2017. He only has 6 23 innings of major league experience, in which he has allowed seven hits and a walk while striking out five.

For those who don’t know Callahan, he’s a 6’2”, 195 lb. right-hander from South Carolina. He’s really expected to spend the majority of his season in Las Vegas, with the 51s, but there’s an outside chance that he’ll break camp with the parental unit.

After working with a low-90s fastball out of the rotation, Callahan now operates with a 94-96 mph fastball in shorter stints. He also has transformed a slider that often was slurvy into an upper-80s cutter that keeps hitters from sitting on his heater. He had an ineffective changeup as a starter but doesn’t need it in his relief role. – MLB Prospect Watch

Bench

David Wright

Wright is currently “shut out” of all baseball activity for the next eight weeks while he continues to rehab his back and shoulder issues. The 35-year-old former first rounder has remained with the Mets organization for his entire now-18 season career.

Wright, also sometimes called “Captain America,” is a seven-time all star, and also took home the NL Gold Glove and the NL Silver Slugger Award in 2006 and 2007. He’s New York’s lifetime leader in a lot of statistical categories, including RBI, doubles, total bases, hits, runs, walks, and sacrifice flies. In 1583 games overall, he has slashed .296/.376/.491 with 242 home runs and 970 RBI. When he returns, he should resume activity at the hot corner.

Is a reliable third baseman, a doubles machine who can both bat for a high average and hit the long ball, a good baserunner who can steal a base and also a clutch RBI producer. Will take his share of walks. - Sportsforecaster.com

BBREF has tagged Wright to hit .250/.340/.431 in 216 plate appearances in 2018, with eight homers and 22 RBI. Wright has made a career out of facing the Marlins, literally playing more than one entire season against them. In 181 games, he has slashed .327/.392/.528 with 26 home runs and 121 RBI. Those are his best numbers against any other National League team, besides the high-altitude fun that normally accompanies the Rockies.

Jose Reyes

Reyes, entering his 16th major league season out of the Dominican Republic, is a 34-year old infielder who is projected this seaosn to hit .252/.313/.394 with seven home runs and 30 RBI. A speedster throughout his career, including 24 last season, Reyes is expected to steal just nine.

In 1767 major league games for the Marlins, Blue Jays, Rockies, and mostly for the Mets (he’s entering his 12th for New York), Reyes has 141 home runs and 703 RBI, with a .286/.337/.430 slashline and 512 stolen bases.

In 151 games against Miami, Reyes has slashed .270/.321/.414 with 11 home runs, 56 RBI, and 32 stolen bases. He’s a four-time all-star, and the 2006 Silver Slugger Award winner at shortstop. Although most of his career has seen him play primarily at shortstop, in 2017 he also saw time at second base, third base, left field, and center field.

Kevin Plawecki

Plawecki, New York’s second catcher on the depth chart, has a projection line of .245/.306/.372 with five round-trippers and 23 RBI over 188 at bats. The 6’1”, 200 lb. backstop was a Mets’ first round pick in 2012, and is entering his fourth major league season already. In 158 games at the top level, he has slashed a perplexing .222/.304/.310. It’s perplexing because he slashed a .297/.364/.451 through his minor league career, and a little more was expected of him.

Needs to improve his power-hitting stroke in order to maximize production at the big-league level. Also needs to throw out more runners attempting to steal bases. - sportsforecaster.com

In 13 games against Miami, Plawecki is nine-for-38, with one homer and five RBI.

Brandon Nimmo

Nimmo is a first round selection of the Mets from 2011. The Wyoming native is a 6’3”, left-handed batting outfielder with the nifty twitter handle @You_Found_Nimmo, ostensibly a play on “Finding Nemo.” Projections have him at fifth-outfielder numbers of .245/.306/.372 in 188 at bats, with five long balls and 23 batted in.

Is a great athlete with tremendous hitting skills and burgeoning strength and power. Can cover enough ground to play center field. Is a true playmaker all over the field. - sportsforecaster.com

Nimmo has hit .360/.448/.520 in a dozen games, his best figures against any team (minimum four games). He’s played in 101 games in total at the major league level, with a .264/.367/.392 slashline.

Michael Conforto

Conforto, who should at some point naturally join the starting lineup for the Mets, is a 2014 first rounder from Seattle. Now 25-years-old, he’s hit 48 homers with 136 RBI in 274 games, with a .256/.349/.495.

Coming off of his first (of presumably several) all-star campaigns, Conforto improved his hitters eye immensely between his second and third seasons, going from 36 walks to 57 despite playing 109 games in each season. Now entering his fourth year, he’s expected to hit 25 homers with 71 RBI and a .266/.355/.511 slashline in 421 at bats.

Is a tremendous hitter with natural instincts and home-run power. Also displays excellent plate discipline and a good batting eye. Will usually sport a good walk/strikeout ratio. - sportsforecaster.com

Miami has done a relatively good job at shutting Conforto down through his first three campaigns, holding the power hitter to a .253/.341/.400 slashline with just two homers and 16 RBI in 91 plate appearances.

Wilmer Flores

Flores is entering his sixth season in the majors, all with the Mets. He has slashed .260/.298/.426 with 57 homers and 202 RBI in 455 games. The Marlins have seen him hit .253/.303/.489 with a dozen home runs and 33 RBI in 54 contests.

Flores is projected to play second, third and short for the Mets, and get somewhere around 362 at bats. He’s expected to slash .271/.314/.464 with 17 homers and 56 RBI.

Top Prospects (write-ups courtesy of MLB Prospect Watch)

Andres Gimenez

Ranked No. 19 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 international prospects list in 2015, Gimenez signed with the Mets that July for $1.2 million. His pro debut in the Dominican Summer League, where the infielder led the circuit in on-base percentage and finished second in batting average and third in OPS, gave the Mets confidence to leap him all the way up to the full-season South Atlantic League for his United States debut in 2017. He more than held his own as one of the youngest position players in the league.

Gimenez has an advanced approach at the plate that belies his age and experience. He works counts and draws walks while making consistent hard contact with a simple and quick swing from the left side of the plate. Gimenez needs to continue to add strength, and while over-the-fence power will likely never be a huge part of his game, he should mature into impacting the ball more with extra-base authority, eventually becoming a plus hitter. He has above-average speed at present, which helps him on the basepaths and in the field. He has the arm, hands and range to play shortstop long-term and his makeup should allow him to maximize his tools.

Now on a faster track because of the aggressive promotion in 2017, Gimenez’s skills and maturity should allow him to keep streaking up the system. The Mets obviously have Amed Rosario at short in New York, and while the organization doesn’t have to worry about it just yet, no one worries about Gimenez’s ability to slide to second base if needed.

David Peterson

Peterson was a prospect coming from the Colorado high school powerhouse Regis Jesuit, but he opted to head to Oregon instead. Three years later, after a huge step forward during his junior season that included a 20-strikeout performance, Peterson landed in the first round and signed for full pick value with the Mets as the No. 20 overall pick. He made a brief pro debut in the short-season New York-Penn League.

Working with pitching coach Jason Dietrich at Oregon, Peterson struck out better than 12.5 per nine and walked just 1.35 per nine as a junior and brings a solid repertoire and that plus control to the pro game. From a velocity standpoint, Peterson’s fastball is average, sitting in the low 90s and occasionally touching 95 mpg. But it plays up thanks to its plus sink and his ability to command it. He combines it with a slider that is plus at times and serves as an out pitch and has a changeup that flashes above-average that could be a good weapon against right-handers. He’s mixed in a fringy curve for strike one at times in the past.

Despite a lower arm slot, Peterson has shown he has outstanding control of all his pitches, even if he can stand to refine his overall command some. He might be more floor than ceiling, but it might not take him that long to reach his potential as a No. 3 or 4 starter.

Justin Dunn

Dunn spent most of his time at Boston College as a reliever, albeit one with multiple pitches. A move to the rotation during his junior season greatly improved his Draft stock, landing him in the first round where the Mets nabbed him with the No. 19 pick in the 2016 Draft. After a solid summer debut, the Mets sent Dunn straight to the Class A Advanced Florida State League for his first full season and he struggled a bit there, finishing the final month of the season on the disabled list.

Pure stuff-wise, Dunn was just fine with St. Lucie. His fastball was consistently in the 93-95 mph range and he was able to reach back for more on occasion. His slider can serve as a true out pitch, flashing plus with good late bite. As a reliever, he hadn’t worked on his changeup much, and it’s behind the other two pitches, but he does show feel for it. He’ll need it to get lefties out, something he struggled with last year. Dunn is athletic and repeats his delivery fairly well, but he had command and control issues throughout 2017.

A certain learning curve was to be expected, given Dunn’s lack of starting experience, though being shut down at the end of his first season didn’t help quiet detractors who worried about his size and durability. He still has the stuff to start and has the chance to wipe the slate clean. If starting doesn’t work out, he certainly should impact the back end of a big league bullpen.

Peter Alonso

A starter throughout his three-year career at the University of Florida, Alonso finally started tapping into his considerable raw power during his junior year in 2016 en route to becoming a second-round pick in that June’s Draft. The power has carried over as a pro and he reached Double-A in his first full season of pro ball despite missing six weeks with a broken hand.

Alonso made some mechanical adjustments during that junior year at Florida, and the shorter swing he used has continued to serve him well. No longer are people as concerned about his hit tool and whether he’ll be able to tap into that raw power. He has kept his strikeout rate low and has used the entire field more effectively while making good adjustments. Despite the missed time, he still finished second in the organization in home runs and slugging percentage in 2017. A well below-average runner, Alonso is limited to first base and struggled there at times defensively, though the Mets think he’ll be capable there.

At his position, there’s more pressure on his bat from the right side of the plate. The good news is it looks more and more like he has the tools to hit enough to be an everyday player there, even if he’s looking at Dominic Smith ahead of him on the depth chart currently.

Thomas Szapucki

Whenever Szapucki has been on the mound in the Mets’ system since he was taken in the fourth round of the 2015 Draft, he’s shown premium stuff from the left side. The trouble is he’s had a hard time staying off the disabled list, with a back issue that cut short an otherwise successful 2016 season, a shoulder impingement that delayed the start to his 2017 and Tommy John surgery in July that will likely cost him all of 2018.

Szapucki has the makings of a very effective three-pitch mix when he’s healthy. His explosive fastball is electric with plus life and he throws it in the 92-97 mph range. His power breaking ball can be a second plus pitch which freezes hitters and misses bats. There’s a solid changeup in there as well, one with terrific fade and sink, though it was less consistent than the other two offerings. He has a deceptive delivery with a slightly lower arm slot that can add to his effectiveness. His command comes and goes at times as he struggles with his direction to the plate.

Szapucki is plenty young enough to come back and continue his climb up the Mets ladder, though his injuries have allowed him to throw just over 83 pro innings since being drafted. If he can come back and show he can stay healthy, he has the stuff to contribute to a big league rotation, following a Steven Matz-like comeback path.

Mark Vientos

American Heritage High School in Florida has produced a number of professional prospects, headlined by first baseman Eric Hosmer. Vientos, who slid a bit after an up-and-down senior season but got an above-pick value $1.5 million from the Mets to sign, has the chance to eventually join Hosmer as a big league slugging alumni of the school.

After a slow start to his pro career in the Gulf Coast League, Vientos started to swing the bat well and even earned a late promotion to the Appalachian League. One of the youngest players in the 2017 Draft class, he has considerable offensive upside. With bat speed and strength, Vientos has the chance to hit for average and power and the pop that wasn’t there consistently during his senior year, showed up in the GCL. There can be some swing and miss, but when he got hot in August, his strikeout rate plummeted. Though he has below-average speed and lacks range, his arm and hands make him a better shortstop than expected, though most see a full-time move to third in his future.

Vientos played both spots on the left side of the infield during his debut and the good news is it looks like his bat will profile just fine at the hot corner should that become his permanent home. He’s just 18 for all of the 2018 season, so there’s plenty of time for him to hone his offensive craft.

Desmond Lindsay

Lindsay had hamstring issues during his senior year of high school in Florida, forcing him to miss the season, which led to him being available in the second round at pick No. 53, the Mets’ first selection in the 2015 Draft. The problems persisted that summer and into 2016, limiting the talented outfielder to just 236 at-bats over two summers. In 2017 he avoided leg injuries, but an elbow problem ended his season in July with ulnar nerve surgery.

The good news is that despite all the missed time, Lindsay still shows solid tools at the plate. Trouble seeing the ball led to a rough start during his first taste of full-season ball in 2017, but after that was addressed with a new prescription, he started to hit for average and power before his season ended. He can drive the ball to all fields and will draw walks, albeit with a fairly high strikeout rate, though that improved with the sight adjustment. He still runs well, despite the leg issues, and while he was hesitant because of the injuries, he might get the green light more moving forward on the basepaths and it allows him to cover a lot of ground and play a solid center field. His arm is fine for center, but he’d likely have to move to left should he slow down.

The first order of business is for Lindsay to get a full season of reps in on both sides of the ball so he can continue refining his approach at the plate as well as his reads and routes in the outfield. If he can do that, then it might be easier to project his upside.

Marcos Molina

Signed in January 2012 out of the Dominican Republic, Molina moved slowly at first, spending each of his first three seasons in rookie or short-season ball. A breakout in 2014 in the New York-Penn League gave the Mets confidence he could handle a double-jump to the Class A Advanced Florida State League in 2015, but elbow issues and eventual Tommy John surgery limited him to just over 40 innings and forced him to miss all of the 2016 season. He did have a solid return, pitching mostly in Double-A in 2017.

Molina’s stuff did back up a bit during his return season, though he was still effective. His fastball that used to touch 95 mph, was more in the 91-93 mph range, though he threw it with good sink to induce groundball outs. His slider, which flashes above-average, and his changeup, an average offering, also weren’t quite as sharp, but he showed enough glimpses for there to be confidence they’ll be back to pre-surgery form in the future. He continued to be a serious strike-thrower, with his 2.2 walks per nine rate right in line with his career mark.

The Mets are hopeful that with a full year removed from the elbow surgery and time away from the mound, Molina’s stuff will come all the way back. If it does, he could easily reach his potential as a No. 3 type starter. Even if it doesn’t, his pitchability should allow him to pitch at the back end of a big league rotation soon.

Chris Flexen

Flexen’s combination of size and strength intrigued the Mets, so they went above the $100,000 bonus limit for selections made beyond the 10th round to sign him out of high school back in 2012. He had Tommy John surgery in 2014, but a fully healthy 2016 put him on the prospect radar. A knee injury delayed the start of his 2017, but he still enjoyed a breakout in Double-A. He was rushed to the big leagues out of necessity and showed he wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

Everything clicked for Flexen while in Double-A as he mixed three, and occasionally four, pitches well to keep Eastern League hitters flummoxed. His fastball was up to 95-96 mph with regularity. He showed a plus curve at times and an improved changeup, all of which he threw routinely for strikes. In Double-A, he didn’t need fine command and could get away with missing spots, but that didn’t fly in the big leagues. He tried to be too fine and hit corners and it didn’t work for him. His curve regressed and he started going to an average slider with New York.

The Mets don’t expect Flexen to have the kind of miniscule walk rate he showed in the Minors in 2017. If he can get back to trusting his stuff and stop nibbling, he could be a No. 4 type starter. There’s also the knowledge that his high-end velocity and breaking ball would play up as a reliever, but there’s no talk yet of moving him to the bullpen.

Luis Guillorme

When Guillorme nonchalantly snagged Adeiny Hechavarria’s flying bat in the dugout of a 2017 Spring Training game, it went viral. It also showed the world what the Mets have known about the infielder since they signed him for $200,000 in the 10th round out of the Florida high school ranks: He has perhaps the best hands in the Minor Leagues.

After a successful 2017 campaign in his first taste of Double-A, there remains no doubt Guillorme will be a big leaguer. His defense alone will get him there. Despite average speed, at best, Guillorme is a plus defender at shortstop and might be an 80 defender at second. His arm might only be a tick above-average, but his instincts are off the charts and he has incredibly quick hands that allow him to make every play imaginable. At the plate, Guillorme has the contact skills and strike zone recognition, he walked more than he struck out in 2017, to be a plus hitter. But he lacks strength, with just two career homers in over 1,700 at-bats, and the question remains if he can impact the ball enough to be a big league regular offensively.

Guillorme played a lot of second base and even a little third last year to be comfortable at those positions. He’ll primarily be at shortstop in 2018, but will get some time at the other spots in case he’s needed, especially with Amed Rosario entrenched at short in New York.

The Verdict

The Mets are projected as a second-place, just-below-.500 team, at 80-82. Of course, there’s a reason they still play the games, because nothing is awarded based on projections—except maybe draft position. However they finish, this team is a live-by-the-long-ball and die-by-the-long-ball kind of organization.

To me, the Mets look better than an 80-win club. I expect them to challenge for a wildcard, probably a dozen games behind the first place 100-win Nationals. Of course, as a Miami fan, I will not at all be surprised if the Marlins run the table and win the World Series after a 162-0 run through the season. There’s a lot of people who are going to disagree with this.

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