The New York Mets have officially reached the halfway point of their Grapefruit League schedule. With 12 out of 24 games completed, the final roster pieces are falling into place. While most of the Mets starters are set, there remain several roster battles over bench roles and spots in the pitching staff. With time running out to claim the remaining openings, some tight races might come down to the wire.
At the start of spring training, there was really only one open spot in the infield. All five positions already had their starters and primary backups in place. This left just one hypothetical bench spot in case the Mets felt they needed extra infield depth.
Among the candidates were veterans Jose Martinez, Jose Peraza and Brandon Drury. Martinez had the best shot at making the 26-man roster, but is out for four months after tearing his meniscus. For the others, their only shot at breaking into the Opening Day roster is for one of the current starters or backups to go down with a long-term injury.
While these guys haven’t played bad, the rest of the infielders have simply proven that they can hold their own. This might’ve changed had J.D. Davis struggled at third base at all, but he’s doing well in the hot corner so far. Likewise, while Jonathan Villar hasn’t done much with the bat, he has demonstrated enough power and versatility to manage the bench with Luis Guillorme.
When the Mets signed Kevin Pillar and Albert Almora Jr., it wasn’t guaranteed both would make the Opening Day roster. With the infield looking as strong as it is, however, this creates the potential for the Mets to carry five outfielders on their roster. Luckily for Pillar and Almora, both of them have been tearing it up this spring. Pillar is batting .353 with a couple of doubles, while Almora has shown good power and already crushed a home run. They’ve also excelled defensively, giving more reason to the Mets to carry them both.
This leaves Mallex Smith and Khalil Lee on the outside looking in. Like with the infielders, injuries are their only path to the majors this year. Lee probably had the best chance to make it as many scouts had him major league debut this year, but that was on a depleted Kansas City roster.
With elbow surgery delaying Seth Lugo‘s season, a crowded bullpen is a bit more open. The most contested position on the team, there were over a dozen pitchers looking to earn the eighth spot.
Right now, four guys have been sent to minor league camp: Trevor Hildenberger, Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Szapucki and Franklyn Kilome. Hildernberger came as a surprise as he’s surrendered just one hit in two innings. Meanwhile, the other three all want to be starters, but have the potential to be made relievers instead. Fortunately or unfortunately for them, their demotion may hint that the Mets want to keep them stretched out as starters for now.
As for the remaining youngsters, Sam McWilliams, Drew Smith and Daniel Zamora all show a lot of promise. They’ve already combined for 8.2 scoreless innings this spring. That said, each is still young and has minor league options, likely prompting the Mets to keep them in AAA for now.
Of the veterans, Stephen Tarpley, Jerry Blevins and Mike Montgomery have looked the best. Tarpley has given up just one run in five innings, while Blevins and Montgomery have an edge due to being lefties. Should the Mets want a second left-hander to compliment Aaron Loup, this could be the deciding factor.
Then there’s Arodys Vizcaino, who looked great in his spring debut. After missing most of 2019 and all of 2020 recovering from shoulder surgery, there was concern that the former Braves closer might never be the same. Cue a scoreless inning with one strikeout and a fastball topping out at 97 mph and suddenly these concerns look less serious. While it’s still early, if Vizcaino can continue pitching like this, he could find himself in Citi Field on April 1.
Lastly, the most important battle of the spring was always going to be for the final rotation spot. David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto are the three main candidates. Going into the spring, this was arguably Peterson’s job to lose. With a strong showing in the rotation last year, he looked sharp in his first spring start, pitching two scoreless innings. He ran into some trouble on Sunday, however, giving up three runs on five hits and two walks.
As for Lucchesi, he’s doing well in limited action. Through two scoreless innings, he owns three strikeouts vs. zero hits. Like Peterson, Lucchesi is a lefty, something the rotation currently lacks.
As a result, the right-handed Yamamoto faces the toughest challenge of the three. He has, however, been the most impressive, giving up just one earned run across two starts and one relief appearance. If he continues to outperform the others, the Mets may decide his upside outweighs the benefit of carrying a lefty starter. At the very least, with Carlos Carrasco‘s early season availability being a mystery right now due to elbow discomfort, there is a chance that Yamamoto could make the rotation alongside Peterson or Lucchesi.
Featured Image courtesy of Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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