The Mets are officially undefeated in 2018, and no one can take that from me. They defeated the Atlanta Braves 6-2 in their 2018 Spring Training opener. Zack Wheeler started the game and looked sharp. He allowed no runs in his only inning of work while touching 97 MPH with his fastball. Recent acquisitions Adrian Gonzalez and Todd Frazier got their first taste in a Mets uniform, Gonzalez was held hitless while Frazier picked up one hit in his two at-bats.
With baseball finally underway I figured we should take a look at some of the pressings questions that the Mets are facing heading into Spring Training and the 2018 season.
If I wrote an article titled ‘Keys to the Mets 2018 season’ it would just be the word ‘health’ a thousand times. Health killed the Mets 2017 season, and it will be a threat to kill 2018 too. Luckily, they have made moves this winter to provide depth at every position. They brought Jose Reyes back, who can play all over the infield and has hinted at taking reps in the outfield. Wilmer Flores looks to be another depth piece/bench bat who can play every infield position and fill in where needed. With Conforto injured until May, the Mets will be looking at a platoon of Nimmo and Lagares in CF, with Bruce and Cespedes playing the corners.
Cespedes only played in 81 games last year for the Mets and has changed his workout regime. Gone are the days of 1,000-LB bear squats; instead, Cespedes has taken up Yoga while running more and drinking more water. He’s hopeful that the added flexibility will produce fewer muscle strains.
In 2017, only Jacob deGrom threw over 120 innings for the team. Mets fans need to keep a close eye on the rest of the rotation to see how they are looking after a multitude of injuries in 2017. Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz will be keys to the Mets season. If they can repeat their past performances, then they have the potential to establish a rotation similar to 2015 that contends with the likes of the Cubs and Nationals in the NL.
Dom Smith vs Adrian Gonzalez
From all indications, the Mets are planning to open the season with 35-year-old Adrian Gonzalez as their starting first basemen. Gonzalez batted an ugly .242/.287/.355 in 71 games last season for the Dodgers while fighting a chronic back injury. Gonzalez put up a career-worst in several categories in 2017, including wRC+, wOBA, and SLG%. Mets fans will watch closely this spring to see if Gonzalez’s sharp decline in 2017 was due to his persistent back issues or his old age.
Similar to many MLB players at this time of the year, Dom Smith is in the “best shape of his life”, losing 30 pounds since the end of the 2017 season. The 22-year-old first baseman was ineffective in his first cup of tea with the Mets, as he looked over-matched at the plate and in the field. He batted .198/.262/.395 with a 73 wRC+. The low average was partially unlucky due to his .218 BABIP, despite an 89.3 exit velocity (on-par with players such as George Springer and Tommy Pham). It wasn’t a good start for Smith who was scratched from the lineup this afternoon because he arrived late to the ballpark. Still, it will be important to keep an eye on how Smith performs with his recent weight loss, and if it will transition to success on the field. If Smith shows he can handle major league pitching, he should see himself rewarded with the first base job.
After going over health previously, it is important to keep an eye on who performs in Spring Training. As of right now, the day before spring training officially starts, the Mets should only have Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom penciled into their starting rotation.
Matt Harvey was one of the worst pitchers in baseball last season, and if he fails to perform in spring training, he does not deserve a starting rotation spot going forward. The same can be said about Steven Matz, Robert Gsellman, Zack Wheeler, and Seth Lugo. All of them had hope coming into last season, but after mixed results Mets fans should be looking at them to show glimpses of the potential they have shown in the past and let the cream of the crop rise to the top, and be rewarded with a rotation spot.
I have failed to mentioned recent acquisition Jason Vargas. Despite his sub-par 2nd half, last season (6.38ERA/5.94FIP/5.16xFIP) Vargas will most likely make the Mets rotation. He will not put up the flashy numbers like deGrom or Syndergaard, but Mets fans will be hoping for a stable back-of-the-rotation arm that can offset the huge variance that the rest of the Mets rotation can deliver. If everything breaks right for the Mets this spring training, Vargas could be pushed out of the rotation by the Mets stable of arms.