A Crowded Outfield
Spring training is underway for the New York Metropolitans in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The team is looking for a third straight postseason appearance in 2017, following a National League pennant in 2015 and an elimination in the Wild Card last October against the San Francisco Giants.
In order to reach the postseason, the Mets will once again rely on big-league slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who led the Mets in home-runs (31), RBIs (86) and OBP (.354). The other two outfield positions are not as secure as Left Field. Let's take a look at the other players who will be fighting for those last two Opening Day spots.
The start of last season featured Michael Conforto in a starting role in the outfield. His superb April led to a promotion in the batting order including multiple games in the 3-spot. However, as the calendar turned to May, Conforto’s batting average plummeted. This forced a demotion to AAA Las Vegas and he later finished the year with a .220 batting average in the majors. The focus of Conforto’s issues were with left-handed pitching.
The start of 2017 spring training has been filled with rumors of 24 year old Conforto starting in AAA. He has answered those rumors with some terrific play through the first four Grapefruit League games batting 5/10, with 2 hits, including a homer against a lefty. On Tuesday Conforto shined in the field with a diving catch and throw to third for a double-play against the Miami Marlins. In the late days of February things are looking good for the Mets 2014 1st round pick, but there are still many more weeks of baseball before Opening Day.
Another former Mets 1st round pick fighting for a job is Cheyenne, Wyoming native Brandon Nimmo. Nimmo was featured in 32 games with the Mets in 2016 and posted a respectable .274/.338/.666 slash line. Nimmo is the underdog to make the big club out of camp right now because of the tremendous talent and experience ahead of him.
The start of spring training has been good for Nimmo as well hitting 3-10 with one RBI. One of the many attributes Nimmo posses is his ability to take good at-bats and put the ball in play. This is something the New York Mets struggled with in 2016.
Jay Bruce, once the man thought to bring the Mets back to the World Series, was the center of trade rumors at the MLB Winter Meetings in December. At the beginning of last season Bruce was in Cincinnati having a career year posting 80 RBIs in 97 games with 25 homeruns. Then, Bruce was traded to the Mets on August 1, 2016 for Max Wotell and Dilson Herrea and his season went downhill batting in only 19 runs over his last 50 games.
In my mind Jay Bruce is a terrific baseball player. There was a lot of pressure and expectation riding on his performance when he came to New York that led to some poor play. At the moment it does not seem like he will be traded despite all of the scuttlebutt this winter. Lucas Duda once again facing the injury bug at First Base. This might be the opportunity Bruce needs to find a home in Queens.
Curtis Granderson is one of the greatest off the field players in the MLB today. For years he has been known for his kind and humble personality and last year he was honored with the Roberto Clemente award for exemplifying what it means to be a baseball player on the field and in the community.
Granderson will without a doubt be on the Opening Day roster after his 30 home-run season in 2016. The question is if Granderson will be in Center Field or Right Field. Earlier in his career Granderson had the athleticism to cover the wide open spaces of center but since he signed with the Mets in 2013 he has mostly been patrolling Right Field. At age 36 it will be interesting to see if manager Terry Collins feels he still has what it takes to be the Mets’ everyday Center Fielder.
Now 2014 Gold Glove winner Juan Lagares on the other hand will have no problem shagging those fly balls in center. Defense is Lagares’ specialty with the Mets. In the 2015 playoffs Collins used Lagares specifically for defense in late innings in order to move another Gold Glover Yoenis Cespedes back to his natural position in Left Field.
Lagares has the speed and defense that has seemed to plague the Mets over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, what keeps him from being an everyday player is his inconsistency at the plate and in the trainers room. Playing in only 79 games last season Juan Lagares batted .239 and also was placed on the 15-Day Disabled list twice with thumb issues.
Lots of decisions for the ball club to make over the next coming weeks. There are three things the 2017 Mets are not short of and that is Pitchers, Outfielders and a whole lotta “ifs”.